To wrap up an exhausting, albeit incredible week having Sami in Ecuador, we decided to leave Quito behind and head for the mountains, or in this case, volcanoes. We booked an excursion in Cotopaxi national park to hike up to a glacier, and mountain-bike back down.
Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in the world. It is exactly what you would imagine a volcano to look like–a perfect triangle, topped with icy-snow. With an altitude of 5,897 meters (19,347 ft), it is the second highest peak in Ecuador. Cotopaxi is a climber’s favorite due to the close proximity to Quito, but due to the high altitude and the glacial parts requiring the use of crampons, it is supposed to be technical. In the past, eruptions have devastated the nearby town of Latacunga and other surrounding areas. If there is another huge eruption, the biggest effect would be on the economy, since one of Ecuador’s main exports is roses, and the soil would become infertile in the years following an eruption.
Instead of doing the full two-day climb, we opted for a lighter option. We took a bus to the parking lot, and then hiked about 200 meters to the refuge, which was at 4,864 meters or 15,953 feet. From the refuge, we hiked another 200 meters to the beginning of the glacier. This was really special for me, because I fell in love with the mountains during an incredible hike up to a glacier in Glacier National Park with my family. That was about 10 years ago, and I don’t think that I’ve seen a glacier since.
Quito has somewhat bipolar weather, and a blanket of smoggy pollution that hangs over it, but on a clear day the volcano is visible from the city. The weather God’s had our best interests at heart, because it was the most amazingly beautiful and clear day that I have had since I arrived in Ecuador in August. There was not a single cloud in the sky until the late afternoon. This meant that we had views of about 6 different volcanoes as well as Quito as we ascended Cotopaxi. I could not have asked for a more beautiful day.
Luckily, we got a perfect view of Chimborazo, which is Ecuador’s highest peak at 6,268 metres or 20,564 ft. Because of it’s location on the equator, Chimborazo is actually the farthest point from the earth’s center—yes, Mount Everest is the greatest distance from sea level, but Chimborazo is the farthest from the center of the earth.
Instead of merely taking a bus back down the volcano, we strapped a helmet on, said a prayer, and mountain-biked down. Let me just start this by saying that I am not exactly a great biker. In addition to my inadequacies, the way that the wind hits the volcano, there were mogul like bumps everywhere that shook me straight to my core. It was very cold due to the elevation, and I thought that my hands might fall off, or they might just not be able to grip the brakes anymore. I was also in constant fear of sliding out on the loose gravel. But, amidst my struggles of making it down, I was able to look up and drink in the most beautiful scenery, which amplified the adventure. When I reached the bottom, I felt totally exhilarated.
My experience at Cotopaxi national park was one that I could never replicate. Everything went smoothly, a clear but welcome juxtaposition to our Amazon adventures. As I bid Sami farewell, I realized that she really did have the full Ecua experience. We had inefficiencies and frustrations and stomach bugs, but we also saw miraculous landscapes and had once in a lifetime experiences. That’s what this country and what this year has been—a little sweet and a little salty.