I am not going to be climbing Mount Everest any time in my future.
South America has given me plenty of experience at high elevations. Bogota is about 2600m. Quito is at 2800m. I’ve climbed Mount Sinai in Egypt before and that was 2200m. (Even elevations like these messed with my sleep and my appetite.)
Today, I stood 5000m above sea level on one of the world’s tallest active volcanoes, Cotopaxi. To put that in comparison, that’s taller than Mount Rainier in the USA, which stands at 4400m. It still pales in comparison to mighty Mount Everest (8850m).
Cotopaxi is really 5900m but the last 900m from where I stood required climbing experience, proper climbing gear, and a trained guide. It was nothing but glaciers after 5000m. I can’t imagine going all the way to the top anyway. I know with certainty, I was never born to be a mountain climber, as much as I used to fantasize about it in the past. I would much rather run a marathon than climb tall-ass mountains.
Ok, so I did not climb the whole 5000m (that would take days). Our group was driven to about 4600m (starting from Quito) and we had to ascend about 400 brutal meters on soft ash. The air was thin (about 50% of sea level) so every few steps required me to catch my breath. The climate on Cotopaxi changes ever so quickly. Clear one minute, foggy the next. It wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be but dressing warm (layers and gloves) and wearing headwear is essential to prevent numb ears.
One crazy thing happened: Our GUIDE actually sprained his ankle badly as we were descending. The terrain wasn’t forgiving for a sprained ankle but with our group’s encouragement, he soldiered on in pain downwards.
In the end, it was a fun experience. (At the end of the tour, after a long descent on mountain bikes, I had to take a piss and with no one around me, I went in the bushes, with Cotopaxi in the backdrop. Talk about a toilet with a view!)
Tips for Travelers:
– I did my bike tour with “The Biking Dutchman” which is located near the intersection of “Ave. Rio Amazonas” and “Mariscal Fochs”. They’ve been doing tours like these for a better part of 25 years. The hike/bike tour costs US$45 and it runs MWF and it starts at 7 am.
– Bring warm headwear (or a jacket with head cover). The wind will kill your ears if you don’t. Bring warm gloves. Dress in layers. Wear a warm jacket. Pack light.
– Take it easy as you ascend and descend. It isn’t a race.
– There is no bathroom after a certain point, which your guide will tell you. Don’t drink so much water or you will find yourself needing privacy in the open mountain landscape (there isn’t much).
– Bike slowly. The roads are steep going downhill, not made of asphalt, and very, very slippery.