Saturday, February 12, 2011

Climbing the World's tallest active Volcano 19,346 ft - Cotopaxi Ecuador, Propane Powered SUV, Super Dog, Chacon the Quilotoa Crater Mechanic!

Day 72

My apologies on the delay for the next chapter in the captain crazy adventures, good internet has been hard to come by around these secluded parts.

So today I woke up 12,000 ft above sea level in the beautiful town of Quilotoa that has an awesome crater lake.

My hunch was correct assuming today was a better day for seeing the crater. Yesterday was pretty cold and there were clouds everywhere, allowing only an obscured view of the crater.

Yesterday night I hung out at the local grocery store, mind you, there are less than 70 people that inhabit this little town, and the market was the place to be.

I met a cool guy from the states, particularly from Austin Texas, where I attended the University of Texas. Small world…again…. He was with a young lady enjoying the crater as well. We had some great conversations with the locals. I found out that local girls don’t like male tourists and but the guy‘s love the tourist women. I was even called out to inspect the local’s motorcycles. They explained their issues to me, as if I was a professional mechanic, such as leaking oil, weird noises etc. I was designated official mechanic for the village for some strange reason, just because I rode in on my massive looking motorcycle that looks cool I’m guessing. Chacon the Quilotoa crater mechanic, kind of like the ring to that.

Like I was saying, the following day the crater was looking great. I even had time for a self interview. What a loser, I know.

I was just going to leave but I noticed there was a small trail leading down into the crater. Well how could I say no to a nice hike 12,000ft above sea level with limited oxygen?

One thing I’m definitely not used to is the altitude, I’m constantly driving up and down the Andes Mountains varying from 3,000 to 12,000 feet, not only does my engine feel it, but so does my body.

Anytime I run or do something strenuous I acquire shortness of breath and struggle to recuperate quickly like I do back home easily. I really haven’t acclimatized myself for such a strenuous hike, but I’m not about to wait around to acclimatize another day, I got things to do and a world to conquer.

So down I went into the crater. I was told going down took 30 minutes. Since I’ve been driving around a lot lately, I had lots of energy, so I tried to set a new record. I ran the entire way down in exactly 17 minutes!

The lake was beautiful.

A nice kid tried selling me a horse back up for $8. But I thought how hard it could be going back up.
So I started my accent, about 15 minutes into it I was out of breath. Darn this altitude! I had about 2000ft to climb back to the top, and I was already struggling.

So I continued to climb struggling, huffing and puffing, taking breaks every 15 minutes.

An hour and a half later and I was about half way when I noticed a group of people behind me further down. They looked like locals taking a Sunday hike down the crater. They were at the very bottom and were coming up pretty fast.

I told myself, there’s no way they can catch up to me. Well to my surprise 45 minutes later they did catch up to me! They just ran by me like nothing, a man was even carrying his son on his shoulders, and a young girl was carrying a big container of water and the women even had on heels and their traditional outfits. I was amazed.

As they passed, we all greeted each other. I was sitting down resting as some of the women walked by. They were speaking their ancient dialect of Quiche. I was listening in just for fun.

I started to make a little sense of what they were saying and then I heard the ruminants of the word “Gringo”. I immediately put other words together a realized they were talking about me as they walked by. As they passed by they smiled at me, talking about me. I kindly smiled back and said to them in Spanish and a few words in Quiche I learned the night before” hello, nice day, and I am not a gringo”. I stopped them completely in their tracks; they couldn’t believe I understood their language and that they were talking about me. They were obviously a little embarrassed, but they laughed about it and so did I. They were impressed and saw I earned their respect. They continued up the hill like nothing.

Almost 2 exhausting hours later I was finally at the top, I didn’t think I was going to make it, my legs were tired, I couldn’t breathe, and I was taking breaks every 5 minutes near the top. I thought well at least I don’t have to go any higher than 12,000 ft anytime soon…..or so I thought.

I finally got out of the town and headed down the road again.

The roads continued to have amazing scenery, but road conditions deteriorated.

I was finally out of the terrible roads and back on a good road to Latacunga. 

I passed by the Cotopaxi volcano, it was breath taking. It’s the highest active volcano in the world.

I saw some signs about hiking, and thought mmm……. 19,347 ft to the top of it….nah don’t think I want to do that. So I kept driving. Through the next hour I kept thinking about that stupid volcano, should I try and climb it or not. I was already far away by now and was about to just keep going. But something stopped me in my tracks, I realized I will not be around this part of the world for a very long time or ever again, I must continue to take every opportunity I have to do something amazing and do it, even if I fail, at least I know I tried. I’ve never shot down a challenge, I’m an adrenaline junkie, and I love doing the crazy and uncommon, this volcano was calling my name.

