There are a few mountains other than the seven summits that I’m interested in climbing for other reasons. One of those is Chimborazo, a mountain in Ecuador that has the interesting property that its summit is further from the center of Earth than that of Mt Everest (because of the planet’s shape). It’s also a phrase my late gran used to use as an expression of “the greatest magnitude”—I think in her day that was common as it was believed to be the highest mountain. This connection is why I got interested and went on an expedition to climb Cotopaxi and Chimborazo.
The first few days were acclimatization hikes in the vicinity of Cotopaxi. Quito in the first place was already quite high (about the limit of what I’m comfortable with without prior acclimatization), so it felt somehow weird that we were hiking in the jungle and still it was above 3000m.
We climbed two “smaller” mountains in the area, Pasochoa and Ruminahui, both going above 4000m. I personally really liked the more “exciting” Ruminahui, which reminded me a lot of the jagged ridgelines of the Japanese Northern Alps or Togakushi. We also had a really speedy descent to avoid an approaching thunder storm (which is definitely not something I want to encounter again at altitude).
The summit attempt
We’d of course hit the slopes of Cotopaxi first to refresh memories of snow basics: self arrest, crampon usage and such. With that out of the way, we only had to wait for the good weather to go for the summit. Sadly the “good weather” never came. We nevertheless went up to the mountain refuge (in the dripping rain) and got ready for a very early start.
Sadly it was still raining when we started off late in the night. I didn’t feel cold at all, and I had a very comfortable pace set that both kept me kinda warm while not too fast. However it was at least freezing, as in half an hour or so I had to notice that everything on me exposed (my rainwear, my gloves and my poles) all had a growing layer of hard ice on them. It’s a really weird feeling to move your arm and hear the (ice on the) clothes crack.
Eventually our vanguard who started a little earlier returned to report that snow conditions are extremely dangerous higher on the glacier, and so we turned around. It’s a shame because I felt in prime shape to summit another 6000er in South America, but this wasn’t the time.
After it became clear that with those snow conditions we wouldn’t get another shot at the summit in an acceptable timeframe we moved on to the hot springs town of Banos to do tourist things and also to get ready for Chimborazo.
Sadly though it turned out that the snow conditions on Chimborazo were even worse than on Cotopaxi, with avalanche risk threatening even the base camp. So instead we spent the remaining days in and around Banos, enjoying other activities that wouldn’t be obviously fatal: we went on to try ziplines above the river and wild-water rafting lower down in the jungle (cue plenty of jokes about piranhas eating your balls).
While it’s a shame that we were unsuccessful on the mountains, it was still an awesome experience and I hope I’ll be able to return sometime for another try.