The climb from Camp 1 to Camp 2

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

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Day 2 of our Cotopaxi climb. We spent the night at a rather large and rather deserted camping area. We woke up to rain a few times in the night, but by morning the sun was out and we lingered over breakfast, basking a bit before packing up camp. Mistake? By the time we had nearly packed everything but the tent (maybe 30 minutes) the sun was obscured by some very pregnant rain clouds. Bill had the wisdom to retreat into the tent while it was still sprinkling because within a few minutes the deluge had begun. So we read and played chess and within a couple hours the inevitable change of weather had shifted in our favor. We quickly, packed up and hit the road, as we figured we had about 12 km and 3000 feet to cover to reach the Refugio.

Our plan was to hike at least a couple hours to help acclimatize. After that, we might accept a lift if it was offered (and free). The main road went WAY out of the way, so we set off across the open terrain sometimes following old unused roads, sometimes travelling overland. Along the way, we saw more vacas and the skeletal remains of three horses. I had heard there were wild horses in the park, but apparently they are not doing as well as the semi- domesticated cattle.

After about two hours, we were back on the main road and pretty willing to take a lift were it offered. But being a weekday, traffic was very light.

After three hours, we were willfully hoping that a ride would come along. However the few cars that did pass by were full of people and or gear. At least the weather was holding between overcast and occaisional sprinkles.

After four hours, in thick chilly fog, we were both praying for a ride. Given the lateness in the afternoon and the weather this seemed unlikely. And then, a white truck appeared from the mist and slowed just enought for us to throw our stuff and oursleves in the bed. The two guys inside never said a word, they just pulled up at the trailhead, and after we jumped out, they drove off back down the hill into the swirling fog. A little supernatual if you ask me.

We could not remember how far it was from the trailhead to the Refugio nor what to expect when we arrived. But light was waning and snow was falling, so there was nothing to do but trudge up the pumice path. It was a long steep slow hike and just as dusk was giving way to darkness, the looming mass of a building appeared ahead. Our humbling hike was at an end.

The Refugio turned out to be just that, and more. The ground floor consisted of two fully equipped kitchens and two dining room areas with sturdy wooden tables. Upstairs were two bunk rooms, some bunks 3 high under the high vaulted rafters. Along the edges of the bunkroom, gear lockers were built into the eaves between the roofline and the floor. The bathroom was just outside, and even featured porcelin toilets in stalls. You still had to provide your own TP and flushing was gravity-fed using a bucket of water from the nearby barell, but this was an amazing set up for +15,750 ft. It was truly a refuge!

Most of the couple dozen folks there were gathered in the main kitchen and dining area, where there was more warmth and light. The lights run off solar-charged batteries, and the stoves in the kitchen run off propane. Beside a small wooden stove, there is no heating, but in our warm clothes and with plenty of warm drinks on hand, it was quite cozy.

It seemed that the guided groups had it pretty nice, as their tables were covered in plates of steaming food, crackers, cookies, assorted hot teas set out by their guides and the refugio staff. However, I got to hang out in the toasty kitchen cooking and working on my Spanish. And soon enough, we too sat down to a warm pasta dinner pasta. Canned meatballs never tasted so good.

While I was cooking, Bill made a startling discovery...SKIS! The owner of the hut actually had a classic pair of 200 cm straight skis. The lack of boots turned out to be a show-stopper, though. So close!

After dinner, we chatted with some of the other climbers and guides to learn more about the route and conditions before going to bed. Apparently, they had just had a big avalance on Monday. The problem wasnīt what had come down, it was what hadnīt. Nevertheless, groups were going out each night to travel at least the safe part of the route, and go as far as conditions allowed. And of course conditions are incredibly variable with spells of raosting equatorial sun, new snow, and wind.

Around midnight, we awoke to the unzipping of sleeping bags and flashing of headlamps, as the others prepared for their summit day. I was so cozy in my sleeping bag that I was glad we had planned an extra day to acclimatize. After everyone pounded down the stairs in their big mountaineering boots, I was able to drift back to sleep.

Good luck, chicos!!!
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