I was happily enjoying the stunning views at 5000m altitude after climbing the majestic volcano Cotopaxi, when all of the sudden I started to feel very nauseous and dizzy. It came out of the blue, but I was feeling so bad that I knew I had the first symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). That is the thing with AMS – you can be perfectly fine one minute and then feel like you are going to die the next minute (ok, maybe not die – immediately, anyway).

climbing cotopaxi start

The mighty Cotopaxi

climbing cotopaxi NPAt 5,897m, Cotopaxi is the second highest summit in Ecuador. It is also one of the highest active volcanoes in the world and since 1738, Cotopaxi has erupted more than 50 times. When we went to Quito during our trip around Ecuador, Cotopaxi was constantly looming over the skyline and so we couldn’t miss the chance to go hiking on this beauty. We didn’t have enough time to attempt to summit Cotopaxi as that involves an overnight stay towards the summit, but we had a day to hike through the surrounding national park and up to a refuge at 4,800m which in the circumstances was high enough for us.

I was feeling great on the day of the hike, almost elated. I felt very light on my feet and was ready to attempt the steep hike up to the refuge. Once I started the ascent I soon wasn’t feeling quite so light on my feet though as the air was getting noticeably thinner the higher we got. I was certainly huffing and puffing a bit but for once I wasn’t the slowest hiker in the group and I reached the refuge after about an hour (note – the hike didn’t start at sea level, for those of you wondering if I’m a super-hero who can climb 4,800m in one hour!).

climbing cotopaxi car park

It doesn’t look far to the refuge, but the climb is incredibly steep

climbing cotopaxi steep ascent

Struggling on

climbing cotopaxi ascent

Still struggling

climbing cotopaxi refuge

Made it

Our group still had a bit of energy left, so we asked our guide if we could climb a bit higher up to the glaciers. It was very icy and because we didn’t have crampons we had to watch our every step. The views were getting more and more spectacular with every step we took though. Once we reached the glaciers we knew we had also reached the 5,000m mark and that is when I started to feel really ill all of the sudden. I had read about altitude sickness before but never thought that it would hit me so hard. It is a weird coincidence that I always start to develop AMS symptoms at almost 5,000m altitude, just like I did when I encountered serious problems on my Everest Base Camp trek. Maybe this is just the limit my body can take without proper acclimatization, but I am starting to feel like I am doomed to never hit 5,100m!

The only cure for AMS is to descend as quickly as possible so that’s what we did. When we finally reached the car park I couldn’t take it anymore. I discretely hid behind a car and started vomiting (too much information?). All of this was much to the bemusement of Chris who of course told everybody where I’d gone and even considered taking photos of me. I shot him an angry look and that’s when I think he realized that it might be better to leave me alone. Tip to any husband: don’t mess with your wife when she’s got altitude sickness!

Back in the car IΒ  immediately fell asleep and when I woke up we had reached our hacienda at the much lower altitude of 2,500m. I was feeling perfectly fine again proving that a little rest and reaching lower altitude was all that my body needed. Chris however went to bed immediately as he had developed a pounding headache (also due to high altitude). So he curled up on his bed in front of an open fire like a little AMS baby. That, and the fact I’ve just posted this, will teach him. πŸ™‚

climbing cotopaxi viewclimbing cotopaxi glaciers

Have you ever had altitude sickness? Tell me in the comment section below.

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About Tammyonthemove

Tammy & Chris are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between them they are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. Find out why they stopped pushing pens around the British civil service to travel the world on their blog.

24 Thoughts on “Climbing Cotopaxi – And why you shouldn’t mess with your wife when she has altitude sickness

  1. Oh my! When I started reading this, I thought you’d climbed all the way to the summit! And yet you seemed so relaxed about it ‘happily enjoying the stunning views’! You were sensible stopping near the refuge. Once you get on the glacier it is a death trap, and doing that climb in the pitch black was the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted – and about the only thing I’ve given up on!!! Still, with all your Everest training, I reckon you might just have made it, minus the AMS…!
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    • Tammyonthemove on October 28, 2013 at 2:44 pm said:

      I was actually really scared on the glacier in the daylight, because it was so slippery, so I dread to think what it must be like in the dark. You have done the right thing. AMS can kill people, especially those who get summit fever and want to reach the top under any circumstances. So I am glad you were wise enough to stop. It is disappointing at first, but you get over it after a while.

