Saturday, January 15, 2011

FTA Ecuador 2011 Jan - Rehash of the Cotopaxi climb

From Brad

Hostal Alcala, Quito Ecuador

Good morning Ecuadorian volcano blog followers!

So finally I've had sufficient time to recover with sleep, food and general hydration so I thought I review our last few days!
Where did we leave off?

Wednesday morning we left Tambopaxi Lodge and drove to the parking area just below the Jose Ribas Hut. Surprisingly the snow line this year nearly reached the parking area which has been highly uncommon in the last decade as the Cotopaxi glacier has aggressively receded. Our team slowly trekked the hour from the parking area up to the hut and settled in for the rest of the day. Lunch was soup, sandwiches, dried meat products and lots of fluids!

After lunch we decided for a siesta and as we napped a thunder storm of about an hour rolled through and doused us with about 1/2 cm of snowy hail-like balls (hail, not hair). It was wild to hear all of this going on outside as we tried desperately to sleep for a few minutes. When the storm finally passed we were able to sneak out to the snow fields outside the hut and get some self arrest and crampon practice. The sky cleared up to give us magnificent views of the surrounding peaks including the Illiniza's (see photo of crew).

Post practice (6pm) it was back to the hut for a dinner of BBQ chicken wings, mashed potatoes and more soup and tea. Does it seem like all we do is eat and sleep? That is the way it goes in preparation for long nights ahead like we were expecting. Then it was back to bed for a few hours of "sleep". Jose Ribas can accommodate well over 100 people though that night there were less than 30. It still seems cramped in there however as bunks stack as tall as 4 high in some spots...NOT OSHA approved.

It was up at 11pm, another light meal of yogurt, crackers and cookies and than onward and upward. As mentioned the snow line reached past the hut so we geared up fully right outside of the hut and started the slog upward. About an hour or two into our headlamp lit walkabout we reached the seracs at the glacier's tongue and roped up into three teams to move onto the glacier proper. The terrain got steeper and wound about crevasses and layered cake-like features in the ancient ice. The sky was crystal clear with little wind and when Eric wasn't singing fraternity songs all that could be heard was the clank of hardware off our harnesses and heavy breathing. Neither of which relented.

The teams moved up at separate speeds each pushing as hard as possible. The altitude was obvious as we all breached 17,000 feet - forcing two of the teams to ultimately turn around as it was getting late and the terrain became more and more technical. At one point teams reached an overhanging snow wall with a 6 inch foot bed at the base. Snow on one side, long way down on the other. This was protected in various ways including placing a hand-line or tying in closely to one another (short-roping). The skyline was beginning to lighten and it was about this time and place that two teams made the call to turn around for the glacier softens during the day as the sun bakes the frozen snow. The team of Nacho, Sarah and Jeff moved passed this and were near the summit as the sun rose. (Each feeling the affects of the high altitude and the 8 hour night that preceded the final meters to the summit!)

The walk down was thankfully uneventful though it is about this time that one wishes for a parachute or hang-glider. In the words of Nacho, "We must move quickly or we will roast like chickens on the glacier". "Quickly" is relative.

We all reconvened back at the hut, packed and ambled back to Victor and the van....exhausted.
I think we all passed out on the way back to Quito and while there were great plans for dancing that night I believe post naps and massages we were all in bed by 9pm.

A safe, beautiful and tiring day behind us...we welcomed the hostel beds.

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