Today I hiked higher than I ever have in my life.
I went on a day trip (I was gone for 14 hours so I think they should actually call it a day and a half trip!) to Cotopaxi, which is often considered the world’s highest active volcano—at 19,400 feet. To get there we boarded a small rickety tourist train in which the best seats were actually on the roof. We climbed atop this one-car machine, sat on wood planks attached to the roof, and literally drove down the tracks—it was an old converted bus! The air was crisp and the sky was clear as we headed into the green valley with towering snow-peaked Cotopaxi in the distance.
We arrived near the base of the volcano, drove up a rocky, steep road and then did a one hour hike up switchback paths of steep lava-rock terrain that turned to mist and snow. It was freezing and the altitude (we hiked to about 16,000 feet) was pretty tough for me considering I had just arrived a day earlier from sea level in the Galapagos Islands–probably not the smartest move on my part.
So, I was huffing and puffing like an old wheezy smoker up the side of this crazy volcano and it dawned on me: why does anyone think climbing mountains is fun? I certainly discovered that I’d much rather view the beautiful mountain from its base. I would just about say I was miserable with frozen toes and fingers and the only thing that kept me going was knowing we were climbing to a refuge where we would eat lunch. The fact that I hadn’t eaten anything all day wasn’t helping my fragile state either.
We reached the refuge where other climbers crash awaiting their 1AM (yes AM!) departure for the summit. Here we scarfed down a lunch of guacamole, turkey, chips, cheese, tuna, and Oreos. Real healthy sustenance.
Afterwards our guide led us over to a glacier. It was a huge hunk of craggy ice clinging to the side of the mountain. It was impressive, but I was ready to descend into a more breathable air range.
We made our decent down a much steeper path of crushed soft lava rock on which we practically jogged down. From the bottom of the trail we thawed a bit and then jumped on some over-used mountain bikes and careened down the bumpy, pot-holey mountain dirt road to the bottom. This was my favorite part except for the crap bikes they had—my brakes were so hard to press and my hands were so frozen that I thought my right hand would forever be stuck in a ‘claw’ grip. Luckily at the base, my hands and toes thawed and the clouds cleared so we could catch a two-minute glimpse of the Cotopaxi peak at sunset.
It was stunning—pink and orange clouds slowly cleared away to reveal her snowy peak.Who needs to be at the top where all you see is clouds and fog—seems like the bottom is the place to be!
Not a bad ending to a somewhat miserable yet adventurous day–if you don’t count the bumpy two hour bus ride back to Quito.