Archive for March, 2012

Adventure at the Equator – Cotopaxi Day 6 – Summit Day

// March 26th, 2012 // No Comments » // Climbing

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Getting up at midnight this time was easy and made even easier as we looked outside to see clear skies and no wind. The temperature was pleasant, and as we headed into the dining room we were greeted by a few eager parties that were on their way to the summit. Breakfast was quick and warm, the gear had been packed the day before, batteries in our headlamps were fresh and after slugging down some coffee, a visit to the baño, we were on our way. Time: 1:15 a.m.

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For the first time we could see the lights of Quito (2,000,000 people) in the distance below. Reaching the snow in minutes we also realized the with the moon shining brightly upon us, there would be no need for headlamps. John would keep his on and mine would be used intermittently as needed in the crevassed terrain, but the night was one of those rare beautiful gifts that we sometimes receive in the mountains. This was special.
Within the first hour we had already passed a couple of parties, John and Freddy were climbing strong and steady. We roped up as we hit the glacier and like a slow freighter moving by icebergs in the North-Atlantic at night, we moved past large blocks of ice the size of houses almost unseen.
One step at a time crampons crunching on snow and ice, the rhythmic pace becoming the focus taking ones mind away from the burning lungs and lightheadedness. As a team we moved in sync together doing very well especially considering this was only John’s second time on a rope. As we got higher, so did the sun and soon we were basking in the deep blue of a new dawn. The shadow of Cotopaxi could be seen stretching out into the distance pointing towards another volcano and the equator. Weaving around a few crevasses more and a couple of steep sections of snow and ice we then finally hit the cauliflower wind blown rime of the summit cone. Gorgeous!

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19,348 feet high at 6:50 in the morning – what a feeling. John did a super job and after 15 minutes or so on top we were headed back down. The trip off of the mountain only took two hours and we made it just as the snow was softening and the clouds returning. Truly a perfect and flawless summit day. This one was dedicated to our buddy Mark who was now recovering from HAPE back in Quito.

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Adventure at the Equator – Cotopaxi Day 5

// March 24th, 2012 // No Comments » // Climbing

This day began just after the sun went down. Sleeping in a bunk room is never easy let alone at altitude. Once I did finally doze off I was awakened by a familiar sounding cough next to me. It was Mark Skinner and I knew immediately by the sound of his cough that something was wrong. Something beyond a cold or respiratory infection. I have had this myself in the past and I knew that he was in the beginning stages of HAPE high altitude pulmonary edema. The first small cough was at around midnight, by two a.m. it was becoming more persistent, and by 4 a.m. I had him propped up, taking meds, and was beginning the process of packing his things along with the help of John Jaran, the other member of our team. I assured him he would be OK.  I then asked him if it would be OK if I said a prayer for him – we all bowed our heads and asked for the Lord’s help.  By first light we would work our way down to a lower elevation as that is the only true cure for this potentially deadly illness.

As dawn slowly crept upon us I went to awaken the hut keeper, who I knew had a phone that could receive a signal since mine would not. In the wind and the rain we walked out to a distant ridge to get service and called Jaime from Alpenglow. Thankfully Jaime answered and quickly began to drive to the park to meet us.

John was a big help and moral support to Mark who had come on this trip at John’s invitation. We were on a bit of an aggressive schedule for acclimatizing, but not unreasonable. There were in fact a lot of others who were doing the climb in even less time and with less experience. Even when climbing slowly altitude can be tricky and an unknown quantity, but nevertheless – climbing slow and sleeping low is the formula for the best way to go.

I took Mark’s pack, John took a pack with just the things we would need to stay safe and warm given the weather and potentially long walk down, and the three of us hit the road. Mark stayed calm as did John, and the three of us made our way down the mountain. By the time we hit 13,000 feet it was evident that Mark was starting to feel better and by the time we met Jaime, Shelly, and the Landcruiser and got down to a warm cafe at 10,000 feet Mark was back to his old self. We were very thankful to have a friend and local connection as the park service really has very limited abilities and rescue resources – such as not even a car or radio to offer any help.

With the puffiness in Mark’s face going down, his lungs clearing out, and his health returning he encouraged us to go back to the mountain and try for the summit. John and I did just as he wished. We headed back to the hut and hoped for clear weather on this night which would be our summit night. The night that we layed awake multiple parties tried for the summit only to be turned back by high winds and whiteout conditions. We honestly were just glad that Mark was well and making a speedy recovery – our summit now would be as much for him as it would be for us.

