Cotopaxi summit day

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

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

The night was cold, clear and starry, perfect climbing conditions. We didnīt even need haedlamps on because the moonlight was so bright on the snow. We were able to hike about a half and hour before roping up. Ironically, Bill punched through the snow up to his waist while roping up and we realized we were standing at the head of a little crevasse. Good time to rope up.

From there, we made our way below the toe of the glacier and eventually the path led onto the debris field from the avalanche. It was actually sorta fun winding over, through, and around the chucks. We both felt great, and slowly but surely passed all the other teams. Eventually, we reached the crown on the avalanche. At this point, another team caught up with us. Their guide dug a snow pit and conditions seemed favorable to keep going for a bit. (Side note; this guy spoke English to us, Italian to his one client, and German to the other one. Impressive!) About another hundred meters up, the guide dug another snow pit. He and Bill were in conversation for some time, and showed us the layers that they were concerned about. His main concern was that if it warmed up as you were descending, the layer might give. So he decided to head back down.

Since it was still early (around 4:00 am) and very cold (it was a little misty and was starting to snow a bit), we decided to keep heading up a little more. From the avalanche classes I have taken, I knew enough to recognize the layers, but was less certain their potential to fail. Given Billīs experience in this department, I felt confident in his assessment for the time being. We spied a point ahead of us that seemed like a good objective. From there, we could check the time and snowpack and go from there.

The problem with points on these big mountains is that they always keep getting farther and farther away. And the farther we went, the harder going it got because the snow was getting deep. Sometimes on the crusty stuff, I was able to stay on top of the snow, but Bill was punching in up to his knees each step. It was exhasuting work for the person making the steps (mostly Bill) and very cold for the person behind. At that darn point kept being farther and farther away, although we did start to see glimpses of the summit up ahead. Eventually, around 18,400 feet Bill reached the edge of a huge cravasse that ran the length of the ridge and we realized that we had reached our limit. So we simply turned around and started walking back downhill. I flet so bad for Bill becuase I knew he did NOT like turnign around with the summit only 1000 feet away but I was relieved to be heading down before things started warming up.

As we had been moving slowly breaking trail, two other teams had nearly caught up with us when we turned around. Bill chatted with them for a few seconds before we continued on down. All the other parties had already started down. As we decended, the effects of the effort started to show. At this point, we were both a little nauseous, chilly, and very tired. We descended below the clouds and were rewarded with a rare view of clear skis. Quito lay sparkling to the left, and all the other mountains were out unobscured....Ilinizas, El Corozon, even Chimborazo. Behind us the sky was brightening and the sun was rising. But we were so tired that we barely registered the beauty before us and trudged on down. And sure to form, by the time we were back at the Refugio, clouds covered Quito below and the peaks above. We got back around 7:00 am.

Back at the lodge, we ate a little and chatted with the other teams when they returned. One was two of the girls from Washington and their guide. Neither had proceeded beyond where we turned around. Apparently, they realized the effort it woudl take to break trail and decided against it. Still, for the chicas from Washington, that was a big accomplishment for their first climb!

We slept for a couple hours, then talked about what to do. We played with the idea of giving it another go. The hard part, setting a trail, was now established most of the way up. But we would have needed two more days and with the weather so hard to predict, it seemed unwise to linger. We also learned that the summit was going to be even steeper and and deeper. Good name for a Warren Miller movie, bad name for climbing conditions. So we decided to head down.

At the parking lot, we were waiting on a ride, when we noticed another truck leaving. I had already chatted with this guy and established that he was not our ride, but when our ride had now showed up and this guy started to leave the trailhead, Bill took action. He agreed to drive us to the PanAmerica where we coudl catch a bus. We agreed on $15, which seemed like a great deal for him since he was previously going to be headed down for nothing. I think Bill woudl have liked to bargain him down, but I agreed to quickly.

As it turned out, we felt really good about our $15 ride. The guy was super nice, a very safe driver (quite a rarity here), spoke relatively slowly for us, was super knowledgeable about climbing, and had good advice on where to go next. Besides his pleasant conversation, he was thoughtful and not only did he offer to stop at place where we coudl change our clothes and go to the baņos before we caught our bus, he even watched to make sure that we got on our bus before he took off. Total sweetheart. I feel so bad that I didnīt have the presence of mind to get his name. But we do know that he works for the same outfitter where we rented a coupe peices of gear, so hopefully we can get him a thank you note.

So the last part of this adventure was catching the bus. There are both officially signed bus stops and unofficial places where people know to gather. This was the latter. There were about a half dozen other people. waiting for buses as well. The buses are barelling along the highway and you are supposed to flag down the one that you need. Ths buses have their destination(s) listed in the frotn window, so that they are neary on you before you know which bus it is. And most of the ones that other people were flagging didnīt slow down anyway. Those that do, just pull over and traffic swerves around them at breakneck speed - honking loudly of course. It was quite a scene, heighted by the two sheep on top of one of the buses, poor terified things.

As one bus was barelling by, I caught a glimpse of the name of our destination, Riobamba. I waved frantically, and the guy slammed on the brakes for us. We shouldered our packs and lumbered toward the waiting bus. There were no seats when we got on, but were thankful to be on our way. Eventually, seats opened up as paseengers shouldered on and off, and we rested the rest of our way to Riobamba, where we found a decent hotel with hot shower, TV, and central location. Pizza dinner and Toy Story in Spanish polished off the evening.

So now you can see why I couldnīt just send a post card.
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