On 17th and 18th December Cotopaxi Travel left for a trekking tour with a group of 7 young people. Our destination was a lake called “la laguna amarilla” which accumulated in the crater of El Altar at an altitude of 4480m. El Altar an extinct volcano that is located on the Western side of Sangay National Park, about 170km south of Quito. Even though the name means yellow lagoon, the water has usually a beautiful turquoise colour.
We had to get up really early in the morning because the car left at Quito at 3:30 am. After a quick stop in Latacunga to pick up all necessities like food and rubber boots, we drove further south on the Panamericana through the famous Avenue of the Volcanoes. To be prepared for a long day of hiking we had a tasty breakfast at the restaurant Mami Laury in Penipe where juice, hot chocolate, cheese rolls and scrambled eggs were served. Though, the best thing were the grilled tortillas de maiz with a cheese filling that came fresh from the grill.
Once arrived at the starting point, we had to repack our things because we were lucky that a mule was carrying some of our stuff and food for the dinner later. With lighter backpacks we could start to ascent on a muddy path to the Valley of Collanes. We soon discovered that the rubber boots were very useful for this hike because due to wet underground we got stuck in the mud a couple of times. The weather was unfortunately a little bit cloudy and grey but we found a nice spot with a great view for the first lunch break anyway. For getting to know each other better, we made a little introduction circle. With our bellies full again we wandered along a quite flat path that led into the valley where we reached the Refugio de Collanes at around 3:30 pm in the afternoon. From there we could enjoy spectacular views of the snow-covered mountains surrounding us.
Just in time, because it started to rain heavily, and temperature dropped immediately. Even though we were sitting inside a house we could see our breath. Luckily dinner was early so we could warm up a bit with a bowl of soup, steaming pasta and a cup of tea. Because we were all freezing bed time was very early around 6-7 pm, and everyone survived the night, although we woke up a couple of times and wished the alarm would go off soon.
Finally, at 3 am in the morning we got up, had a big breakfast and left the refugio in the middle of the night with our torches. We did not follow a path, rather tried to find the best way to cross the wetland with rivers flowing through, towards the steep crater. One of us got stuck in the mud so the rubber boots got filled with icy-cold water. With an extra pair of socks and a construction made out of plastic bags from our guide Fernando the hike could go on. Slowly the dusk came, so we could see a little bit more. The last hour was more exhausting because we had to climb up the rim of the crater until we finally reached the laguna at an altitude of almost 4500m. We forgot how cold it was because the views were amazing: turquoise water with a background of snow-covered sharp rocks. We could even observe how the sun came up behind the mountains so we could enjoy the warming light. Of course we took a lot of pictures, videos, selfies etc. and no one wanted to leave, now we could sit on the rocks without our jackets. At 8:30 we began to descent and also in the other direction of the valleys views were beautiful. Back in the refugio we had a second breakfast, and packed our remaining stuff. 3 hours of walking down awaited us, but we still could enjoy some spectacular views, and the weather got better and better. Only with our tshirts on, we arrived at the Hacienda Releche where our tour ended. Very tired, we climbed into the pick-up truck, rested for lunch at the same restaurant again, and enjoyed tortillas de maiz, beer and big plates of meat, mote and queso. After a really long, but amazing day we arrived happily in Latacunga and Quito at around 7pm where everyone was looking forward to falling into a warm bed!