The climb of Cotopoxi. Taken from my journal Ecuador 1994.

Cotopoxi 19,346 feet tall, the tallest active volcano in the world. Legend states that it erupts every one hundred years and the last time she erupted was 1890. About the 18,000 foot mark there is one of the most beautiful ice glaciers in the world and that was my goal for that day. There was a Nazarene work and witness group of college students visiting the Ecuadorian mission at the same time, and due to them having the day off wanted to join James and I for the climb. Another missionary named Todd joined us as well. James and Todd have climbed this and other mountains in the area many times. There was a total of seven of us so we opted to take the old Chevy Suburban on the trip. Candy packed James and I a great lunch of sandwiches and we threw them in the back of the suburban.

After the two and half-hour drive we made it to the base of the mountain and due to the mild slope of Cotopoxi we were able to drive up to around 15,000 feet. When we unloaded the truck I noticed how short my breath was and felt a little dizzy for a moment. This was my first experience at high altitude and I had no idea for what I was in for so I began to load up my camcorder and camera gear etc. James proceeded to give some valid advice and recommended me reconsider my load and bring only my small camera. Later that day I was very thankful for that advice.

The mountain was very deceiving to me because the slope up to the orange roofed refuge seemed very mild but I was mistaken. The soil was thick black sand of lava rock and every step up the hill you slipped back two while filling your boots with painful rocks. Instantly one of the girls of our group requested to stay back at the truck and wait for our return this evening. I found it extremely hard to breathe and had to stop every ten to fifteen feet and rest to catch my breath. Every ten minutes I would look back and see the parked vehicles down below and snap a picture and then the clouds would roll in and the temperature would drop considerable blocking my view down the mountain. James was not having any problem with the altitude other than waiting for me to catch my breath. But patiently he would tell me that it would be ten times worth it once I was able to gaze upon the massive glacier. I was drained of all energy and freezing because we were totally enclosed in wet, cold clouds.

I tried to concentrate on every step slowly climbing to the refuge building that seemed to be getting slightly closer. I gazed at my watch and was shocked as it was three hours since we left the truck, I was embarrassed to think that while I was at the truck and could see the orange refuge atop of the hill I thought it would b a minor fifteen minute hike. I always carried my journal and would add to it every chance I had so I would never forget the experience and the true feelings at the time. Here is what I wrote while I was resting for a short break. It is VERY cold and I am definitely not used to the climate and elevation so the going is hard! I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that this is the most physically demanding thing I have ever done in my life! I can see the refuge probably a hundred yards straight up from here where I am sitting but it will probably take me at least an hour to get there. This is frustrating due to every two steps I slide back one and every five, I stop to catch my breath. I would consider turning back but I would never forgive my self for not giving it my all to experience this beauty.

I know there are probably mountain climbers saying that I am making a bigger deal of this than I should and actually as I look back and read my journal I can hardly believe that it was so difficult. I must remind myself that this was my first time in an altitude higher than 7500 feet and I didnít have any clothes for the cold because this was a jungle trek not alpine. And frankly I underestimated mountain climbing and it taught me a great respect for the high peaks of the world and since then I have climbed again.

At last I reached the enclosed comfort of the refuge. This building is used in case of people being stranded on Cotopoxi, the bright orange roof being able to be seen in most weather from that side of the mountain. After a short rest James said we will actually begin walking across the mountain instead of a dead climb and we proceeded through the snow only having to climb another five hundred feet.

As we proceed closer to the glacier I canít believe my eyes and ears! The beauty of this ice wall extending many hundreds of feet high is breathtaking and the loud explosion like sounds of the ice cracking and breaking rattles the nerves. James and I get our picture taken against the massive glacier and then proceed in climbing it a ways. There are ice cycles hanging some reaching fifty feet long and ice caves everywhere. Walking through these massive hanging cycles and caves gives me a feeling of being in another world and I thank the lord for allowing me to experience such a wonderful creation. As we walked along the glacier the ground is a slick ice cracking and moving at all times and if you come to a complete stop it still gives the feeling of moving.

After a couple hours of exploring it began to cloud up and sleet and due to my striving altitude headache we decided to head back down so grabbing some lava rock for a souvenir we started across the mountain. I think the best way to describe this experience is comparing it to the first time seeing the Grand Canyon in Arizona. James and I were the last to descend the mountain and the trip down was much easier other than while sliding through the lava sand we had to keep emptying our boots of painful rocks. Here is where a wonderful day turned for the worst. After a long hike as such I was really looking forward to a couple of sandwiches, coke and aspirin and a warm smooth trip back to Quito, well unfortunately none of these came true. By the time James and I reached the truck all the college group were napping while waiting for us to come down. James proceeded to our packed lunch to find it all eaten! After asking who ate it one of the group said he was sorry but he thought they were for everyone.