So I turned around and went back to Cotopaxi. I thought what an amazing challenge and opportunity it would be to conquer the world tallest active volcano.

So I talked to a few people and found a mandatory guide. I was booked a ready to go for the next morning.

Upon waking up I stored everything in my hotel room. I gathered my cold gear and got picked up by a guy driving an SUV powered by propane.

It’s always a nice feeling knowing there’s a huge explosive container  of flammable liquid right under your seat powering the vehicle you’re in, any small crash or crack and ka-boom! We go!

We drove into the national park; the view of the volcano was obscured by the clouds since it was so high up.  I thought, oh man, what did I get myself into?

We arrived at the cabin, I met my guide Segundo, literally meaning “second” in Spanish.

I tried on a nice hat.

We had lunch, and left by 2pm.

On the way up the Cotopaxi
We then hiked to base camp 1, from 2pm until 5 pm, had dinner at 6pm, went to sleep at 7pm (tried at least), woke up at 12am to started the next climb in the middle of the night!

Base Camp 1
Base camp 1
So basically I didn’t sleep, so it was now 12 am and I was hiking this massive mountain in the dark. We had to put on special thermal clothes, had ice axes, and snow spikes on our boots, and it was extremely cold.

Base Camp 1
We reached the massive glacier and snow around 1 am. As we hiked through the night, my legs were already burning from yesterday’s hike at Quilotoa, smart one Alex, climb 2 volcanoes in 2 days without rest or any sleep what so ever!

Segundo and I

Despite the pain, I continued on. A few hours into the hike, I looked up above my head to find the most amazing view of the stars I had ever seen. Milky way clearly visible and all, I even saw some colors coming in from a distant star that I’ve never seen before coming in through the atmosphere, so high up there was a hardly any atmospheric turbulence to obscure the view of the universe right before my eyes.

By this time I was awed by the view and noticed we were just barely above the clouds. Fantastic view, I wish I could have photographed, but I couldn’t stop or I’d start to cool down and freeze.

Only 4,000ft to go!

It was around 5am when we reached 16,000 ft and hit the crevasses in the glacier. We carefully jumped and walked over huge cracks in the ice that looking down seemed as if the gap went on forever. One small miscalculation and straight into the crack we could go and get killed. This comforting thought made me laugh at myself and the extreme adventure I was in.

No sooner did I start getting the altitude sickness. I had another 2000 ft to go, or otherwise at a steady pace another 3 hours to go. My body felt as it was shutting down, I couldn’t breathe as easily anymore and was taking breaks every 15 minutes.

I thought, oh well, I made it to 16,000 ft, saw some beautiful stars, at least I tried. My toes and fingers were constantly going in and out of what felt like frost bite, and I was extremely tired.

But no, I knew I wouldn’t ever forgive myself for not continuing on. I am such a determined person I knew I had to push on. So I found some deep personal inspiration inside me, lifted my body off the frozen ground and continued dragging my body up the mountain.

This was turning out to be the most intense physical challenge of my life. At about 6am the sun had begun to come out, it raised up over the clouds and it was an unbelievable sight to behold, that mental picture along with the night stars is permanently engraved in my head.

I was now in physical distress and torment not being able to breath, it felt as if I had been shot, bleeding profusely and was lacking the blood able to transport enough oxygen to my head and body to continue functioning. To top it off, it was so cold that my eye lashes had begun to form icicles and actually froze. I felt the liquid in my left eye ball starting to do the same.

But still I couldn’t let myself down, I thought worst case I’ll pass out, but I’ll regain consciousness again…right?. So I continued on.

Finally around 7am I was near the top. But I could go no more, I was about to call it quits, I was sure I was on my last breath.

I found my last taste of inspiration and literally dragged myself to the top, completely out of breath, as if I was being punched in the stomach and kidney’s repeatedly the entire way up.

At the top with the ice storm

But I made it!

19,347 ft in the air!

Body aching, lacking oxygen, sleep deprived, no food; I couldn’t even grab my camera to take a picture.

The pictures I did manage to take were great.

It was unbelievably cold up at the top at 18,000 ft, aka around 6000 meters. The camera actually froze as well as the lens, this is what came out.

After much thawing out, I got some nicer shots.

Things to do in life check!


