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.