Showing posts with label Cotopaxi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cotopaxi. Show all posts

Men's Journal Gives Us a Three-Year Plan for Climbing Everest

For a lot of people, climbing Mt. Everest is the dream of a lifetime. But thinking about everything that goes into preparing and planning for such an expedition can be overwhelming. Fortunately, Men's Journal is here to help, giving us a three-year plan to making Everest not just a dream, but a reality.

MJ's article was actually written back in 2014, with the plan of reaching the summit of Everest in the spring of 2017. But, if you ignore the precise dates, and focus just on the plan itself, the schedule can remain the same. And fortunately for all of us, the training starts in May.

The first stage of the Everest prep plan is to start getting into shape. The article says that you should start getting ready by building a strong fitness base of cardio, strength, and balance. Over the course of the three year program, that will be the focus of getting your body ready for the challenges of the Himalaya.

Next up, you'll also need to start seeing how your body does at altitude, so the plan is to bag a 14er, or a fourteen-thousand foot peak. This will not only allow you to put your fitness gains to the test, it'll let you build leg strength and lung capacity. With its 53 different 14ers, Colorado is a natural destination to bag one of these mountains, but there are plenty of others around as well.

The rest of the plan includes pushing your physical boundaries even higher by attempting more challenging peaks (Mt. Rainier for instance) and adding altitude. The Men's Journal schedule recommends traveling to Ecuador to climb Cotopaxi to get a taste for altitudes above 19,000 feet, although Tanzania's Kilimanjaro will do too. From there, it's on to Denali in Alaska – described as a "mini-Everest" – before attempting an easier 8000-meter peak like Cho Oyu. After that, Everest will be in reach.

In terms of creating a strategy for getting yourself ready to climb the Big Hill, this is about as good of a plan as any. You could literally go from zero mountaineering experience, to Everest in just three years if you stick to the schedule closely. What it doesn't offer is advice on how to pay for it all. Mountaineering expeditions aren't cheap, and even travel to and from these locations can be pricey. For most of us, that would turn this three year plan into one that would probably take a decade or more to wrap up.

Adventures in Quito: Hiking in the Shadow of Cotopaxi

For most of my trip to Quito I had Internet access, and was able to write about my days events as they happened. On the final few days of the trip, I was in a mountain lodge that didn't have Internet, so I continued to write about my adventures so that I could share them when I got back home. I'm now getting back to my regular routine, but still have a couple of stories to share. Here's the first one about a day I spent trekking in Cotopaxi National Park.

After two straight days of gray clouds that hung low over the Earth, it was a relief to wake to sunshine and blue skies. That meant that my last day of trekking in the Andes would at least get off to a good start, and we might actually see some of the amazing scenery that had been teased over the previous two hikes. It seemed that the day was looking up, and I hadn’t even rolled out of bed yet.

Unfortunately, that feeling wouldn’t last long. When I did roust myself from the massive and comfortable bed at the Santa Ana Hacienda, I discovered that I wasn’t particularly feeling well. I’m not sure if it was the altitude or something I ate the night before, but there was definitely some stomach troubles brewing. Never the less, I was determined to hit the trail, as this was the day we would be hiking in Cotopaxi National Park, right in the shadow of the massive volcano itself.

After a quick breakfast (my stomach wasn’t much interested in food) we checked out of the Santa Ana and set off on the road to the park. Traditionally, the trek I was doing would have begun on foot at a different lodge, but my friends from Tropic were doing me a favor by showing me this route, so we had to take accommodations where we could find them. A short drive down the road put us in the national park however, and we soon transitioned to foot.
As expected, the clear skies afforded us some amazing views of the mountains that surrounded us, including Pasochoa, a 4199 meter (13,776 ft) peak that we had summited just two days earlier. But of course, the real crown jewel was Cotopaxi itself, and the gigantic volcano didn’t disappoint. It stood out starkly against the clear blue skies as clouds lightly drifted by just below the summit. It was an impressive, awe-inspiring sight, and most definitely worth the wait.

We set off across the open grassland at a steady pace with the snow-capped summit of Coto gleaming in the sun. It was impossible to ignore the giant mountain, which loomed overhead, despite the fact that there were three or four other prominent peaks that were also clearly visible from the trail. Cotopaxi is a mountain that demands attention with its beautiful, yet rugged lines, and massive presence on the landscape. 

The trail began as an access road, but soon turned into a series of twisting routes made by other trekkers, and the wild animals that inhabit the park. Before long, we were wandering through narrow valleys, up steep hills, and over prairie lands inhabited by numerous wild bulls and horses.

About an hour or so into the trek, we turned up an embankment out of one of those valleys, and climbed to the highest point of the day. It was the top of a hill that stretched roughly 3950 meters (12,959 ft) into the air, providing fantastic views of the surrounding countryside. It was a spectacular sight, and on a clear day, it was easy to see for kilometers in all directions. 

