It’s 11:42 pm on August 31, and most people are either asleep or going to sleep.
Us? Well, we are climbing out of our tents at Cotopaxi National Park. The wind is whipping and pelting us with dirt and dust. After getting our gear on and bags packed, we pray and beg God to help us make it to the summit: 19,387 feet above sea level.
Esteban is the only one who has summited a snow-capped volcano (we call them “nevados” here). For Saúl, Byron, Danny, and me, it will be our first time, and we are all depending on Esteban to get us there.
It’s a new experience for me altogether: walking with crampons, maneuvering with an ice axe, being tied together, starting at midnight. The altitude isn’t too friendly either as it’s a struggle to breathe and it makes me feel nauseous when I try to eat.
About two hours into the uphill (upmountain?), we come to a “grieta” or a large crevasse in the glacier. It’s between 2 and 3 in the morning. We are navigating with headlamps. After about an hour and a half of searching, we find a way around it and get “on track” again (but not before Byron went hip deep in another crack and thought that was the coolest part of his journey).
By this time, it is incredibly steep. We alternate between walking like a penguin and crawling on all fours. Can you imagine that brutal incline? Reach up and hook in the axe first, pull up, plant toes of crampons in the snow/ice, move the next foot up, and then your other arm. Again. And again. And again. For hours.
At this point, I’m exhausted. To be honest, I was miserable. When we got up at 11:42, I had actually never been to sleep. I was running on fumes and adrenaline.
I look to the east as the first signs of sunrise jump over the horizon. In some ways, this was encouraging. It’s tough to be in the dark so long. I know that the sun will warm things up a bit. However, we were supposed to be on the summit at sunrise, and the rising of the sun exposes just how far we have to go.
The climb famously ends with whats called “heartbreak hill.” In Spanish, it sounds even stronger “rompecorazones” or “heart-breaker.” I was suffering so badly, I was certain that we were on heartbreak hill. When we got to the top of the ridge, I saw Yanasacha. It’s actually a signature part of Cotopaxi, as it’s towering rock face is easily identifiable from a distance and easily seen from Quito. Being by Yanasacha, I knew that we hadn’t gotten to the heartbreak hill yet.
We sat down there to watch the sunrise. Off in the distance, we could see other “nevados” towering over the low clouds. All of us, even though we didn’t want to admit it out loud, thought “Can I do this? Can I make it?” To be transparent, my thoughts were, “I can’t do this. I’m so tired.”
Byron said, “How are you doing on a scale from 1 to 10?” I hear the different answers ring out: 7…6…7…3…8. Well, I said I was a 6, but truthfully I was a 5 at best. We encouraged one another, and we set out for heartbreak hill.
We stopped one last time before taking on the most torturous part of the climb. We shared chocolate and water. We had to share the water because most of our Nalgene bottles were frozen!
Looking at our watches, it was around 9am. We were already two hours late to the summit, and we had at least one hour left to go. ¡Vamos! Let’s go!
A little over an hour later, Esteban turned around and motioned for me to pass him. We were there! We had made it to the summit!
Saúl and I both collapsed to our knees. I cried as I thanked God for allowing us to get to the summit and to do it together. We celebrated by eating banana bread and taking pictures.
We were a little sad that it was cloudy and we couldn’t see the crater or much of anything else. But, God was so good to us as the clouds peeled away and we got to see the crater and Quito! God is so good to us.
I am happy to say that the trip down was much less eventful. It was a long and boring 4 hours, but we could easily see the trail on the way down so we didn’t get lost.
It was an incredible experience for us as a team. We preach adventure and getting out of your comfort zone as tools of transformation, and we lived it! It pushed us beyond our limits and closer to God. Thank you Lord!