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Cotopaxi Express – Ecuador

With Chimborazo Extension Option

On the summit of Cotopaxi

The Cotopaxi Express Expedition was designed for the time conscious traveler and adventurer in mind. This 19,348 foot peak is located in Cotopaxi National Park, an area rich with alpine lakes, pine forests, and abundant wildlife. Isolated high above the stark and desolate paramo landscape, Cotopaxi’s striking cone-like symmetry is truly awe-inspiring. Beginning in Quito (9,500 ft.) we begin the process of acclimatization that is so important for success on the mountains of Ecuador. We visit many historical sites around Quito and utilize the wonderful peaks of Pasochoa and Ruminahui to prepare for the ascent of Cotopaxi.

We begin the climb of Cotopaxi from the Jose Ribas hut (15,750 ft.) where we ascend a moraine to gain moderate glacier slopes to the summit. Along the way, however, complex crevasse patterns and snowbridge crossings over deep crevasses keep the climb interesting and provide impressive photo opportunities of amazing ice formations. After passing through a heavily crevassed area midway through the climb, we reach the final summit slope. Here a challenging section of 35-40 degree snow leads to the abrupt finish of the climb on the crater rim of the world’s highest active volcano.

  • For those who would like to attempt to climb Ecuador’s highest peak as well, we offer participants the opportunity to add the 3 day Chimborazo Extension to this trip, for a 12 day tour of Ecuador’s two most striking peaks. Cotopaxi from Chilcabamba

Climb to 6000 Meters

Ecuador’s Volcanoes – Cotopaxi (19,348 ft.), and Chimborazo (20,703 ft.) – are unsurpassed for acquiring high altitude climbing experience in a wonderful country. The culture – and the climbing – can’t be beat. Perfect for the climber who is ready to bring basic mountaineering skills into the high-altitude arena.  In our opinion, the climb of Cotopaxi represents a much better investment of your time in terms of skill acquisition than Orizaba in Mexico.

The SJMG Difference

SJMG has been running programs in Ecuador since the late 90’s. As a result, we have developed an in-depth understanding of what it takes to manage the overall flow of the Cotopaxi Express Expedition. From a refined and time-tested itinerary, up-to-date and detailed knowledge of the routes on Cotopaxi, and Chimborazo, to choosing the perfect hotels and other local operators – you can rest assured that our program represents the best in the industry when it comes to the execution of all the little details that help make this a rewarding and successful experience.

As a blind climber, I’ve done expeditions all around the world and dealt with all kinds of local outfitters and guide services; San Juan Mountain Guides is the best! - Erik Weihenmeyer

Summit of Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi Express Itinerary

The Basillica

Itinerary Note

The climb of Cotopaxi is part of our standard 9 day itinerary, and the 3 day extension climb of Chimborazo is optional – though highly recommended. Travel in South America can, at times, present some unique challenges regard to program logistics. Therefore, a flexible “easy-going” attitude will serve you well.

Day 1

Depart U.S. for Quito arriving late evening. We will be there to pick you up at the airport and transport you to our hotel – The Reina Isabel.

Day 2

Spend today in Quito acclimating. Optional historic city tour of Old Quito. Quito sits at approximately 10,000′ so this day represents an important step in our acclimatization schedule. Overnight at The Reina Isabel.

Day 3

Pasochoa (13,400 ft) acclimatization hike. An enjoyable day trip provides excellent view of Cotopaxi and the nearby Illiniza Peaks.  Hotel stay at La Estancia (“The Station”).

Day 4

Travel to Chilcabamba in Cotopaxi National Park.  We’ll drop off some gear before doing another acclimatization on nearby Ruminahui.

Hiking to the summit

Day 5

The group will travel to the Jose Ribas Hut (15,750′) on Cotopaxi for a glacier training day.  We’ll cover team roped travel, self-arrest, walking in crampons, and other relevant skills as they apply specifically to the climb of Cotopaxi and generally to high-altitude mountaineering.  Return to Chilcabamba for the evening.

Day 6

After a leisurely breakfast at Chilcabamba we will travel to the Jose Ribas hut on Cotopaxi and rest in preparation for the climb of Cotopaxi the following night/day.

