Cotopaxi
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Cotopaxi

There are certain things we do that mark us forever. When I was staying in Quito for a few weeks to better my Spanish I met Jörg from Switzerland, he was in Ecuador to climb mountains.

A few weeks before I had seen a glimpse of Cotopaxi, the fifth highest active volcano of the world, a sight that had been so impressive that it haunted me for weeks.

From then on I felt an inner urge to climb her. There was just one little detail... I had never climbed a mountain and didn't know if my body was fit for the task.

Jörg shared a room with me and one day suggested that we should have a go and climb one of the smaller mountains near Quito. If I could make it on this one then there was a chance that the mountain I desired for was not an impossible dream. Completely exhausted I arrived back in Quito a few days later, I'd made it and passed the first test.

The first rush of blood that lifted me off my feet was when Jörg wanted to climb Cotopaxi and asked if I wanted to join him. I couldn't believe it, the dream was becoming reality. It is one of those moments that reality fades away and you enter a dreamlike state. We headed out to rent climbing gear, got on the bus and hopped off at our destination.

Parque Nacional de Cotopaxi - Ecuador
I set up my tent to spend the night. Cotopaxi watches over us in the background.

This is where my adventure started... the entrance of Ecuador's Cotopaxi National Park (Parque Nacional de Cotopaxi) where Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, is never out of view. From here we would have to hike for 3 days to get to the highest refuge cabin at the foot of the mountain. Every day was just wonderful, the scenery so beautiful, green plains, lakes, wild horses and then... there she was... Cotopaxi, the fifth highest active volcano in the world, reaching 5,897 meters (19,347 feet), a mountain with such a beauty that it leaves you speechless, the world of senses disappears, the dreamlike state is reality.

We reached the refuge cabin (4,800m./15,748 ft.) early afternoon. Hiking to this altitude let our bodies acclimatize easily. That same night it happened. There was full moon and everybody at the refuge had already left. Jörg gave me some advice, go slowly and steadily but do not stop. We set out at 2 a.m., the moon lighting the way in a cloudless sky. This altitude demands some efforts of your body and when we hit the ever staying snow-line it was time to put on our gear.

We went slowly but steadily; passing everybody that had left hours before us. We even passed the Ecuadorian army, they had be doing some interesting exercises with their new recruits during the afternoon, and they were not happy. At one stage Jörg had no clue of the route to follow and we decided to let the army pass and follow in their footsteps.

Climbing hut on Cotopaxi - Ecuador
The refuge cabin at 4,800 m./15,748 ft. on the slopes of Cotopaxi
just below the ever staying snow-line

The top of Cotopaxi - Ecuador
Our destination, the summit of Cotopaxi

The sun was arising slowly, casting her light on Cotopaxi and warming my body. The summit was not far away now, my dream was becoming reality by each step I was forcing myself to take. Once passed 5,500 meters (18,000 feet) my body was giving me some signs of protest, my steps were becoming slower and slower, exhaustion was getting the overhand, not able to think clearly anymore, just this urge to conquer her by forcing myself to move on...

I remember the last 100 meters (33 feet), Jörg was pulling at the rope that held us together, urging me to keep on going, he knew that my body had reached its limits. I can only say that, when I finally stood on top of the most beautiful mountain I had ever seen, a sense of complete unity with the world that surrounded me embraced my body and soul.

PS: Finally I can thank Jörg van der Heyden for inviting me to climb Cotopaxi. Without him I would never have lived this unforgettable experience. It is something that will be cherished forever.

The sun is rising while we're climbing to the summit of Cotopaxi -Ecuador
The sun is rising while we climb to the summit of Cotopaxi

Crater on Cotopaxi (5.897m) - Ecuador
The crater of Cotopaxi, I still can't believe I took that picture,
the highest active volcano of the world (5,897m./19,347 ft.)

Jörg (big guy) and me on top of Cotopaxi (5.897m) - Ecuador
On the summit of Cotopaxi (5,897m./19,347 ft.), Jörg on the left,
the highest active volcano of the world in Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, Ecuador

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The 5 highest active volcanoes of the world
1. Ojos del Salado 6,893 meters (22,615 ft). Location: Catamarca, Argentina - Atacama, Chile
2. Llullaillaco 6,739 meters (22,109 feet). Location: Argentina-Chile Range Andes, Puna de Atacama
3. Guallatiri 6,071 meters (19,918 feet). Location: Chile Range Andes
4. Licancabur / San Pedro 5,920 meters (19,422 feet). Location: Bolivia-Chile Range Andes
5. Cotopaxi 5,897 meters (19,347 ft). Location: Ecuador Range Andes



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© All photographs by Mark Van Overmeire