Lying in the snow after falling for the umpteenth time, I was beginning to get a little frustrated, and to say I hated the fucking crampons that were strapped to my feet was a major understatement. Glancing over to my left I saw the trail we should have been on, but yet again my guide had failed to find it, and this time just for shits and giggles he had landed us in the middle of a potential avalanche zone. Helpfully he suggested that I stop falling over, no shit, I am not a violent man but at that moment and many more on the way down I wanted to launch his perpetually upright body off the bloody volcano. Overall this hike hadn’t really panned out as expected.
A few days earlier we had a crack at Illiniza Norte, this would be our first peak over 5000m. This had gone rather well, the feeling of being roped to together along with our guide was odd but only necessary for the final accent. We reached the summit (5248m) and the clouds briefly lifted. Heather had some minor altitude issues but all in all we felt well acclimatized and ready to tackle Cotopaxi.
Two days later we were meeting our guide Marco and being outfitted with the necessary gear. Kitted out with giant boots, crampons and an ice axe, I felt every bit the climber, even if our guide had commented that I was rather large and like a Grizzly bear. Considering the fact I was holding an ice axe it was either a brave or foolish observation. We were joined by Rebecca and her guide Fabian and together set off for Cotopaxi National Park.
On the short walk up to the refuge Marco decided that we would be a fast group and wouldn’t be starting our acsent until 12:30am other groups would be starting at 10:30pm. In hindsight I certainly question the wisdom of this. Early into the hike it felt like Marco was pushing the pace and Heather and Rebecca were struggling. So Marco suggested that I go with Fabian as I was moving well and the girls would stay with him. Heather and discussed it and agreed, I took the camera and would hand it off to her when we passed each other on her acsent. So began a long trudge to the top, I’d like to say it was fun but it really wasn’t, walking in crampons is the drizzling shits, we were however making good time and passed several 10:30pm groups. I made the summit (5897m) just before sunrise, not having my partner in crime there with me sucked, and when another guide told us Heather and Rebecca had turned back guilt washed over me, if we had stayed together I am sure we would both have made it. The walk down had us often lost and my frustration grew, when finally we made it back to the Refugio I was tired and emotional, this was harder than any ultra I had run and it was only an 8km round trip. [Heather’s note: In the beginning Marco was literally pulling me along and it was uncomfortable and I kept falling, for whatever reason, he slowed after Dan left and I felt fine. Unfortunately Rebecca was suffering terribly from the altitude and we had to go back after reaching 5300m. Dan and I learnt that we really are better as a team.]
A few days later we attempted Chimborazo but altitude sickness hit Heather hard at 5500m so we had to call it quits,
Someday we will be back to the peak, but until then it is off to the next mountain. [Heather’s note: I really did not want to quit, but I was throwing up every few feet. Our guide helped our decision to quit by pointing out that we still had 4 more hours to go, I was never going to make it that day.]