Every once in a while when I get very lucky, I get to see one of the most amazing sights in Ecuador on my way to school.
My school is in a valley below Quito (a city also in a valley) in a town called Cumbaya. To get there I take a bus which winds its way in switch back fashion down the valley.
The mountains around Quito are covered in trees so they’re a gorgeous green, unlike mountains in Colorado. Most mornings the clouds cover the valley, so my bus ride feels like a mysterious adventure into the Andes. By the afternoon the clouds have usually cleared and I can see endless green valleys and mountains and all the way up to Quito above.
On certain mornings, when the sun is out and the clouds have already rolled out, the bus will turn the corner down into the valley and I am treated with a rare view of Cotopaxi. I spend the bus ride craning my neck to get a glimpse of the mountain at every curve of the switchbacks. The white peak rises above the outline of the mountains, which in the early morning have a blueish, shadow like quality like the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.
There’s something about mountains which makes them seem simultaneously unreachable and yet so close and conquerable. Their huge mass rises out of the earth, daring those who would be brave enough to climb them and almost saying, “Here I am!” But their peak lies far away, covered in ice and snow, which only the strongest will be able to find.
Cotopaxi is one of the world’s tallest active volcanoes and the second highest in Ecuador, rising to an altitude of 19,347 ft. It is located in the province just an hour south of Quito, in a national park with the same name. In the indigenous language Quechua, Cotopaxi means mass of fire, and it was honored by the Incans as the sender of rain and therefore the land’s fertility.
The entire mountain is a perfect cone; from my vantage point I can only see the perfect snow-capped summit. Its silhouette is the equilateral triangle which mountains are classically depicted with: a wide base narrowing into a perfect tip
If all goes according to plan, that is if I pass my knot-tying test, go to the mountain Cayambe and learn how to ice-climb and have enough total excursions, then I will be climbing Cotopaxi. It will be the experience of a lifetime just being up close to such an incredible peak, much less to attempt and summit it. I know that even if I don’t get to be in the group who climbs the mountain, it will have been worth it to have taken part in this class, learned all my knots, rock climbed, lice climbed and made new Ecuadorean and American friends. But don’t get me wrong, my goal is to somehow make it to the top of that mountain.