Cotopaxi, the illustrious volcano
As our guide drove us through the back roads of Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, which stretches over 33,400 beautiful hectares, I daydreamed about the stories my mom told of her summit of Volcan Cotopaxi 16 years ago. This volcano is Ecuador’s second highest point at 5,897 meters (19,347 feet) and the other most visited attraction in Ecuador. The first of course being the Galapagos. When planning our trip around Ecuador, I couldn’t wait to see this majestic mountain that almost claimed my mom’s life so many years before. As for all ice climbing treks, crampons, an ice pick, warm clothes and a good rope team is a necessity to complete your journey and come back alive. My mom and I summited Mt Shasta in California when I was 19, so I’ve had a small taste of the difficulties of ice climbing and what she went through. As my mom climbed towards the top, she quickly found herself dangling in a crevasse, ice pick dug-in and her rope team bracing themselves so they didn’t fall in too. After a lot of effort and teamwork, she was pulled back up to the surface. Eventually they all continued the trek, but now filled with shock and more humility than ever.
After six hours, two buses and two taxis from Otavalo, Abe and I made it to our Hacienda just north of Parque Nacional Cotopaxi. Hacienda Porvenir is a beautiful ranch with a delicious restaurant, horses, llamas, hiking trails, waterfalls and views of the three highest Volcanos in the region, Volcan Ruminahui, Volcan Sincholagua and Volcan Cotopaxi. The afternoon we arrived it was raining with socked-in fog. So we quickly had the realization we may not see anything at all. We checked in and they showed us to our room. It was beyond lovely and spacious with a California King size bed, two desk areas and large windows with views of the valley and volcanos. I thought they must have upgraded us since I mentioned it was our honeymoon and we didn’t see any other guests. After settling in though, we thought we should double-check, since the room we booked was only $40/ night and this must be in the hundred-dollar range. Sure enough it was a mistake, but by that time we had already fallen in love with our new space and decided to fork out the $115/ night for the room. The budget rooms were in the main house only separated by curtains and shared bathrooms. They seemed more expensive than what it was worth, but a good option for travellers to still experience the beauty of this place. The Hacienda offers a cozy fireplace in the main livingroom to warm up in and as soon as you arrive they treat you with the local hot liquor and empanadas. We couldn’t be happier as we cuddled up by the fire and read. It was the perfect place to acclimate for three nights before we hiked up to the Refugio of Volcan Cotopaxi.
At night, while you’re at dinner they place cloth wrapped hot water bottles under the covers, so the bed is nice and toasty when you get in and throughout the night. The next morning was crisp and clear, but still this illustrious volcano was hidden by the clouds. We followed the very well-marked trails around the property discovering the camping area that is also offered by the Hacienda and the rapid flowing cascades. We got back for lunch just in time as the rain began to pour again. Oh darn, we had to cuddle up in front of the fire again. Hehe. We organized a 3 hour horseback ride to Volcan Ruminuahui for our third day hoping we wouldn’t get rained on. It ended up being a bit overcast, but still beautiful and rain free. For our last day we booked a guide/driver to take us to Cotopaxi and through to our next destination, Latacunga. When we woke up, we looked out the window and there it was. The sky was clear as a summer day. It was perfect for our awaited adventure.
It was a two hour drive to the parking area below the rufugio of Cotopaxi. For the first three quarters of it we didn’t see another car or person. We off roaded through streams, grass and rocks. Was this the road that everyone took? As we got closer a double wide dirt road appeared with large trucks and tractors working on the roads’ infrastructure. The driver parked and said something in Spanish, so Abe translated. “Do you want to hike up to base camp, The Refugio? “Yes, of course”, I said! There are three ways, (1) straight up, (2) windy and cold/ moderately difficult, or (3) switch backs being slightly easier.” Since I’m a hiker and have hiked up mountains like Mt Whitney, Mt Shasta and Half Dome in California and the Himalayas in Bhutan, I told him straight up! Luckily, he didn’t listen to me and we took the moderate trail, because once again my lungs burned as I slowly put one foot in front of the other. I was once again humbled by the power of altitude. It was an incredible view of the valley below and snow capped Cotopaxi peaking through the clouds above us. We enjoyed a hot cocoa and tea at 14,400 feet and when we emerged from the base camp hut, the almighty volcano was clear as day. A young girl appeared from a trail just past the hut. She showed us pictures of her in the snow and said we should go up a little further. Feeling better we grabbed our guide and headed up to the snow. Once again the views, the incredible snow covered mountain and easier downhill hike made it all worthwhile. Driving out to the Panamerica Highway was a quick 20 minutes due to the new paved roads allowing buses to make it up there. We we’re thankful for our long back roads drive into that magical place and El Porvenir for showing us the true Cotopaxi.
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