Ecuador : Cotopaxi National Park

Feb 5, 2019


Cotopaxi National Park

It was overcast again that morning. It looked like it was going to rain. I, and I’m sure everyone else in our group were hoping that the sky would clear up. Santiago, our guide, even told us that for the past few days it’s been really cold, windy, and cloudy in Cotopaxi.



Cotopaxi National Park

Well I was just happy to get out of the city to be honest. I like Quito, I like learning Spanish a lot. But I needed to move. I needed some dose of nature, of wide open spaces. Of not being too aware of my surroundings, am I safe or not, etc.

Quito is damn huge. Like really huge. But as we slowly got out of the city, it got greener. Rolling hills on the foot of mountain ranges. Like a bigger version of the rolling hills in Kalaw, Burma. Something I didn’t expect to be honest.

Cotopaxi National Park

After a short stop for breakfast, we were headed to the National Park. Had some coca tea at the entrance, supposed to help in adjusting to high altitude. The entrance was lined with trees until slowly it opened up to a wide open space of greenlands. On the left was the Ruminawi volcano, and another mountain. 

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

To the right was Cotopaxi, with its peak slowly getting visible as the sky cleared up. We made a stop here to take photos and another one before driving up further.

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

Finally we made it up to the parking area at 4,500m. And started the hike up to the refugio at 4,864m. One can go up a shorter but steeper trail, or the slower zig-zag one. I took the latter to slowly adjust to the altitude. The highest I’ve ever been is only 4,600m in Nepal.

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

It was windy, with biting cold strong winds that I had to change to a down jacket and wear a scarf and a beanie. I thought I was having altitude sickness symptoms, but then if the trail is facing the other side, I was feeling perfectly fine. I made a few stops for water break and just took a lot of photos of the landscape below. I mean it was just breathtaking.

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

After less than an hour or so in the refugio, eating some snacks and another coca tea for me, we were headed to the foot of the glacier at 5000m. You can also have your passport stamped in the refugio if you want.

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

I went out ahead of everyone as some of those who wanted to join were still taking a break. I took photos again of the landscape. When I want back inside, they were already gone, and only those who decided to stay were there. This always happens to me, I thought hahaha Good thing I’ve seen the start of the trail earlier. So I just decided to walk up and thought that maybe I’d catch up to them. I did see them eventually but I decided to take my time as every few steps I made were harder due to altitude.

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

The trail was harder too as it was steeper and on loose soil with pebbles and small rocks. The people going down were laughing, struggling, and some falling on their asses as they tried to go down. There were a lot of Ecuadorians who made the hike in sneakers and jeans, I applaud them. haha I tried to not think about how hard it will be for me to go down, since I’m more scared descending than going up. But I slowly walked up until the section where one can see the steep climb to the glacier.

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

More people struggling to go down. People struggling to reach the bottom part of the glacier as it was now on muddy parts due to melted snow. I thought of giving up then as the thought of going down that part started to scare me. But I thought I’ll just figure it out later, I just need to step on the ice. That’s all I needed to do. There was this one girl ahead of me that was taking her time too. I told her we’ll make it. And she said yes, we will make it.

Cotopaxi National Park

I also saw Janice, the woman from Canada who I made friends with in the car. She and her husband, both retired, were so nice to me. I saw her and another woman, Kate, ahead of me. But Janice, who was wearing Asics running shoes was struggling to reach the snow part. It really took her a while to get up. But she never quit until she made it up. I did make it too, despite struggling and being unsure of my next steps. But I did it! The mountains will always push you but will always reward you with its beauty and a feeling of accomplishment, always.

Cotopaxi National Park

The three of us took some photos and decided to go down right away. Kate was really nice lending me one of her walking stick, while her husband lent Janice one too back in the refugio before starting. I honestly don’t know how I could have made it down if it weren’t for that trekking pole. Lesson learned, humbled again. I had no idea the trail up to the glacier would be that challenging.

Slowly we made it down, going down sideways. My steps were slightly sliding down collecting pebbles in my boots. But it worked. As soon as we made it down the bottom of the steep trail, Janice said she was so glad she pushed herself. She said she just underwent chemo and radiation last year, she survived cancer. And I mean wow. How amazing is that? She said that she knew she can do anything after surviving cancer. Another highlight of my day meeting her and watching her push herself to reach the glacier.

Cotopaxi National Park

It was easier now going down to the parking lot from the refugio. And also realizing how lucky we’ve been as clouds were starting to cover the peak again.

Cotopaxi National Park

Some groups started riding their bikes from the parking lot. Good thing our guide said that we can go further down to a safer spot to start. As soon as we did, helmets were out. I picked a bike and tried to sit on it. Then I decided to back out. If it was on a flat area, I could have pushed through. But it was downhill and a lot of small rocks along the way. I thought I wasn’t confident enough to do it, Ecuador was only my first stop and I couldn’t risk getting injured. I wasn’t 26 anymore, I was 33 and I needed to be smarter in making decisions. haha Then a few minutes after, I saw Santiago fell on his bike just a few meters in front of us. I knew I made the right decision.

Eventually, some also decided to stop as the trail was unexpectedly hard and slippery. Only four were left and we ended up meeting them in the lake.

Cotopaxi National Park

It was almost past 4pm and I was hungry because we haven’t had lunch yet. But I was really happy. I was happy to be hiking again, surrounded by these massive and stunning mountains and landscape. There was a time on my way down when I didn’t have to think about the altitude anymore that I thought everything that led me here has been worth it.

Cotopaxi National Park


Cotopaxi National Park

It’s funny how a crazy idea borne out of a heartbreak led me here. And now it’s not about that anymore. This adventure is mine alone, this life-enriching adventure is for me and not an escape from anything. It felt amazing. It felt amazing to feel this happy and grateful after the last two years of losing friendships and doubting myself due to conflicts at work. I’m in South America doing something I love, finally. And it’s only the start, I have three countries ahead of me and hopefully more trails to walk.

Cotopaxi National Park

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