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Cotopaxi Express

MM client Rick G. sends in his trip report from our July Cotopaxi Express.

The July 12 – 20 Cotopaxi Express” team had a great adven­ture and — thanks to the out­stand­ing lead­er­ship of our guide, Nico M. — enjoyed suc­cess on sum­mit day. Rick G., from Indi­ana, USA, and Anders B. and Kjer­s­ki F. (both from Nor­way) met at the won­der­ful­ly com­fort­able Hacien­da Rumilo­ma, in the hills above Quito on Sun­day morn­ing, July 13. That day, we enjoyed an infor­ma­tive and scenic tour of the his­toric Old City and its incred­i­bly beau­ti­ful church­es, squares, and streets. On Mon­day morn­ing, we met up with Nico, rode up the Quito Tele­feri­co (“The Sec­ond High­est Cable Car in the World), and began our accli­ma­tiz­ing with a laid-back hike-and-scam­ble up the Rucu Pich­in­cha (15,696) volcano.

Next, it was a hour or so dri­ve to the lit­tle town of El Chaupi where we rest­ed in a casu­al hos­tel, chat­ted with some oth­er climbers who were also get­ting ready for Cotopaxi, and talked about the next day’s train­ing hike up to the Nuevos Horizantes refu­gios, which sits on the sad­dle (at 15.416) between Illiniza Sur and Illiniza Norte. It was cloudy and windy, and we appre­ci­at­ed the help we got with our gear from a few hors­es. Up at the Refu­gio, there was cloud and ver­glas out­side, but Nico put togeth­er a great three-course meal and we man­aged to get a good rest. The next morn­ing, Nico made the call that the con­di­tions on Norte were not good, and so we (and the hors­es) came back down to El Chaupi and drove over to the Cotopaxi Nation­al Park for a Plan B” train­ing hike-and-scram­ble on Rumi­nahui (15,459), anoth­er extinct vol­cano. It was still windy — even more so, we could see, on Cotopaxi — but the views of the Park and the paramo were great. 

That night, we rest­ed up and ate well at anoth­er great place, the Chilcabam­ba Lodge just out­side the Park, and kept our eyes on Cotopaxi, hop­ing for the wind to die down a bit. The next morn­ing, we were joined by our assis­tant guide, Juan, had a nice lunch at the Hos­te­ria Tam­bopaxi, and — because the Jose Ribas hut is closed and being rebuilt — found din­ner and bunks, with sev­er­al oth­er climbers, at anoth­er small hos­tel in the Park. At about 10:00 p.m., we were up and on our way. We agreed that it was a good omen when the cheesy Vanil­la Ice clas­sic” — Ice, Ice Baby” — came on.

A 45-minute hike up sandy (but pret­ty much frozen) slope brought us and a few dozen oth­er climbers — from Que­bec, the U.K., and else­where — to the Refu­gio. It was windy and cold, but the skies were clear and the stars were stun­ning. We got into our har­ness­es, put on our hel­mets, and moved across some rock, and then a frozen snow­field, to the start of the glac­i­er. At this point, we divid­ed into two groups — Kjer­sti and Anders, the stronger and faster climbers, were with Juan and Rick paired up with Nico. 

For the next sev­er­al hours, we moved steadi­ly — the first group well ahead of the sec­ond — through the wind, took a few breaks, passed a few groups and were passed by some oth­ers, and enjoyed the beau­ti­ful sun­rise an hour or so from the sum­mit. The last few hun­dred feet were prob­a­bly the steep­est and most dif­fi­cult, but it turned out that we had all been well accli­ma­tized thanks to Nico and Moun­tain Mad­ness and our steady pace allowed us to make good time. The sum­mit was clear and cold, and the views were all we could have hoped for. Because many of the oth­er climbers had turned around, we had the sum­mit near­ly to our­selves, but we did­n’t stay that long. As we start­ed the descent, clouds start­ed to roll in. A few hours lat­er, we were back at the car, and feel­ing great. Anoth­er very rest­ful night at the his­toric and enchant­i­ng Hacien­da La Ciene­ga and then it was back to Quito, Rumilo­ma, and — the next day — home. We were for­tu­nate to enjoy this chal­leng­ing and reward­ing adven­ture with great com­pa­ny, out­stand­ing guides, and — along the way — new friends.