As long-term readers of our website will know, we've gone a little bit volcano-crazy over the past twelve months. There have been big ones, small ones, active ones, some with lakes on top, some we've camped on, some we've worn gas-masks on and some we've boarded down in outfits resembling death-row prisoners. .
So you may have though we'd pretty much done everything we could hope for on a volcano. Right!?
Turns out that we still had to hit 5,000 metres altitude for the first time, find one with a glacier on top and bike ride down the side of one. And a fantastic day-trip from Quito to Volcan Cotopaxi with CarpeDM Adventures gave us the opportunity to do all this in one fell swoop!
Our group of seven, wrapped up in borrowed hats and gloves, reached the empty parking lot at 9 a.m.
We had decided to climb Ecuador's second-highest summit on a Monday.
This was a conscious decision. During the weekends, the serenity of the national park is disturbed by convoys of weekenders from Quito getting their fix of the great outdoors.
But, on a Monday, you may just have it all to yourself.
Our guide, decked out in blue and orange, leads the way. We had expected bitter cold at this height, however we actually have a crisp and bright April day.
However the wind is blowing a swirling gale around us.
Underfoot it's reddish-brown gravel mixed with black, the sort of colour scheme we'd expect to see on Mars. Surprisingly slippy, we're both glad we packed proper hiking shoes with us.
Otherwise Emily would be guaranteed to end up on her backside at some point. As it turns out, she was still as unsteady as a baby giraffe and had the guides walking stick thrust into her hands more than once, but at least there were no gravel-based wipeouts!
Our pace is steady. We stop every five or so minutes to check we're all keeping up and that nobody is too affected by the altitude.
Today is going to to be highest climb either of us has ever done. We aren't going to summit Cotopaxi - for that you need a couple of days, crampons, an ice-pick, some experience and the desire to start at 3 a.m. in the morning - but we'll still surpass 5,000m above sea level.
When we were researching Cotopaxi, we were both fixated on the beauty of the snow-capped volcano, the pictures reminding us a little of the Paramount Pictures logo.
There was no doubt that it would be the star of the show, even if it would turn out to be quite shy, peaking out from behind its mask of fluffy cloud only a few times every hour.
However, as we climbed higher and higher, it was the views behind us which took our breath away (ok, our level of fitness and altitude were contributing factors to this).
We had no idea how beautiful the National Park, which houses the volcano and also bears its name, would turn out to be.
A landscape and terrain which felt like a super-sized Scottish highlands.
Whichever direction we looked, there was beautiful wilderness.
After a brief pit-stop at the brand new refuge at 4,800m, we continued onward to the glacier.
It was a bittersweet experience.
One of the few places in Ecuador where you have permanent ice, is fading away. If you compare our picture of the peak with one taken only a decade ago, you will see a stark difference as to where the ice reaches.
Climate change is the main factor in this, our guide explains.
Sure, it's a cool thing to see and tick off the bucket list, but our main thought is sadness that something which looks so permanent and impenetrable may not have that long left.
the bike ride
One of the main reasons we chose CarpeDM was because they didn't just take you up the volcano and then drive you back to Quito; they're one of the few tour groups which allow you to cycle down it!
We wait till the others are gone before we begin the descent. The road is topped with gravel and grit and has a number of bumps, potholes and unexpected ridges.
And that's what makes it fun.
We quickly pick up speed as we skid around corners. Part of you wants to continue to look down at your hands gripped tightly on the brakes, to keep it steady and stable, whilst the other wants to let it rip and go with the wind behind your back.
What stops us from trying to go down as quick as possible however are the surrounding scenes. Cotopaxi standing tall on the left, a corridor of volcanoes stretched straight ahead and verdant terrain all around.
It's one of the few moments on this trip where we actually regretted not having a GoPro.
As a rapid descent gives way to flatter ground , we find two wild horses casually grazing in the undergrowth with clumps of white flowers in their manes.
They aren't the first we will see today - a group of around a dozen are hanging out together by the lake - but we will always remember watching those two.
The heavens start to open just as we reach the bottom. We hurry into the mini-bus where our guide gives us a welcome cup of steaming tea and Oreos. As dark clouds start to gather around Cotopaxi, we begin our journey back to Quito.
Climbing up and cycling down a volcano left us exhilarated.
carpeDM adventures information
The team at carpeDM really looked after our group on the day. The bus was spacious, clean and comfortable and left on time. The bikes and safety equipment provided were of good quality. They also had a bunch of warm weather clothes which people could borrow, which we really appreciated.
Our guide was friendly and knowledgable about Cotopaxi National Park and was also of great assistance to Emily when she struggled with the altitude. He led the group at a steady and manageable pace on our ascent and spoke several languages.
Breakfast and lunch are included in the cost of the tour. Previous experiences have led us to have low expectations when tours do this, but we were both extremely satisfied with what we ate. Breakfast included coffee, pancakes, yoghurt, granola, bananas and an omelette. Lunch was a delicious piece of trout (chicken also available) with rice, plantains, salad and a fruit juice.
The full itinerary for the tour included a visit to a small museum and garden in the park where you learn about the surrounding fauna and wildlife. This part wasn't really of great interest to us, but others may enjoy it.
We really enjoyed this tour and are happy to recommend CarpeDM after the experience. For Cotopaxi they require a minimum of 4 people and its costs $50 USD per person (including all transport, food, equipment and entrance fees). They also offer a variety day-trips from Quito and longer tours to the Amazon and Galapagos.
address: Antepara E4-70 y Los Rios, Quito, Ecuador (next to Secret Garden Hostel)
This tour was provided free of charge so that we could experience Cotopaxi and CarpeDM Adventures. As ever, all photos, opinions and spelling errors are our own. For more information on why you can trust our reviews, click here.
All photography is property of Along Dusty Roads and must not be reproduced, copied or manipulated without our prior permission.