The site was so good in fact, that the ancient Incas liked it as well. More than 500 years ago, they built a fortress on top of that hill, and used it as a lookout point and way station for travelers. Some of the walls from that fortress remain to this day, marking the history that the region has witnessed over the centuries. 

The climb to the top of the hill wasn’t a particularly challenging one, but it was enough to get my already delicate stomach even more upset. I found myself laboring to hike to the top, and while there, it took longer than normal to catch my breath. Up until that point, I had been feeling fine, but the labor of the climb had kicked me into another level of suffering. For the rest of the hike I’d struggle to maintain a solid pace, and felt the energy drain from my legs in an unusual fashion. Fortunately, I never actually got sick, but the rest of the trek was a challenge when it really shouldn’t have been.

This hike is the third in a four-day lodge-to-lodge trekking itinerary offered by Tropic. The route is perhaps the most beautiful of all, but it truly shouldn’t be a very difficult walk. In fact, most of the time you didn’t need to use trekking poles at all, although Tropic definitely recommends you bring them. For the most part, the hike crosses over open landscapes, with just grasslands surrounding you. On occasion it does wander into rubble fields left over from previous eruptions of Cotopaxi, or up into the high-alpine marshlands, where the same thick, tall grass that plagued me on Pasochoa two days earlier attempted to make life hard once again. 

After descending from the Inca ruins, we struck out across open fields towards some natural springs that crisscross the national park landscape. These incredible clear – and incredibly cold – streams were a source of tranquility as we hiked along their banks. Fed by the glaciers on Cotopaxi, the water rushes down hill to join ever-enlarging rivers, which provide a steady source of water to Quito and other towns in the region. 

As we continued upstream, we actually came across the source of one of the babbling brooks. Our trail passed right over the point where the water broke out from its subterranean well, and gushed out onto the land above. It was at that point that we reached the furthest point of our trek, and started to loop back towards the end point. Cotopaxi had been on our right all morning, but was now shifting to the left as we started towards are finishing point at lodge called Tambopaxi.

On this day’s hike there were four of us crossing the wide-open fields. Our head guide Fabian lead the way, and I tried to follow close behind, although me waning energy levels made it difficult to keep up at times. We were joined by two representatives from Tropic – Javier and Carmen – who answered my questions about the trek as we walked, Typically, a group on this trek ranges in size from 2 – 6 clients, plus a guide, which is the perfect size for an adventure like this one. Anything larger becomes too cumbersome, and the fitness level to the group can vary too greatly as well. On this day, I would have said that we were all well matched, although I found myself the one who was lagging. 

By the time we started our return trip, some low hanging clouds began to move into the area, and the view of the summit of Cotopaxi became obscured. For the most part, it was still a very lovely day, but the telltale shift in the Andean weather was on the horizon. As we walked, we spied some of our locations from previously in the day from the distance, including the Inca ruins, which stood out at the top of the hill. We also encountered more wild bulls and horses as well, all of which scurried away at our approach.

Finally, we made the final push up, and out, of the valley below, and found Tambopaxi lodge, where our van was waiting to hurry us along to our next destination. For me, this marked the end of my travels with Tropic, as they dropped me off at the El Porvenir lodge, where I would spend the next two days before returning home to the states.

Traditionally, the Tropic mountain lodge trek would actually have one more leg. On the fourth day of that itinerary, the group leaves Tambopaxo and hikes up to the glacier line of the Cotopaxi, which is located at about 4800 meters (15,748 ft). While I would have liked to have been able to go for that final stage, considering my low energy levels after today’s hike, it would have been a tough slog for sure. 

Fortunately, an afternoon of rest at Hacienda El Porvenir has helped me to recover to a degree. Tomorrow, I’ll go horseback riding in the Andes, as that is one of many activities that the lodge offers. Visitors can also take in additional hiking trails, go mountain biking, or simply enjoy the ambiance that surrounds the traditional Andean farm/ranch setting. While very different from the other lodges I’ve stayed in on this trip, it provides a setting that fits in amazingly well with the Andean traditions.

Adventures in Quito: Trekking the Andes Highlands

If you read yesterday's (admittedly long) post about my adventures in and around Quito, Ecuador, you probably already know that the Andes highlands can be a challenging place to go for a hike. The weather is unpredictable – especially during the rainy season – and the trails can be steep, difficult, and often completely hidden by high grass. It was with that in mind that I woke up this morning in the incredibly warm, and comfortable, Cotopaxi Pungo lodge wondering what I'd face on my second day of hiking in the Andes. Turns out, I needn't have worried at all, as today's trek was very leisurely,  not to mention rain-free, while still providing plenty of wonderful scenery to enjoy along the way.

After yesterday's very soggy trek, I had set my trekking gear close to the fireplace in my room at Cotopaxi Pungo, and overnight, most of it dried nicely. The lone exception was my boots that still felt damp. Knowing that I needed to have good, sturdy shoes for today's walk, I dug out my thickest pair of socks, and slid them on. Then, with a bit of trepidation, I slid them into the boots in question, only to hear a resounding sloshing sounds, and feel the socks already begin to dampen. This wasn't a good start to the day, but there was nothing to do but grin and bear it. 

