Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Taking it seriously--preparing for Cotopaxi

The hills are alive

We did a warmup hike for Cotopaxi to see how we do with a bit more air beneath us instead of in our lungs. We happen to live right next to Cajas National Park in Cuenca, so we elected for a short, steep route to mimic the Cotopaxi slog as much as possible. But we were baffled at why the Cajas map shows this route, at just under 4km (2.5 miles) round trip, taking over 6 hours to complete. But just the time it took to find the trail was our first indication as to how this could be true.

See that trail marker there behind the guard rail?

That one right there?

Yeah, we didn't either and started out walking a turn too far past it and having to triangulate a vector to the likely location, according to the map. Of course we found the trailhead coming back from the hike, and even this big sign announcing the trail...

...to the pond opposite the trail.

Keeping on the trail once found was also no small effort. Though the landscape here is very arid looking, the brown grass grows faster than hikers manage to tramp it down. We presume this is more a function of few hikers than of fast grass. And the trail markers were very sensitive to the natural environment. That is to say, there were very few placed markers, in favor of red dots painted on rocks on the ground that are less good for finding your way than for merely confirming that someone else had gotten lost before you and had begun to mark where they had been with blood so they would know whether they were going in circles.

See the marker? Foreground, at the bottom of the pic
At just over 1,000 vertical gain in just over a mile, you inevitably have to come across stuff like this.

But for the most part the hike was easy, even at the top, at 13,850. We lucked out on the weather, as even when it's nice in Cuenca the Cajas can be shrouded in clouds.

So even with a mystery trail and a fairly long rest at the top, we managed the six and a half our hike in three and a half hours. So obviously we felt pretty good about that.

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