Cotopaxi: climbing a monstrous volcano

I’ve never been that big of a sporter. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy some sports and in my own country I go everywhere by bike, which I consider to be my daily workout. So even though I heard that climbing the Cotopaxi would be a tough as nails, I was confident enough about my shape to take up the challenge. So I enthused some travel buddies to come with me and so we went…

Our trip started early in the morning with a bus ride to this monstrous (world’s highest) active volcano. The surroundings seemed peaceful, though not quite lively. Partly due to the weather conditions (very cold), it had this grey haze all over it. When the Cotopaxi itself popped into view it inmediately caught my eye. What a beauty is this “Neck of the Moon”, because that is what Cotopaxi means in Quechua, the language of the indigenous Andes inhabitants.

A few minutes away from the entrance of the National Park Cotopaxi, the bus stopped at a mini-store to let us buy lots of chocolate and coca leaves, both highly recommended when you set out to a altitude that high as we were going today. Still confident about our condition we didn’t think we would really need this, but when you get the chance to legally try the plant that is the base of cocaine, you’ll do so of course. Our guide explained us that we should put a certain amount of leafs in the back of our cheeks and just let it sit there untill we felt something. While the bus took us further uphill, untill 4500 meters, we definitely started to feel something. No high energetic feeling whatsoever, but an insistent pain in our jaws caused by carrying 2 chunks of coca in our mouths for all this time. Thus far my drugs experience. The first thing I did when we arrived is was spitting it all out.

We put on our hats, scarfs and gloves and got acclimatized to this freezing place. From this point the serious climbing began. I was told we were going to climb 300 meters in about half an hour. Again I thought: piece of cake! But from the first step on I felt my body didn’t respond the way I was used too. It felt like it was fooling me. My heart beat like crazy and after every 10 meter (not kidding) I had to stop to catch a breath. The mist was so thick that at some point I couldn’t even see my fellow group members that were right in front or behind me. Some 45 minutes later, the last ones (including me) arrived at the memorable altitude of 4864 meters, where we as happy as a clam started sipping our well deserved hot chocolate. Unfortunately the weather conditions weren’t good enough to continue our journey to the glaciers.

When we returned to the point where we started climbing, our bikes were ready to get on. The descent was awesome and the view amazing! And who thinks that going downhill is all about laying-back and relaxing is wrong. Big parts of the road were so steep and slippery that the only way to go down safely was to apply the brakes non-stop. The day after I had muscle pains in parts of my body I didn’t even know I had muscles. But the aches faded away and the emotion of having beat this monster of a volcano and having extended my own physical boundaries dominated the rest of the week.

Written by: Margaretha Gommers