Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cotopaxi Successfully Summited

Cotopaxi was quite the ordeal, a butt-kicking really.

We took the van in the morning of the 13th. We could see the mountain on approach and had to stop for photos several times.

This mountian was to be the highlight for us, and we were all in high spirits. We hiked up to the refuge, which was no small feat! We had our large packs and were at 4810m! This first day was spent resting, laying in bed once we got up there. I´d like to note here our snack for that day: bread with cheese and mustard. Can I say AWESOME?

The next day was an early rise, as we had to get to Snow School. After a breakfast of granola and blackberry yogurt, we hiked out onto the snow at the base of the glaciar. We practiced walking as a rope team, self-arrest, and other ice skills during the morning. It was then back to bed at about 10am, resting until lunch at 1pm. Finally we rested again until dinner at 5pm, another meal which deserves note: pasta with tomato, ricotta, and chestnut pesto. Delish.

After dinner, it was rest time until our summit push. The altitude has not been too much of an issue for me: I was eating well and sleeping without much difficulty. When I wasn´t sleeping, I was reading Ghandi´s autobiography, possibly a new favorite book! But I digress. We awoke at 12:15am, having planned on a 1 am start since we had been crushing all our other climbs and expected to make a great pace. It took us 30 minutes to suit up, getting all our layers on, boots, gaiters, and final packing of our bags. We then took breakfast, eating some danish and drinking hot, hot coffee. Finally, we were off!

We were one of the last teams out, leaving at 1:10 am, but as we proceeded unroped on the snow up to the glaciar, we began to overtake multiple teams. We reached the glaciar quickly, running into a group of about three teams at the base of the steep snow and ice that marked the begining of the glaciar. They were getting their ropes out and preping the team for the real start of the climb. Instead of setting down with the teams there, we made our way up the steep ascent and roped in at the top. This enabled us to pass these teams. A quick change of plans resulted in Tim and Stephan being roped in with our Ecuadorian guide, Ronaldo, and Dan and I operating as a two person rope team.

We ascended the glaciar in the dark of night, only able to see as far as our headlamps would show us. During the descent, I realized this to be a good thing: I had no idea the degree of exposure on some sections! Three specific locations are worth mention. The first was an ice wall that we had to traverese the base of. To do so, we had to walk with our sides to the wall along an ice ledge about six to eight inches wide with a 75 degree slope to the side. The second site was pretty much identical to the first. The third site was a steep ice climb, requiring us to front-point our crampons into the ice and use our axes for hand grips. The photo below is of us doing the same section, during the descent.

And finally, we were there. Exausted and freezing (from the start I had been fighting frost bite on my toes, and then on my hands), we reached the summit. What a view! We were the first team to ascend that morning, having passed all of them on the ascent, and our arrival was timed perfectly to the rising sun! A blistering pace, we summited at 5:50 am, after 4 hours and 40 minutes.

The descent was painful: as I regained the feeling in my feet, I also began to feel the big blisters on my pinky toes. Obviously, I was a very happy camper to make it back to the refuge!

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