Cotopaxi

At 9:00 a.m., on a Tuesday morning, Ehren and I, along with two Danes named Jacob and Chris, were picked up from The Secret Garden hostel by a touring company called CarpeDM  Adventures.  From the hostel we were taken to a mountaineering rental shop, here we acquired cramp-ons, ice-picks, snow pants, boots, etc.
After fitting on the required equipment, we left Quito en route to Cotopaxi about two hours south.  Once we reached the park, it was a long, bumpy ride up to the mountain.  Forty-five minutes before we reached the drop-off point we stopped by a small cafeteria-type place to change into our gear and to have our "box lunch."  Our box-lunch consisted of potato chips, pork rinds, cookies, a loaf of white bread, a brick of tasteless white cheese, tea, and sugar.  After filling our bellies with the nutritious food, we loaded back up into the jeep and continued up a slick and muddy road. 
     Rain started to fall, and during the drive up we never once, caught a glimpse of the mountain.  Volcanic rock lined the road, the scenery resembled a reddish, lunar, desert, and far into the horizon I spotted a few wild burros.  Just as we hit the snow line, we reached the parking lot.  The four of us unloaded and after a mild, 45 minute climb we reached the refuge.  All afternoon it rained and thundered.  The thunder was deafening loud, the base notes trembled my ear-drums.  From 2 to 5 p.m. Ehren, Chris, Jacob, and I played Uno and drank cup after cup of hot tea.  In the refuge were some twenty or more Austrians going about in strong, harsh accents and having a time of it.   By six o´clock we were being served chicken soup with potatoes and afterwards chicken pasta with vegetables. At 7 it was time for bed.
     The loud tromping of heavy boots and the constant shining of headlamps discouraged much sleep, not to mention the splitting headache. At 1200 a.m., it was time to get ready, after some cereal and bread, along with more tea, we suited-up for the 6-7 hour climb up the glacier.  The refuge was in a total bustle in the middle of the night as everyone prepared for the big climb.  At 100 a.m., all thirty of the climbers were ready to ascend the mighty glacier capped, Cotopaxi.  Armed with headlamps,  icepicks, and cramp-ons, we began the trek like an illuminated caterpillar up a daunting sheet of ice.  It didn´t take long for our guide to notice our strength and condition, and an hour or two into the climb, Ehren, our guide Marco, and I took the lead up the black and forlorn volcano, at our heals were the Danes and their guide.  The least inexperienced gringos took the lead once again.  At about 4800 meters Marco, Ehren, and I tied-up.  With about 2 meters of rope between us, the incline gradually became steeper and steeper.  The night sky had cleared, and millions of spectacular stars enveloped the mountain like a thick, black, blanket over a piercing cold, white landscape.  Only the night sky and stars could be seen, little of the mountain itself was visible.  As we ascended higher and higher we could see all the small towns below and of course Quito off to the North.  Four hours into the trek and I was beginning to get very tired, my head-ache never ceased from the time we left the refuge til the time we returned, but I pushed on, I strove forward with each step and with each step my head would pound harder.  I could tell Ehren was struggling too, his steps were missing and his breathing was labored.  At times we would pass a crevasse and I would look down into pure oblivion.  Massive icicles hung from the glacier, and the ridge we were climbing at times was so narrow, one foot had to go over the other while simultaneously using ice-picks to hold on to the wall so as not to fall to a bottomless end.  The sheer steepness of the climb was remarkable, there should have been some sort of training or conditioning I thought to myself.
       Anyway, one foot above the other, that´s all I could think.  Marco kept looking back, kept saying in broken English, "You guys can do it, it´s normal to feel this way. C´mon guys, do not worry, you are strong, you can do it."  So minute after minute we continued on, distancing ourselves further and further away from the rest of the climbers, each crest appeared to be the summit, and each time we would reach the top of a ridge there would be a higher ridge above it.  Time and time again I thought we had made it to the top, and time and time again I was wrong.
     We were tired and thirsty, my knees trembled, and my lungs felt terribly compressed.  My head throbbed, my calves burned, my eyes were dry and yet we continued into the black night.  Light started to mix in and I knew we had to be getting close.  Ehren had a serious look on his face and our guide kept up the encouragement, "45 more min, you guys can do it." The sun was coming up on the opposite side of the mountain and a huge shadow, greater than the pyramids themselves was cast onto the valley below.  A perfect massive, black, triangle covered the entire landscape, marvelous in sight, astounding in beauty, immense in size, and utterly unbelievable in every other conceivable aspect.  "30 min more, 20 more min, you can make it," our guide called.
    It was harder and harder yet, I thought my body would give out, my little legs collapse, but I kept going on, one foot after another.  I knew we were getting close, I could feel it, "15 min more."  And then when I thought it couldn´t get any harder or in anyway somehow steeper, Marco called back and said " Ok boys we´ve reached the difficult part."  I immediately burst out with laughter, I couldn´t control myself.  Ehren and Marco looked at me as if I was crazy, and yet we continued on.  Now with Cramp-ons and ice-picks digging into the glacier, we were scaling a 60-70 degree incline.  Hope was getting slim.  Ehren and I were stumbling, having a tough time to stand. " 10 more min"  We stretched, we ached for the top, our lungs wheezed with pain, our legs screamed of fire.  And then, suddenly, all was brilliant.

     All was simply astounding.  Ehren fell at the summit, I continued to laugh in delirium.  We had made it, Jesus, Mother, Mary, and God, we made it.  The first three to reach the summit, the time was 6:40 a.m., we did it in 5 hours and 40 minutes, a decent feat for not having trained in the slightest degree.  We all hugged each other and smiled a smile of life-worthy accomplishment.  We had just reached 5,897 meters, higher than any mountain found in Europe.  We had done it and it was spectacular. I have never felt so enthralled, so bewildered, or so bemused.  The pain, the love, the awe, was miraculous and all inspiring.  The crater of the volcano lie just in front of us, smoking, smoldering, like a giant dragon in a deep slumber.  The immense, clear, panoramic view around us spanned for miles.  Only one other mountain stood to scale with us in size, Chimborazo, 400 meters higher, the highest in Ecuador.  What a feat, what an experience.  Volcanoes rose from every direction, the landscape was surreal.  Never in my life will I forget those precious moments I stood atop the summit of Cotopaxi, simply mind-numbing.

Yohan, The Righteous