Day 7

Summit day on Cotopaxi (19,348′). Complex crevasse patterns and snowbridge crossings over deep crevasses keep the climb interesting and provide impressive photo opportunities of amazing ice formations. After passing through a heavily crevassed area midway through the climb, we reach the final summit slope. Here, a challenging section of 35-40 degree snow leads to the abrupt finish of the climb on the crater rim of the world’s highest active volcano. We’ll descend and spend the night at the historic La Cienaga.

Day 8


After a leisurely breakfast, the group will return to Quito for the rest of the day/evening where there will be an opportunity for a celebration dinner and shopping in Quito.  Chimborazo Extension participants will instead travel to Banos with an overnight at The Samurai Hotel.

Day 9

Cotopaxi Express participants will fly home on this day, usually on an early morning flight.  Chimborazo extension participants will rest, relax, and perhaps enjoy some adventure in Banos.  Our unique itinerary allows you to explore the jungle, visit other local cultural sites, and generally enjoy what is known as Ecuador’s Adventure Capital.  Overnight at the Samurai Hotel.

Chimborazo Extension Itinerary (3 days)

Day 10

After a leisurely breakfast we will drive to the lower hut on Chimborazo, then hike approximately 1 hr. to the Whymper Hut (16,400′) on Chimborazo. We’ll relax and organize ourselves for the climb that night/following day. Glacier Travel on Cotopaxi

Day 11

Summit Day on Chimborazo. From the hut, the standard route up the western flank makes a gradual ascent (30-35 degree slopes) up a glacial ramp to gain the long summit ridge through what is known as “El Corredor”. The technical challenges involve negotiating crevasses, a couple of short 40 degree headwalls (100-300 ft.), and sustained travel on firm glacial snow for more than 4000 feet! We depart in the middle of the night, ensuring that our 12-14 hour roundtrip is completed before the intense equatorial sunlights softens the glaciers. After our summit we will return to Quito and enjoy a celebratory dinner.

Day 12

Chimborazo Extension participants will depart Ecuador and return home.

Cotopaxi Express Equipment List

  • Duffel Bag: Large durable bag for airline and in-country travel and organization.
  • Backpack: Internal frame, 50-60 liters max. Guides’ pick: Osprey Aether 60 or Variant 52
  • Sleeping bag: Down or synthetic bag rated between 15-20 degrees with compression stuff sack. Guides’ pick: Neutrino Endurance 400
  • Pocket knife: 2-3 inch blade, simple, light
  • Small thermos: Optional, but nice to have
  • Water bottles: 2 liters combined capacity; bottles or bladder. Guides’ pick: Nalgene or Platypus
  • Water Bottle Insulators: OR or similar sleeve type water bottle insulators

Clothing and Personal Equipment

  • Travel Clothing: 2 sets of travel/town clothing is usually suffiicient
  • Hiking boots: Lightweight hiking boots or approach shoes for acclimatization hikes and around town.
  • Socks: 2-3 pair of medium weight wool or synthetic blend socks.
  • Base layers: Synthetic t-shirt and synthetic long underwear
  • Mid-weight Layer: For over your long underwear and under other external layers. Guides’ Pick: OR Centrifuge Jacket
  • Soft shell pants: Warm enough for cool mornings and nights, yet light enough for warm days. Guides’ Pick: OR Cirque Pant
  • Soft shell jacket: Your workhorse jacket with a hood. Guides’ Pick: OR Alibi Jacket
  • Insulated Jacket: Down or synthetic with a hood. Guides’ pick: OR Virtuoso Hoody
  • Hard shell jacket: waterproof and breathable, no insulation. Guides’ Pick: OR Axiom Jacket
  • Gloves: 3 pair. 1 mid-weight, 1 heavy-weight, 1 light-weight. Bring mittens if you get cold hands easily.
  • Hand Warmers: 2 – 3 packets to stick in your gloves.
  • Hats: one with brim, one for warmth
  • Balaclava: BUFF’s are also acceptable.
  • Sunglasses: With Category 4 lenses.
  • Goggles: A standard paid of ski goggles will suffice.
  • Sunscreen and lip balm: water/sweat-proof. SPF 50 or higher recommended.
  • Headlamp: with extra batteries. Guides’ pick: Black Diamond Spot
  • Toiletries: Toilet paper, baggie for used TP, toothbrush/paste, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, etc.
  • Personal first-aid kit: for your personal meds/needs; guide will have a large one as well
  • Stuff sacks: for convenient packing
  • Digital Camera
  • Book and/or iPod/iPad
  • Lunch food: Everything you eat between breakfast and dinner. May include: bagels, dried meats, cheese, trail mix, candy bars, peanut butter, etc…

