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  • Writer's pictureJack Cannonball May

Cotopaxi - Ecuador

In early 1992, cousins Jack May and Richard Stark journeyed to Ecuador for a challenging, high altitude adventure carrying The Explorers Club flag. Their goal was to summit Cotopaxi at 5,897 meters (19,347 feet above sea level), farther from the center of the earth than Mt. Everest. One of the highest active volcanoes on earth, this peak almost straddles the equator, rising majestically above the Andean Mountains.

They began by climbing to the Jose Ribas Hut, which at 15,729 is higher than Europe’s tallest mountain, Mt. Blanc in the Alps. They had acclimatized for several days, climbing a 4,698-meter volcanic peak, Pichincha, just outside Quito.

On summit day, they arose at midnight to take advantage of the firmest snow conditions possible. Roping up, they began the assault by ascending 35-degree snow ramps to about 17,000 feet. The still air was bitter cold and quiet, punctuated only by their crampons crunching and squeaking on the pristine ice and snow. On an ice ledge, they rested a bit and watched a spectacular Andean sunrise light the low-lying clouds that were slowly drifting in below from the Amazon Basin.

Resuming the climb, they belayed across snow bridges, skirted several large crevasses, climbed a bergschrundand then enjoyed some of the most beautiful snow and ice pitches in all the world. The gradient eased as they reached the crater's rim where it was a short and happy haul to the summit and their success.

From the peak they saw nine major equatorial peaks and the Amazon Basin. To celebrate, they peered into and smelled Cotopaxi's deep, sulfurous crater.

Adventure is its own reward.

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