After our recent adventure on the Cotopaxi volcano, I have a newfound respect for mountaineers. Though I had suspected it before, now I also know that mountaineering will probably not become my newest hobby.
We hadn’t planned to go up on the volcano, but after spending 2 days right next to it, feeling, but not seeing, its presence, we developed a bit of an obsession. During 2 days, we constantly searched the horizon, hoping the clouds would clear just enough for us to catch a glimpse of the snowy peak. Only on the third day did our luck change. After finally admiring Cotopaxi from a distance, we realized we needed a closer look.
Through the hostel, we had the option of joining another couple and a guide to ascend the volcano, but only to the refuge at the snow line. The final ascent to the summit required more time, experience and equipment than we had. Also, I wasn’t so sure I was interested in doing anything that involved ice axes and crampons. So after a veeeery bumpy ride to the base of the volcano, upwards we went. One excruciating step at a time. There is a good reason that mountains are often used in metaphors and proverbs. Mountain climbing is a very literal lesson in patience, perseverance and overcoming obstacles – all values we relearned during this challenge.
The altitude had been having quite an effect on us both, but mostly on me. I don’t think I had slept more than 2 hours a night since our week in the Galapagos, and I was totally exhausted from scrambling around in canyons and caves the previous days. The thought of going up even higher made me very anxious, but I wanted to do it anyways. About a third of the way up, breathing, and therefore walking, became increasingly difficult. I felt like my body was being squeezed by a giant, invisible force, and I worried that my heart and my lungs and my head would just explode. At the moment, that seemed totally possible though now it seems a bit dramatic. After a while, the refuge came into view – so close, yet so far away. My focus narrowed to the small patch of sand where my feet stood. Left, right, left right, stop. Sit. Shallow breathing. Rinse and repeat.
It took a long time to finish the climb, though probably not as long as it felt. My strides grew shorter and shorter and my breathing breaks longer and longer. But I did it! Reaching that refuge was a very proud moment for me, and a good reminder that I am stronger than I often think.
The way down resembled nothing of the way up, of course. Sliding and slipping down the mountain, our shoes filling with sand. Breathing deeper and deeper and feeling so relieved and proud. The pressure didn’t let up for hours, though, which was surprising. And it took the rest of the day to feel somewhat back to normal. But there was not much time to recover, because we had a bus to catch and a new adventure to look forward to!