Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Ticking the high altitude box
Cotopaxi Volcano is the world’s second highest active volcano and the second highest summit in Ecuador at 5,897m above sea level.
We decided since Cotopaxi was on the way back to Quito this would be the perfect time to do this so we didn’t have to pay additional transport fees. Buses run regularly on the highway towards Quito. We waited less than 5 minutes to pay $1 and travel around 30 minutes to the access road for the volcano.
Climb to the glacier or the summit?
The two most common types of people coming here are day trippers and summit seekers. The summit seekers need an approved guide and specialist climbing equipment that is typically packaged as an all inclusive tour starting at $160.
We chose the day tripper option which involves getting to the refuge and then the glacier. The only way to get to the refuge is:
We took option 4 as it was the best balance between price and convenience. We got off the bus on the highway and knew our plan of attack and set a budget. The driver started off at $30pp and then quite quickly moved down to $25pp. We suggested $20pp, but he said no. We then walked away saying we would look for some coffee and come back in a little while. We had barely walked 50 metres before he drove up next to us agreeing to $20pp.
The access road at the entrance is roughly 3,000m above sea level. The road then climbs to a final car park 31km later and an altitude of 4,500m.
We got onto the pickup trip around 8am with Rodora desperately needing coffee. This meant a quick stop at the museum and cafeteria about half way up. When we were sipping on our coffee and enjoying the caffeine intake the driver came in shouting you need to come out side now. To our surprise the cloud that had been covering the Volcano had mostly disappeared, giving us a fantastic view of the glacier on top. The clouds seemed to be moving in and out, so one minute there was a beautiful view, then the next all you could see was cloud. Our driver told us to hurry up as this may be the only clearing of the day.
We then proceeded along the windy road up the volcano. The driver telling us at different points of time how high we were; explaining that many animals such as rabbits, wild horses and deer lived in the national park.
As it was clear we also were able to see amazing views of the national park. The landscape at high altitude was very similar to when we recently hiked Purace Volcano in Colombia (see our blog here).
This is when the clouds started rolling in. It got to a point where we couldn’t even see the road in front of us. We then arrived at the furthest point we could go by car and were told we had to walk the rest of the way. Our driver gave us a few hours to do this hike. The minute we got out of the car, our faces completely froze. We both hurried back into the car, scrambling to put on every layer we had with us.
Time to go hiking
We were at 4,500m and the refuge was at 4,864m. It wasn’t a hard climb but the high altitude made us both seem like we were walking like old ladies. We took the path to the left, which has less of an incline as it uses switchbacks to climb. The path to the right is steeper and more torn up, so you struggle to gain traction as you climb.
On the way we passed red dried up molten lava covered in snow. It’s amazing to think that this Volcano is active even though it has a massive permanent glacier on it.
This was when we got to touch snow for the first time in over a year. Wow; we really miss that feeling and at times like this we really miss our snowboarding adventures in Canada.
After about 15 minutes of hiking we realized it was easier to just hike straight up the volcano instead of following the path (avoiding the long bends). This meant walking on steep rocky terrain and snow at times. After around 45 minutes we made it to the refuge. Yay! We made it. What a climb. It’s such a short walk but the altitude made it really tough.
The refuge was being renovated, so no one was staying there. This is usually where hikers stay overnight to acclimatize before heading to the peak at 1am for sunrise.
Rodora decided to stay at the refuge as there was cloud everywhere and didn’t think the view would be better further up.
Toby was determined to get to his highest ever altitude climbed by getting to the glacier cut off point. Following another group of tourists up the path it only took another 20 or so minutes to reach the glacier at 4,974m (according to the Runkeeper GPS).
It took us only around 15 minutes to run down to the bottom where the car was parked. Its way easier going down as the steeper path is very sandy, so you can just run down using the sand to slow you down.
Our driver then took us to the lagoon for some bird watching. The view from the lake looking at the Volcano is supposed to be amazing and is on nearly every postcard in the tourist shops in Quito. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see anything due to the cloud, and it also started raining. Our driver explained to us that in Winter it rains nearly every day in the afternoon so it was good that we did the tour in the morning. It was now around 11.30am and there were many tour buses parking at the lake. Our driver explained that these are the tours from either Quito or Banos and that they had only just arrived. What a shame these tourists were not going to be able to see a thing. We were lucky the weather Gods were looking out for us that day.
Disaster with water
This is when our tour ended and we were dropped back off at the park entrance. This is when our driver said there is water coming out of your bag to Toby. Oh no, disaster! Toby’s Hydration Pack had sprung a catastrophic leak and went all through his bag. It looked as though Toby was having a pool party in his backpack. We had to take every item (including electronics such as chargers) out of his bag and dry off. We suspect it broke because of the high altitude. It was a couple of years old and might have just been bad luck. Luckily we salvaged everything and after a night of drying, our electronics still worked with few casualties.
Cotopaxi Volcano was definitely worthwhile. Not only did we see an amazing high altitude landscape and get to touch a glacier in South America, but Toby also achieved his feat of being the highest he has ever been.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/