One of my must do things while I was in Ecuador was to attempt to climb a volcano, so after three weeks at altitude in Guandera I figured it was ideal timing. A group of 7 of us set off on Sunday afternoon, and arrived at the Cotapaxi national park around 3pm. It was the most amazing clear day and the views of the volcano were spectacular, snow capped and pretty high. We drove up to the car parking area and walked up a really steep slope to the refuge, which was pretty hard work in itself, at that point I started to wonder what I'd let myself in for!! The refuge is at 4800m, luckily I didn't feel the altitude at all at that point, and after settling in to the refuge we put on waterproofs, snow boots and crampons and set off for a glacier lesson. We learnt how to walk on snow, how to fall forwards and backwards and then had to spin round and stand on one leg- not sure why but the spinning made me proper dizzy! After coming back to the refuge we had dinner, and then went to bed. At this point some of the group were feeling ill with various stomach bugs etc, which wasn't a good sign.. The refuge was full of bunk beds but it was freezing, even in all my clothes and a balaclava I was still too cold to sleep, and when my alarm went off at 11.30pm to get up and get ready I was already really tired, oops! After breakfast at midnight (a very strange feeling!) we got into all our gear and set off. At this point 2 of the group dropped out as they were feeling ill, so 7 of us set off (5 of us and two others) with 4 Ecuadorian guides, 2 of whom were named Abraham and Washington, very bizarre! It was about a 40 minute walk to the bottom of the glacier, under a full moon and clear skies so we could see the stars, so pretty! At the glacier 2 more of the group were feeling ill so had to head back to the refuge, the rest of us put on crampons and roped onto the guides. I was climbing with Washington and an American girl called Stacey, who was as determined as me to get to the top, which was a bonus! We started walking, straight uphill across the glacier, along with dozens of other people, you could see a line of head torches stretching into the distant. The path was steep, and we were taking tiny steps, and it was really hard work. Theres a lot less oxygen at that altitude so breathing was difficult, and my legs were hurting from the constant uphill! At one point I looked at my watch, I thought we'd been going around 15 minutes and it was 3.15am, very surreal! We stopped a few times on the way up but it was so cold it was hard to force myself to take my gloves off to get chocolate or water, luckily the guide kept bringing out Oreos and hot sweet tea, which was lovely! On the way up the temperature was around -7 degrees, but I think the wind chill factor brought that down another 15 or 20 degrees! At one point my nose was running and then freezing to my face - pleasant!! At around 6am the sun started to rise which was beautiful, we were surrounded by other volcanoes and mountains and could see the sun rising over them, an amazing site! Unfortunately most of the time I was concentrating on my feet too much to stop and look for long!! Shortly after the sun started to rise we could see the summit, and it seemed a very long way away! The last hour and a half was probably the hardest thing I've ever done, constant slogging, and at one point I was on my hands and knees crawling up the hill clinging on with my ice pick, it was so tiring! When we finally reached the summit (5895m high!!) it was pretty cool, although so cold we stopped long enough to take a couple of pictures and then headed back down again! Was chuffed I made it about 5 mins before the two guys in our group who made it (sorry Marc and Christian didn't mean to point this out!!) and was so glad I made it to the top!! The way back down was hell, was so tired and at one point couldn't stop falling over which was so frustrating the guide had to persuade me I could make it down!! Three hours later we were back at the refuge, I have never been so exhausted, but it was definetely worth it!! Although I'm now looking forward to relaxing on the beach in the Galapagos!!