Saturday, November 20, 2010

The heights of the mountains are also His

I woke up that morning thinking, "I did not come to Ecuador for this." And yet, I was packing my bag and heading to the Ecovia to meet Kimberly and go to the agency for our trip to Cotopaxi. Not just to Cotopaxi, but to summit Cotopaxi. There is something about the mountains that captivates me. And this mountain in particular has captivated me. This gigantic active volcano sits about a two to three hour drive outside of Quito. On a clear day, it is hard to miss this majestic 5,897 meter giant, even from the city of Quito. Hence my obsession with this mountain. On my bus rides to school, as well as numerous other trips, I have not been able to keep my eyes off of its perfect volcano shape and beautiful snowline. The urge to get up that mountain just grew over time.
In order to go up Cotopaxi, you need the proper gear and a guide. It is best to get both in one when you go with an agency. That is what we decided to do. So we met at the agency at 8:30am on Friday morning, loaded the gear, and got started in the car. We stopped in Machachi, a town that sits at the base of Cotopaxi for food and batteries. Then, we continued on our way.
As you approach Cotopaxi there is a flat grassland. All of the sudden you see huge rocks lying scattered all over this grassland. Some were bigger than the SUV we were in. These were from the 1877 eruption of Cotopaxi, where these rocks were launched kilometers and kilometers from even the base of the mountain. It was fascinating yet somewhat eerie to drive through.
We hit the snowline very quick. This area (including Quito) has been having very bad weather for this time of the year. It has rained for almost two weeks now and the temperatures have been frigid. And they say that conditions will not improve until January. Therefore, needless to say, there was a lot of snow on Cotopaxi. It was difficult to get the SUV up to where we needed to park. At one point I was sure that I was going to die in the SUV as it slide down the mountain. But, we were able to get it securely parked. From there we put on our snow boots and grabbed all of the gear and started to ascend to the refuge. The pace was nice and we felt great. We reached the refuge without a problem and the guide was impressed at how in shape we were. We unpacked our things and headed out to train in using the crampons and the icepicks. By this time it was snowing pretty hard. We finished our training and went inside to get ready for dinner. We talked with the other guests at the refuge. It is always so much fun to see where everyone is from and where they are going. I have met people from all over the world just in the two times that I have climbed and I really enjoy that part.
After we ate we talked with the guide. The weather conditions were bad. They had been bad for the past few days. He told us that even if the weather was perfect the following day we would not be able to summit. Too much snow had fallen and it would be too dangerous. Cotopaxi is usually not a dangerous mountain. There are crevices that you have to watch out for. But the most dangerous thing is avalanches. These conditions with a lot of snow that had not been melted and compressed by the sun made for conditions right for avalanches. Most of the guides at the refuge were not going to climb past the glacier because of the danger level. We went to bed disappointed but still with some hope.
Sleep actually came easy for me. I was able to settle my breathing and drift off til 12am when we were to wake up. We got all our gear on and headed down to a breakfast of bologna, cheese, bread, and coffee. Refuge's in the morning are so much fun because its everyone walking around with headlamps. Some groups are gearing up and some groups are leaving. Our guide gave us the choice: we could go back to bed and wake up at 6am to see the sunrise and take pictures or we could walk a little ways then. We decided to walk a little ways then. We looked over the dark landscape and lamented that we could not go to the top. Two groups went up and tried only to come down saying that conditions were far too dangerous. We took pictures and breathed in the night air which was surprisingly not that cold. We went back to the refuge and talked for a bit then headed back to sleep for a few more precious hours.
I awoke at 5:30 and ran outside to see the sunrise. The mountains looked blue in the stillness of the morning. I hiked a little ways to see a piece of the sun peak from the side of Cotopaxi. Soon, the mountains came alive with the light. It was one of the most beautiful things that I have ever seen. I named the mountains in my head as I saw each of them shine in the morning. They are so amazing.
The guides decided to take us on a short hike to see the glacier. The sun was beating down on us as we hiked a little ways across the side of the mountain. At times, the snow was up to my knees. But the hiking was so much fun. We took pictures and laughed. We even slid down part of the mountain on our bottoms using our icepicks as our brakes. Upon returning to the refuge we packed our bags and went back down to the cars.
There were so many mixed emotions running through me as we rode back to Quito. My dreams of getting to the top of the mountain were not able to come true. I was frustrated because we were in the physical shape to summit, just the weather was not good. It was sort of sad driving away. But there is this verse:
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
Psalm 95:4
My God is the Creator of those mountains. My love for those mountains are not for the mountains themselves; its that my God, who fashioned those mountains, is so much more majestic and so much more glorious. The mountains are in His hands, so is the weather; He is sovereign over all things. In Spanish, you use the verb "conocer", to know, to say that you have been somewhere or you are familiar with it. That verb is usually used with people and places. People would use this verb to ask me if "I know" the summit of Cotopaxi. As I came down from the mountain, I was frustrated that I would not be able to say that I know the summit of Cotopaxi. But I am reminded that I know the God that fashioned and made that summit. I intimately know the Creator and Sustainer that allows that mountain to stand and hold its form. And I realize that I do not need to know the summit to be complete. I am satisfied in the One whom I do know, for He alone is everything.

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