Summit of Mt Cotopaxi
November 13, 2013 I climbed to the summit of Mt Cotopaxi (5897 metres) with a dude called Richard from Tasmania and our local guide Diego from Ecuador. Cotopaxi is the 2nd highest active volcano in the world. Diego told us only about 25% of climbers reach the summit. Most turn back because of fatigue and/or altitude sickness. I heard on average 1 climber dies each month attempting the summit. It takes around 6 hours to reach the summit. We somehow did it in 5 hours.
We hiked up to Jose F. Ribas Refuge (base camp at 4800m), ate dinner and went to bed right after to try and sleep. Most people were doing their best to get rest, but it was impossible with everyone else in the cabin nervous getting up to go to the toilet, rustling bags, and I remember one guy letting rip a huge fart which normally I would find quite funny but thought "Is that bloody necessary!!"
After getting no sleep, we got up for breakfast at midnight, then gear up. We left base camp at 1am harnessed and roped up together with our ice axes, crampons, helmets, head lamps, ropes, carabiners, Oreos and hot tea in our flasks. I couldn't believe we were climbing a notoriously dangerous mountain at night. It was freezing, with strong winds, ice and snow. I had snotsicles on my snotsicles.
The climb was grueling. The three of us were linked up by rope, Diego leading, Richard in the middle and me at the back. So if Richard or I lost control Diego would be there to stop us all from falling. If Diego lost control we would be screwed. I didn't really enjoy much of it due to the immense physical drain and a head ache gradually increasing because of the altitude, but at the same time it was exciting and an amazing thing to be doing. I spent a lot of the climb telling myself to keep breathing and battle against the altitude, hoping it wouldn't kill me. I was worried the head ache could become extreme and my brain could hemorrhage. Each step was tiring, keeping in mind we weren't walk normally, we were kind of side ways criss-crossing our legs step by step, and it's uphill on ice or snow with the wind howling to make it even more difficult. And its pitch black most of the way up apart from the light from our headlamp! This was the most challenging thing I've ever done, mentally and physically. The higher we climbed the more intense the altitude sickness effected me. My whole body felt slow and heavy, I struggled to even lift my drink bottle up to my face when we stopped each hour for a three minute break.
It was around 5.30 am once we got to the last 200m. We started getting some light. This part of the climb was very steep, almost vertical, we had to pull ourselves up using our ice axes. I was exhausted but kept going and finally at around 6am we reached the summit, the pain in my head disappeared and it felt amazing to be up there at 5897m. Hugs all round. The views were incredible, the sun had just risen above the clouds.
After some quick photos, 5 minutes later we linked up again and set off for the decent. The 2 hour trip down was a lot easier apart from the excruciating pain in my head with every step I took! That was radical! Back at base camp I said to myself I never want to do anything like that again. Now being back in the real world I can't wait to get back out for another adventure.