Peak(s):  Chimborazo - 20561
Date Posted:  07/29/2009
Modified:  12/03/2009
Date Climbed:   06/29/2009
Author:  doumall
 Ecuador 2009: Chimborazo   

Ecuador 2009
June 20th - July 5th

The top prize of this climbing trip was to be without a doubt Chimborazo. At 6,267 meters its elevation dominates any peak north of it in the Americas. Our first sight of the mass made it clear this would be no walk in the park.


June 20th - Arrive in Quito (~9000')
June 21st - Bus to El Chaupi (~11,000')
June 22nd - Approach to Refugio Nuevos Horizontes (~15,600')
June 23rd - Summit Illiniza Norte (16,818')
June 24th - Summit Illiniza Sur (17,267')
June 25th - Approach to Refugio Jose F. Rivas (~15,800')
June 26th - Summit Cotopaxi (19,347')
June 27th - Rest Day in Rio Bamba (~8,500')
June 28th - Approach to Chimborazo Refugio (16,400')
June 29th - Summit Attempt Chimborazo (18,900' highpoint)
June 30th - Summit Attempt Chimborazo (17,100' highpoint)
July 1st - Baņos - hot springs and beer
July 2nd - Baņos - see above
July 3rd - Quito - sights and Rucu Pichincha summit (15,413')
July 4th - Otavalo - markets
July 5th - Arrive in Denver - work

Lamas on the drive:

We made the 200 meter elevation rise on the approach surrounded by natives.


No where have I been able to so easily distinguish between ethnic groups. In Ecuador, the natives hold on to their pre-Spanish heritage. They maintain an agricultural lifestyle and dress with bright simple style.


We were the only people other than the guardian in the refuge allowing us to get a private room. We expected to see more climbers in Ecuador. Choose any seat you like!


By late evening, six climbers showed up with three guides. Whole fresh tilapia was fried up under our noses. We shoveled down the MountainHouse with envy. After our late start on Cotopaxi, we were determined to start 'on time' and did so successfully at midnight. By cairning out the route up to the corridor (5200m) the prior afternoon, we were able to find the path despite fresh snow. The route through the corridor and up to the red saddle was generally 30-45 degree mixed climbing. A ground blizzard danced in our headlamps.

El Castio Lower Route:

Reaching the red saddle and an unprotected ridgeline brought intensified winds. The remaining guide and client on the mountain (others had turned back) were 100 meters ahead and were struggling with some challenge. Yelling back and forth, no progress for minutes... made me curious if they were okay and about what was ahead.

The ridge above the red saddle in light:

Debbie mentioned to me she was cold and unsure of her ability to continue at this point. We piled another layer on her and she was willing to push on. The sustained steepness of this route and the weather we were dealing with was frustrating at points.

The ridgeline was initially easy to follow, wind exposed dirt and rock. Shortly the angle increased and ice took hold. Several short, low angle ice pitches were the cause for delay on the team ahead. We moved swiftly through the initial few rolls, and then encountered a much steeper section. I noticed the ice had a rotten layer on the top two inches, making front pointing insecure. Debbie didn't pick up on this. I placed a screw and continued with the French technique to the top of the difficulty, then set another screw. Debbie followed, cleaning the mid pitch screw quickly despite a full fledged ground blizzard to the face. A few steps later, her feet gave out and she took a fall. We had minimal slack out and therefore caught her almost immediately. Just another remainder to play it safe, you never know when a little slip is going to end in tragedy.

She finished the pitch and we regrouped at the belay. We were now above the ice and could begin the snow slog to the summit. One hundred meters into the push, the climbers ahead turned around. We continued on a short while longer until Debbie altered to me that she was too cold to continue. Her legs were numb to the point of inhibiting her ability to walk in balance. If only the sun would rise! Two hours away... we tried to chop out a ledge to spoon and wait for warmth, but the blizzard was too much. We had to descend.

When the sun did come out, the weather improved and we got some nice views. It was painfully obvious that if we had started 2 or 3 hours later, we would have reached the summit. This was the first time for me that starting too early was a problem.



Almost back to the refugio:

We tried again the following day, staring at 2 am, but the weather was far worse. Around 11 pm, I woke to the floors and walls shaking beneath my bed. The sound of a freight train bearing down upon the refugio filled my ears. I was certain a serac fall induced avalanche was seconds away from wiping us out. I sat up and accepted my fate... just make it quick I thought. Then, the fog lifted on the dreamy haze in my head. The refugio was simply being blasted by high winds. The tin roof was pulling away in places and our window had blown open. A door somewhere in the darkness was slamming open and shut repeatedly. We only got to 5200 meters.

We continued on to Banos, a resort town near the active volcano Tungurahua. Despite being a tourist trap, this little town is well worth a day or two.


Hotsprings and Waterfalls:

Back to Quito:



Then Otovalo for the famed Saturday market:


Illiniza Group TR:

Rucu Pichincha TR:

Cotopaxi TR:

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Comments or Questions
Sometimes the mountain wins...
07/31/2009 03:33
But then you get to go back :-)

Wow, how different the conditions are in your pics/description, from just two weeks prior! We had too much snow - and heat - making for horrendous avalanche conditions. Chimbo is a monster... but you made the right call. You‘ll get her next time.

And hell, you had a great trip with a beautiful woman. You can‘t beat that.

07/31/2009 04:12
Chimborazo is often referred to as the ”quaking mountain”, and for good reason. That will always be one of your chief threats there. Likewise the predawn cold. My son finished Cotopaxi earlier this year and the cold, particularly to the hands was his primary difficulty--even doubled up.

Thanks for the great series of TRs!

08/07/2009 21:45
Thanks for being so loving and considerate of Debbie, Joe, I‘m glad you were able to turn back when she was too cold. I know she tried hard and would have made it if she could. Thanks.

Thanks Ben
12/04/2009 00:57
It was awesome! The sharp sting of not getting Chimbo faded quick enough in those hot springs. I would like to return someday for Cayambe, El Altar and a second chance at the big one. I also agree, turning around short has very powerful lessons, lessons I have yet to fully absorb.

Awesome Trip!
11/30/2010 17:20
I'd yet to see a good recollection of a climbing trip to Ecuador, thanks for sharing. Looks like despite missing the big guy by just a hair you still tasted "success" enough times to more than drown out the disappointment. After missing a big one myself I've sort of stopped looking at the summit as the only success I can take from the mountain; sometimes turning back from these peaks takes more strength than continuing on anyway, ya know? Anyway congrads on an awesome trip with your fiance, and great work on some beautiful mountains! Thanks for the TR's Joe.

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