By far, the hardest thing I have ever done, (besides give birth, and it’s really kind of a toss up) is climb Cotopaxi.  What in the world is Cotopaxi you ask?

Well, I’ll tell you.  Er…I’ll let the internet tell you.

Cotopaxi, rising 5,897 meters above sea level, with a base width of 23 km, is currently the highest active volcano in the world. It is located 80 km SSE from Ecuador’s capital: Quito, a city of 1,865,541, in the Northern Andean mountain belt.

Cotopaxi is a stratovolcano. These volcanoes are known both as the most picturesque and the most dangerous and deadly. This type of volcano is created from both explosive and effusive eruptions. It is combined of layers of tephra alternating with layers of viscous lava flows creating their steep-sided and symmetrical cone shape.  Like other stratovolcanos, Cotopaxi’s crater is relatively small compared to the size of the mountain.

Cotopaxi has had several recent violent eruptions, wiping out entire villages, creating massive lahars, pyroclastic flows, and ash covering hundreds of kilometers of land. The first documented eruption occurred in 1532-1524. Its most recent eruptions were in 1744,1768, 1877, 1903-1904, and a minor eruption in 1942. However since than it has remained active, with seismic activity being monitored around the clock, steam emissions noticed daily, and other signs of volcanic activity. In the 1877 eruption pyroclastic flows descended the sides of the volcano and lahars flowed further than 100 km into the Amazon basin and the Pacific Ocean”

SO! Back in February of 2004, I took myself down to Ecuador, met up with a friend, and we backpacked through the Andes, explored ruins, hung out in cities, and hiked up Cotopaxi.

The first day of the hike, you drive partway up to the refuge, where we had some food, and slept for a couple of hours.

Here we got briefed on how to use the safety gear, our climbing equipment, how to catch ourselves with our ice picks if we fell, and emergency protocols.  We also practiced climbing techniques.

This looks more impressive than it actually was. I wasn't too far off the ground. 🙂

You have to start climbing at midnight, so the sun doesn’t deteriorate the snow, so we set out when it was still dark.

Putting my crampons on


Of course my camera was lost just a couple of days before the hike, so all I had was a crappy disposable, but the following are pictures of the sunrise, about half way up, and a few of our descent.

This picture does not do the colors of that sunrise justice.


You can see the slope of the volcano on the bottom left corner. It was pretty steep!


That's me in the front. I'm tethered to the guide, behind me, and to my friend, Erin, taking the picture.


On our way down from the refuge. All that "dirt" is really ash.

This adventure is something I will always remember.  It was challenging, and difficult, and I couldn’t breathe, but WOW!   The views were unmatched, the feeling of accomplishment was unparalleled, and I have a really kick-ass story to tell.

We won’t talk about how I got pulmonary edema(altitude sickness), and my lungs filled up with fluid…