Top 20 Tips for Climbing Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi volcano attracts climbers from around the world. It is easily accessible from the United States and we have been leading trips there for a decade now. We have decided to offer our top 20 tips for a safe, successful and enjoyable experience. Contact us and learn more about our next trips to Cotopaxi.

What is the Best Route to the Summit

Cotopaxi is a very active volcano and was closed to climbers in 2015 following eruptive activity. Thankfully, in 2017 it was re-opened we resumed running trips to Cotopaxi.

Reaching the Cotopaxi summit requires excellent acclimatization. After careful consideration we only run trips that have 9 days of acclimatization before any summit attempt.

1). Acclimatization

Without good acclimatization you have nothing. After 20 years of going on and leading trips. There is one thing that needs your highest consideration and that is the itinerary and the approach to high altitude. We always have additional acclimatization built into all our itineraries.  Check out our itinerary and the best route to climb Cotopaxi. Acclimatization is a critical component for safety and success on any high and extreme altitude expedition.

2). Training for Cotopaxi

Can you carry a 12kg/ 26lbs pack for 4 to 6 hours at sea level?  Can you carry 12kg/ 26lbs pack up and down 1,000m/ 3,000 feet back to back? You do not need to carry this weight in every training session but important to build slowly over months of preparation. You also need to supplement longer hikes, training sessions with daily training focused on building strength and endurance.

We can not emphasize how important your physical preparation is for this challenging trip at high and extreme altitude. We have climbed Cotopaxi and Chimborazo many times and always happy to help you develop the training plan. Do not underestimate the training needed to be safe and successful on Cotopaxi.

3). When Is The Best Time To Climb Cotopaxi?

Ecuador has a great climate that allows year round climbing on Cotopaxi and surrounding volcanos.  Climbing to the summit can be done at any time of the year. Cotopaxi has the highest number of clear days in the Ecuadorian Andes. June and July are the dries months, but it can be extremely windy. Two of the best months to climb are December and January and less windy than the June and July timeframe. Alternatively, August and September are also good months to climb but expect to have a lot of wind.

4). Bring the Right Equipment

On any Cotopaxi expedition, you have to make numerous ascents up and down the mountains in a wide range of terrain and conditions. One reason for this is to help the body adjust to the lower levels of oxygen as we move higher.  Make sure you have all items on the gear list and know how to use them. Having lightweight clothing and equipment will make a difference in how much weight you are carrying. Also, practice using your gear and equipment and make sure it fits comfortably. Having lightweight equipment and clothing means you will have to carry less weight up and down the mountain. Having prepared your gear and using each piece before the trip, helps you become mentally prepared.

5). Get a Fitness Test

Schedule a physical with your doctor to make sure you are in good health before you start training. You should then consider getting a fitness test. The results should indicate your current level of fitness and provide a road map for the way ahead. Use the results to develop a proper training plan, so you are not guessing how your fitness is developing. You need to know at what heart rate your body produces lactic acid in your muscles. Knowing your lactic threshold helps you develop a training plan best suited to your needs. Training in the right heart rate zone and building the right training is important for your safety and success.

6). Understand Altitude Sickness

If you have been on a number of altitude expeditions with us you will know all about altitude related issues and problems.  Read and understand the principles of acclimatization and altitude illness.  By picking an itinerary with more acclimatization, you give yourself a safer journey into extreme altitude. You also need an itinerary with built in contingency days for bad weather especially if you decide to climb in windy months.

The altitude along with physical fatigue are usually the downfalls of many climbers on Cotopaxi. A lot of climbers get altitude sickness and struggle with the physical effort high on Cotopaxi. The sad thing is you can control both of these issues by training correctly and picking an itinerary with the best acclimatization.

7). You Should Consider Taking Diamox

If you are taking prescription drugs, make sure you bring a sufficient supply to last more than the length of your trip. We highly recommend taking Diamox for the duration of the trip. Our high altitude specialist doctor recommends 125mg in the morning and 125mg in the afternoon. Make sure your Diamox is in tablet form. You will also need to bring a number of antibiotics. There are alternatives to taking Diamox and you most certainly should bring ibuprofen on this trip. Ibuprofen will aid with sleeping at high altitude.

8). Be Upfront With Your Medical History

Make sure our guides and staff are informed of any previous conditions or medical situation you may have. Don’t keep any issues to yourself, altitude sickness can kill. We implement a slow pace for all trekking and acclimatization days on the trip, however, you can still have altitude related issues. Make sure that your guide knows your medical history.

