30th April to 2nd May

Wednesday 30 April

We enjoy a well-deserved rest day in Riobamba. Stefano and his wife Maritza take good care of us, cook for us, and they advise us for the next days: finally, we will spend a little more time in the Oriente (the jungle part of Ecuador), because there are good roads, and of course amazing things to see. And we contact the agency Julio Verne, in order to climb the Chimborazo the next day. We try all the mountain gears that we will need: the renting is included in the price of the expedition: 200$ per person. Not so expensive compared with the Aconcagua (around 5000$ per person), although here the expedition is only a couple of days.

Stefano brings us to a friend who can wield the stand of the bike. Apparently, despite being in aluminium, the wielding is possible (well, in the end, the repaired stand survived only one day). In the evening, we meet Nata, the French guy we had left in Cusco. He has come by bus from Peru. We will continue our trip by bike with him till Colombia. He also got problems at the border with Ecuador, getting extorted money by a Peruvian taxi that brought him for a few kilometres to the border.

Thursday 1 May

We go in the morning to the agency. Our guide, Jaime, is waiting for us. He drives us to the basecamp of the Chimborazo, at 4900m high. There used to be a couple of refugees, but they are now being reformed (since it’s the low season for the Chimborazo), so we’ll spend the “night” under the tent. The program of the expedition is the following one. Today, we arrive to the basecamp, eat lunch, have a rest in the afternoon here to acclimatise, then have dinner early, and sleep. We’ll get up at 21h30, to have breakfast and start the walking, to arrive, after a full night climb, at the summit for sunrise. We have to arrive so early, because at this season, the temperatures get quite high, and from noon, the ice and snow start to melt, making the stones prisoners inside the glaciers suddenly free to fall down the volcano! and the poor andinists don’t want to become bowling pins!

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As today is a holiday, there are a lot of people at the bottom of the Chimborazo. In fact, many Ecuadorians come here in order to discover the snow. The afternoon passes very quickly, and at 18h30, after dinner, it’s time to go to sleep. We only have three hours before getting up. But I don’t know if it comes from the altitude, the time, or the excitation of the ascent, we are both unable to sleep.

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Friday 2 May

So we get up at 21h30, without having slept. We are not really tired now, but for sure the night will be very long. We have a big breakfast, and get ready to leave. We are the first group leaving. As we start the climb, a few cars arrive to the basecamp, to also attempt the summit.

The temperatures are quite low, around 0ºC. At night, the weather is better than during the day. The clouds have left, so we walk under the beautiful starred sky. We very soon meet the snow. After a couple of hours, we have to wear the crampons, helmet, ice-axe, harness, and a rope. For the whole expedition, we will be tied to the guide, with five metres of rope between us because the mountain is very steep, with a snow layer, so if you fall, it’s very hard to stop.

Jaime turns left, right, around the ice waterfalls, and the rests of the glacier. He perfectly know the way, even though we don’t see anything. The rhythm is quite fast, and soon we are out of breath. Fortunately, despite our efforts being made at more than 5000m, we do not have headache. We are still quite well acclimatised. As expected, the ascent is made difficult by the steepness. At least 50%!! The ice-axe and crampons are absolutely mandatory. A few times, we have to climb up using the ice-axe to haul us. Finally, the other groups behind us have chosen to go back, they won’t make it. So we are alone, the three people on Earth the furthest from the centre of the Earth!

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The temperatures get very cold, around -10ºC, due to the altitude and that now it’s around 4h AM. The ascent, that was quite fast at the beginning, is now very slow, although we feel we are still going very hard. The snow is fresh, with a hard frozen crust. Many times, we sink into the snow one metre deep. We approach the summit, as the sky becomes to change from black to dark blue. The wind is also becoming stronger, sending in our face icy snowflakes. The landscape changes, from naked slopes to the presences of Penitentes. Do you remember the Penitentes of the Aconcagua? Here it appears higher, around 6200m high, and now, we have to walk in a labyrinth with walls of 2-3m high, and beautiful snow-ice structures on it. It’s a real pain to arrive to the summit.

Chimborazo has two summits, the Cumbre Veintemillas, and the Cumbre Whymber. We arrive at the Cumbre Veintemillas. We will stay here for today, the other summit, is some 1km further, going down and up, with a very difficult walk in the Penitentes, full of snow. It would take 1h30 to go there, and the same time to come back. It’s now 6h30, and we have to hurry to go down: the Sun is coming and will start melting the ice.

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The descent is horrible: we have to take care of each step, not to slide down. Many times, we fall down on our ass and slide a few metres. After the efforts of the night, the cold, and the altitude, we are totally exhausted. And definitively tired. If we sit down one minute, for sure we fall asleep. In these conditions, the descent is very long. Jaime is pushing us so that we arrive at a safe place as soon as possible. We discover the landscape we walked in at night. It’s wonderful. And very impressive due to the steepness of the mountain. There are many ice waterfalls, and we see the wall of the glaciers, a few metres high, full of rocks inserted in the ice. Each step is painful.

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We finally arrive down at the tent around 11. We cannot move anymore, cannot think. The whole expedition has been so painful. Of course, we have no problem to sleep in the car back to Riobamba.

In the afternoon, we rest in the comfort of the city. We had planned to leave tomorrow for Puyo, but we’ll postpone it one day. After dinner with our hosts, we go for a walk in the city, discovering the “avenida” with its many bars. It’s quite animated tonight.

Here is the video we took during the ascent. We’re better here to see it…