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Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Last Climb? - Page 6

Written by Peter J Levine
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We were about 1,000 vertical feet and perhaps a half a mile horizontally from the hut; a relatively easy 30 minute descent. Or not.  Within a few minutes of shedding our crampons – and no longer tethered – Nacho returned to his own pace. Now, rather than following in his footsteps, I was left to chart my own downhill course while looking up occasionally to get a bearing from the distant glow of his headlamp.


At some point in this descent, I became aware that Nacho seemed to be zigzagging down the 40 degree-slope and that we should have already arrived at the hut. Via a series of long-distance shouts, Nacho confirmed what was now just dawning on me: he couldn’t find the hut. I was exhausted, and the wind was picking up, so I looked for the largest upwind outcropping of rock, and sat down. I shouted to Nacho that when he found the hut he should let me know. I was more annoyed than concerned, as I was well equipped, and now in relative shelter from the sub-zero wind chill. The sun would rise in a few hours and then even I could find the hut.


Shortly after I sat down, Nacho’s disembodied voice called out that he had found the hut somewhere below where I was now crouched, drinking my nearly frozen water (it had begun the evening as boiled water poured into my water bottles). So, with some hesitation, I crawled to my feet and stumbled in the general direction of the voice. No hut.


This sequence -- squat, “found the hut”, move, squat -- continued through several iterations spanning an hour or so. As a glow began to appear in the eastern sky, Nacho’s voice called out to me from a ridgeline above and to my left, claiming once again that he had found the hut.


Now, I had to climb up to reach the hut. We had descended to a point well below the hut and a quarter mile to its east. I reluctantly dragged myself up to where Nacho was now actually waiting for me. He offered to take my pack, as he had indeed found the hut and dropped his equipment there. I agreed, but a few minutes later with the sun just peaking through, I realized that I was still facing a 15-20 minute uphill trek, I shouted to him to leave my water bottle. He unceremoniously dumped my backpack on the ground and sprinted toward the now visible hut. After a big gulp of my slush-like, nearly frozen water, I hoisted the backpack and continued upward towards what I hoped was not a mirage, now convinced it was time to return to Quito to head home, leaving Cotopaxi’s summit for another time, with another guide.


Seven hours after picking my backpack off the ground, I was back in Quito calling my wife, announcing without my previous hubris, that “I reached the bottom”.  Maybe next time, if my aging body parts cooperate, and with the right guide, I’ll be able to announce: “I reached the bottom” - after reaching the top. Or, perhaps, I’ll just go shopping with my wife in New York.



Copyright © 2014 Peter J Levine All rights Reserved




(Page 6 of 6)
Last modified on Wednesday, 31 December 2014

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