Cotopaxi National Park

Yesterday I went to Cotopaxi National Park, home to Cotopaxi, one of the world’s highest active volcanoes. My friends and I left Quito in the morning and took a bus toward Latacunga, a small town in the province of Cotopaxi. We then got off along the side of the road at the exit for the national park, where there were lots of pickup trucks with guides waiting. For $17 per person, we were able to get a guided tour that takes us to the museum, primer refugio (base camp), and a lake.

The weather at the lower elevations looked pretty good. However, we could see some clouds higher up on the mountain. Our guide said that the clouds usually pass at the higher elevations and decided to take us up to the highest point first. We parked at the parking lot and hiked up to the lodge. There  was a nice view of two other volcanoes and the land below when we started. The weather started getting worse as we hiked up, with heavy snow. Our guide called it snow, but it seemed more like hail to me. It was still very fun hiking up the mountain, as I felt like I was on a real mountain for the first time in a long time.

View down from the trail

View down from the trail

We got to the refugio, where we were able to buy some hot chocolate from a vendor outside. This location is where people usually start to climb Cotopaxi. Cotopaxi is almost 20,000 feet high, and this lodge sits at over 15,900 feet, over 1,000 feet higher than the highest mountain in the continental US. The building reminded me a bit of the Silcox Hut on Mt. Hood, but I wasn’t able to enter because it was closed for remodeling. I bet the view would be great on a nice day, but we weren’t able to see much. The good thing, though, is that I didn’t have to worry about getting badly sunburned. This was the highest altitude I have ever been at. I’m really happy to know that I didn’t have any issues with altitude sickness that high, because that means that I will be fine with anything in the continental US.

There was some thunder and lightning that began as well. We waited about an hour outside of the lodge for the worst of the weather to pass before descending. We saw two really cute kids sledding down. It is quite something to experience snow on the equator. Not something that most people see.

Snow down below

Snow down below

Once we got back to the car, we went down to the lake. I was expecting a nice mountain lake, but instead what I saw was a small, pathetic mudflat with a few inches of water on top. It was also really cold and rainy. Then we went to the museum. Unfortunately it looked very small and was closed. Even the bathrooms were closed, and one of my friends had to go really bad. At the restaurant, there was a sign outside that said there was soup, but when I asked there was none.

The "lake"

The “lake”

I really enjoyed the hike up to the refugio even though the weather was bad. I love the mountains, and it reminded me of some of my climbs and snowshoes in Oregon. However, the rest of the park was a little bit of a disappointment. There wasn’t much there to see. However, I am still glad I was able to go up to a real mountain!

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