November 12, 2007 – Tambopaxi, Ecuador

 Our view of Cotopaxi from Tambopaxi lodge

You may have noticed in my dispatch from the Cotopaxi hut that we were not very confident as we went to bed that the snow would stop and that we would be able to attempt to climb Cotopaxi on the 11th.

We awoke early anyway — perhaps not as early as we should have, but at 1:00 a.m. it looked as though the snow had stopped and we felt that the cloud layer that remained above us was dissipating, so we prepared to begin climbing.

Cotopaxi's shadow below us as we climb at dawnBy 2:30 a.m. we were moving up the steep trail that led to the glacier on Cotopaxi. Forty-five minutes later we put on our crampons and roped up.  The starlight above us was encouraging for good conditions to come, but the new snow on the glacier was deep and the going was slow.

We’d heard from the hut keepers that due to the deep snow no one had reached the top of Cotopaxi for 8 days prior to when we arrived.  Four people had made the summit on the 10th, but for us the trail-breaking on the steep glacier track was difficult.

The climbing was beautiful however, and we all have memories of astounding views as the sun was rising.  As we looked out from over 5000 meters of elevation (16,400 feet) the appearance of the shadow of the giant volcano we were climbing was unforgettable to see. We continued our cold ascent into the sunny morning, and by 9:15 a.m. we had reached an elevation of 5660 meters (18,500 feet), less than 200 meters (650 feet) from the very top.

From that point, though, the snow got deeper. We knew there could be hazardous avalanche conditions forming in the afternoon, and so had agreed that we had an absolute turn-around time of 10:30 a.m., regardless of whether we had reached the top or not.

Mike climbs high on Cotopaxi

With some disappointment, but also with tired legs and lungs that were telling us that descent was a good idea, we turned back short of the summit and returned to the Cotopaxi hut where we’d left our gear.  The weekend crowd of mountain tourists was arriving en mass as we got back. We took a bowl of soup with Ruffles potatos chips for our lunch, then continued the rest of the way to our vehicle.

A short drive down the road brought us to the beautiful Tambopaxi lodge at 3800 meters.  Today was Opus' birthday, so we enjoyed a cake to celebrate after dinner.

Opus celebrates his birthday

We told the staff here at our lodge at Tambopaxi that we wanted to sleep in and have breakfast at 8:00 a.m., then took showers and went to bed early. Despite our sleep-in plan, we awoke at 6:00 this morning to the excitement of seeing Cotopaxi rising beautifully above us.

Our high point on Cotopaxi

Is it tough to think that we did not make it to the very top?  Yes, but it is also good to know that we are down safely and that we had the fantastic experience of going as high as we did yesterday.  There is a spotting scope in the dining room here and we see this morning that groups on the mountain today also seem to be turning around before the summit. We watched skiers who have the flotation to stay on top of the snow come gliding down, and we understand that one skier went all the way to the top and descended yesterday. For the time being, though, climbers will be hoping all the new snow on the high volcanoes of Ecuador will settle soon.

Previous | Menu | Next

All Text, Images and Audio Files © Berg Adventures International 2007