Ecuador - Land of Volcanoes

Ascent of Cotopaxi, 5897m - 15-16 Jul 2015


All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2015. Not to be copied, duplicated or used for any purpose without permission.


At 5897m, Cotopaxi is the 2nd highest mountain in Ecuador. It is a very beautiful mountain, a perfect cone crowned in snow. It is an active volcano with a plume of steam and gas often visible from the summit on a fine day. From the 1940s until 2015 there were no major eruptions and the volcano was considered safe to climb. I climbed the mountain on 16 July 2015. A month later the volcano erupted, and the Cotopaxi National Park was closed to climbers from then until August 2016. So I was very lucky to have been able to climb the mountain in July 2015, just before the 2015 eruption.



Trip Report

Cotpoaxi was my 5th Ecuadorian summit on my "7 summits of Ecuador" trip in 2015. Having just completed an ascent of Illiniza Norte, I stayed one night in Hosteria Cuello de Luna, a nice gentrified establishment in the quiet countryside near the highway not far from the turnoff to Cotopaxi. On the 15th of July my guide, Abraham, picked up my fellow climber Roberto and I from this hosteria at around 11am and drove us up to the Cotopaxi National Park. The road was well made at first but became rougher as it climbed. It crossed a dusty high plateau and passed a shallow lake before winding its way up to the car park at an altitude of 4633m. There it was raining, cold and windy. But it was only a short climb from there in the thick cloud up to the huge Refugio Jose Rivas at 4848m. We were pretty much the only group staying overnight at the refugio that night, though it contained enough bunks to accommodate several dozen people. Our alarms were set for an 11pm commencement of our summit bid, though we were not optimistic of improving weather.

At 11pm we got up, packed our summit day packs, had a quiet cup of tea and piece of bread, then just after midnight we stepped out into a cold, damp and windy night. A fine layer of fresh snow lay on the ground and the cloud closed in soon after we set off and more snow fell. Roberto was slow from the very start, complaining of stomach cramps. Due to our slowness of progress, I became cold. After toiling slowly up Cotopaxi's main ice cap for some time, it became clear that Roberto needed to return to the refugio, he wouldn't make it further up the mountain. In the end we decided to stop at an altitude of 5200m where there was a little shelter from the wind beneath a cerac. Our guide, Abraham, would take Roberto back to the refugio while I waited here for him to return. So for a time that seemed like hours I sat alone on this mountain, at an altitude of 5200m, in the middle of the night in the middle of thick cloud with wind blowing and snow coming down. By the time Abraham returned, I was stiff and cold, and my outer clothing had become encrusted in ice, so I was like an ice man, frozen stiff, literally.

But once Abraham and I began moving up the mountain again, we progressed rapidly. My acclimatization was good and we were both determined to make up for lost time. We progressed higher and higher. But the higher we got, the worse the weather became. Towards the summit I began to feel the effects of altitude some more and progress slowed. Nonetheless, we reached the summit at 6:45am in dismal weather. It was blowing a gale and snowing hard granules of snow. Again our clothing became so crusted in ice, it cracked and broke whenever we moved. It was atrocious weather to be on a summit in.

We descended a few hundred metres from the summit to a level area where we had a brief rest and a bite of food before resuming our descent. By the time we had descended all the way to the refugio it was 8:30am and the sun was out at times. We had breakfast there and spent some time trying to rid our clothing of the ice which had got into everything. We packed up and continued our descent to the car. Abraham then drove us all the way to the town of Baños where we checked into a nice hotel, La Floresta. Baños would be the base for our next climb, Chimborazo, but first it was time to find somewhere for a well earned beer and pizza to celebrate a successful ascent of Cotopaxi.


Hosteria Cuello de Luna, our accommodation for the night before our Cotopaxi climb.
The hotel restaurant and dining area.
The car park at 4633m on Cotopaxi.

The huge Refugio Jose Rivas appears out of the mist as we climb up from the car park.

The altitude of the refugio is 4864m.
Looking back down from the refugio once the clouds had cleared a little.
Soon after leaving the refugio on our summit bid.
My guide, Abraham on the summit of Cotopaxi.
Myself on the summit of Cotopaxi.
A serac near the summit.
At our rest stop just below the summit.
Selfie not far from the summit.
A brief rest before continuing our descent.



All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2016. Not to be copied, duplicated or used for any purpose without permission.

Page created 2 Nov 2016, last updated 2 Nov 2016.