The trip started at our hostel in Latacunga, Hostal Tiana. We were picked up at 8:30 and taken to the National Park that surrounds Cotopaxi. We had a quick stop on the drive up to the Volcano to take some snaps of the cloud covered peak, and whilst out of the van we spotted 9 andean condors! The tour guide, who has been working with this company for 6 years, said the most ha had ever seen at one time was 4, so seeing 9 was really special! After the condor spotting we headed up to where the vans would park before we began our walk up to the refuge, and then the glacier.
As soon as we jumped out of the van we were immediately slapped in the face by a freezing, sleet filled wind. Everyone threw on their extra layers, zipped up tight and we commenced our trudge up to the base station. Now after being in South America, and travelling in and out of the Andes for 6 months you would think we’d be used to this by now. But absolutely not. This was easily the coldest day we have had on the entire trip. Obviously it was due to the crappy weather and storm, but still, I don’t think a single person on our tour was prepared for how cold it would actually be on this trip.
We set off at a slow trudge up the “path” through the well trodden loose volcanic rock. Due to the altitude, even with a steady walk uphill in the volcanic sand we were all breathing heavily pretty quickly. By this stage my left hand and the left side of my face was completely numb due to the wind whipping across the path from the left hand side, so warming up from a little exercise was just what the doctor ordered (note - I have no idea what actual Doctors specialising in high altitude medicine would actually order).
Anyway after about 20 minutes we reached the base camp around 4800m and ran inside to order some hot drinks. I have never been so happy in my life to pay $2 for a cup of tea. We waited around for another 15 minutes or so for the stragglers in our group to catch up and warm themselves up a little.
A little side note here - when at 5000m above sea level the air pressure surrounding you is only about 55% of what it is at sea level. Although there is the same relative percentage of oxygen in the air, as there is a much lower density of air molecules there results in a lot less oxygen being available for your body to inhale, absorb into your blood and send to your muscles and organs. Hence, we all had heart rates of about 160 bpm and were breathing like chronic emphysema patients whilst walking slowly up a moderate incline.
After a while we headed back down in a group behind our guide through the sketchy snow parts, and once we reached the base camp the guide said “meet you all back at the van”. Needless to say, Bec and I literally ran down the entire rest of the way - which due to the slippery sandy trail was actually heaps of fun. We got back to the van and climbed in to thaw out and empty the thick volcanic sand that was filling our shoes. The rest of the group began turning up when we remembered we had for some reason paid an extra $10 to ride mountain bikes back down through the storm on the side of the volcano.
Anyway, the driver took us down in the van a few hundred metres to a point where it wasn’t sleeting quite so heavily. Here we put on some lids, jumped on our bikes and were off. Below the storm it was actually still a really nice day, and in the end I was stoked that we had paid the extra $10 as the ride was a lot of fun. We finished up near a little lagoon filled with lots of wild ducks and other birds which I got to check out for a while whilst waiting for Bec and Ness the speed demons and everyone else in the van. All in all despite the cold we had an awesome day out, and I’m really glad we got to see Chimborazo.
Next stop - Quito para las classes de Español - and then onto Bogotá, Colombia.