My first outing in Quito: A visit to the visit to the ´neck of the moon´ The world´s highest active volcano, Cotopaxi, gets it´s name from old indigenous language meaning ´the neck of the moon´. And it was easy to see why upon my first glimpse of the mountain; it sat proudly amidst the chain of volcanoes known as the Pacific ring of fire, it´s towering cone of snow piercing through the tranquil flow of clouds high in the sky, almost reaching above and beyond them.
Honoured as the ´sacred mountain´ by local Andean peoples, Cotopaxi sits 50 km South of Quito and since 1738 has erupted more than 80 times. It´s surrounding landscape marks a sharp shift from the brightly coloured houses and fervor of the Ecuadorian capital city; here you find wide open green spaces, calm, and fresh clean air. The volcano´s snow dusted peaks radiated against a bright backdrop of crystal blue, surpassing any pictures I had seen before of it´s beauty in travel books and brochures, and confirming Ecuador´s status as home of some of the most beautiful natural scenes in the world.
My assent of Cotopaxi began, and I found the air thick and heavy with snow. Other warmly wrapped climbers swarmed round me and were colourful dots against the blanket of white. I triumphantly reached the Jose F. Ribas refuge at an elevation of 4800m, the highest I had ever been off the ground, and a fantastic spot for an unrivalled view of the picturesque world below. All around me beautiful stone of brown and red faded into the surrounding green pasture like a painting. As I ventured higher the conditions grew colder and I knew I was approaching the glacier, one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world. The ice shone and sparkled in the beating sunlight, a beautiful and surprising experience in a country located so close to the equator.
The sun began to set on Cotopaxi as my descent began, washing the mountain with warm golds and reds, a truly striking image. When searching for a natural spectacle in Ecuador, Cotopaxi is a visit not to be missed!