Third time’s a charm

After two failed attempts due to illness (first Chris and then myself), we finally hiked Cotopaxi on Sunday.  Before I share the details of that excursion, I think I should provide an update on my health as some of you may be wondering what happened after my visit to the doctor earlier in the week.  On Thursday morning, I had a colonoscopy performed at the Clinica Pinchincha by Dr. Coba, the doctor recommended by our friends Eduardo and Paolo.  I had to fast for 24 hours in advance and induce a colon cleansing by drinking a horrid concoction that tasted a lot like Buckley’s Cough Syrup; imagine drinking a bottle of Buckley’s in one sitting. It was all I could do to keep the stuff down and not throw it up. For me, that was the worse part of the whole experience.

When I arrived at the clinic on Thursday morning, I was immediately advised to get into a hospital gown and was then put on a guerney and wheeled into a surgical room.  Keep in mind that while the doctor speaks very good English, the hospital staff do not speak a word and there was no sign of the doctor at this point.  A team of 4 got to work hooking me up to: the automatic blood pressure machine, the oxygen (with the plastic oxygen tubes in my nose), the cardio machine (with the electrodes attached to my chest), a blood oxygen and pulse sensor on my finger tip, and an intravenous line.  As I lay there being poked and prodded, I wondered if there was a mix-up – was I perhaps confused with a patient requiring open heart surgery.  From what I knew of the procedure and how it was done in Canada, this prep seemed a little excessive.  My knowledge of Spanish medical terminology is zero, so I was quite helpless to ask questions.  The only thing I could think of was to ask if Dr. Coba had arrived.  I figured as long as I had the right doctor, then I had a pretty good chance that the right procedure would be performed.  Sure enough, Dr. Coba arrived with the anestesiologist who subsequently administered enough anesthetics to completely knock me out.  The next thing I knew, I was waking up in recovery, listening to the doctor explaining to Chris how everything went.

The colonoscopy revealed a healthy colon, with some small internal hemorrhoids.   In the doctor’s office the next day, Dr. Coba suggested the hemorrhoids may have been the culprit for the bleeding, but he speculated that it was probably a bacterial infection that was cleared up from the round of antibiotics I had taken the previous week.  Either way, he said my colon was healthy and he saw no reason for us not to continue our travels. He provided a written medical report, complete with colour photos and a DVD – relax, I’m not going to include any video clips here, but at least I have proof that they indeed performed a colonoscopy while I was under. One more thing, the insurance folks acquiesced to Chris’ logical arguments for coverage and advised us the colonoscopy and associated costs would indeed be covered. On Monday, we found the Post Office and sent a package of documentation and receipts by registered mail. I hope it reaches its intended destination!

So with that out of the way, we arranged to hike Cotopaxi on Sunday with a private guide, Henry. We left early in the morning under grey skies, but with surprisingly good visibility.  As we travelled 2 hours south on the Panamerica Highway, along “Volcano Avenue”, Henry pointed out the names and heights of the various volcanoes.  We learned there are 79 volcanoes in Ecuador, of which 12 are currently active. Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano at 5897m. It is a stratovolcano (very similar to Mt. Fuji or Mt. Sashta) with an almost perfect symmetrical cone, rising from a highland plain of 3800m and covered by a mighty glacier starting at a height of 5000m. The side of the cone has deep valleys scoured by lahars. The summit crater is 600m x 800m in diameter and several hundred meters deep.   The last recorded eruption occurred in 1904 and in 1975 the volcano awoke for a short time but did not produce any spectacular events. In the last few years fumarolic activities and sulfuric emissions increased and ice around the inside rim and on the southeastern side of the cone started to melt away.  We figured we were pretty safe that an eruption would not occur while we were hiking.

Originally we considered doing a two-day summit trek, something we have never done before.  After seeing the groups on the mountain preparing for that trek, I honestly don’t know what we were thinking.  Let’s just say that as we approached this majestic, daunting volcano, we were both happy with our decision to just do a single day hike.  This mountain was big, and the trek to the summit required skills, gear and clothing we simply did not possess. I’m glad we realized this earlier rather than later.

