It was an adventure in which I was determined not
to perform less than the youngsters. I was 63, and they were in their early twenties. Every one of us was new to Ecuador and the respiratory challenges of exercise at over 4,000 metres altitude.
Cotopaxi is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, reaching a height of 5,897 meters (19,347 ft). Our objective was to climb to the snow line at 4,500 meters (14,764 ft) altitude.
It was about an hour by car to the base of the volcano where we stopped at the park entrance to buy souvenirs and bags of coca-leaf, a traditional aid to surviving the lack of oxygen high in the Andes Mountains. – Coca leaf is NOT cocaine, which is what it may become if mixed and cooked in a bath of toxic chemicals.- We then drove part way up the volcano to a large, almost vacant, dirt parking lot.
Opening the car door was difficult in the strong wind which is often present on the volcano. Our driver decided to stay in the car and wait for the climbing adventure to be over. Even weighing over 200 lbs at the time, I had to lean into the steady, gale force wind to stay on my feet.
One thinks of mountain trails as being narrow paths. Cotopaxi is enormous, and the way up was wide enough for a two lane highway, if such a thing could even be contemplated.
Footing was extremely difficult as most of the climb was steep and on what could best be depicted as a deep layer of beach sand. Each step sunk in and slid down, so that you sometimes made no progress at all. Clearly, there was no beach; but, many of you know that hiking any distance, on the flat, in deep sand can be hard. Now, imagine climbing on it, on a 45 degree, or more, angle.
Clouds gathered, and heavy rain lashed horizontally in the wind. We were wet and cold, often huddling in any ground shelter we could find. My eye-glasses became pitted by the sand-blasting
by wind and volcanic dust.
Unused to the rigorous exercise and suffering a shortage of oxygen, we chewed the coca leaf. I didn’t think that it helped much, though I was able to continue to climb; and, I did notice a light headedness of too much oxygen when I returned to the bottom.
I confess that my 40 year younger friends seemed to have more energy than I did; though one quit the climb early. And, they did encourage me along the way.
There was relief and utter joy that comes with accomplishing an arduous task together when; finally, we reached the snow line and shelter of the refuge at 4,500 metres altitude. It was hot chocolate and empanadas for everyone.
The climb down was not to be easy, though it was buoyed by the feelings of accomplishment within each of us.
Being a Canadian, I could not resist the temptation to roll in the snow, - just to remind myself what it is like, and
then quickly leave it behind.
Today, I am sitting on the terrace in the Equatorial sun, refreshment in hand, and see the snow of the Cotopaxi Volcano about 90 km away. It is a beautiful, rugged, spectacular creation of nature.
I can see the snow line and often see snow blowing into the air as it is struck by sunlight.
I was there
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