Climbing Cotopaxi

When living in a foreign country, it is always good to take advantage of all of the tourism the country has to offer. So when we moved to Ecuador, we visited the Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world), rode the gondola called the Teleférico that took us to the top of the mountain surrounding Quito called Pichincha and hiked up one of the snow-capped mountains, Cotopaxi.

Vn. Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi, one of the three snow-capped mountains that surround Quito, Ecuador. Photo retrieved from

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Cotopaxi is one of the world’s highest volcanoes (19,393 feet high), and the volcano is still active.

However, when my parents announced we would be hiking up Cotopaxi, my siblings and I became excited. I would get to climb a mountain at 13 years old. Also, since the snow on top of the mountain is the only snow Ecuador ever receives, we could not wait to play in it. But we had to get up to it first.

Since my dad had climbed Cotopaxi when he was younger, he helped us choose the right clothing to wear and made sure we packed plenty of water. We each wore at least four layers, hats, scarves and gloves in order to keep warm on the hike. With so many layers on, it was difficult to move around, but we all managed to get in the car to head out.

All of us looked out the window and watched the mountain grow as we got closer and closer to it. Since the volcano is in the middle of a field, we could see it even when we were miles away.


A view of Cotopaxi from a plane. Photo Credit: Elisa Brown

As we got closer, we turned onto a dirt road and advanced toward the mountain. Then Dad noticed a fork in the road up ahead and turned to Mom and discussed which way to turn.

“I’m pretty sure you turn right because it leads toward the mountain,” I said.

“Yeah, but the car in front of us turned left,” Dad said. “It could be that the road curves back to the right and leads to the mountain.”

I was not convinced, so my dad tried to make a deal with me.

“I bet you $10 that left is the right way to go,” Dad said.

“Okay,” I said.

“Will you shake on it?” Dad said reaching his arm behind him.

I hesitated. At that point, $10 was worth two of my allowances. So I shook my head to refuse and he turned left.

After about 10 minutes, the car in front of us began turning around. The road had led to a dead end.

“See, I told you,” I said.

“You were right,” Dad said. “And if you would have shook on my deal, I would have given you $10.”

I was fairly upset I had not taken the bet, but I did not let that ruin my excitement about climbing Cotopaxi.

When we got to the base of the volcano, we parked our car and got out. The wind hit us immediately. It was cold and blowing so hard it could have knocked us over if we took our feet off the ground.

We followed all of the other people toward the mountain and began climbing. After a few minutes, the altitude began taking its toll on us. Though we had been living in Quito for a few months at that point, our lungs were still not used to the altitude and the hike up Cotopaxi made it worse. All of us quickly ran out of breath and had to take multiple rests in order to drink water and regain our breath.

Family in Ecuador

The year we climbed Cotopaxi, I (far left) was 13 years old, Michaela (next to me) was 11, Josiah (far right) was nine, and Alexa (on Dad’s lap) was six.

When we got about halfway up, my siblings and I began complaining. It was taking us much longer to climb the mountain than we had thought and the shelter at the edge of the snow seemed too far away. But my parents made sure we did not quit. They encouraged us by saying we were much closer than we had been and they even got behind some of us and began pushing us up the mountain.

When we were a quarter of the way to the shelter, Michaela decided it was close enough for her not to take any breaks, so she began walking ahead of us in order to make it to the shelter. Josiah followed close behind her. Since I was the oldest, I did not want to seem like I was weaker than my younger siblings, so I left my parents behind and followed my siblings.

This ended up being a good idea because when we got to the shelter, we had some time to rest and catch our breath while we waited for our parents and youngest sister to join us.

Inside, the shelter was really warm. After we found a table to sit at, my parents ordered some hot chocolate for all of us to drink. We sat at the table for about 20 minutes sipping our hot chocolate and expressing our relief that we were finally able to sit down out of the wind.

When we finished our drinks, my dad asked who wanted to hike up to the snow with him. Everyone except Mom and my youngest sister expressed interest. Mom decided she was way too tired and cold, so she stayed behind in the shelter with Alexa, who was also extremely tired.

My dad, brother, sister and I walked back out of the shelter and into the wind again. The sun had come out, so it was not as cold as it had been before, but it was still very chilly. But that did not stop us from hiking up to the snow.

When we got to the snow, we immediately began picking some up and eating it as we hiked further up. Dad even started a snowball fight, but it did not last long because most of the snow was iced over because it was so cold. However, we still had a lot of fun and stayed out there for about 10 minutes before hiking back down to the shelter to get Mom and Alexa and head home.

Though the hike to the shelter was very difficult, I am glad my parents did not let us give up because now I can say I have hiked up one of the tallest volcanoes in the world – Cotopaxi.



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