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Published: July 25th 2010
Not only were we tired from horse riding the day before, we were also both pretty saddle sore. My giggling when Rocillo finally decided to run had turned into a wince of pain when we sat down for breakfast! We had an early-ish start driving off into the Cotopaxi National Park. Our guide Luis explained about the nature of Cotopaxi volcano before giving us a tour of the park's museum. Cotopaxi erupts every 100 years and is currently 6 years overdue for its next eruption. Worryingly, in its last eruption it destroyed part of Quito and Latacunga in just 5 minutes, hence the new town in Quito. Add to this the fact its cone shape concentrates the pressure to give a stronger eruption... good job Sophie and I were about to climb this volcano, the highest snow-capped active volcano with a summit of 5897m.
The bus drove us up to the car park at 4500m (read open area made of volcanic ash) where we readied ourselves in our warm and water proof clothing, got out our faithful walking poles and got ready to go. We stepped off the bus and into circa 35km per hour winds whipping hailstones at us.
Not prepared for this! So up was pulled the scarf life a face mask, hoods pulled tight and we started our ascent. Plenty of our group struggled a little in the adverse weather and high altitude, but we made a good pace until Sophie suffered a random nosebleed. Luckily I noticed before she turned too much of the black ash to red. There are two types of volcanic rocks - red and black, red being older, often blasted from the top at the beginning of eruptions.
At 4800m we reached the Jose Rivas refuge where we rested, tried to enjoy the view through the clouds engulfing us and were treated to a hot drink. I even branched out and had a few sips of hot chocolate! While we drank we chatted to Dan from Chicago, doing the reverse of our trip he only had good things to say about Venezuela. This helped to settle Sophie's mind given all the bad stuff we had heard about it recently. After resting, we set off on the next stage of our climb and were delighted to spot what looked like a fox, but was in fact an Andean Wolf. This is one
of the endemic animals to the park which is also home to 6 condors out of the 65 in Ecuador. Sophie was delighted that we had seen 6 in Colca Canyon alone, as many as we could possibly see her on a clear day. The hike took us up to the glacier, breaking the 5000m mark, hefty for a hike. We posed for a few pictures here, but the temperature sent us back tot the refuge. We weren't surprised that those walking past us headed to the summit had very professional looking gear and huge backpacks of equipment.
After lunch we headed back to the car park in the clearer day which had developed. It was here Sophie, still aching from horse riding and cold from the altitude, decided to stay in the bus with a few of the others while the rest of us were kitted our with helmets and bikes to undertake a 14km descent to Laguna Limpiopungo. Some parts were pretty steep, there was loose gravel all over the track and rocks and boulders scattered throughout the route, plus crevices to cross. All in all, this led to riding the brakes a lot, side sliding on
loose volcanic ash and having a few hairy moments, especially trying to take steep corners. But it was plenty of fun! Sophie followed down on the bus, picking up the stragglers and strugglers before meeting us at the bottom and heading back. A quick stop at Papagayo gave us cake and time to pick up our bags before we raced against the rush hour back to Quito.
We checked back into hostel Marsella, our room here becoming like home, before rushing out before dusk in this dangerous city to grab dinner in the old town. How Sophie Sees It
The hailstorm felt like a million pinpricks on my exposed face and I wished I hadn’t sent home my thick winter scarf home. The ascent was tough but at only a couple of hours I felt rather pathetic compared to those doing the two day hike to the 6000m summit. However, with a weather as it was I did not envy them camping out here and struggling to sleep at the altitude.
I couldn't face yet another night at the bloody Chinese place next to our hostel so we walked as fast as we could to the
heart of the old town, racing against the sunset, to a pizza place for a drawn out dinner with wine and beer - bliss after our active 3 days.
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