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Adventure at the Equator Day 4 – Climbing Cotopaxi

// March 23rd, 2012 // No Comments » // Climbing

Clouds look puffy, clean and sweet, but when you get up into them they are really ugly swirling masses of moisture and at 16,000 feet are not very warm. After arriving at the Jose Rivas hut much of our time would be spent inside due to the fact that the moment one would step outside, though it was not raining, one would become coated in a glaze of heavy moisture.

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More waiting. As we waited for the skies to give us a break so we could get outside, move about and practice some climbing techniques we saw the, unexpected to me, steady stream of tourists including young children plodding their way up to the hut. I thought “no way, how can this be? This is a climber’s hut for rugged guys like us, what is that five year old doing up here sipping a hot coco?” The climb really only begins above the hut and for many reaching this lofty destination in the park is a big attraction even if it does bring on nausea, headaches, a sour mood and worst of all HAFE (High Altitude Flatulant Expulsion).

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The weather cleared just long enough for us to be suckered into getting outside to climb around a bit and stretch the legs. As we reached the snow it shut back down and out came the Gore-Tex once again. Back at the hut we met Jaime – climber, guide, and owner of Alpenglow tours. Jaime had made all the arrangements for us and also works for guide companies like RMI to set up their trips as well. We learned of his upcoming climb on Everest and had a good time getting to know him and his new girlfriend from the US named Shelly. As the day went on we relaxed, read, tied knots, and organized for the climb. The mood was a bit damp but we remained hopeful that things would clear.

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Adventure at the Equator – Cotopaxi Day 3

// March 22nd, 2012 // No Comments » // Climbing

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The Landcruiser pulled up in front of the hotel and a local guide Fredy Tipan hopped out to load us up and drive us to the national park. Fredy unmistakably had the look of a guy hardened in the mountains and a calm demeanor as well. As we arrived the winds were howling, the clouds were low and we were getting wet. Immediately the Gore-tex went pack on for the short hike up to the hut at 15,700 feet. Once there we would relax and prep for our summit in a couple of days.

Adventure at the Equator – Climbing Cotopaxi Day 2

// March 21st, 2012 // No Comments » // Climbing

After a large breakfast at the hotel we headed out via taxi to a tram on the edge of the city that would take us up to just over 13,000′ on Rucu Pichincha. From the top of the tram a short hike would take us to 15,000′ weather permitting. Lightning and rain turned us back at just over 14,000 feet but the time up high is what we were after more than the summit of this peak. It was interesting to see the mix of people up here as well as the way people dressed for rain – cotton t’s and cotton stretchy pants were the norm making us look out of place in our Gore-tex, but we were comfortable.

We returned to hotel Mercure for a hot shower and then hit the town for dinner. In the Plaza de San Francisco we had some empanadas mixed with some other local fare all set in this picturesque historic district. Tomorrow we head for Cotopaxi.

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Tram Ride

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Mark Skinner Clearing Customs

Adventure at the Equator – Climbing Cotopaxi Day 1

// March 20th, 2012 // No Comments » // Climbing

Cotopaxi is a volcano in Ecuador that is 19,348′ high.  It is not a real complicated climb but by virtue of it’s altitude and hidden crevasses it should only be attempted by experienced climbers or by parties who have hired a local guide having in their possession all of the necessary equipment (for a list check out www.rmiguides.com/ecuador-volcanoes “RMI”).  The volcano is about one and a half hours outside of Quito, the capital, and resides inside of the national park of it’s namesake.  I had been curious about these volcanoes for some time so when a member of my church asked me if I could help him get ready for a climb of Denali, I knew that a climb like this could serve him well in his preparation.

Without much advanced notice we were on the fast track for making this happen and because of this I decided it would be a good idea to have a local company and guide help us with some of the planning and logistics.  Alpenglow tours provided us transportation and a guide named Fredy Tipan for help on summit day.

With everything in order Mark Skinner from Brooklyn, New York and John Jaran from Edwards, Colorado left a day in advance to get some extra time acclimatizing with a climb of Rucu Pichincha at about 15,000′ and three nights in Quito at 10,000′.

My plan of leaving a day later was nearly turned into 2 days when I woke up to see that my flight had been delayed 1st thing in the morning.  My leisurely morning turned into a rush as I raced to DIA to attempt getting on another Delta flight.  My plan worked as I just squeaked onto a United flight with the help of the desk agent.  After some lightning strikes, delays, chemical spills, coughing row-mates, and being crammed in the back of the plane in a middle seat I was happy to see the long line of customs and its limited staff.  The time now 1:00 a.m. and all bags are claimed – except for the three sitting by the carousel which are still not mine.  I was glad to make some new friends at the baggage desk and only hoped that there was still one taxi driver desperately hoping to get a fare.  There was.  Hotel Mercure was the oasis which awaited me after a chaotic day – sweet dreams.

Clearing Customs