Monday, May 6, 2019

Route Profile: Cotopaxi

Cotapaxi and the José Ribas Refuge Seen From The Entrance

Ecuador is home to a lot of great climbing throughout the country, but what brings most climbers down is Ecuador's range of highly accessible glaciated Andean peaks, which cut through the middle of the country.

Of these Volcanoes, Cotopaxi (5,897m) is most likely the most famous and most popular. It is located in the Cotopaxi province of Ecuador, about 50 km south of Ecuador's largest city Quito.

The volcano is a very popular destination for foreigners and Ecuadorians alike, bringing in thousands of visitors each year. Due to its close proximity to Quito, the volcano is very easy to access and trips from Quito are just as easy.

The ease of travel, combined with the fact that the volcano is one of the world’s most aesthetically shaped peaks (a perfectly symmetrical cone), surely adds to its appeal.

Most of the visitors, however, don’t make it past the base camp, and of those who attempt the summit, success rates are only around 50%.

Though the route itself isn’t considered very “technical”, it is still requires a relatively high level of fitness and acclimitzaion. For that reason, the undertaking should not be taken lightly, especially if you are new to high-altitude climbing.

Those who do make the summit will be rewarded with breathtaking views of nearby Chimborazo, the Andean Mountains, and an experience they will surely remember for a lifetime. 

The Climb (PD/WS+)

Ecuadorian law requires that you hire an approved guide prior to attempting to summit Cotopaxi, no matter your level of experience. Luckily, the American Alpine Institute provides several programs in Ecuador.

Though the climb is not “technically” difficult, it still requires the use of crampons, ice axes and the ability to safely navigate glaciers.

In addition to these challenges there are also two crevases which must be crossed with ladders (already set up for you). This challenge requires that you have a good level of fitness, be comfortable with heights, and have good balance.

Prior to attempting the summit, it is advisable that you spend a few days acclimatizing, especially if you are coming from a low elevation. The more time you spend acclimatizing, the higher your chances of successfully reaching the summit. There are no shortage of nearby hikes or climbs to keep you busy for a few days after you arrive.

All summit expeditions arrive via the main highway through the park entrance. From the entrance it is a one to two hour hike up to the José F. Ribas Refuge. The Refuge has some simple but comfortable beds, a restaurant, and a small shop with basic supplies.

When we arrived, we spent the day hiking around the Refuge and practicing the use of crampons and ice axes. The climb to the summit started at night (around 12am), and took approximately six hours to reach the top. The path was well marked and easy to follow and, of course, we were working with a highly trained guide the whole time. We reached the summit just after dawn, spent some time taking pictures, and then started our descent before the sun’s powerful rays began to defrost the glacier.

Memorials To Climbers Lost at the Base of Cotopaxi

By 10am, we were back where we stared at the Refuge, where we enjoyed a quick cup of coca leaf tea, organized our things, and then hiked back down to the entrance to catch a bus back to Quito.

Cotopaxi was a very enjoyable climb. Much like Huayna Potosi in Bolivia, the climb is mostly a steep jaunt with crampons, ice axe and rope. But due to the accessibility of the volcano, the non-technical route, and the incredible views, it is likely that Cotopaxi will remain one of Ecuador's most popular places to climb for years to come.


Jacob Bushmaker: Avid Climber, Professional Traveler, an expert on South American climbing destinations and Founder of The Wandering Climber. Go here now to download his FREE PDF, learn the “best places to climb” in South America and plan your next adventure.

No comments: