COTOPAXI VOLCANO & LAGUNA LIMPIOPUNGO
Cotopaxi is one of the highest ACTIVE volcanoes in the world, at a height of 5,897m (19,347ft). It typically has a major eruption every 100 years, and the last major eruption was in the early 1900s. Some seismic activity at Cotopaxi Volcano has been recorded throughout 2013, although it is being regarded as “normal behavior of an active, but currently dormant volcano.” So, yes, it is a bit overdue for an eruption…or something… Thankfully, Mother Nature played nice.
I wasn’t sure what to expect as a few fellow travelers that I had met in the previous weeks had warned me about the difficulty of climbing Cotopaxi Volcano and the horrible weather conditions they encountered – strong winds, horizontal rain, and pea-sized hail. Further, a guide who had taken me hiking on the Inca Trail just outside of Cuenca a few days prior had told me the hike was extremely difficult. In any event, I must admit I was a tad bit nervous about the upcoming ascent. But in true iluv2xplore fashion, I pushed that fear out of my mind, thinking “you only die once, right?”
I knew that the weather at Cotopaxi changes many times throughout the day, and as such, I needed to be prepared for anything and everything. And prepared, I was as I didn’t want the weather to prevent me from reaching my goal – the equatorial glacier at 5,000m. (I even had a rain jacket for my camera). When I began climbing at 10:30AM, the weather was crisp, but clear and very sunny and provided the perfect backdrop. Regardless of the angle, the volcano and surrounding areas were STUNNING. I loved looking across the horizon and seeing the neighboring volcanoes (Chimborazo, Illiniza Sur, Antisana, and Cayambe, to name a few) and the rainbow of colors. I must have taken no less than 100 photos in the span of an hour. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to ascend Cotopaxi Volcano.
Once I reached the Refugio José Félix Ribas at 4,800m (15,748ft), my excitement really began to build as I was so close to my destination – the glacier. After a short break at the refuge, I began the final 200m climb. The route was quite steep and slick with inches upon inches of lava ash. The altitude was taking its toll causing me to stop to catch my breath every few minutes. My stops were relatively quick – just enough time to get my heart rate down to a manageable level and snap a shot or two of the landscape. Take it from me, going from sea level to hiking at ~16K feet the following few days probably wasn’t the smartest idea… My heart and lungs definitely got quite the workout from the high altitude/very thin air. However, I was on a mission to get to the glacier before the impending weather, and it had already begun misting, the fog was rolling in, and the wind was starting to pick up…
I managed to reach the glacier at 5,000m (16,400 ft) just before the biting wind and hail started. It was amazingly BEAUTIFUL! The deep scarlet red lava ash sharply contrasted with the white snow-capped volcano, and was draped with the sash of the glacier. Words and photos don’t even begin to capture the immense beauty! I was mesmerized by yet another MAGNIFICENT spot on earth that I was lucky to experience… The melting ice made me a tad bit nervous though – especially knowing that there was an avalanche at this very spot in 1996 that killed 13 people. Thanks to the fog, wind, rain, and hail, that thought was short-lived. I raced down the volcano (or rather slid down the inches upon inches of lava ash) to take cover before I was soaked to the bone.
I finished off my adventure with a 10km mountain bike ride down the volcano to Laguna Limpiopungo. I hadn’t ridden a mountain bike in years and certainly not down a very steep, winding road. Talk about an EXHILARATING day!
~~~~~ What an INCREDIBLE way to close out this South American adventure – ascending one of the highest active volcanoes in the world (and with two friends by my side)! Although I did not summit the volcano, I am incredibly proud that I made it to 5,000m (16,400 ft) to see one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world. I might just have to revisit Cotopoxi Volcano at some future date so that I can ascend all the way to the top…
So, again, I want to thank Mother Nature for so many things – including the beautiful sight but also for keeping the weather at bay so that I could have the opportunity to experience Cotopoxi Volcano in all of its splendor.
Next stop… I am not sure yet… possibly somewhere in SE Asia, Africa, or even back to S. America – Bolivia, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Columbia, are fairly high on my list. But first, I need to accrue some more holiday time and make some more $$$$. (Unfortunately, I have yet to find the money tree). Stay tuned! ~~~~~