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Sam Kieckhefer’s First Cotopaxi Rapid Ascent™

On November 26 Alpenglow Operations Manager Sam Kieckhefer departed for Quito, Ecuador to join his first Cotopaxi Rapid Ascent™ Expedition. After becoming a member of the Alpenglow staff last spring, Sam has been working on international logistics for nearly a year. Cotopaxi would be Sam’s first opportunity to experience first-hand one of the expeditions that he has been a part of organizing. Furthermore, Sam is an aspiring ski guide, and Cotopaxi would be an elevation highpoint for him.

Sam’s expedition, led by Jaimie Avila, summited Cotopaxi on November 29th at 7am. After he returned from his trip (with a big grin on his face) we caught up with him for an interview and asked him about his experience with the Rapid Ascent program.

How did using the Hypoxico system set you up for success?

It’s truly incredible how Hypoxico Altitude Training Systems allow us to go climb a 19,000’ (nearly 6,000m) volcano in just 5 days. While sleeping in the tent is certainly not glamorous, I was able to strike mission Cotopaxi, and climb higher than I’ve ever been with absolutely no ill effects!


How did you feel on the climb?

I felt really strong on the climb. It certainly helps that I was able to train out of my home in Lake Tahoe, with endless trails between 6,000 and 9,000 feet.


What did you do to prepare?

To prepare for Cotopaxi, I spent my time on trails in the North Lake Tahoe area. I’m not a big gym guy, and am blessed with a wonderful natural training ground. For nearly 2 months before the climb, I spent my weeks putting in miles and vert. In my average week of serious training, I’d put in about 20 miles and 6,000’ of vert. I split this time between running and hiking with a weighted pack, building my strength and stamina. My weighted pack days started with about 20lbs, and increased over time to 40lbs. I used water for my weight and would empty the water at the top, to save my knees on the descent.

Why is Cotopaxi a good first high altitude climb?

To me, Cotopaxi was a great first high altitude climb because of the access. Not only is the mountain a short 2-hour drive from Quito, but the lodge at Tambopaxi provides a comfortable sleeping environment with great food and warm showers. It creates a very nice experience for a first high-altitude climb.


Can you give us a quick rundown of the Cotopaxi Rapid Ascent schedule once you got in-country?

I arrived a day early and was able to check out Rucu Pinchinca, a 15,000’ peak right outside of Quito. This hike is used on our Ecuador Climbing School for acclimatization but is not part of the Cotopaxi Rapid Ascent trip because climbers arrive in Quito acclimatized. After Rucu, we gathered as a team for our first team dinner. The next day it was off to the mountains! A 2-hour bus ride took us straight into the Cotopaxi National Park, and we headed straight to the mountain for a hike to 17,000’. This was the highest most climbers had ever been, myself included, and it was great to feel real altitude. After a restful night at Tambopaxi, a beautiful lodge in the Cotopaxi National Park, we headed back to the mountain for some practice with crampons and axes. This happened to be the day before our summit attempt, so we kept it easy, and returned to the lodge for “dinner” around 3pm, caught some shut-eye, and woke up at 10pm for “breakfast”. After some pancakes, we headed to the mountain and began climbing around 11:30pm. Just 8hrs later we were atop Cotopaxi, an altitude record for myself and most of our team. It was truly magical climbing as the sun rose on the opposite side of the mountain, and seeing the perfect shadow cast on the valley below. After a quick 3hr descent, we returned to the lodge for a shower and food and then headed back to Quito for a celebratory dinner. Just 5 days after arriving in Quito, we had summited the 19,347’ Volcán Cotopaxi, and were already headed home.





For information on Cotopaxi Rapid Ascent, Ecuador Ring of Fire Ski Expedition, Ecuador Climbing School, or any of our other expeditions check out our website. For any questions call our office at 877-873-5376 or send us an email We hope to climb with you soon!