Friday, 24 April 2015

Quilotoa and Cotopaxi volcanoes

Because of the two parts of the rocky Andean mountain range that runs through the centre of Ecuador it is a haven for thrill-seeking outdoorsy types looking to scale volcanos, mountain bike, zip-line through tree canopies, and abseil down waterfalls. All of which we have been doing for the best part of a week. From Quito the first stop on our adventure odyssey was Latacunga close to both Quilotoa and Cotopaxi volcanoes. Quilotoa is an extinct collapsed volcano with a lagoon within the crater. We were lucky enough to have beautiful weather during our day which made it even more stunning - the water rippled in the breeze and sparkled in the sun and the surrounding mountains looked like brightly coloured patchwork quilts rolling in the distance. 

Next up was Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, home to the active snow capped cone of Volcán Cotopaxi, Ecuador's second-highest peak standing at 5897m. Along with our tour guide we made it through the eery mist to the first refuge point from which we began the hour ascent to the second refuge and then further on to the staggeringly huge glacier slowly forcing its way down the side of the volcano. As we heard many times en route from fellow climbers, the terrain is 'just like' the moon with jagged boulders protruding from black fine sand next to vast ravines filled with red solidified lava. Cotopaxi delivered my first experience with a glacier and it didn't disappoint. We hopped over streams of melting ice water and negotiated crevasses until we were actually inside the glacier; a surreal experience. 
I am soon realising that when climbing to heights of around 5000m altitude sickness is a serious danger. Acclimatisation is key but even so we passed several people collapsed by the side of the trail suffering with dizziness, shortness of breath and crippling headaches - a scary reminder of how beautifully dangerous Ecuadorean mountain ranges can be.