Peak(s):  Cotopaxi - 19347
Date Posted:  07/28/2009
Modified:  07/30/2009
Date Climbed:   06/26/2009
Author:  doumall
 Ecuador 2009: Cotopaxi Normal Route   

Ecuador 2009
June 20th - July 5th

The three highest volcanoes in Ecuador (Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, Cayambe) are on a good weather day easy climbs for a well prepared climbing party. High refugios and minimal technical challenges on the normal routes simplify logistical challenges. However, the weather is unpredictable and even the best mountaineers may be turned around due to high winds or unstable snow. 'Four seasons in a day' is one way a local explained the unpredictable nature of Ecuador's weather.

None of the locals we spoke to use weather forecasts, they are not to be trusted. The Amazon Jungle is just over the mountains to the east, the Pacific Ocean a short distance to the west, and the equator under foot. The region seems to be caught in a land devoid of trade winds or seasonal patterns. Sure some generalizations are made on the climbing seasons (summer windy and dry, winter calm and dry, other times wet), but these are scoffed at by the local mountain guides.

Cotopaxi is the most popular high climb in the country and on the right day a summit attempt may be completed by simply following a cattle trail to the summit. There may be a few 'cruxes' which require a bit more effort than putting one foot in front of the other, but in general the normal route is straightforward and very enjoyable.

June 20th - Arrive in Quito (~9000')
June 21st - Bus to El Chaupi (~11,000')
June 22nd - Approach to Refugio Nuevos Horizontes (~15,600')
June 23rd - Summit Illiniza Norte (16,818')
June 24th - Summit Illiniza Sur (17,267')
June 25th - Approach to Refugio Jose F. Rivas (~15,800')
June 26th - Summit Cotopaxi (19,347')
June 27th - Rest Day in Rio Bamba (~8,500')
June 28th - Approach to Chimborazo Refugio (16,400')
June 29th - Summit Attempt Chimborazo (18,900' highpoint)
June 30th - Summit Attempt Chimborazo (17,100' highpoint)
July 1st - Baņos - hot springs and beer
July 2nd - Baņos - see above
July 3rd - Quito - sights and Rucu Pichincha summit (15,413')
July 4th - Otavalo - markets
July 5th - Arrive in Denver - work

After splurging on an upscale room with a view...



...and chatting with furry friends...


...we headed to the Refugio Jose F. Rivas near the base of this overdue volcano. Along the drive up there we sighted a condor and witnessed a ripe example of freedom.



The mountain was out.


The Refugio is a bustling place, filled with boisterous mountain guides and nervous clients. There are also ample stoves for cooking, lockers for gear and running water. We ended up being the only unguided team on the mountain. We were also the latest starters at 1:50 am. Good thing it was a favorable climbing day.


Most of the ascent was done in the dark. We made strong progress through the lower seracs and crevasses. Mid route opens up into a wide plateau of low angle glacier below the prominent summit cliffs:


A decent aerial photo of the upper route can be found here:

Snow began to blow as we wrapped around to the north slopes. We passed the guided groups by now (many had turned back due to various reasons) and the trail was drifting over so the wands came out. Many snow bridges had to be crossed, but they were all holding strong for us. The slope steepens during the final few hundred meters and a large ice cliff blocks easy passage to the summit. We opted to traverse left over the top of Yanasasha through steep snow not knowing the guides had chopped steps through a weakness to the right. Some fun climbing resulted with bomber picket placements. Debbie following:


A close up of the next ice cliff...


This next cliff was overcome again on the left by traversing inside and then out of a massive 'schund filled with deep snows. Antisana was making waves:


After a few more snow bridges:


...and a quick stroll we were staring into the ever so impressive steamy stinky crater.


Summit shot with the Illinizas:

Summit Texture:

Looking North:

The descent was a walk through wonderland.


Looking down at the lower north facing portion of the route, climbers visible at center.


Debbie back across Yanasasha:

We used the ice staircase to descend which felt more dangerous to us than our improvised route on the way up. The guides lower their clients down this, as seen here.


Below the difficulties:


Our timing was right for Cotopaxi:

Now in the sun, we were enlightened:

Crevasses to the left:

Crevasses to the right:

Ash below:

A few more on the way down:




Back on the Ash... a Tri Color Contrast

Soft descent back to the bunk:

Quito and the Pichinchas from 5600 meters

And the sun sets on this TR

Chimborazo TR:

Illiniza Group TR:

Rucu Pichincha TR:

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
07/29/2009 12:10
Sounds like a great trip.
What? No Skis? (Read yr Capitol Report - SICK!)
I would be interested in learning who you used, etc. I would like to see about heading down there this winter.

07/29/2009 12:12
Fantastic pictures of what looks like a great climb!
Nice work doing it unguided.

07/29/2009 16:44
By ‘who you use‘ I assume you mean lodging and transport? Buy a lonely planet guide and maybe a mountain guide book. We just found what was readily available or suggested to us throughtout the trip. These things will vary depending upon which truck is driving through town when you get off the bus etc. I would suggest not making a defined plan, just work it out, its easy.

07/30/2009 03:32
That Alpaca looks freakin RID-iculous... where‘s the pic of that hairless Llama? Cool report homie.

07/31/2009 03:08
I didn‘t know Prakash got such a kick out of Llamas. That is a pretty good picture of one though, awesome pic‘s all around!

The mountain was out.
07/31/2009 03:46
Perhaps one of the best lines I‘ve read in a trip report to date. Amazing photos. Nice work, both of you, on a scrumptious peak.

07/31/2009 15:59
Centrifuge, my fiance (mtnpearl) and myself are looking at giving these big Ecuador volcanoes a try this winter so the trip reports are great teasers... Strong climb, Debbie looks like a total bad ass in the ”summit texture” photo. Great write up. Thanks for sharing.

08/07/2009 21:23
Those are gorgeous pics but look pretty scary in some?!! I always worry about you and Debbie you know.

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