The world’s highest active volcano, Cotopaxi, towers above the landscape at an impressive 19347 ft (5897m). Her name comes from two Quechuan words:”Coto” meaning “neck” and “paxi” meaning moon. Apparently the moon sometimes perches atop the mountain as the head to her neck.
The drive into this pristine park was impressive on its own. Most astounding for me was seeing how much the landscape differs between the north and south of Quito. The last two days spent north of the city couldn’t prepare us for what we saw today.
The drive there took us outside of the city where green rolling mountains flecked with fields dominated the landscape. The potato plants were flowering and various new vistas emerged from beneath the thick blanket of fog as we climbed.
We arrived at Cotopaxi National Park and headed up to the parking lot nearest the base camp. Our guide, Cristian, has been leading climbs and day tours in the area for 17 years (in all that time, I was the first preggo he ever guided!). He was patient, knowledgeable and got us off to a great start.
Due to the sudden hike in altitude (we started off somewhere around 15000 ft vs. Quito’s 8000-10000) he had us walk very slowly as we began our hike. This was my first experience at such incredible altitude. We began to pick up the pace a little as we went, when suddenly I felt a pounding in my ears and began to see black dots. This was a bizarre sensation, especially as I wasn’t winded or feeling any differently beforehand. In any event, it was nothing a minute of sitting down couldn’t quickly put to rights and we were back on our way.
The walk was spectacular with visible striations, different shades of volcanic rock, views over the valley below and finally the summit.
We hiked up to the base camp, where those planning to summit the volcano stay in preparation. The trek is apparently 6 hours long from there and about 70% of those who attempt it succeed. It was here that we had a picnic lunch and, as the lodge is currently under construction, observed the donkeys bringing up the building supplies. These donkeys did not seem to like it one bit!
Today, we made it to the highest point we’ve ever been – 15953 ft!
Aside of the day (rated R): This is more of a hilarious scene really. The donkeys headed down the mountain just ahead of us and we arrived to them waiting next to the parking lot. One particularly frisky male donkey was attempting to mate with a female… BUT he was doing it backwards. He kept jumping on her poor head, clearly not quite grasping the geometry of the thing. She was having none of it.