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Cotopaxi Express: Walter & Team Battle the White Wind on Cotopaxi

Last night we enjoyed a delicious fresh, local trout dinner—served at the 16,000’ Cotopaxi Climbers’ Hut!...and then we went to bed early, in preparation for an alpine start wake-up for our summit bid on Cotopaxi. I woke before midnight to check the weather. It wasn’t perfect—we were in thick clouds, but there wasn’t any wind. We got the ball rolling at midnight, coffee-ed up and got ready to climb. As we prepared the weather kept fluctuating: a little snow here, a little wind there, clouds that we could see the moon through…
At just after one a.m. we headed out of the Jose Ribas Refugio on Cotopaxi. Winds increased during our first hour of climbing, which brought us to the glacier where we donned crampons and roped up. The winds continued above, coupled with Viento Blanco (White Wind, ~30 mph wind inside a 100% humidity cloud) that iced up everything—our clothes, our packs, our ice axes, and even our eyes—as we climbed. We persevered through the Viento Blanco as it increased in strength until we conceded to it due to safety; at less than 800 feet from the summit we turned around and headed back to the Climbers’ Hut. Even the descent was challenging; Viento Blanco was relentless, trying to blow us off of our feet, limit our visibility to near zero, and continue to dominate everything it could think its icy teeth into. Arriving safely back at the Climbers’ Hut we were a spectacle, pasted in white ice from head to toe.
It’s bittersweet to return from fierce weather unscathed but without a summit. We all know which one is more important. I am confident that had we had decent weather for our summit day 100% of our climbers would have made the top. Everyone performed well on our preparatory climbs, and everyone was acclimatizing to the extreme altitude well. But such is mountain climbing. Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.

RMI Guide Mike Walter

On The Map


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