Cotopaxi National Park

Trip Start Jan 23, 2008
Trip End May 23, 2008

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Today opened a new chapter in our travel, climbing some of Ecuadorīs amazing volcanos.

We took a bus from Quito to Lasso, a small town near Cotopaxi National Park. At the bus stop, there were several trucks waiting to take people and their stuff to their final destination. Sometimes itīs clibers with huge backpacks, sometimes itīs a new bed from a nearby town, sometimes itīs agrcultural products.

We settled a price with one of the drivers, threw our stuff in the back and headed for the park. We soon learned why one takes a truck and not a regular taxi into the park. The approach road is long and bumpy. I was amused by the fact that even on a deserted country raod, the drivers still honk at one another.

We encountered a little resistance at the entrance gate becasue we did not have a guide with us. We had anticipated this a little bit from advice gleaned from others. But as experienced climbers with our own gear, we really didnīt feel we needed a guide. So Bill played dumb, and the driver came up with a story that we were meeting our guide at the Refugio. Good teamwork is important in any mountain adventure.

We had the driver drop us off at the campground near Lago Limpiapunga (around 12,500 ft) and we set up in a nice grove of pines which would provide shelter from the wind and rain that seemed inevitable. We then headed off to explore the area. We started out on a trail that followed an aqueduct and when the trail petered out, we simply set out across the rolling hills.

The landscape looked from a distance to be quite barren and the dark clouds overhead pushed it towards desolate even. However, the ground was covered with a rich carpet of moss, lichen, grass, and tiny alpine wildflowers. The flowers were especially captivating, as many were familiar (indian paintbrush, lupine, huckleberry) but in miniature. The lupine were perhaps 3 inches tall, and there was a very pretty yellow-green orchid about the same size that was also common. However, both were so teeny that my photos of them did not turn out! The other common groundcover was caca de vaca. Wilderness means differnt things in different places. While itīs probably not good for the alpine ecosystem, it did relieve us of the guilt we were feeling about hiking off a trail. That was a welcome releif as I absolutely loved the sense of openness and freedom as we roamed over the hillsides.

We hiked up to the top of a nearby hill that afforded great views of the surrounding landscape, including the roads up to the Refugio on Cotopaxi. As we made our way back down to camp, we glimpsed some wildlife; a very noisy bird that must be a sort of killdeer, an actual deer, a couple rabbits, and even some of the local vacas.

As usual, Ecuador never fails to amaze us with its beauty and diversity.

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