Going Places: Tales from the road: Volcano skiing in Ecuador, cont.

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Volcano skiing erupts in Ecuador
Sunset on Cotopaxi, Ecuador

I shouldn't have worried. The next day, after a long, wet trek to base camp, the clouds that hung low over a barren landscape reminiscent of Scotland finally lifted. This sunny burst revealed glaciers spilling down the sides of the highest active volcano in the world: Cotopaxi. We stood in awe as the setting sun painted the monstrous peak gold, rose, and then amber in cool light. Yes, there was snow, and plenty of the stuff.

This sunny burst revealed glaciers spilling down the sides of the highest active volcano in the world
As I looked at the collected group of souls, it seemed a miracle that we were all gathered at this moment. I'd met climber/photographer Ace only once, over greasy sausages and eggs in Crested Butte. I'd seen extreme telemarking champ Kasha Rigby on the slopes there, too--for about five seconds as she blew by at an amazing clip. Raconteur Bob Mazarei hailed from Verbier, Switzerland (formerly from L.A.), where he'd married a local farm girl, taken a night accounting job at a hotel, and was known for unpacking enormous bottles of beer on the first tram up the mountain at 7 a.m. to end a long night of poring over the books. Two others, Adam and Pierre, both had reputations as strong athletes and fine folks.

We left the soggy base camp behind and relocated to the shelter 500 feet below snowline, where we spent the afternoon sorting gear. An exploratory climb rewarded us with soft corn turns in the glowing light of another brilliant sunset.

Gaping fissures invite skiers to miss a turn

Everyone turned in early to catch a few winks before the 2 a.m. alpine start. Everyone, that is, but the dog. He'd seemed nice enough, sleeping in the sun outside the hut. When a climber approached, the dog wagged a feeble greeting, and then went back to snoozing in the sun. As we tossed and turned to the crude tunes of the yowling beast, that daytime lethargy became painfully obvious: The dog slept by day and barked by night.

We continued on, the mountain cheating us with false summits, each step taking us into still thinner atmosphere
Someone, somewhere, may have slept that night. But no one in the hut did, and all welcomed the 2 a.m. start time as a chance to quiet the dog with a swift boot to the ribs or a well-aimed blow of an ice ax. Alas, as the group geared up to head out under a full moon, the dog was nowhere to be found.

We picked steps through the volcanic rubble under the moon's pale light and gained the lower snowfield. Higher up, the yawning mouths of crevasses beckoned. We roped up and continued through the maze of light and dark, dodging holes and kicking endless steps through a nightmare world where demons of the mind flitted in the dark as altitude and moonlight played games with perception.

Our breath grew labored, and the altitude forced Pierre into a hasty retreat down toward the pinpoint of light that marked the hut. The rest of us continued on, the mountain cheating us with false summits, each step taking us into still thinner atmosphere.





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