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Beautiful Cotopaxi

Beautiful Cotopaxi

While in Banos, I met a traveler who raved about a hostel that was situated within the Cotopaxi National Park. He said that it was in such a stunning setting, all meals included, and that I would be able to arrange my climb of the volcano from there. It sounded like a great recommendation, so after Saquisili, Lilian and I headed back to Latacunga to pick up our luggage and then immediately turned around and got the bus headed north to Machachi where I had arranged for a truck from the hostel to pick us up.

DSC02300The hostel itself has a pretty magical setting and we were lucky enough to arrive just as Cotopaxi herself emerged from nearly permanent cloud cover to show us her staggering beauty. There is an organic farm, guinea pigs on site, a hot tub, super comfortable main house with inviting fireplace and coffee and cake available anytime you want it (dangerous for me!)

The view from the hostel

The view from the hostel

Lilian and I were pretty content to be here and immediately jumped into the hot tub for some hearty singing before dinner which is served at the giant communal table. Sitting around the fire and talking with other travelers, playing cards, and writing my blog was how we relaxed away our evenings, together with a good glass of red wine.

The next day I was eager to see if I still had enough red blood cells from my Peruvian acclimatization to attempt Cotopaxi the following day. A Finnish traveler, by the name of Oto, was eager to join me on a summit attempt on the 5th. So we awoke on the 4th of July (a little sad being away from home and friends on this holiday after having hosted a party at my place for the last four years) and headed out to climb Volcan Ruminahui, which at 4722m would be a perfect re-acclimitization hike for me.

Volcan Ruminahui

Volcan Ruminahui

It was a blustery, colder day, and we all climbed wearing our hats, gloves and fleeces. This land surrounding the volcano is pretty stark and bare of trees, and it reminded me a little bit of the English moors. The ground was covered in wildflowers and the hillsides dotted with wild horses.

Lilian and I climbing

Lilian and I climbing

I was super pleased with how I felt during the 3 hour ascent. My legs were in great shape, and I didn’t really feel the altitude much at all. I was about as prepared for the climb as I could possibly have been on this trip thus far. Feeling great and egged on by my female co-hikers, we all stripped to the waist for a celebratory semi-naked summit shot. I’m super pleased with how the photos turned out – hope you agree.

Heading down, the weather turned and it snowed and sleeted on us as we descended a super tight, steep and muddy canyon. Having lost so much weight, my pants kept falling down and were developing a true ring of mud and sogginess at the bottom.  But it was a great climb and I was ready for my next challenge.

Steep Section, but feeling good

Steep Section, but feeling good

Unfortunately, the universe had other plans. My first hurdle was that Oto changed his mind about climbing. So I was left with the option of climbing alone, for another $110, or delaying my climb till Sunday when a group of four from the hostel were planning on climbing. I really didn’t wish to delay because my cycle had decided to time itself ever so inopportunely for me once again, and dealing with feminine issues in a harness, on a rope team in the middle of the night at 5500m is not an ideal experience for anyone. Then, to add additional complication, I got an email that night from one of the agencies in Riobamba saying that a place had opened up in a group climbing Chimborazu the very next day – which had been my initial goal since it was the highest volcano in Ecuador, and it would have allowed me to beat my own personal record of climbing to 6022m (which you can read about here) It would have involved a 4 hour bus ride though to get to the starting point.

Heading down in the snow

Heading down in the snow

I had a pretty sleep-less night. The stress and emotional pain of events from the week before with regards to my life back in the States were really beginning to hit me and take a toll. I cried for several hours.

In the morning, Lilian was planning to leave by 11am so she could be in Quito in time to watch The Netherlands play Costa Rica in the World Cup. She wanted to go on a quick walk to the waterfall together so I agreed to join her – and hopefully make my final decision with her help. The walk was beautiful and much of it involved wading in rubber boots through a river. We giggled as we sang our favorite song again “Just around the Riverbend” because it seemed so appropriate to our location at that moment.

And then it happened.

“Just around the riverbend” can also refer to fate, or having your circumstances change and shift when you least expect them to. I think given my father and brother’s death last year, losing my job this Spring, and so recently having my heart broken again has re-slapped this truth in my face. It is all too much to bear. Just being in South America is proving to be very difficult for me emotionally as I am in the middle of a very profound cycle of grief. Somehow, shifting my pain from the emotional kind to the physical, by climbing a high altitude volcano, was what I’d convinced myself would help me cope with my grief.

Wildflowers

Wildflowers

Coming back down from the waterfall, Lilian and I somehow lost the trail. Lilian was becoming stressed out as she had a taxi leaving the hostel in 20 minutes. I saw what I thought was a trail heading up and to the left from the river. I walked over to it and saw that it involved quite a large and steep step up to join it. Cranking my left foot into a foot hold half way up, I grabbed at a branch with my right arm and began to pull myself up and onto the trail. What happened in the next two seconds felt like an eternity and it was as if I was observing myself from outside my own body.

At the top of Ruminahui - feeling my physical best...until the next morning

At the top of Ruminahui – feeling my physical best…until the next morning

The branch gave way and I found myself slipping backwards, my whole body ground up against the side of the hill, dirt and rocks scraping against my front. I was falling and there was nothing I could do about it. I landed in the river, and fell at an awkward angle feeling a seering pain through my right leg.  Lilian looked horrified and I assured her that I didn’t think anything was broken. She came over and helped me out of the water and I sat on a rock, assessing. My hip and thigh were throbbing and just moving the leg sent shockwaves of pain through to my brain. I’d somehow hyper extended my hip flexor. Badly.

Celebration

Celebration

And so ended my quest to climb any of the volcanoes in Ecuador.

I spent the rest of the day icing my hip and hobbling around the hostel trying to rest. I napped, read my book, blogged, cried, and chatted to some really nice and sympathetic travelers.

I leave for Quito in an hour, my grief now spread between my hip and my heart.

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