Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hiking to the glacier on Cotopaxi volcano

If the travel agency had told us what climbing the Cotopaxi volcano would entail I'm sure we'd decline. However now that all is done I'm glad she didn't.
We were supposed to stay in front of the hostel at 6:30am. And the trip started on the right foot as the minibus was there on time. There were 10 people on the excursion.
First we went to a small restaurant near the entrance to Cotopaxi park for breakfast. It was a very nice breakfast with pancake, omelet, natural juice and coffee. The place even had wifi available.
Then we headed to the parking lot at the parks administration house. It was there that we met our park guide Medardo.
From there we'd take the gravel sinuous road to the Volcano parking lot at an altitude of 4500m.
We got raincoats, gloves and goggles and started climbing the 1000m or so to the refuge at 4800m elevation. It seemed pretty easy at first until we realized how steep the climb was. It was probably 30, 35 degrees and the ground was slipping. To make matters worse the weather got really bad, probably -5C and raining with some very strong headwinds that almost knocked my 84kg (185lb) frame down at times. 
To make matters even worse, on the advice of the travel agency clerk we were prepared to face maybe 5C. That means our sweat pants and coats weren't nearly enough to protect from the cold. The gloves we got from the guides were wool gloves, so not as useful as we got wet.
Oh, and our running shoes are definitely not appropriate fir this kind of hiking making us slip all the time. It was a hell of a quad and lower back workout though. Aerobically it was about the same as running a 10k, but one of those where you go out too fast and pay for it the while time.
Luckily the altitude didn't seem to bother us at all which could be good news as we have Cusco, La Paz and Uyuni coming up next on our trip.
It took us probably 40 minutes to get to the refuge. When we got there I was freezing, wet and afraid to lose my toes and fingers to frost. Once in the refuge though and after some hot cocoa I was feeling much better.
I gave the cashier a 20 dollar bill, he asked me if I could come the next day for the change. I burst out laughing, no way I'd face that hell again.
Back on track we'd climb 200m more to reach 5000m elevation at the beginning of the glacier. The volcano top stays at 5897m and it requires a couple days trip at least. Not for us.
We got to the glacier, took a few pictures and then started the descending. Ironically this was the hardest part as we'd slip all the time and had to go very slow to avoid a fall.
When we finally got to the parking lot at 4500m elevation again, the bus was there with the other travelers. We rode in the bus for a few km then got out for the second adventure of the day. Downhill. The bus had bikes on top, we got on said bikes and started descending the downward gravel road on the bikes. I even got dust on the right eye so I had to ride one-eyed which improved the adventure hah.
We rode the bikes for some 20 minutes until the plains near the lagoon. The landscape was inviting for pictures and so we obliged.
After that a short bus ride to the same restaurant from the morning for us to have lunch. Lunch was broccoli soup as entree, rice, meat and potatoes as main dish and fresh strawberry juice to wash it down. Since I'm a glutton I finished my soup before anyone else so they placed a bowl of rice in front of me. Not realizing it was meant to be shared by the table of 4 people I started eating it. Once my mistake was pointed out by my girlfriend I wanted to hide underground in same. Oh well. The poor colombian couple who was sharing the table with us had to eat rice contaminated by me. Oh, and the husband's juice had a hair in it.
We got a ride back to Quito, overall very happy with the experience.

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