Andean legend has it that a handsome and fearsome warrior called Cotopaxi fell madly in love with the beautiful Tungurahua. However, the latter was also courted by another valiant warrior, Chimborazo.
For decades, these two giants battled for Tungurahua’s love. Between rumblings – tremors -, words of love – vapors and ashes – or ugly words – eruptions -, Cotopaxi, defeated, decided to give up his weapons and renounce Tungurahua’s love.
Conquered, Chimborazo, king of the heights, married his beloved and donned his white cloak forever.
A first ascent in the high mountains
At 5897 metres above sea level, Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in Ecuador and the second highest in the world. In Kichwa, Cotopaxi means “the neck of the moon”; the moon comes to rest on its summit.
Ever since I arrived in Ecuador, I’ve heard nothing but talk about climbing this giant. Curious, sporty and adventurous to the core, I decided to embark on this unforgettable experience, accompanied by three friends.
A new challenge awaits us, a whole new program! After all, we’re talking about high mountains, or Andinism. So it’s vital to understand the effects of altitude on our bodies, and to acclimatize properly before any high-mountain climb, to prevent altitude sickness (known as sorocho in Spanish). This is an accessible climb, but you need to be in very good physical condition in general.
Countdown to the climb
D-7. Our first hike to get us going: around the Cuicocha Lagoon. 14 km of great pleasure, in glorious weather. We circumnavigate this lagoon perched at an altitude of 3250m. It’s a bit of a challenge, as it’s our first hike at altitude, and we sometimes get out of breath on the climbs.
D-6. Let’s get acclimatized! First meeting with our guides, who speak perfect English and Spanish. We start with our first summit, Rucu Pichincha, 4696m above sea level. We leave from the Quito cable car. It’s an accessible hike from the Ecuadorian capital, suitable for a first summit and offering incredible views. As we hike, we see the city gradually receding into the paramo, the alpine tundra that covers the high mountain plateaus. After a 2-hour hike, we begin the final ascent through the sand, before reaching the summit. What satisfaction! It’s actually my first summit, but certainly not my last.
D-5. Today is a rest day. We need physical and, above all, mental energy for what lies ahead: 5 consecutive days of climbing.
D-4. At dawn, we set off from Quito for Pasochoa, south of Quito. We set off at a moderate pace, the path being relatively easy, observing the vegetation as it changes over the kilometers of this high-altitude hike. We reach an altitude of 4200m, the highest point of the Pasochoa.
D-3. We’re getting closer to Cotopaxi, both physically and mentally. The ascent of Rumiñahui, 4721m above sea level, awaits us. From the Limpiopungo Lagoon, we get a closer look at Cotopaxi. Before reaching the summit, we have to climb the rocky mountain, which is easy and rather fun. Up here, the view is breathtaking of the Cotopaxi, Sincholagua and Pasochoa volcanoes and the surrounding valleys.
D-2. Our last acclimatization, Illiniza Norte. This time, things get more serious. For Illiniza Norte, you need to be roped up. Before reaching the summit, there’s a climbing section, which requires concentration and a bit of technique. After a 4-hour hike, from its 5116m altitude, we can enjoy a magnificent view of the Avenue des Volcans.
D-Day. Ça y est, nous sommes prêtes pour ces deux jours d’ascension du Cotopaxi
12:30pm. Our high-mountain guides pick us up from the hacienda where we’ve spent the night, with all the necessary equipment. We drive up to around 4500m, where we leave the 4×4. We then hike up to the high-altitude refuge at 4864m.
3:00pm. After a briefing from our guides and settling into the dormitory, we test out our ice axes and crampons. The climb is on snow, so we need to get comfortable with the equipment quickly.
5:00pm. Dinner is served. We watch a magnificent sunset as the surrounding peaks come into view. It’s already very impressive!
11:00pm. Waking up is difficult. Especially as it’s hot, wrapped up in our comforters. Come on, we’re off. We suit up. A snack is offered. Luckily, none of us has altitude sickness! With the help of a map, the guides explain the route we’ll be taking.
00:00am. The ascent begins. As soon as we leave the refuge, we can see the lights of the city in the distance. The weather looks clear. It doesn’t take us long to rope up. One guide for the two of us. The guides adapt to our pace. In my head, only the sound of our footsteps and ice axes hitting the snow can be heard.
4:30am The stars light up the sky. We take regular breaks to hydrate and replenish our energy. Tiredness is beginning to set in, but we press on, determined to reach the crater.
6:30am. The sun is slowly waking up, the summit is here! We arrive, we are moved, exhausted but so proud and admiring of this feat. It’s awe-inspiring. We’re overwhelmed by the imposing crater, the colors of the sunrise and the peaks all around us.
6:50am. It’s time (already) to head back down. We discover the landscape, the glaciers we passed by at night. We continue to marvel.
9:30am. On arrival at the refuge, a hearty breakfast awaits us. Nothing better after such physical exertion! Then, the adventure is almost over. We pack our bags and leave the refuge for the 4×4 that awaits us.
12:00pm. The return to Quito is difficult. On the way, we watched the giant walk away, smiles on our faces, a little tear in the corner of our eye and, above all, our heads full of wonderful memories. Nevertheless, we can’t wait to put down our rucksacks, enjoy a hot shower, a good night’s sleep and, why not, a good massage!
If you’d like to climb the Cotopaxi volcano and live a magnificient experience, contact us.