High from Cotopaxi

On Saturday we journeyed to Cotopaxi, the second highest volcano in Ecuador and a great day trip from Quito. Our minibus took about 90 minutes to get to the park entrance, where you can stop for ten minutes to help you acclimatise to the altitude. And where you can buy some extra layers if you haven’t worn enough clothes. It was 12 degrees in the car park but we’d seen the forecast the day before predicting minus 4 degrees at the summit, so we were prepared. We picked up our local guide as we entered the park. Our first stop was the visitor’s centre a little further along the entrance road, which had some information about the volcano, a garden with local flora and a great look out spot.

We passed through some interesting terrain on the way to our next stop, a starting point for the track to Refugio San José Ribas, the first level of climbing Cotopaxi. The volcano was shrouded in cloud, although we did get glimpses of the snow higher up the peak. Walking from the car park it took us around 45 minutes to reach the Refugio, at 4,864 metres above sea level. The volcanic terrain is bleak but fascinating. Our party included a seismologist in the midst of a PhD. Great, it must be safe… no, her research was showing that Ecuador is overdue for activity, and she was a bit nervous. Ummm… There are a number of tracks from the Refugio car park, one which heads directly and steeply up. Luckily our guide took us on the longer, winding track, which meant it was easier to stop to catch your breath and take a photo or two when the cloud cleared. By the time we reached the Refugio, it was starting to snow.

We used the fast track on the return leg – which took about 10 to 15 minutes.