• Cotopaxi
  • 5897 m
  • Primary factor 2404 m
  • Location: South 00:40.825 West 078:26.258 (GPS on the summit)
  • Second highest in Ecuador.
  • Saddle: 3493 m
  • Difficulty: Grade PD-, YDS class 2+, snow/ice climb.
  • Climbed December 14, 2008.


How to get there:
Cotopaxi, the second highest mountain in Ecuador, is located in Cotopaxi National Park. This park is located south (and slightly east) of the capital Quito. From Quito, it is likely that the north entrance would be the best approach. The roads inside the park have variable quality, one is absolutely best served with a 4WD vehicle if driving to the parking lot located below the mountain hut. The lodge Tampopaxi is located between the north park entrance and the mountain. Situated at 3750 meter, this lodge can be recommended for an intermediate stop, perhaps for further improving acclimatization.
The parking area is located at S00:39.429, W078:26.316, elevation 4635 meter. This is the trailhead park here. The hike to the mountain hut should take about 45 minutes if done at a very moderate pace. The hut is located at S00:39.823, W078:26.324, elevation approximately 4870 meter. The official name is Refugio José Ribas S. J. It is a pretty basic structure with a single, large room for sleeping, while gas for cooking and water are provided downstairs.
Route description:
From the back of the refuge, an obvious trail heads west, initially on rock, but pretty soon (depending a bit on the season and conditions) it turns into snow. The route continues in a fairly steep traversing ascent of a big snow slope. Above this, one enters an area with a few crevasses, easy to cross or bypass on snow bridges when we were there. The route continues at a more moderate angle and traverses more horizontally before reaching another steeper hill. On top of this, the route turns left and aims for the quite distinct horizon above. The top section of this is steep, but slightly less so the further left one moves. Unfortunately, the steepness and exposure below increases the further left one moves. Thus, a compromise must be made and the crossing of the top 5 meter of this slope consitutes the crux of the climb. From this point, one traverses a few more meter left, hits a big crevasse that requires a slight downclimb in order to be turned, but from that point the difficulties are over. Ascend a few easy slopes and arrive at a very nice summit plateau. This summit is all snow and consequently, its precise elevation will change a bit depending on the amount of snowfall. There is a very nice view of the main crater from the far end of the summit area.

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Trip Report (continued):
The beginning of this trip report is here.
Day 5: Resting at Tambopaxi.
Diego picked us up around 0930 and we immediately drove towards the north entrance of Cotopaxi National Park. After a short drive inside the park, we arrived at the very nice lodge Tambopaxi, where we would spend the night.
Rob and I went for a short walk in order to test out that he was getting back in shape and hopefully, ready to climb Cotopaxi. We had a nice walk around the nearby fields, and a good view of Sincholagua (4898m), while Cotopaxi remained hidden in clouds. We observed a few llamas, got a drizzle of rain and returned to the lodge ready for dinner.
Day 6: Transfer to Refugio Cotopaxi.
Tonight, I did not sleep well! About 5 visits to the bathroom. What has affected Rob has turned to me. I wake up feeling weak and totally dehydrated. My stomach is not keeping anything any more. Really bad timing! In about 16 hours we are scheduled to climb a mountain almost 5900 meter high. The queen herself showed her white dress to us this morning.
I spent the rest of the morning in bed trying to recover. We left in the late morning and drove up to the parking lot by 1145. I started my hut climb feeling really weak and totally out of shape. By noon, I was resting just above 4700 meter. I figured that about one third was done and decided to rest one more time before reaching the hut. However, I was soon quite exhausted and was forced to make another stop. Upon checking with my GPS, I had gained 18 vertical meter since my previous rest. My morale was near absolute zero. It had taken me 15 minutes to gain 18 meter, how in the world should I climb another 1000 vertical less than 12 hours from now?
Somehow I managed, arriving at the hut after one hour, The future looked grim, I found a bed and laid down. Taking one dinner of "Real Turmat" (imported from Norway), I realized that I needed some energy if this climb should be possible.
Day 7: The climb of Cotopaxi.
I woke up at midnight and had a double portion of breakfast porridge with extra raisins and hazelnuts. We then started out shortly after 0100. We had decided to climb as two teams. Rob and I would form one team while Diego and Adam would make up a second team. We started last, everybody else that wanted to attempt the climb were already on their way.
The air was fresh and the stars were brilliant. I felt better than in what seemed like a long time. Soon, we put on crampons and started up what I saw (from other climber's lights) would be a long hill. We made pretty good time and kept overtaking other teams. Sometimes stuck behind teams that seemed to advance at a snail's pace. How easy it would be if such a team just stepped out of the trail for a minute, letting others pass? To overtake by making a new, parallel track in the loose snow while going uphill, was sometimes just too hard.
We made a number of short rests, but I felt that we were doing fine and moreover, I felt confident that we would succeed. It seemed almost like a miracle that my body was back in shape having felt so miserable just a few hours earlier.
We needed to wait for quite a while just below the "crux" area. Two other teams were climbing up the short pitch and patience was needed. We finally got up to the steeper part and the footsteps were not perfect. Active use of the axe for security as well as some kicking of steps seemed necessary. The next crevasse came as a big surprise, but the terrain was easy enough in order to turn it. We kept a good pace and arrived at the summit by 0605, 5 hours. A few teams had arrived just before us, but the majority of teams were still on the slopes below.
A very nice light everywhere as the sunrise progressed rapidly. The Cotopaxi crater looked impressive and semi-active. Adam and Diego arrived about 15 minutes later. Adam seemed quite exhausted and a little bit unable to enjoy the phenomenal scenery that unfolded around us. A couple of young (Ecuadorian) girls arrived, they showed great joy and excitement. "We are as close to heaven as is possible", exclaimed one of them. We left at 0650, and started descending. At the crux point, we had to wait while two different teams made their way up. The downhill hike was still very easy. It paid to make a new track and not walk in the uphill path. The snow was still firm and supported our steps with just perfect cushion. We stopped a few times to photograph the route as well as impressive ice formations since it was too dark to see this well while ascending. Back at the refugio by 0845. Adam and Rob wanted a short break upstairs while I had a nice chat with an American that was part of a larger organized tour. He had turned back about half-way up. We could still see most of Cotopaxi from the refugio, quite a formidable view. By 10 AM, we made the easy descent back down to the parking area. A very successful day already two hours before noon.
We drove south and out of the park. Diego knew about a nice hotel, Cuello de Luna, where we could rest and relax, the plan being to stay there two nights before heading to our biggest and principal goal - Chimborazo. We exited from the park, crossed the big Pan-American highway and entered another small dirt road leading up to our next hotel. (This trip report continues there.)