Fortunately, the weather outside didn't appear like it would be sending rain our way anytime soon. The clouds were once again hanging low, obscuring visions of the surrounding mountains for the most part, but it at least seemed like we'd get off to a dry start. So, after grabbing some breakfast, I returned to the trail with my guide Fabian, who led me to the summit of Pasochoa yesterday, and Carmen, a representative of Tropic  the adventure travel company that has been introducing me to one of their itineraries. The company does everything in Ecuador, including taking visitors to the Galapagos Islands, the rainforest, and the Pacific coastal region. 

Before we set off, I was informed that we were not granted the normal permit needed to hike the trail that was on the schedule for the day, so we'd be walking an alternate route along a road instead. Apparently, since we weren't scheduled to say in a certain hacienda along the route, the permits were withheld, so we had to make the most of the situation. Hearing this news, I was wondering what we might miss out on along the way, as trekking a road didn't sound like a lot of fun. It turns out the road runs almost parallel to the trail anyway, and we were still treated to some excellent views along the way. It should also be noted, that we probably encountered a half-dozen cars on the dirt and cobblestone route, and perhaps eight or ten other people walking it as well. In other words, it wasn't crowded, and it still afforded us a great connection with the Andes forests and grasslands that are common in this area.

Today's hike was to follow the Pedregal Trail, which winds its way along the Pita River – a source of water for the valley below. The Pita begins on the glaciers of Cotopaxi, and its runoff helps to sustain life in the region. But as noted, we had to take a detour, and while we were no longer following the Pedregal, we were essentially on a parallel route. 

The morning air felt cool and damp, but upon striking out from the lodge, we were soon plenty warm with the exertion of the hike. The road went over, around, and down, some rolling hills, while the clouds played peekaboo with the surrounding scenery. Nearby, Cotopaxi loomed large, but its summit remained hidden by mist and cloud cover. At one point, even Pasochoa, yesterday's big challenge, appeared from behind the fog, giving us a brief glimpse of where we had been just 24 hours earlier. 

About 45-minutes into our walk, a black puppy joined us on the trail. We weren't really sure where he came from, but he soon fell into stride along side of the three of us, as we made our way through the highlands. He stayed with us throughout the entire day, enjoying the walk as well it seems. The friendly pup showed no indication that he wanted to return to wherever he had left, and the dog was with us as we arrived at our lodge at the end of day. In fact, he seems to have already been adopted by the staff, and has made friends with the llamas that graze on the grounds. 

As our day wore on, the clouds dissipated some, giving us a better look at the surrounding countryside. What we saw were rolling hills covered in incredibly fertile grasslands, which were perfect for farming and grazing of livestock. Many of the fields we passed had horses or cattle in them, and small homesteads dotted the landscapes. Occasionally, one of the farmers could be spotted going about the days chores. Any that past close enough to see our wandering trio were quick to greet us with a friendly "hola" or "buenos días." The warm and inviting people of Ecuador are found high in the Andes as well it seems. 

Around noon we stopped for lunch, and were soon greeted by the six mountain guides that had accompanied us on our Pasachoa summit, and soggy trek from yesterday. They were walking the same route as us, and had started a short time after, but had caught up just as we sat down for sandwiches and snacks on a covered bench. It was a lively and fun reunion for all involved, as it seemed like we all shared a common bond following the mountain storm we had survived together the day before. Our combined groups would hike the final section of the road to our lodge together, with much laughter to be had along the way. 

As the afternoon drew on, the sun even poked out from behind the clouds, and blue sky appeared overhead, That made for a pleasant walk to the Hacienda Santa Ana, a historic hotel that was once home to the Jesuit priests that came to the area. It has been restored, and looks fantastic, with beautiful and comfortable rooms as well. The restaurant serves wonderful gourmet meals too, which make it a wonderful destination following a long day on the trail. 

Tomorrow, I'll spend just half of the day with Tropic doing yet another trek, this time along the Cotopaxi Trail. It is said to be another relatively easy hike, and we're predicted to finish up by around noon or so. Hopefully the weather will cooperate, and provide us with some good views of this awesome mountain. It has proven somewhat elusive over the past couple of days. Once I'm done with the trek, I'll then transfer to the Tierra del Volcan, a lodge that sits right on the edge of Cotopaxi National Park, where I'll spend my last couple of days in Ecuador before returning home. 

The trip so far has been filled with wonders, both cultural and natural. Ecuador is a wonderful place for adventure travelers, as it has so much to offer outdoor enthusiasts. But the thing that will stick with me the most upon my return to the U.S. is just how friendly and hospitable the Ecuadorian people are. Everyone I have met has been incredibly accommodating and polite. That is a wonderful impression to take away from any destination.