9). Conserve Energy Early in the Trip

The pace of your trip is critical to recovery each day on a multi-day adventure. Moving too quickly at altitude often leads to altitude illness and does not aid in your recovery. Fatigue is not your friend on a multi day trekking expedition. Good recovery is critical for a safe and successful trip.  A slow pace and slow movement to high and extreme altitude is very important.

10). Hydration, Hydration, Hydration

One of the most important tips we will give you is to make hydration a priority. Hydration at high altitude is extremely important. When you wake up you need to drink 1 liter of water before breakfast. You need to drink 2 liters before lunch and another 1 to 2 liters in the early afternoon. Using a water bladder system is ideal because you can then drip feed water into your body on a regular basis. This will be used on the trek in and lower on the mountain, however during the summit attempt it can not be used as it will freeze. Forcing water in, is not a good idea as you will just pee it out. You will need hyper hydration sachets, multi-vitamins and electrolytes while on this Cotopaxi trip.

11). Separate all Your Gear into Dry Packs

Manage your gear well and keep all items separated in dry packs. Alternatively, you can keep your clothes in plastic bags. While you are on the mountain you will need to manage your gear.  Having a good routine is very important, keeping separate bags for gear is very useful. The dry bags are useful to keep your gear organized when you do gear drops up the mountain.

12). Make Sure you Eat as Much as Possible

We always have quality food on our trips and this is critical to your expedition. Sometimes at altitude, your appetite can dwindle, but you need to try and finish every meal. It will give you the strength and energy for each day on the trip. You do not want to over pack snacks as you have to carry everything up and down the mountain. You should have some recovery and protein bars in your duffel bag.

13). Bring a Lightweight Sleeping Bag

You need to have a lightweight warm sleeping bag. We recommend a 0 or 10 degree Fahrenheit sleeping bag or similar Cotopaxi. You need to be comfortable throughout the whole trip. Sleep is a key ingredient to acclimatization and essential for success. Also, make sure that you have tested out your sleeping bag.

14). Come With a Climbing Partner

Working as a unit and team is important in achieving the groups goals. High on the mountain you will be roped to a guide and one other climber. Climbing with someone of the same ability is really important for safety and success. Communicate with the guides if you are having problems. They can only help if they know that you are struggling. Cotopaxi requires you to be a team player and maintaining a positive mental attitude at all times throughout the expedition. Encourage others and others will encourage you. We are much stronger as a group, not as individuals.

15). Bring Multi-Vitamins

We recommend taking multi-vitamins on a daily basis before and during the trip. These can either be the type that we dissolve in our water or as a tablet to take daily. You need to consider a range of supplements to maintain a strong immune system. Bring hydration tablets for your water to take daily. If you sign up with Ian Taylor Trekking for your Cotopaxi expedition, we will send you a trip Dossier, that includes a complete kit-list for the trip.

16). Only Bring Essentials

Have a small medical kit that is easy accessible while climbing. This medical kit should have Ibuprofen, blisters plasters, tape, sunscreen, lip protection, medication, plasters and personal items. Also, make sure you have your personal medication you take with you at all times. You need to streamline your medical kit, in the same way you would on any trekking and mountaineering trips.

17). Come With the Correct Mental Training

Having the experience in harsh weather conditions, will be essential in your preparations. Also carry a weighted backpack in your training, in order to be physically ready for the summit. Mentally prepared for your Cotopaxi experience, for example, pushing the limit in your training sessions helps. Additionally, the more comfortable you are in a mountain environment, the more mentally prepared you will be. Staying positive with a good mental attitude on the mountain, is important for you and the people around you. High on Cotopaxi is a mental and physical challenge. Staying positive in the face of harsh, challenging conditions is needed to be successful. Mental preparation starts at home in the hard training you do before the climb.

18). Expect Harsh Weather Conditions

Be ready to cope with diverse weather conditions. You may experience drastic changes in the weather from warm/dry conditions to freezing and windy weather.  High winds are usually the biggest challenge on Cotopaxi, similarly freezing temperatures can cause you pain and discomfort. Understanding that some factors are beyond your control, and weather being a big one of these. Focus on the elements of the trip you can control, for instance you can come with the right attitude, gear and physical preparation.

