“The beauty of the Andean landscape is sublime because of the extreme simplicity of its forms, the classic stillness of its lines, the vastness of its immensity, the profound gravity of its balanced coloring, generally of dark hues, and its infinite solitude.” wrote scientist, Hans Meyer
Ben Fogle and his team have finished their Mount Chimborazo expedition, and it made very interesting watching… apart, that is, from a fair amount of repetition!
If you don’t know who Ben Fogle is – he is the man on British TV who has a programme called ‘Extreme Dreams’. He takes a team of 5 people and together they conquer, or try to conquer, something extroadinary and extreme. The team of 5 will not have done the challenge before, and most times will have done nothing in the extreme adventure line before either.
Anyway, I’m here to tell you more facts that I gleaned about Mount Chimborazo, and not more about Ben Fogle… much as I enjoy the programme!
Having said that I have to tell you quickly that Fogle said that Chimborazo was one of the most extreme journey’s he’s ever been on – and he has done some incredible things, so it is a mountain worthy of a challenge, but also a mountain which can exact it’s revenge on you – so please beware if you are thinking of summitting it.
The mountain and surrounding countryside are a hostile environment with some seriously punishing terrain and climatic conditions. It is absolutely necessary to focus on the final challenge – the summit, but admit defeat if the summit becomes impossible. Summit fever is a dangerous thing and can make people obsess beyond their body’s capabilities, thereby endangering everyone they climb with.
You can either hike in to Chimborazo, which is a good opportunity to acclimatize your body, but can take up to 7 days – quite a hike. Many people choose the easier and quicker option of catching a cab to the first refuge! After all, it’s easier to climb a mountain when the guide drives you to 4574m (15,000 ft) .
However, catching a cab or a lift with your guide does not make the last 1,708m (5,600 ft) or so any less difficult. It’s the fact that the air is missing half of its oxygen that makes it difficult to move up there… it’s a hard slog and the glaciers start a short walk from the hut, so hiking soon becomes mountaineering.
This mountain, in its exposed and brutal landscape, will test you to the limit. Not only do you have to contend with altitude sickness, but, from the first base camp, you need to break the altitude barrier of 5,488m (18,000 ft) before the final challenge of the summit at nearly 6,403m (21,000 ft) above sea level, and traverse one scary 30m ridge with a 1,000m drop on either side… in the dark! and these are just some of the challenges you have to face.
The summit is only a few hundred metres below the death zone where a body cannot survive. The extreme cold and the altitude are a double whammy.
Remember in my last article that I told you that Chimborazo, at it’s peak, is the furthest point from the center of the Earth. Our planet bulges at the equator, making Mount Chimborazo even futher out there than Everest. It has the distinction of being the closest point to the sun on the planet, and yet still the coldest place in Ecuador.
The graveyard, near Base Camp, is a testament to the unpredictability of all high places. Chimborazo is very high, it randomly drops large rocks on you, and has weather that changes by the minute.
It is advisable to leave for the summit – almost 1km vertically above High Hut – at about 10p.m. You want to watch the sunrise at the summit and then GET OFF the mountain ‘before she wakes up’ – and she wakes up at 9 a.m.
You need to be OFF the summit by 7 a.m.
This means you are making your final challenge on the mountain in the dark, so your challenge is not only against achieving the summit but against time.
If you achieve the summit, you only have time for a quick handshake and a couple of photographs before returning quickly – as soon as the sun comes up it starts melting the glacier and you can actually hear water running under the ice and the ominous sounds of cracking. As you descend you can hear rocks falling out of the ice above as the sun melts it…
Not a pretty thought as you scramble down!
If you want to climb Mount Chimborazo, your cheapest option is to wait until you get to Ecuador to make arrangements. Talk to almost any hotel owner or manager in Riobamba, and he or she will find a guide for you. It will be cheaper, too, if you are part of a group, of course.