At Altitude: Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador

When we arrived in the colonial city of Quito, we heard about an awesome lodge in the hills of Ecuador near the snowcapped Volcano Cotopaxi.  We’d had enough of being in cities, so we decided to head up and enjoy the countryside.  The lodge is located in beautiful hill country with a panoramic view of the mountains, and surrounded by green fields and hills.  The farm next to it raises cattle, some of which are bulls that are used for bullfights in the pueblos of the country, a bit scary since we took a few hikes that crossed these fields!  Luckily the lodge has a pair of reliable Dalmatians that insist on coming on any walk or hike and bark at the bulls enough to keep them at bay.

The highlight of our stay was a hike to the edge of the glacier on Cotopaxi.  We were shuttled to a parking lot atop a long winding dirt road, and set off straight up the hill to the climbers’ refuge and then up towards the glacier.  While we had read about the effects of altitude, we didn’t quite realize how high we had gotten, and 2 days after we were at sea level, we were hiking around 5,000 meters (16,000 feet).  The hike was definitely harder for us than it would have been at sea level, and we were consistently out of breath.  On the ascent, I also began to get a headache that lasted on and off until we returned to relatively lower Quito at 2800m.  Lesson learned, from now on we’ll take these high altitudes seriously and spend time acclimatizing before getting so adventurous.  Despite the headache, I was able to do a spectacular mountain bike descent from the parking lot back to the lodge, which was one of the best and most scenic rides of my life.

Ecuador is a country that I knew very little about before visiting, but after exploring a bit and seeing the adventures available, I’d love to come back for more.

Below are photos from Quito.

–Gabe

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