Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cotopaxi the hard way - Sea to Sky

Trip report at the bottom.

Pedernales: closest beach to Quito. About 280km in two days, over a 3000m pass. L to R Marco (el lobo) Steve, Pablo (Compadre), Javier (Jefe) Robert joined us for the 2nd and 3rd cycling days as he had just returned from Holland and didn't think he could acclimatize properly.

The peleton just flying along.

Forgot the name of this monster fruit.

Day 3 (after a day off)....on the road from Quito up to Tambopaxi 17km of the 53km that day was cobblestone. Cotopaxi in the distance.

Javier, Marco and Robert from L to R

Sincholagua, just north east of Cotopaxi

Carla hugging some alpine flowers. Javier, Robert and Steve had their families meet us at Tambopaxi. We spent the afternoon and following morning together, before starting the hike to the refuge.

Ramon going for it, with Robert spotting him.

Marti and Elisa (Javier and Robert's daughters) with Cotopaxi in the background. These two lovely girls will be in my class this year!

Javier jumping a canal on the way up to the Refuge. The hike was roughly 1000m vertical metres, followed by 1100m the next day to the summit.

Marquito our expert guide, with whom I have previously climbed Cayambe and Ruminhaui.

Pablo downclimbing a section.

Wasted and coated in rime.

Summit. Steve and Pablo. Spent all of 9 minutes there. Sign reads "Sea to Sky, 5897m 4.5 days.

Trip report:
The idea for this trip had been fomenting in the back of Javier's brain for a number of years. Before he became a mountain guide, he was an Ecuadorian cycling champion and had dreamed of combining his two passions in a challenging way. The four of us started at the closest beach to Quito in Pedernales on Monday, with Robert joining us for 2 out of 3 cycling days. Instead of 3 days, we made it to Quito in 2 very long days, and decided to take a rest day in Quito. On Thursday we biked up to Tambopaxi Lodge....from 2300m in the valley to around 3800m at the lodge. Both Pablo and Marco had never ridden these kinds of distances before and were really happy to have pushed their limits to new extremes. After spending the afternoon and following morning with some of our families, we left after lunch for the 4.5 hour/1000m hike up to the Refuge. Had dinner around 6, hit the sack around 8, got up at midnight and left the refuge at 1am. Marquito the meticulous guide and good friend of Javier's joined us as Javier haden't been up the volcano much recently and the route always changes and to have someone else to turn back with in the event of problems, rather than the whole team turning back. Everyone else had summited Cotopaxi before, except for myself with 2 previous attempts.

So up we went for about 1.5 hours of zigzaging scree to the glacier. At this point, Marco had had enough of the extreme wind (around 80kph higher up) and Javier had a headache in spite of having taken Diamox; so they turned back. Pablo, Marquito and I geared up and started the climb. Many hours of staring at the light from our headlamps as there was no moon. With about 600m vertical remaining, the wind began to blow even harder, knocking us down a number of times, and the snow began. At this point my energy started to wane and I began to consider turning back. The 5 hour toe warmer had expired and my left foot was beginning to freeze. Pablo decided he was OK to continue, so with my total trust in Marquito, having climbed with him twice before, we carried on. At this point, fighting the wind, altitude and extreme fatigue, Marquito practically pulled me along to get me moving (I was in the middle of the rope, being the weakest link) as we had to get down before the ice bridges began to soften. 6.5 hours (at 7:40) later we summited, took a few pics and headed back down after only 9 minutes. It was a total white out and no views whatsoever. A 100m or so below the summit there were one of very few places that were somewhat sheltered from the wind and I managed to get the boot off and get two more foot warmer pads in there. The wind pushed us over a few more times and we got covered in rime, barely able to see where we were going, as we staggered our way back down to the refuge, sometime around 10:30. It was after about 5 minutes in the Refuge that it suddenly hit me, what I had done and rather unexpectedly, a few tears flowed.

Upon reflection, I have NEVER pushed myself to such an extreme climbing. I used my precious remaining energy to gain the summit, thus endangering my ablity to decend, which also put our guide and my partner at risk. That really hit me when I got to the safety of the refugio. Why? 3rd attempt; to go from Sea to Sky; having someone from our team, make it to the summit (if I would have turned back, Pablo would have had to as well). Of course it all turned out well in the end, but overextending myself like that at high altitude, is not something I wish to repeat.

Why so drained?
-Fatigue of cycling from the coast
-Improper acclimatization (although I had no ill effects from the altitude)
-Extreme winds
-hiking 1000m up the previous afternoon.
-no sleep
-Worrying about frozen feet (ended up with minor frostbite on the 2nd toe, enuf to loose the toenail...what irony here on the equator!)

If it wasn't for Marquito, I would have turned back long before, but in retrospect, thinking a guide will be there to get you out of trouble, just doesn't sit well with me afterwards, as I put myself and others in danger.

In the was a great team effort and everyone learned that they were capable of something more than expected!

In an email later from Javier:
"It's not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves"-Sir Edmund Hillary
You did not conquer Coto profe just got to know your self better

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