Ascent of Volcán Chimborazo on 2019-12-27

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Friday, December 27, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Volcán Chimborazo
    Elevation:20561 ft / 6266 m

Ascent Trip Report

I was in South America climbing mountains and had just finished climbing Volcan Sajama, the Bolivia highpoint, with Matthew. After a few rest days at sea level in Arica, Chile I flew to Ecuador for my next objective, Chimborazo, the Ecuador highpoint.

Chimborazo was at one time thought to be the tallest mountain in the world, before peaks in the Himalaya were carefully surveyed. But in fact, the summit of chimborazo is actually the point on earth’s surface farthest from the center of the earth. This is because the earth is not a perfect sphere but instead bulges a bit at the equator. So, while chimborazo has a height about 2500m less than mount Everest relative to sea level, it’s summit actually 2200m farther from the center of the earth since it is very close to the equator.

Chimborazo is a fairly standard glacier climb by its normal West ridge route, however since an accident in 2012 the ecuador government requires all climbers to use an official guide. I generally prefer climbing mountains unguided but if guides are required by law I of course use a guide. At least it makes logistics less complicated.

I ended up finding Ecuador eco adventures online as a relatively cheap option and scheduled a two-day ascent in late December. I wanted to give myself a few extra buffer days in case the weather was bad, so scheduled my flight out for December 30. Just in case I summitted on schedule, though, I decided to take advantage of my acclimation and climb another nearby volcano, cotopaxi.

A guide is also required by law for cotopaxi, and Ecuador eco adventures (EEA) was able to organize a guide for it as well.

I landed in Quito on December 24 and took a taxi to a hotel in downtown. The next morning I took another taxi, organized by EEA to riobamba, then transferred to a truck.

I got dropped off at the chakana lodge at 3800m to spend the night. I think this is the standard practice to help clients acclimate, though I was already completely acclimated from climbing to 21,000ft a few days earlier.

I was joined by James from the UK and Bruce from the US, also climbing cotopaxi. There would be three guides, one for each of us, so we could each go at our own speeds on the mountain.

After lunch I went for a short hike behind the lodge to a big 4200m rock outcrop sticking up prominently on the ridge. On the top I was greeted with excellent views of the heavily glaciated Chimborazo moving in and out of the clouds. As I descended I saw two locals driving up the backside in a jeep, and they later climbed up with a few dogs.

The plan was the next morning our guides would meet us in the afternoon and we would then drive up to the Carrell refuge. With the morning free we all three went on another hike up the road then up the hillside to a small peak. There were no trails but we found a sign on the summit that said Loma Chalata 4230m. We hiked back down in intermittent rain and waited at the hut.

At 3pm our guides Fausto, Jose, and Juan arrived. I would be climbing with Fausto since I was the only client who spoke some Spanish and Fausto the only guide who didn’t speak English. We ate an early dinner before packing up.

We loaded up and drove to the park entrance to drop off paperwork. Almost all the vegetation disappeared at that elevation, though there were lots of vicunas grazing on something. We continued up a rough dirt road that ended at the Carrell refuge at 4800m. There were lots of tourists walking around but it appeared we were the only ones planning to climb to the summit.

There were bunks upstairs and we went up there to get a bit of sleep before the climb. The plan was to start hiking at 10pm in order to summit at sunrise and beat the weather that usually starts deteriorating soon after sunrise. We all went to bed around 5pm for a 9pm wakeup.

I don’t think I really slept much with all the commotion around the refuge, but by 9pm we got up, packed, and ate some bread and bananas downstairs. Some hikers were still awake playing cards in the dining area.

By 10pm we started hiking. The guides told me the direct route up from the hut was subject to dangerous rockfall and a climber had died there earlier this year. So instead we took a less direct route gaining the West ridge.

As we reached the ridge the wind picked up and we put on more layers. Eventually icy snow covered the ridge and we stopped at the Castillo camp at 5500m to put on crampons.

From there the trail got narrow and a bit exposed, and the guides insisted on short roping us. It felt really weird being short roped, especially on non technical terrain. I understand, though, that the guides don’t really know the experience level of the clients and want to be extra careful.

Fausto and I went in the front. At one point I saw lights on what looked like the top of the Castillo but I never saw any climbers come up.

The trail wound around the south side of the Castillo before gaining the West ridge. At one point we had to scramble up a short exposed 3m tall rocky section before gaining the glacier.

After this rocky section I didn’t really see the rest of the group as Fausto and I continued alone. We passed several large crevasses, crossing one on a 6ft wide snow bridge. It seemed kind of unsafe to be in a two person team short roped weaving around crevasses. If one of us fell in we would both be yanked in. But I guess Fausto was confident enough in the route and had done it enough timrs that he was not concerned.

The slope steepened and we used French technique cramponing up. Eventually we took a short break at 3am, and I commented it looked like we would summit well before sunrise. We tried to lengthen the break but the cold wind forced us to move. There was also some sort of light freezing precipitation in the air since our jackets were coated in a thin layer of ice.

By 330am the path leveled out and we were on Ventimilia summit, the lower of the two summits. I stopped to put on my big down jacket, then we continued.

By 350am we topped out on Whymper summit, the true peak of Chimborazo. It was dark, windy, cold, and lightly precipitating. I tried taking some pictures but it was tough to see much. I really wanted to see sunrise up there, but that wouldn’t happen for another 2.5 hours. I guess we had just ascended a bit too quickly.

Fausto was already wearing all his layers, which looked colder than what I was wearing. It didn’t really make sense to stick around waiting in those conditions, so we soon headed down.

Luckily the snow was soft enough next to our up tracks to allow relatively easy plunge stepping down. We carefully downclimbed the rocky bit, then back at Castillo camp we finally saw the sun start rising.

We soon took off crampons and hiked back down. Below the Castillo we descended into the clouds and it started drizzling. The rain continued all the way back to the refuge, which we reached at 630am.

It appeared we had chosen about the worst weather day that week for our ascent. This was the only day it ever rained in the morning.

I took off my wet clothes and got in a quick nap along with everyone else, before we drove back down around 8am. We stopped for breakfast at chakana before returning to Riobamba.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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