Volcán Cotopaxi

Top choice climbing

in Parque Nacional Cotopaxi

Summit attempts can be arranged in Quito and Latacunga. Although the climb is not technical – save for a few basic crevasse crossings and heart-pounding shimmies up fallen seracs – it is physically demanding, freezing and, for some people, vertigo-inducing.

The ascent starts around midnight from Refugio José Rivas. Even experienced, fit and acclimatized climbers can only reach the summit at dawn about one of every two tries (no guarantees, baby!). The reward for those who make it to the top (on a clear day) are awesome views of other mountains and a peek at the crater’s smoking fumaroles.

Even people with no mountaineering experience can make it safely to the top. Be sure you have a competent guide, good gear (rip-free ropes and harnesses, ice axe and crampons, warm double boots and jackets – no cotton, as it doesn’t stay warm when it’s wet like synthetics and wool – sunglasses, water, food, headlamp and emergency gear).

Your guide should teach you to self-arrest and use your ice axe, travel roped-in on glaciers, and put on your crampons the afternoon before the climb. It’s important to meet with your guide before you head up. Ask them how many times they’ve climbed the mountain, what you need to climb the mountain, and if they are certified with the Ecuadorian Mountain Guides Association (Aseguim). If your harness is ripped, demand it be replaced; if you’re not comfortable with your guide, ask the tour operator for someone else.