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January 2, 2014

What a way to start the New Year. Cotopaxi, the second highest active volcano in the world, is a beautiful cinder cone volcano capped with a majestic glacier. At 5,897 meters (19,342 feet) it is only a couple of meters taller than Kilimanjaro but, despite similar proximity to the Equator, has managed to maintain significant glacier coverage--wet winds from the Amazon basin provide significant moisture to replenish the loss from global-warming-induced melting.

On New Years Day, we hiked up to the Cotopaxi hut (~4,800 meters, ~15,750 feet) to prepare for our summit attempt after having watched the headlamps of climbers on the mountain that morning. We ran into some friends from the Cayambe hut and bantered for a bit before heading to an early bed.

Waking up around midnight, the weather was near-perfect and we geared up for the climb. Leaving shortly after 1 AM, we made our way to the base of the glacier and strapped on our crampons, accompanied by beautiful views of Quito below us and an amazing starry night above (I sense a pattern here...). We tied into two rope teams (Alejo, Alex and me in one, Fausto and Paul in the second) and worked our way up the glacier.

Near sunrise, we were treated to a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and to Cotopaxi's near-perfect cone-shaped shadow. While only about 150 meters (~500 feet) short of the summit, we still had a significant horizontal distance to reach the top--Paul decided he'd seen enough and headed back down with Fausto while Alejo, Alex and I continued to the top.

A couple of grueling hours later, we reached the summit. We were treated to a wondrous view of the surrounding area as well as of the smoke filled crater. After a short time on the summit, we headed back down to the hut to rejoin Paul and Fausto before leaving the mountain.

This was a parting for much of our group, with Fausto leaving to guide another group up Chimborazo that night (a mountain we will be attempting after a two day rest--these guides really are something else), Alejo driving Paul back to Quito (Alejo to rejoin us tomorrow while Paul flies home to work), and Alex and I spending the night at Hacienda La Cinega, an historic hacienda near Cotopaxi.

Quite the New Year!

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