Monday, September 12, 2011
One of the great things about being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador is that we live in a country saturated by snowy volcanoes, and if you have the requisite experience/altitude adjustment, you can climb them.
Two of us plus a guide attempted Cotopaxi Saturday night to Sunday morning. A driver our guide knows took us into the park and up to the parking lot (15,088 feet) for $30 one way...a bit pricey huh? From there we hiked up to the refuge that sits at 15,744 feet. We unloaded our gear and claimed beds, then made our way up along the trail towards the glacier which sits an hour and a half away...much, much further than it had been in the past. I felt good, enthusiastic, sure we'd be seeing the summit in the morning.
When we got back everyone was busy preparing dinner, each wood table team retrieving a metal pitcher of boiling water for tea. I didn't realize we had free access to a climber's kitchen - if I had, I would have brought a box of noodles and a mountain of alfredo sauce packets. But luckily I didn't have to get by on packaged snack foods because our guide shared a bowl of quinoa and mushroom soup with each of us.
I was tired and ready for sleep at 8 p.m. But the second I laid down horizontal, I felt the altitude and breathing suddenly felt not so easy anymore. It took a while to get to sleep and when it happened, I'm sure I only slept for winks at a time. The wind often woke me up and made me anxious about waking up and looking at the conditions outside.
At what must have been 11 or 11:30 p.m., a team got up and began noisily gearing up to climb. When they headed out, it was about 12 a.m. and time for us to get up and ready. We geared up, drank water, ate a little, and headed out.
Sad to say we didn't make the Cotopaxi summit due to two reasons. The one I'm most disappointed in is myself - at around 5400 feet I crashed, just lost all my energy. I'm not sure what happened. Breathing was hard, of course, but I don't think that's what got me. But the other reason turned back almost all the other teams: only one team navigated the large crevasse at around 17,700. Our guide told us to get across, we'd need to leap over a gap and land on an ice wall, vertical climb up it, and cross another gap with a wood board...and cross a sketchy snowbridge that our guide believed was in danger of collapsing and might not be there when we returned, which meant commitment to an alternate route on the way down. We said no, and decided to try looking for a way around the crack. But we found other teams probing for the end of the crevasse but they either couldn't find it or it ran out at a spot no one wanted to climb up from. It was a little confounding climbing on the day that this obstacle was discovered to be present or worse than it had been before.
So after scratching our heads for a while and freezing, we turned back. One by one each of the other teams followed and soon there was a long trail of headlamps snaking back down the ice, and then of course the weather turned a bit to ice cold wind and frost. Back at the refuge when the team(s?) that made the summit got back, the guide even told us the crossing was a little hairy and risky.
So... hours later after leaving the refuge where's the one place I really wanted to be? The mountain. I'm taking that as a good sign that being dog tired, freezing and frustrated with a tricky crossing, I still want to go back and try it again. I'm going to make a training plan and stick to it. Like I said, my main problem was exhaustion (beyond a mental block, this physically wasn't surmountable) and breathing. I think my muscles are fine but I'll still work on them... I don't have the slightest ache to indicate I was climbing a mountain yesterday.
Until next time!