Quito is at an elevation of about 9,350 feet. We certainly felt the effects of going from the Galapagos to that elevation. But that wasn’t enough for us! We had scheduled a tour of Cotopaxi National Park for today. Cotopaxi is an active, snow- and glacier-covered volcano that tops out at an elevation of 19,247 feet. We piled into the guide’s car with two other passengers: Alexis, an Anthropology Professor living in San Diego, and Alberto, an economist from Lima, Peru. Both of them appeared to be in their 30’s. We drove up to the boundary of the park before being transferred to a 4-wheel drive truck for the rough ride to the uppermost parking lot on the north side of the volcano.
From the parking lot at about 15,000 feet, it is a walk up a volcanic ash and rock trail to Base Camp just below 16,000 feet. Kathy was really feeling the effects of the altitude and, discretion being the better part of valor, opted to remain at the parking lot while Dave, Alexis, Alberto and the guide began the ascent. Alexis dropped out rather quickly as she was feeling the effects of hiking uphill at that elevation. Dave followed the others, but at a slower pace. “Lente, como una Tortuga.” Dave told them. “Slow, like a turtle!” However, Dave actually made it to Base Camp ahead of Alberto. Our guide waited for Alberto, so Dave made it there in first place! At the camp, Dave got some good hot cocoa and rested a bit. The guide said we needed to go just a bit further to make it to the 16,000 foot level, so we slogged on ahead. That set a personal record for being at altitude for Dave. Walking on snow at the equator was also a first!
Dave made it back to Kathy at the parking lot only to find her watching an Andean wolf which was wandering by! She got a great photo of it on her phone. On the ride back down the mountain, we also spotted a pair of Cara cara falcons chasing some southern lapwing birds. These wildlife sightings were very much a surprise and delight for us, as was seeing some herds of wild horses.
When we got back to Quito, we had dropped our laundry off at a nearby Laundromat and were told they would deliver it to our hotel between 10 and 11 AM the next day, which was perfect as we had to check out of the hotel at noon.