Climbing Cotopaxi, the World’s Highest Volcano

By: Adriana Velasco

Adriana reached the Summit of CotopaxiIt all began back in 2008 when I went with my father to climb Ruco Pichincha (4600m), Quito´s nearest mountain.  A renowned mountain climber in his youth, he inspired me the same passion and love of the mountains that day.  That´s when I realized my goals had to be higher in that field, to climb Ecuador´s most beautiful active volcano: Cotopaxi, 5789m.  Back in January 2009 my first attempt to summit was successful, but the bad weather conditions didn´t give us a chance to see the crater nor the impressive view.  I knew I had to come back to experience the summit and the view with good weather…

I started training for the second attempt in September 2009, combining physical conditioning with acclimatization outings to stunning rocky mountains such as Corazón, Iliniza Norte and Sincholagua to gain the required acclimatization. 

The day came and anxiety and happiness filled my senses.  We arrived with our specialized guide at the mountain refuge “Jose Rivas” located at 4900m at noon only to find about 60 other nervous mountain climbers. Some were resting and others preparing their equipment for the night´s upcoming adventure.  A few were fellow Ecuadorians, but the majority were international guests from all over the world: Spain, USA, France, and more. But we were all there for the same objective: to conquer Cotopaxi. 

After an early dinner at 6pm, it was time to sleep.  Outside the wind was roaring only to remind us where we were and what was waiting for us. Some snored, some read, some stared into the dark waiting to get some sleep.  The alarm went on at 12am.  It was time.  After a small snack and some hot tea we headed outside to start the adventure.  We could only see what our head flashlights illuminated up front and the only sound was the untamed cold wind. 

The ascent started with a 2-hour hike up a dirt and rock zig zag.  Then, it was time to put on our crampons and start the hike on the glacier.  The view only got better. Up and down you could see a fascinating line of flashing and moving head lights, we were a big group climbing that night. Far away, Quito was sparkling with orange city lights. The sky was clear and the stars were out.  We had to focus on every step of the way being careful to hear our guide´s instructions and follow his lead.  The snow sparkled with our head lights. As the night went by the high altitude was felt, thin air, a little headache, sleepiness and cold. 

After five hours in total of hiking in very steep glacier and in some parts soft snow, the reward for the hard effort was amazing… The summit at dawn.  As the sun lit up the round and large summit, some clouds started to move away.  Large in diameter and with a ring of snow, there it was, the most impressive and beautiful view I had ever seen: the crater.  There are no words to describe the feeling of being in the summit once again, to be in the summit of Ecuador´s most beautiful volcano and to see its breathtaking crater, to admire the amazing view to the nearby valleys and mountains (far away even Chimborazo, Ecuador´s highest mountain, showed up). But most of all, the incredible feeling of being on top of the world, to reach the sky, and to conquer a personal goal. This will not be the last time I stand up there… I´ll be back!