Ever heard of Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador?
I hadn’t, until I happened to catch Ben Fogle’s Extreme Dreams last night and realised that here was a mountain that had escaped my notice and that was definitely worth taking a closer look at.
At 6,268.2 m (20,565 ft), Chimborazo is Ecuador’s highest mountain. Its other claim to fame is that, as it is virtually on the equator, it is generally considered to be the spot on Earth that is at the same time closest to the sun and farthest from the center of the Earth.
Chimborazo is located in the Cordillera Occidental of the Andes of central Ecuador, 150 km (93 mi) south-southwest of the capital Quito. It’s neighbored by 5,018 m high Carihuairazo.
On a clear day, and standing on the summit of Chimborazo, you can see the Amazon basin, the Pacific ocean and the curvature of the Earth.
As Ecuador’s highest mountain, Chimborazo is a very popular climb and can be climbed year round with the best seasons being December-January and July-August. It must be remembered that it receives high precipitation and has a large summit ice cap – conditions are glacial and windswept.
The easiest and most climbed routes are the Normal and the Whymper route which are a Class 4 climb. Both are western ridge routes starting at the Whymper hut and leading via the Ventemilla summit to the main (Whymper) summit and include route finding and crevasse crossing. There are two refuges on the mountain at approx. 5000 meters and most of the parties do their summit bid directly from the huts. It is a 6-9 hr climb from there, with slopes up to 60 degrees. People usually start their climb around midnight and return to the hut in the late morning.
There are several other less used and more challenging routes on the other mountains faces and ridges leading to one of Chimborazo’s summits: Main (Whymper, Ecuador), Politecnico (Central), N. Martinez (Eastern). These involve mixed rock/ice climbing.
Our ancestors were an adventurous bunch. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century it was thought that Chimborazo was the highest mountain on Earth, and such reputation led to many attempts on its summit during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
As early as 1802, Baron Alexander von Humboldt, Aimé Bonpland and the Ecuadorian Carlos Montufar attempted to reach the summit. From their accounts it seems that they got to 5,875m before having to retire because of altitude sickness. In 1831 Jean Baptiste Boussingault and Colonel Hall reached a new “highest point”, computed to be 6,006 m. But it was in 1880 that Chimborazo was first summitted by Edward Whymper and the brothers Louis and Jean-Antoine Carrel. There were many critics who doubted that Whymper had reached the summit, so, later in the same year, and just to prove a point, he climbed to the summit again choosing a different route (Pogyos) with the Ecuadorians David Beltrán and Francisco Campaña.
You will be glad to know that, although a volcano, Chimborazo is considered to be extinct. It’s last known eruption was in 640 AD – give or take 500 years!
The top of Chimborazo is completely covered by glaciers with some north-eastern glacier arms flowing down to 4,600 m. It is because of the ice-cap on Chimborazo that the summit needs to be attempted in the very early hours of the morning – the danger being that if you leave it too late, the sun will get up, warm the ice causing melt conditions which in turn increases the risk of an avalanche. Many an attempt has been aborted for this very reason as you will see here from mounteverest2008 Team Condor’s attempt.