We entered the south entrance of the park which is supposed to have a better road than the north entrance.  We travelled about 15 km along the worst road we have ever been on until the car could simply go no further.  Literally. Chris even tried to push it but to no avail.  The loose dirt road resembled a ski hill with advanced mogels making it completely impassable, unless you were in a 4-wheel drive, which we were not.   So that was that.  Out we got, and started our hike well below the designated trail head.

Our hike began at an altitude of approximately 3800m – already 1000m above the altitude in Quito.  Our goal was to hike to the start of the glacier, at about 5000m. Normally, you would want to acclimatize a bit before the ascent, but our guide recommended we start right away while the visibility was still good. So off we went.  This was a difficult hike.  It was a vertical climb, increasing our altitude with every step.  At 4,400m, I was struggling.  I felt light headed and weak in the knees.  My heart was racing.  We slowed our pace to a crawl, and stopped regularly to let our heart rate settle.  It felt like we were sprinting around the block, pausing to catch our breath, only to sprint again – yet we were walking at a snail’s pace.  I was more than happy to wait for Chris whenever he stopped to take a photo.

As we ascended, the wind howled incessantly and the temperatures dropped.  I bundled up with my wind breaker, headband and light mitts.  At 4800m, we reached the refugio which is a building that serves as a rest station for both day and summit hikers alike. We had a simple sandwich and a cup of steaming hot chocolate to warm us up. This reminded me of drinking hot chocolate while skating on the canal in Ottawa in the winter.

From the refugio, it was another 200 vertical metres to the glacier.  At this point, I was feeling really good.  I seemed to have acclimatized quite quickly and was no longer feeling light headed. Chris, on the other hand, who was feeling fine to this point, started to deteriorate as we began our ascent to the glacier.

We went very slowly and 30 minutes later we finally made it – just under 5000m – the highest elevation we have ever reached.  We were rewarded with stunning, panoramic vistas.

After lots of photos, we began our descent, choosing a direct, but more vertical route.  It was rather treacherous as we slipped and slid our way down the mountain side along the loose gravel trail, falling more than a few times.  We were happy to reach the car, satisfied that we had finally hiked Cotopaxi.

Slideshow from Cotopaxi

Category: Ecuador, South America
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6 Responses
  1. Angus says:

    Hi Christina, really glad to hear you’re all right. You had us all worried. First about your health and then about posting the DVD 🙂

    We’re getting ready for our first real snow fall later this evening and tomorrow morning but it will be gone as quickly as it comes.

    • christina says:

      Hey Angus, we hiked in glacier snow on Sunday and I think that is as close as we’ll get to snow for a while. Today we’re in Baños which is just an hour from the jungle. We’re still in the mountains, in fact, this town is at the base of an active volano which sounds pretty cool as long as it doesn’t decide to erupt while we’re here. When the sun is out, it is stinking hot, but when it’s cloudy, it turns quite cool – but nothing like the weather in Ottawa. We’re still very much in the tropics, t-shirt and shorts kind of weather. Maybe you’ll get a snow day tomorrow 🙂

  2. Kaj says:

    Glad to hear that everything is good. Angus was right. We got a couple of inches of snow last night, so you know what the morning commute will be like. But wait….you guys don’t have to worry about that 🙂

    • christina says:

      Hi Kaj,
      So has the snow stuck? The only thing we have to worry about in the morning these days is how do we want to spend our day ….and not to forget our sunscreen because the sun is quite strong..and hot, hot, hot…..I know, it’s a tough life we’re living 🙂 Take care, Christina

  3. Paola says:

    Im so delighted with your posts!!! You guys make us travel and live all your experiences through this blog! Hope to see you soon!!! Take care!

    • christina says:

      Hi Pao
      Sorry we didn’t get the chance to go for dinner before we left Quito. I’m glad to hear everything is ok with your pregnancy and that you’re following the doctor’s advice – better to be over-cautious in these matters. Before you know it, you’ll have a beautiful baby girl, and it will be all worthwhile. Thanks again for all your help connecting us to a good doctor – it meant a lot to us. I am feeling 100% again and hopefully I will stay that way. Keep us posted about Canada……and let us know if we can help you in any way if your plans progress in that direction. Let’s keep in touch! Christina