Cotopaxi, Ecuador

25 Nov 2001 - by Wolfgang Stiller

Saturday Nov 24, 2001 at 1 PM we depart the Tambopoaxi climbers Hostel (inside Cotopaxi National Park) heading out for the hut. Forty-five minutes later we arrive at the Cotopaxi parking lot (15,100ft). It takes us 40 minutes to climb up to the Jose Ribas hut (15,750 ft). The hut (refugio) is a large two story structure holding over 100 climbers. It's not safe to leave your sleeping bag and some gear as it was on the Iliniza hut but there are (huge) lockers to use to secure your gear. Dianne and I share a locker and have plenty of room to stow our gear. Later arrivals can't find free lockers and sleep on mattresses on the floor so I'd recommend reserving a place.) There is actually a concession setup in the hut where you can buy coffee, soft drinks or Gatorade. There is a climber's kitchen available for cooking and several dining and sitting areas for climbers. Once we reach the hut the weather turns foggy and no sky is visible. We fill our water bottles (all six) with boiled water. At 6 PM the lights come on until 8PM. We hit the sack about 8:30 and Dianne sleeps well but I don't think I sleep much if any (despite my earplugs, the commotion in the hut bothers my sleep). At 11:22 Dianne and I get up (others are starting to get up at the same time so it's hard to sleep to oversleep). We eat some breakfast and start climbing at 12:40. The sky is clear and I (later, higher up) see the "Southern Cross" constellation for the first time. There are a few moments of fog and snow but these pass during the climb. We decide not to wear our helmets because there is minimal ice and rock fall danger. (On Iliniza Sur, we did wear helmets.) We each carry about 2.5 liters of energy drinks (Cytomax and UltraFuel) but only consume about one-half that amount on the entire climb. I wear my standard long sleeve lightweight polypro underwear top, windshirt and Activent "windbreaker". On my hands I wear thinsolate lined leather gloves, a pear of "windstopper" fleece mitts and over all this Gore-Tex shell mitts. (Dianne also adds chemical heating pads to this combination, later, as things turn colder) By 2AM we have reached the top of the scree slope. Here we put on crampons and start climbing the glacier. Cosme, (a nationally famous guide working for Safari) leads Dianne and myself but due to the well-established route and good weather, I would have been quite comfortable unguided on this particular day. We start on an icy slope but soon enter good solid snow. The climb continues pretty steeply for the most part and crosses a number of crevasses but all snow bridges are pretty solid and there is a well-established trail. I start out wearing my standard long sleeve poly shirt with wind shirt and Activent wind breaker but by about 17,000 ft, the wind really picks up (I'd say 40kts) and I'm really getting cold so I add my warmer hat and Gore-Tex parka. The route is extremely easy to follow due to the heavy traffic this mountain gets. It's almost like hiking up a trail (unusual for a glaciated mountain like this). There are a few crevasse crossings that must be negotiated with care (vertical climbs on the other side). At 5 AM, we are about 18,400 ft high and can see the lights of Quito as well as the lights along the Pan-American highway. There is a ladder over a wide crevasse at 18,800 ft. We later talked to the fellow that placed this ladder. It was transported up in four trips in four sections. It is a heavy steel ladder very securely fastened. Cotopaxi normally does not require such a construction but it has been a very dry year and the crevasses are much more of an issue than normal. We reach the summit (19,300 ft) at 6:07 AM. Beautiful weather for the summit! The crater is fabulous; we can see smoking fumerals on the upper left edge. All the surrounding mountains are visible including Chimborazo. Dianne and I are delighted to find feel absolutely fine on the summit (this is our first time above 17,500 feet). We leave the summit at 6:27 (I lead again and find that after descending Iliniza Sur this is very easy and we more quickly downwards). We remove most of our extra layers when we reach the top of the scree slope. The descent down the scree slope is easy and fast since it's possible to move directly downhill plunge stepping in the loose scree and dirt. We reach the hut by 8:45 AM. The guides have cooked up some soup. We pack up and descend back to the parking lot. Again this is fast (I'd say about 15 to 20 minutes) because you can quickly plunge step down the direct route to the parking lot. (Today, Nov 25, 2001, is the national census day in Ecuador so many places are closed and Ecuadorians are under travel restrictions.)

Note, we had reports that two days after our climb a storm hit Cotopaxi with high winds and low-visibility. Climbers we talked to that were climbing during the storm reported that the route was still visible but much harder to follow and possible to lose if one is not careful.

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