In Quito, we organised a personal guide to take us to Cotopaxi, only 60 kilometres from the city and perhaps the highest active volcano in the world at 6000 metres. The mountain is symmetrical and beautifully cone-shaped. Our goal was to get to the 5100-metre level.
The guide was able to drive us to a parking lot at 4500 metres. We thought it can’t be too hard climbing 600 metres; we were relatively fit. Little did we realise the effects of altitude. At 4500 metres, there is only 40% of the oxygen that exists at sea level.
We started our climb and after a few steps I found myself gasping for air. Halfway up to our destination I thought, another step and I would pass out. With our guide’s urging after a rest, we pushed on and ultimately made it. It took us a good hour and a half to climb that 600 metres but we felt a sense of achievement and the views, well they were spectacular.
We saw all these younger ones hiking with seemingly little effort. Then we realised—when we saw their crimson cheeks—that their blood was highly oxygenated from living at high altitude. In retrospect when we came back down, we thought that high altitude hiking is a form of madness, but we added it to our list of new experiences!
French Valley and Glacier, Patagonia
Torres Del Paines National Park in Patagonia is a wondrous land filled with lakes, glaciers, waterfalls and forests. We spent eight days there to engage in our primary activity, hiking. On this one day, we headed off on a 16-kilometre hike.
The initial portion of the trek passed through burnt out areas of forest—there had been a fire three months earlier. Further on we came to lush vegetation that hadn’t been touched by the fire with numerous waterfalls making their way down the mountain. There were several bridges of varying sizes to cross and as we progressed, snowflakes started to fall. They say you can experience four seasons in a day here in Patagonia; so true.
The hike meandered up and down with lots of stony sections, and plenty of puddles and muddy areas. We passed through French Valley and near the end we could see the French Glacier ahead of us. We climbed onto a rocky ridge strewn with boulders and had our lunch while enjoying our surroundings. While there, we could see a few avalanches in the distance announcing themselves with a loud roaring sound. Sitting still, it didn’t take long to experience the effects of the cold, so we headed back for the long hike back to our hotel. Though fatigued, we felt inspired that we succeeded.
We arrived at our Parador (country hotel) at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains.
The following morning we decided to take a 6-kilometre hike that we thought was going to be a fairly moderate hike. Unfortunately, the directions were poorly translated from Spanish to English and left something to be desired. Also, the sign postings along the trail were ambiguous.
We got ourselves on track when we reached the Cinco Waterfall on the mountain. At the beautiful, cascading waterfall we had a picnic lunch before setting off again.
There was a small bridge that crossed the waterfall and beyond it, a plaque on the cliff face with the words, “Dangerous Path”. We should have turned around then and there. However, our curiosity got the better of us. Suddenly, we found ourselves on a ledge, gripping the rock face with our hands. Below the drop was 600 metres!
We negotiated 50 feet of that perilous section and thought that the worst was over. Not so; ahead of us lay a cliff that we had to scale by grabbing a chain embedded into the rock. At this point, there was no way we were going to turn back because the thought of going back downhill on that ledge, was too much to bear.
The rest of the “hike” consisted of climbing up rocks, walking through a beautiful meadow and once the descent started, clambering over rocks and boulders. We thought this hiking trail was someone’s idea of a joke.
Eventually, we arrived back at the Parador in the evening. The hike took us 10 hours and 20 kilometres. We were sore and exhausted but also exhilarated by our achievement.
Tell us, have you been on a hike like these before? If you could, where would you go?