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The Ecuador Chronicles - 2010-47
A Day Trip to Cotopaxi National Park;
                                 A Drive and a Walk to the Snowline;
                                                        A Snowball Fight on the Equator 
by Ray Almand

Day Trip to Cotopaxi National Park 

My old friend who I have known since the first grade, Andy, recently visited us in Ecuador.  Andy and I decided to visit Cotopaxi National Park, less than two hours South of Quito.  We engaged the services of Live Well Ecuador associate Juan to take us to us to Cotopaxi.  Juan has an SUV that was ideal for this trip - some of the roads within the park are quite rough.

The National Park was founded in 1975 and covers 33,393 Hectares over three provinces.  Cotopaxi is the highest active Volcano in the world at 19,348 feet.  Visitors to the park may enjoy mountaineering, hiking, birding, horseback riding, camping and mountain biking.  Snow capped Cotopaxi is visible from several Ecuador provinces.

Our goal was to get a one day overview of the park and make it to the snow.  Juan had made arrangements ahead of time for our indigenous park guide, Piedad Moreno.  Piedad is very knowledgeable about the park - the flora, fauna, geography, and geology of the park.  She is also a pleasant person.  We were looking forward to an interesting trip up the mountain - and I will tell you, before we made it back down it got a little too interesting.


To the Snowline

We picked up Piedad before we got to the park entrance.  After entering the park we drove over dirt roads up the mountain to the park museum - Mueso Nacional Mariscal Sucre.  The museum provides information and displays about the natural history of the area.  You can learn about the major eruptions that have impacted the area over the past 500 years.

Museum Entrance


Displays and Information - Piedad, Juan and Andy


Bird, Animal Display - I'm Sure True birders Prefer Spotting the Live Ones Outside


Outside Flora Display near the Museum Entrance


But enough museum - let's go for the Snow.  As we continued up the mountain we got some incredible views of our goal through the clouds.  At the beginning we went up just a slight incline.  This changes to a series of switchbacks as you go up, and the dirt road gets rougher.  We met mountain bikers headed down; a popular activity is having a truck take riders and mountain bikes up - and then you ride back down the mountain.

The parking area is located at an elevation of about 4,500 meters - 14,754 feet.  From there you can walk up to El Refugio Jose Rivas - altitude 15,748 Feet - which provides bunk facilities if you bring your own sleeping bag.  From here mountaineers can treck to the summit - they leave about 1:00 AM to make it up and back the same day.  El Refugio is located near the edge of the glaicier that circles the summit.

Just ahead of us seven or eight school buses full of kids had arrived.  They took off up the mountain like antelope.  Andy and I were having to stop and catch our breath about every 30 yards.  For people who have spent their entire lives at around 1,000 feet elevation the lack of oxygen at 15,000 feet is overwhelming.  For Piedad and Juan this was nothing.  Maybe the fact that Andy and I are both pushing 61 years old had a little something to do with it.  And I have a bad knee.  And the clouds rolled in and it started to sleet a little.  And we had made it to the snowline - our true goal; there was snow all around.  And we were not really dressed for this.  I know, a lot of sissy excuses - but about half way up to El Refugio we decided to head back down.  And lucky thing we did.


Looking at Cotopaxi as We Drive up Cotopaxi 


This Good Road Gives Way to Switchbacks  


A Bunch of School Buses, A Bunch of Kids Dressed for the Cold


And Up They Go

The Andean Explorers and Piedad - Taking a Little Breather as the Clouds Roll In


Soon there was Snow all Around


Snowball Fight on the Equator

This is a bit of a misnomer - Cotopaxi is actually located slightly south of the Equator, but close enough for me.  As we headed back down to the parking area we stopped to do snow battle.  I also fell on my rear end at one point - but luckily nobody had a camera on me.  And it started to sleet a little more - and a little more - and a little more.  Soon there was a lot of sleet falling.  These were large pellets - it hurt as it hit my hands while trying to photograph it.  It was hurting Andy's head - he did not have a hat - he pulled his coat up over his head.  The ground began to turn white and slippery, well below the original snowline, and this was ice - not snow.  I had wanted to see snow on the Equator, but this was turning out to be way more than I had bargained for.  I was becoming concerned about our drive back down the mountain after we finally reached Juan's SUV.


Conferring with Juan about Snowball Fight Strategy


Here it is - The Weapon of Choice!


The Snowball Fight Club


Piedad May be Strong, But I Still Think She Throws Like a Girl


What is this Stuff Falling from the Sky - Let's Get Back to the Car!


Andy Pulls His Coat Over His Head


Sleet Pellet in the Crease of my Jeans


This Stuff is Really Starting to Come Down


The Ground Was Starting to Turn White with Ice
As Barney Fife Might Have Said:  "We got a Situation here Andy, A Real Situation"


The Weather can be Interesting Here on the Equator


We finally Made it to the Car
This is a Big Deal to a Southern Boy Like Me


Well, we made it to the car.  I'm sure for people used to snow and ice this is nothing, but it was a big deal to a Southern boy like me.  But this is not the end of the story - we still had to make it back down the mountain.

Stay tuned next week for the icy drive back down the Mountain!


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