I was pretty under the weather the day we visited Cotopaxi, so hiking to the refuge in frigid cold with driving winds or hiking for hours and hours around the base of the mountain was out of the question. Having the Inca Belly and eating nothing but broth and crackers for the previous 36 hours, I decided to just try to take in the sights. However, when my buddy Jonathan decided to rent a bicycle and ride down from the 4600 meter parking lot located right at the snow line up on the mountain to the lake below, I decided I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity. While the S turns of the dusty road and the bumps along the way weren't exactly the best medicine for an upset stomach, the overall experience was exhilarating and well worth the slight discomfort. Bikes will have to be arranged prior to entering the park.
Backpacking is a great sport but don't undertake a trip lightly. You should be in very good physical shape and do some training that will help with this particular activity like climbing steps preferably with your backpack on. No amount of weight lifting really prepares you for the feeling of carrying 40 pounds on your back for five or six hours!
Equipment: The obvious equipment like hiking boots, tent, stove, and of course a backpack but one thing that comes in handy is a good pair of sandals that will stay on your feet when in water. They come in handy as camp shoes giving relief from boots you've worn all day but also for crossing icy rivers.
You can climb Cotopaxi (5,897 meters or 19,347 ft) if you plan ahead.
#1 Get in shape before you get to Quito. I did some stairmaster and some running.
#2 Allow for at least one week in Quito to get used to the 9k feet altitude. Or do some trekking around Cotopaxi at even higher altitudes for about a week to get into shape.
#3 Hire a guide service in Quito that provides certified guides, plus any equipment that you need, plus transport and food. The cost is $120 to $200.
The day before the climb you drive about 50 km from Quito up onto Cotopaxi, and then you climb about 400m up to the Cotopaxi Refuge at 15,750 feet or 4800 meters. Try to get to sleep as soon as possible after dinner because you will get up about midnight for breakfast. The climb starts about 1 AM, and you should reach the summit around dawn (4-8 hours) to avoid clouds. The climb down takes 2-4 hours. You can be back in Quito the same afternoon.
Equipment: Be prepared for 0 F (-18 C) and wind on the mountain, and most of the climbing is on glacier ice.
I brought my ski parka, fleece jacket, and long underware, but Moggley Climbing in Quito supplied me with the following equipment: rigid boots, crampons, ice axe, balaclava, glacier glasses, wind pants, sleeping bag, outer gloves, glove liners, gaiters, day pack, climbing harness, head lamp, trail food, water bottle, and wind/rain pants. You will want at least 3 layers on your legs and 4 layers on your upper body.
I paid about $190 for the Moggely all inclusive climbing package. All 4 of the people in my September 2006 group reached the summit.
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