Climb Chimborazo April, 14th 15th 2019
(It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll)
Chimborazo is the highest peak in Ecuador and is over 20,000ft high. It also boasts being the closest point to the sun from it’s summit, as measured from the center of the earth, over 6,000ft closer than Mt. Everest. Last year I had to bail on climbing it after two peaks of 19k and 19k , personally disappointing at the time, but in hindsight, and after talking with friends about it while I was still in Ecuador, the right call.
Arriving at the National Park, Chimborazo dominates the skyline and the llama/alpaca type animal, the Vicuna, dominated the desolate landscape above 15,000ft here. We stayed at the Hermanos Carrel refugio at 16,000ft. The Wymper refugio, named after the first person to summit Chimborazo is around 700ft higher in altitude. There is also a campamento alto (high camp) at around 17,500ft.
We got set up and claimed our bunks at around 3pm, then had a cup of hot tea/coffee and discussed the climb which would start in under 7 hours. Dana decided to pass on the climb due to altitude issues, so it was my guide, Ivan, and I. Dana did however do some hikes to almost 17,000ft while we were on the mountain.
By 4:30pm we were having dinner, and by 5pm we were in our bunks to sleep until 9pm. Then we would get a light «breakfast» and head out by 10pm. Sleep, I got none. Luckily I was acclimated enough to not wake up gasping for breath and thinking I was suffocating. But there were others who were climbing that night who were not so lucky. I listened to labored breathing, then no breathing, followed by quick deep breaths until 8:40pm when I said screw it, I’m gearing up.
After that light breakfast Ivan and I headed out to a crystal clear 9:46pm night. The moonlight on the snow of the mountain made it look like it was lit up with a black light, extremely beautiful. We headed for the rough trail up and began the odyssey. Later on we could see a group that left at 11pm working their way up, led headlamps bobbing in the darkness.
Our route was a couple hours longer, and safer. Another shorter route called «El Corredor» is notorious for raining rocks large and small down on the unsuspecting, and is to be avoided by 10am. Above is a very steep sloped snow/ice field. The sun heats the rocks and surrounding snow and the rocks slide right down and over the edge. It is not a place to be caught in. We worked our way up the rocky slopes following intermittent cairns and dodged small areas of snow. When the snow dominated the landscape we put on our snow pants, harnesses, crampons, and continued. We headed for the high camp and 2 hours later we arrived. From there we headed for a rock formation called the «castillo» castle, where other routes converge. This is above the aforementioned el corredor and rocks from this area are what end up sliding down the very steep slopes and sometimes injuring or killing people below. By this time we were connected via a safety line and now walking on about an 8 inch wide snow trail made with our crampons. Up on one side and way the hell down on the other. We used one trekking pole and our ice axe as we slowly and methodically crossed this section. After sometime we came upon a rock outcropping that was maybe 12ft to 15ft high, so up and over we went, and into the final section to reach the summit.
About five hours had gone by and this final piece of the puzzle started at 2:45am, it was 6 hours of up, say up twenty more times and double it and that would not be enough ups. We had a couple of climbers pass us and they never seemed to be making much progress…just up and more up.
It was very steep and the ice/snow was stout. We made switchbacks…for six hours we made switchbacks. Altitude was from about 18,000ft to 20,000ft+ at the summit. It was also cold, with brutal winds howling all around. Sometimes bits of the ice/snow would hit you in the face. I added another layer, my hybrid down jacket. Finally by 8:45am we summited and I got the flags out and Ivan took some pics. The sun was brutal, as was the wind and cold. My hands were numb after only a couple of minutes with the gloves off. After maybe 15 minutes we started down. Now the snow on the slope was receiving the full benefit of the sun’s Ray’s. The snow, once solid, was now like shaved ice/snowcone variety. Coming down, besides the slush, has it’s own issues. Avalanche potential, more uncontrolled slides or breaking through what should be solid, one I found out about. About a third of the way down, on a safety line of course, I took a step and the ice/snow gave way and I went right in. As I felt myself breaking through I managed to lurch forward and a knee hit the side and I lunged toward the downside slope. As I felt myself sliding down, Ivan arrested my impending slide…because everyone is on a safety line.
On the way down, just after the 15ft climbdown, we caught up with the group that passed us on the way up. We hung with them, everyone duplicating the first footsteps, unless the footstep was bad of course. The snow was slushy and slips were frequent on the 8 inch wide path on the slopes. It had been sleeting and snowing for sometime which only added to the fun. We got back up to the high camp and took a 10 minute break, the sleet got worse so Ivan and I set out for the refugio. On the way down we ran into a group of maybe 8 from eastern Europe and their guides. Ivan of course new the other guides. We chatted for a bit and I got some high fives and fist bumps for my summit. After we left them we ran into more guides slogging huge packs and kit, maybe a half dozen. They were setting up the high camp for the group we saw earlier. After a group leaves high camp it is completely taken down and packed out.
So we got back onto the rocks and meandered down for another 90 minutes to the refugio. Dana was waiting and had been listening to some radio conversations of our status. Ivan had carried a radio and had been giving updates on the status of any other climbers in his view. We packed up our stuff had a hot drink and headed back to Machachi, a three hour or so drive. It was a tough climb and my body still aches, but a great experience to have been able to push oneself past previous limits.
Oh yeah one other noteworthy thing…the sun in equatorial regions is brutal, then throw in altitude and bam! I used sunscreen and lip balm during the night to protect any exposed parts of my face, but apparently blew it when the sun came up and was reflecting light all over the snow. I have a burnt nose, blistered lips and chin. It hurts like hell and a cold beer is currently about the only thing to soothe the pain. My sunscreen is now close by.
If anyone ever wants to climb in Ecuador I would highly reccomend Andes Climbing. I have used them the past three years and they have highly skilled and professional guides. They can set you up with everything from climbing to mountain biking to three day treks around volcano Cotopaxi. Their hostal is right onsite in Machachi too.
I’d be a rotten person if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that my nutritionist pal Paula Middleton Reed helped me out alot in understanding what types of things would help me achieve my climbing goals on this trip. Also Dana was very helpful putting his ironman/running training experience into very useful info for me. Thanks!
“Article written by our friend and client COLIN from USA”.