Climbing Equipment

  • Adjustable Trekking Poles
  • Harness: Adjustable leg loops are essential.
  • Locking carabiner (2): Pear shaped, wide mouth.
  • Non-locking carabiners (4): Wire gate biners are best
  • Helmet
  • Boots: Hiking boots, or alpine boots – many options. No tennis shoes.
  • Crampons: General mountaineering crampons
  • Mountaineering Axe: 60 – 70 cm mountain axe

Training & Follow Up Climbs

As always, being in excellent physical shape is an important component of our our programs. A good mixture of cardiovascular fitness, muscular fitness, and especially core strength will help you to maximize the potential rewards that are possible on a great climbing trip.

Chimborazo from the Hut

1 Before Your Expedition

The Cotopaxi Express Expedition requires that you have successfully completed a basic or introductory level mountaineering course, either our Intro to Mountaineering and Expedition Climbing Course or similar. Previous technical experience is not required for this expedition, though it can be very useful. Most important is being in excellent physical condition. A combination of cardiovascular and muscular (especially the lower body) training is particularly relevant on an expedition of this nature and will insure you are ready for the rigors of traveling on glaciated terrain at altitude.

For the Ecuador Volcanoes Expedition you should be ready for:

  • Travel in a South American country
  • Climbing at altitudes up to 6000 meters
  • 10 – 12 hour summit days and early alpine starts
  • Fickle weather, cold temperatures, warm temperatures, delays, other factors beyond our control

2 Follow Up Climbs

I hope that I might be able to get out to Ouray again before ice season ends. If so, I’ll definitely get in touch with you. Working with the local experts really makes a difference. Thanks again for everything! - N. Subashki. 2011 Private Program

Quito, Ecuador: Getting There

For the purposes of practicality, all of our Ecuador Volcanoes programs begin and end in Quito, Ecuador. Quito is a large metropolitan city of approximately 5 million people. We stay in the Amazonas area – also known popularly as “Gringolandia”. The area has many nice hotels, restaurants, parks, and street vendors. Quito sits at approximately 10,000′ in elevation so be prepared to feel the altitude the moment you step off the plane.

View Larger Map

rexerFlights: We require our participants to fly into Quito, Ecuador. The International Airport is a busy hub for airline travel and many options exist. Most flights from the US to Quito originate in either Miami, FL or Houston, TX.

rexerDriving: We’ve never had trip participants actually drive to Ecuador from the US. Although it is entirely possible, we can’t recommend this option.


rexerHotels: We provide lodging in Ecuador for the duration of the program.

Additional Information

  • Cost Includes:

The Ventimillia Summit

  • Guiding and trip leadership with bi-lingual guides
  • Ground Transportation in Ecuador
  • All in-country lodging
  • Hut fees and park entrance fees
  • Breakfasts and dinners in the huts on the mountains
  • Personal lunches for the hikes/climbs
  • Group climbing equipment (ropes, etc.)

  • Not Included:

  • Transportation to Quito, Ecuador
  • Additional hotel costs before or after the program
  • Meals or drinks in towns, cities, and hotels
  • Trip cancellation insurance – recommended
  • Personal alpine climbing clothing
  • Costs associated with early returns, weather delays, or other factors beyond our control
  • Guide gratuity

  • Registration and Cancellation:

  • You will need to fill out our Expedition Application, cancellation policy agreement, and liability waiver, and send it to us with a 50% deposit as early as possible prior to the expedition date. Balance is due on the first day of the course. Please click on our Registration link to access the required forms.

He was very thorough and safety conscious. I would highly recommend Nate to anyone and would love to travel again with him on another trip. Happy adventuring! - Tanya H. Expedition 2010