Where is Cotopaxi?

A: Cotopaxi is located in Ecuador, South America. It is unique not only for being the highest second active volcano in the world. It stands alone in the Ecuador. Most climbers fly into Quito airport and take a cab or bus to Quito, Ecuador to meet up with their team or guide service.

When is it usually climbed?

A: Being the equator, it can be climbed most anytime of the year however the biggest consideration is the rainy season in the winter so summer is most popular with September being the prime month.

I read that Cotopaxi is an easy climb, really just a high-altitude hike. How hard is it?

A: If you are in great aerobic shape, it can be "easy" on a perfect weather day and on the normal routes. But as with most of the extreme altitude climbs, Cotopaxi can have brutal summit weather with temperatures at 0F and if the winds are blowing, the wind chills can be very dangerous. Climbers die on Cotopaxi. Also, remember this is almost 6,000 meters, 20,000 feet so AMS is always a risk as is HAPE or HACE.

Is an Cotopaxi climb dangerous?

A: Cotopaxi is a relatively safe climb by the standard routes. However, there are always deaths on these big mountains. Cotopaxi is no different. The most common cause of death is probably altitude related and that is from going too fast and not taking the time to acclimatize. This is why selecting the proper guide service is critical.

How many people had summitted and how many people had died trying?

A: It is estimated that 5,000 climb Cotopaxi using the various routes each year. The summit rate is around 72% with cold summit days and altitude issues being the major reasons for not summiting. I understand there is about 1 death each year thus it is relatively safe.

Is altitude a problem on this climb?

A: Yes! Anytime you are above 5,000' you can experience problems. Cotopaxi is a serious high altitude mountain. Even though the normal routes are not technically difficult, the altitude takes it toll on climbers each year thus the 72% success rate.

Can you prepare for the altitude?

A: Not really. The common approach is to move slowly up the mountain (1000 mts a day maximum) spending your days at a higher altitude than where you sleep up until your summit bid. The human body simply does not function well at high altitudes and especially above 5000m As you go higher, the barometric pressure decreases, although the air still contains 26% oxygen, every breath contains less molecules of oxygen.

What kind of equipment do you use?

Click for a larger view of the gear. A:
Polar jacket
Polar pants
Ice ax
Head lamp
Sun glasses

Anything special in your gear for Cotopaxi?

A: 100% waterproof layers A rain cover for our pack is very useful.
Expedition Basics:

Which routes are most popular?

A: Cotopaxi Normal Route
This route is not currently used due to ice fall danger. It starts on the scree slope located right above the refuge (North Face). It runs by a series of switchbacks that end up at the glacier line, clearly seen from the refuge. It is scenic and not boring at all.
It continues all the way up to the lower flat section below Yanasacha, after traversing through a labyrinth of crevasses and tall seracs. Few deep and huge crevasses should be negotiated. In fact, you may need to cross a deep crevasse at 5,300 m (a long ladder has been placed here), 5,400 m and 5,500 m in order to reach the mid section of the glacier and to join with the old "Rompe Corazones" route. Some huge isolated seracs can be seeing in this section threatening to fall over the passing climbers. One already killed a Canadian climber in June 2013. Extreme caution is advise here!. After a few long traverses in west direction you'll reach Yanasacha's right side plateau.
The steep slope at the right side of Yanasacha must be climbed in order to set yourself right at the bottom of an easy steep gully. Climb it up to its upper part, then you'll be set again at the base of another easy steep gully (hand-made) located right below the summit. Ecuadorian guides shoveled a canal up to the lower part of the summit, in order to avoid traversing through the expossed pass above Yanasacha. You'll be topping out after making a long easy traverse south towards the summit.

As December 2013 this is the only route up to the summit. This variant of the normal route was open again in July 2013 after several years of been closed and due to the fatal accident and ice fall danger registered on the normal route in June. Its name says it all since it is hard to find a good resting spot for the first two or three hours on its steep terrain. It actually is a long and tiresome route. It starts at the right side of the refuge and continues diagonally up for about two and a half hours on steep terrain. This route joins the actual normal route after crossing a huge deep crevasse at 5,500 m which at the moment can be negotiated. This route was opened in 2000 and used till 2009 then it re-opened again in July 2013.

Do I really need a guide for Cotopaxi?

A: The park service requires guides but they vary in skill as you would expect. The worst one rush clients to the summit to squeeze in more customers throughout the season. But with local guides, if you get sick, they may not know what to do other than drag you lower. For more serious injuries, your life could be in danger so choose carefully. There is no helicopter evacuation on Cotopaxi unless dire circumstances.

Are there local guides for Cotopaxi?

A: Yes, there are quality choices based out of Caspi. Most are less expensive than traditional companies but some charge about the same price. Ask about food, group gear and language skills.

How do you get on an expedition to climb Cotopaxi?

A: Guide service will accept most anyone given it is not technical.

Do you use bottled oxygen?

A: No, supplemental oxygen is usually only used above 26,500'.





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