Well I was very hungry and had an enormous headache and of course no-body had any aspirin. James and I were very upset at the situation but decided it wasnít worth loosing tempers, so Todd fired up the suburban and we started out trip home. About twenty minutes into our journey James being the church mechanic started listening and after shushing the whole group said he heard a slight knocking sound under the truck. We began a huge climb up a small two-lane road very heavily traveled when the knocking got real loud and James asked Todd to pull over. After a close inspection parked on the side of the road along a blind curve fairly close to the top of the mountain James said that the truck wouldnít go any further, the driveline was broken. Instantly the work and witness group started complaining at how tired and HUNGRY they were and didnít want to be stranded two hours from Quito. I was getting sick of their crying so I joined James and Todd outside the vehicle to decide what the action should be. Anyway this is what adventure is all about!

Due to the mass public transportation in Ecuador Todd and James knew that there would be a bus to Quito that they could flag down coming along every hour. So as James proceeded to climb under the truck Todd went down the road a ways to look for the next bus. The plan was that James was going to wait while Todd took the bus to Quito to get another truck and tractor-trailer and drive it back. Then they would winch the suburban onto the trailer and take it home without further damage. When Todd asked if anyone wanted to take the bus to Quito everyone jumped at the chance to get home and rest and I decided to stay with James and wait for the four hour round trip until Todd and the group could get back with the trailer.

My head was killing me and I was so hungry I was nauseated so I laid down in the truck and prepared for the long wait. James lay in the front seat and we took a short nap, although it was hard to rest with all the big trucks rushing by causing the suburban to sway in the wind. After about two hours we had realized that we hadnít checked the time when they had left so we werenít for sure where they would be, so we started timing from that moment to try to keep track. As the hours went by darkness began to fall and we were concerned about the vehicle being hit along this blind curve, so James started collecting firewood to make a fire behind the truck so traffic could see us. I must comment that many times people stopped and asked if we needed rides into Quito and James said that he felt very safe trusting the Ecuadorian people.

Due to the mass public transportation in Ecuador Todd and James knew that there would be a bus to Quito that they could flag down coming along every hour. So as James proceeded to climb under the truck Todd went down the road a ways to look for the next bus. The plan was that James was going to wait while Todd took the bus to Quito to get another truck and tractor-trailer and drive it back. Then they would winch the suburban onto the trailer and take it home without further damage. When Todd asked if anyone wanted to take the bus to Quito everyone jumped at the chance to get home and rest and I decided to stay with James and wait for the four hour round trip until Todd and the group could get back with the trailer.

Now we had another problem, no way to start a fire! As darkness fell we scrambled through old matchboxes and trash trying to get a good fire, and then James the bush mechanic set in and figures out a plan. He proceeded to detach the fuel line from the carburetor and had me crank the ignition and the fuel pump filled a small cup with gasoline. He doused the wood with gas and then took a gas soaked rag and disconnected the spark plug wire from the plug and had me crank it again thus igniting the rag. He then smilingly walked by me and threw the rag into the wood and, alas fire! We worked hard cutting wood along the road to keep the fire burning and before long five hours had past. We were beginning to get concerned for Toddís safety as well as ours! It was around ten thirty p.m. and still nothing! What could have happened? James said that probably due to the heavy trailer he was bringing it would take him longer to get here, and then he said there could be flats or the trailer may have been loaded and needed to be unloaded first, anyway all we could do is wait.

Nine hours and then ten, still no sign. Around 1:00am I was so sick I went to lay again in the back seat and before long James let the fire die and went to the front seat. We talked a lot about all the fun we had been through together and discussed family issues and finaly came to the conclusion that Todd probably had to wait to come in the morning and we dozed off. Who knows how long we slept until bright lights and a loud horn woke us up. It was Todd and he was alone! He had even stopped at El pollo goose and brought us a goose burger, although I was to nauseate to eat. It was almost two a.m. and Toddís story goes as follows. The group made it back to the Quito without a hitch and then he had to arrange to get everyone home from the bus station. When at home he couldnít get any volunteers to go back with him because everyone claimed to be too tired for that long drive again. So he went to get the truck and drove to another compound where the trailer was. By this time it was getting dark and he found the trailer to be completely loaded with building materials. He unloaded the whole thing by himself which took a couple of hours. He then hooked up the trailer and stopped to grab a bite to eat. After getting us some food and drink he proceeded on his two and a half-hour journey to help us.

Due to the huge trailer and bad roads it took him a little over three hours to find us a sleep in the truck. Good job Todd! We wasted no time in winching the big suburban aboard the trailer and began our long journey home. As we entered the city of Quito at around 4:00am and the police had the highway closed, so we had to drive all the way through the town on side streets which took much longer and arrived at home around 5:30am.

 
 
 

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