After savoring the sweet taste of victory, we started the way down. This was the toughest part of the hike. Every 3 minutes I was taking a break. My body was completely gone. But the notion of reaching the top of this ice capped volcano kept me going.

I even had to slide down the glacier on my butt and drag the ice ax behind me as a break, as I couldn’t even stand up anymore at times.

I’m happy to say I dragged and slid myself down the mountain to reach base camp at about 11am.

On the way down freezing my butt!

I took a 1 hour nap and headed down another 2 hours to the cabin, aching knees and all.

Today's hero is this dog, apparently he's climbed to the top of the Cotopaxi as well, he joined me on the way down from base camp

Super dog

I was given a ride back to the hotel and passed out by 3pm.

So to recap, no sleep, no oxygen, no food, freezing volcano, 16 hours of insanity, one heck of an adventure!
After a much needed day of rest I was off to Banos the following day.

The road continued to be great. This has been the biggest surprise of the trip thus far, the amount of time I’ve spent in Ecuador. There’s so much to see and do in the small country it’s amazingly beautiful.

I’m also surprised at the cost of gasoline, everywhere I’ve filled up has been the same exact price, it seems the entire country of Ecuador has the same gas price in different parts, it’s great! $1.48 for a gallon of gas. Not bad, I’m still amazed just next door in Colombia it’s at over $4 dollars a gallon.

So I’ve been told the road from Banos to Puyo is incredible, so I obviously had to check it out.

So what’s the first thing I see coming out of a tunnel on the way from Banos to Puyo, a bungee jump!

I saw a girl do a small swing thing on it. And saw there was a more extreme jump directly off the big bridge.

How could I say no!? Big dangerous jump from the bridge here I come!

For $15 dollars I was strapped into some harnesses and was put on top of a bridge to jump off head first.

To my luck a tour bus had stopped just to watch me jump, talk about pressure.

Standing on the top of the bridge was a great feeling, adrenaline pumping, milking it for the crowd etc.
Just as I was about to jump I noticed some familiar people on the bridge. It was the guy from Austin with his lady friend! Just 4 days ago I had seen them in Quilotoa and now here in Banos, 6 hours away. This running into the same people in different places is starting to creep me out.

So I waved and jumped head first, doing a front flip in the process off the bridge.

Sure hope it holds!

The guy from Austin even took some video of me.

It’s hilarious to hear the entire crowd scream as I’m jumping off.

As I got back to my bike, the tourists wanted to take a picture with me and the bike. So I was captain popular for 15 minutes taking pictures with the tourists.  Along with crazy adventure rider, I can now add on crazy bungee jumper to the list.

Pumped up with adrenaline, I continued down the road.

This road was absolutely amazing; I drove through so many tunnels I lost count. And I also lost count of all the amazing waterfalls I passed.

Even took a nice tram over one.

After the amazing road from Banos to Puyo I started my drive back to the highway to reach Riobamba.

I finally found the road and passed by the amazing volcano of Chimborazo.

This is around the same height of Cotopaxi, the one I climbed, but didn’t have as much snow or glacier.

Regardless it was fantastic.

Gave me a perspective of how high I climbed in Cotopaxi, what a crazy guy I am I’m starting to realize.

As I continued down the road, I got a chance to reminisce on this journey thus far.

This journey has been a challenge and dream of mine for quite some time. As a little kid I wanted to do such a trip, along with the influence of video games and my dad that has taken my brother and I on various road trips with his RV when I was little, I have since been hooked on discovering the world and the unknown, to go where no man has gone before. It has always been a part of my personality to discover, explore and challenge myself and others, and challenge the opinions and ideas of people and the mainstream theories and normality’s of the world, and expectations of everyone. So now, here, today I am living that dream and continuing what I love to do, explore, discover, learn, and seek adventure on an international and world level.

Not only does a trip like this provide a chance to see the world, but a chance to learn and experience different types of people. My sense of cultural competence has grown tremendously, and feel I’ve learned much and grow closer to the roots of humans and my own culture as well.

As I’ve grown closer to what is perhaps some spiritual enlightenment, my view of the world and all that is has shaped itself into something a little simpler than my initial complex understanding about life.
Where this will take me from this point is unknown. But I do know that I am continually filled with determination and ambition to continue to be a positive person, positive influence to others, kind, giving, honest and personally wants to contribute and do good for the world.

Once this stage in my life is finished, I hope this amazing experience will help contribute to the success and goals of the next stage in my life. I only wish that everyone reading this has the opportunity to create such an adventure and experience in their own way for the betterment of themselves and perhaps some spiritual enlightenment as well.

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