Ecuador Seminar: Knoff & Team Summit Cotopaxi
I glanced down at my watch, 11:44 PM. One minute before my alarm was to go off. I silenced it and slipped out of my bunk and flipped the light switch. It was time for our Cotopaxi (19,347’) summit day.
The team quickly got out of their sleeping bags, one of the most challenging tasks of the day, and began efficiently putting together their summit kits. After topping off water bottles and wolfing down some oatmeal and cinnamon buns we moved outside to gear-up and were greeted with light snow fall. The winds were calm and the cloud cover made for pleasant climbing temps so we set off in high spirits hoping the snow would pass for a clear sunrise on the summit.
One hour in and we stopped for our first break just shy of 17,000’ at the toe of the glacier to rope-up. The team arrived together in good style showcasing their increased acclimatization from Cayambe and immediately putting to use the skills learned in the previous day’s training. The current route is very direct but that also means gaining a lot of elevation very quickly. The next section had almost no switchbacks and was characterized by a series of steep 40+ degree pitches with very brief benches in between. The team methodically tackled these pitches where flawless technique was required not to slip-out in the steep loose snow draining valuable and limited stores of energy.
The team arrived at the final break before the summit looking tired but determined. Cotopaxi would not give up the goods too easily. The last stretch to the summit was guarded by some of the steepest sections of the climb. After forcing down some calories the snow stopped and the stars popped out shedding faint light on the summit 1,000’ above us. Restored by the calories and motivated by the opportunity for a clear summit the team set out on the final push. An hour and a half later the entire team crested the crater rim and was greeted with an alpine sunrise for the record books. A massive steam plume from the crater was bathed in pink alpenglow and the mountain shadow of Cotopaxi stretched into the western horizon. All smiles, the team embraced and congratulated each other. This summit was accomplished as much through individual grit as was through an extraordinary display of exemplary expedition behavior. When the going got tough the team propped-up and encouraged each other, just as determined to get their rope team member to the the top as themselves.
After basking in the equatorial morning glory for about 45 minutes the team descended back to the hut with no wind and clear sunny skies. After one final meal at the Refugio we boarded the bus and went to have lunch and celebrate at a local pizzeria. We just arrived at the gorgeous Hacienda La Cienega and are settling in for some well deserved afternoon naps. Tomorrow will take us to the base of Chimborazo and the start of the tallest objective of the trip. Stay Tuned!
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