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Cotopaxi, Ovejería

5.0 stars


Another Volcano in Cotopaxi Nature Reserve

Ruminahui is a volcano in the Cotopaxi National Park that can be climbed in a day and doesn’t require any special gear or guides. There are three distinct peaks on this volcano, and I’d recommend climbing the lowest of the three. From the parking area near the base, you follow a trail for a while, though it can be difficult to see at times. My friends and I lost the path at one point and simply struck out cross country through the tundra-esque landscape. Near the base of the volcano are a couple of ridgelines that each lead to a peak. Between these ridges is a flat plain full of creeks and marshes which is breathtaking in its beauty. You should be able to find a path again at this point and begin the actual ascent. Much of the climb will be on a volcanic skree of loose rock and ash, which makes it difficult, but not impassable. Once you’ve reached the summit, you’ll have an uninterrupted view of Cotopaxi to the southeast and the rest of the park laid-out below you. [more ]

Part 4 - The Summit

Standing at 19,388 feet (5897 metres) above sea level is indescribable. It feels like you can see forever, and you almost can. Should you be lucky, there won’t be too many clouds below you and you’ll be able to see the plains of the park laid out below you. Make sure to take as many pictures as you can quite quickly, since the cold and altitude will force you to descend after only 15 minutes. The descent takes half the time of the ascent, and is an amazing experience in itself. On the way up you’re staring only at the snow in front of your face, and miss most of the scenery around you. However, on the way back down, you’re facing down the mountain and are constantly confronted with views out over the national park. If your guide doesn’t mind too many photo breaks, take advantage of it. [more ]

Part 2 - Arriving at Cotopaxi

Most likely you’ll arrive at Cotopaxi in the early afternoon, just to make sure you have time to reach the Refuge and get some dinner and sleep before climbing. On the way up to the Refuge from the parking area your guide will probably make a judgement about your physical fitness and acclimatisation to the altitude and will plan what time you need to leave for the ascent. If you’re not very experienced with crampons and other climbing gear, your guide will give you a lesson in the afternoon on one of the lower glaciers near the Refuge. After that, kick back, relax, and have some dinner. Getting to sleep at six or seven pm is hard, but necessary. The general plan is to summit at sunrise, around 6:30am, so an average group will set out at about midnight or just before. [more ]

El Refugio (The Refuge) at Cotopaxi

If you’d like to visit Cotopaxi itself but aren’t prepared to climb to the top, a visit to the Refuge is a great compromise. The parking area isn’t far distance-wise from the Refuge, but the altitude difference is dramatic. Not for the out-of-shape traveller, the hike up the path takes you to 4800 metres above sea level, and can be a real challenge as with each step you sink backwards a little bit in the volcanic ash. Altitude sickness can be a definite factor just in this short distance, so it’s best if you’ve had a couple of days in Ecuador to acclimatise yourself to the altitude. The Refuge itself is a yellow-roofed building, sitting all alone on the side of what many consider to be the world’s highest active volcano. Inside you’ll find clean water, gas for cooking any food you’ve brought with you, a place to sit and lots of postcards and t-shirts for sale. If you’d like to stay the night in the refuge, you’ll have to provide your own sleeping bag and food. [more ]

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park is a beautiful and incredible place. The landscape, wildlife and views are unparalleled in my experience. No matter where you go, Cotopaxi Volcano dominates the skyline. Other peaks in the park are Ruminahui and Sincholahua. The main plain in the park is somewhere around 4000 metres above sea level (about 12,500 feet), and because of this altitude there aren’t that many trees in the park, though flowers and other small plants are bountiful. The number of bird species is incredibly varied, including humminbirds (the Andean Hillstar), snipes, finches and hawks. A lot of taxis will offer a private tour from Quito for a day-trip, costing somewhere around $60. If you’d rather get there yourself, take a bus from Quito to Latacunga and get off at the southern (second) entrance to the park. This entrance is used more and it will be easier to hitch/hire a ride the rest of the way into the park. [more ]

Part 1 - Getting a Guide

For those truly adventurous types who want to climb to Cotopaxi’s summit, I salute you. It is one of the greatest memories in my life, and if you have the chance, go for it. Unless you’re an experienced climber, definitely hire a guide and rent all the equipment in Quito. I used a company called The Altar, just off of Avenida Amazones, and they were wonderful. The people in the rental office speak English, and they can usually organise an English-speaking guide if necessary. The price will drop quite a bit if you have or join a group of at least five people. However, if you are in great physical shape and are determined to reach the summit no matter what, it might be worth hiring a guide only for yourself, or for you and one friend. It will cost a bit more, but in a group, if a single person is unable to continue due to altitude sickness or injury, the entire rope-line has to turn back. Also, be sure to spend at least a couple of days in Quito (or higher up in the mountains) to acclimatise yourself to the altitude. It will make a big difference once you’re on the mountain. [more ]

Part 3 - Setting Out

After leaving the Refuge the first half hour is over volcanic rock, until you reach the first glacier. This is where you’ll put on the crampons and rope together. From there, it can take anywhere from 4-8 hours to reach the summit, depending on the people in your group and how fast you can go. The majority of the ascent is near-vertical, almost like climbing a snow ladder, with occasional lateral movement to avoid crevasses or reach the small snow bridges that cross them. About two hours from the summit is an ice cave where you can safely rest for a while if you need to catch your breath. One hour past the cave is the hardest part of the climb. First you traverse a large crevasse, then need to ascend a vertical cliff of ice which is around 20 feet tall. Once you’ve managed to pass that point, it’s only another 30-45 minutes to the summit. [more ]

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