  2. Just wanna say that I love the last few sentences LOL he’ll think twice next time!
    Deia @NomadWallet recently posted…This Traveler Makes the Most of His Professional Skills and Vacation DaysMy Profile

  3. Sorry to hear of the AMS, it must have put a dark mark on a wonderful day. The mountain is awe inspiring and it is great that you’ve been able to ascend it and write about it.

    I’m glad your husband didn’t take any pictures of you being sick, that is awful. What was he thinking?
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    • Tammyonthemove on October 30, 2013 at 3:01 pm said:

      Luckily it was towards the end of our hike anyway and I felt better as soon as I was at lower altitude again. It is a really beautiful mountain and we were really lucky with the weather. Apparently it is usually always in a mist.

  4. Cotopaxi looks gorgeous! Sorry you’ve gotten the AMS, Tammy. But, the climb, definitely, worth it! WoW!

  5. I have had altitude sickness once in my life. I never got the vomiting part, but I felt extreme fatigue and lightheadedness. It wasn’t much of a trip, either, seeing that I was simply going to see my parents in northern New Mexico. The elevation is 5,400 feet and I arrived by bus.

    On the way I had no problems, but when we arrived at my parents home I began to feel dizzy. I was lightheaded and had somewhat of a headache. Mom noticed me moping around and asked what the problem was. She advised me to take some tylenol and rest that afternoon. By the following day I was fine and never experienced the feeling again as long as I was there.
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    • Tammyonthemove on November 1, 2013 at 7:39 pm said:

      Taking it easy on the first few days definitely helps acclimatising. If you ascend too quickly you usually get sick.

  6. What is it with husbands trying to take photos of their wives at their worst?! My husband has a collection of blackmail-worthy pics of me unfortunately! Yes, I had a brief spell of altitude sickness while in Lake Tahoe for a friend’s wedding. We’d just left dinner and were headed to our hotel and as we got off of our hotel elevator, I felt really dizzy and had to vomit in a trash can nearby. Not fun!
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  7. Ouch … that sucks getting AMS again. Climbing Cotopaxi is on my wishlist too but I know too well that when the body doesn’t want to, there’s no way. I hope you still got to enjoy it bits! The highest I’ve been to is just under 5.000m and never got really sick, just major headaches …

    • Tammyonthemove on November 2, 2013 at 8:12 pm said:

      I certainly enjoyed it. We weren’t planning on going to the summit, so it was all ok. I am tempted to try and summit it one day though.

  8. I can’t believe your husband was trying to take pictures of you! I mean, I admire his commitment to documenting the experience, but that’s not exactly the best timing. πŸ˜›
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  9. I don’t do well with altitude either….
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  10. Wow, you guys lucked out with the weather. When we were there we could barely make it to the refugio. It was cold and snowy and we couldn’t see a thing! Stunning pics!
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    • Tammyonthemove on November 8, 2013 at 3:01 pm said:

      Oh dear, hiking in the snow and cold is miserable, so sorry to hear that you weren’t as lucky. Everybody I spoke to so far said that the weather was horrendous when they went, so we must have been really lucky.

  11. Hi guys, just found your blog! What an interesting post and what a shame. Nevertheless, you did enormously well. Don’t put yourself down. How many people take the adventures and journeys that you do? Exactly. Not many.

    I love mountains, hiking and skiing but I always have to be careful anyway and I can never really tell if it’s the atmosphere or me, as I’m asthmatic.
    It doesn’t disturb me from doing the things I want to do as I always look for challenges: that’s life, isn’t it? However, if you see a girl huffing and puffing below you, don’t worry, that’ll be me!
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  12. I’ve experienced altitude sickness once too. It wasn’t a pretty experience. Glad it worked out in the end
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