19). Know Your Limits

Know your limit on any mountain. One of the ways to achieve this is to hit the wall in your training at home. Remember your safety and the safety of others should be your number one concern on the mountain. Make sure that you have pushed yourself hard in your training and have prepared correctly before stepping foot onto the mountain. While you are on Cotopaxi, don’t push yourself to the point of putting your life or the life of others in danger.

20). Respect the Team and the Mountain

Respect other climbers. You are climbing as a part of a team and therefore, you have to be aware that timelines have to be kept and differences have to be accepted. An expedition can be a multicultural experience with people joining our trips from all over the world. That means different cultural backgrounds with different religious ideals or philosophies. Everyone in your expedition is struggling to reach the same goal, so respect the team. If you see your team member struggling on any given day, be there to help them. It could be you the next day that needs the extra support! Team work and relaxed attitude will be valuable assets on a trip like this, finally respect the mountain and extreme altitude.

Glacier Training and Summitting Cotopaxi?

A typical Cotopaxi climb takes two days to complete. You begin by heading to the refuge the afternoon before your climb. Once you have settled in you’ll have lessons at a nearby glacier testing crampons and different ice-axe techniques.

After all the preparation and acclimatization is over we will position ourselves higher on the mountain and rest.  We normally start out for the summit at 1am. This may depend on your experience level and how long it will take you to summit. The idea is to reach the summit at sunrise and begin your descent before the snow becomes unstable during the daytime. It normally takes around 5 to 6 hours to reach the summit.

It is strenuous ascent and can get very daunting at times when negotiating deep crevasse’s and climbing on thick snow and ice. Some points require you to climb front pointing, meaning you will be climbing using the front spikes on your crampons.

Reaching the summit is exhilarating. Staring down into the deep crater of Cotopaxi volcano and panoramic views of Ecuador’s major peaks is a fantastic reward for a difficult climb. Your descent should take about 3 hours.

How Difficult Is Climbing Cotopaxi?

Climbing Cotopaxi is possible even with little or no technical mountaineering experience. However, the climb takes 6 hours, is done at high altitude, and you will need to cross huge, deep crevasse’s and climbing on glaciers at a 40 to 50 degree angle.  You need strength, endurance and excellent acclimatization.

Cotopaxi has an overall 70% success rate.  Most people under estimate the steep terrain and altitude and neglect physical preparation.  If you truly want to climb Cotopaxi and reach the summit, then you need to take it seriously and prepare properly.

Join the Experts

We manage every trip with experienced guides. This is essential for your safety and success. There are some sections that need to manage and navigated by professionals.  We always have one guide for every two climbers.

We only offer Cotopaxi tours which include multi-day hikes, hotels pre and post, and also combine climbing Cotopaxi with a Chimborazo climb.

What Gear Do I Need?

On signing up we send you an itemized kit list with all the information you need to prepare for the trip. We also have a packing video showcasing items we will bring on this specific trip.  We do rent some items on the ground and this would all need to be pre-booked before the trip.

Is Climbing Cotopaxi Dangerous?

Cotopaxi erupted in 2015 and there have been 50 recorded eruptions since 1738.  The mountain opened back up to climbers in 2017. There is a new warning system installed throughout the park to alert visitors of any eruptive activity. If we hear the alarm sound continuously, leave must leave immediately. Cotopaxi is a active volcano and relatively safe to climb and is considered the worlds most monitored volcano!

How Can I Prepare For The High Altitude?

Your goal is to enjoy and reach the summit of Cotopaxi. This means you need to come physically prepared for this challenge. Learn more. Cotopaxi is tougher than Kilimanjaro so you need to consider this as you develop a training plan prior to arriving.

To have a chance at reaching the summit we recommend spending some time in Quito before attempting Cotopaxi. This will give your body time to adjust to the high altitude.

We also recommend adding in some additional hikes and training days after arriving in Quito to to reduce the risk of developing altitude sickness. All our itineraries factor this in to give you the best chance at success.

Do I Need Travel Insurance?

Travel insurance is very important for all climbs at high altitude. We require it for all our trips on climbing Cotopaxi. Also consider having helicopter evacuation cover. Make sure your insurance covers high altitude treks or mountaineering specifically above 18,000 feet, along with all medical emergencies.

Contact our Team

We only run quality trips to Cotopaxi. If you feel you are up for the challenge why take on Cotopaxi and Chimborazo in one trip.  After years of experience managing teams on the mountain, we highly recommend choosing our unique itinerary for your Cotopaxi adventure. CONTACT US and learn more about our quality run trips across Ecuador.

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