The road, acclimatisation, the hardest climb of our lives, 6228m altitude and long way down…
After 2 weeks and 6 “last days” we finally say real goodbye to Leo and his family where we have found our second Ecuadorian home. Also to our friend Kim and his sons Miri and Muni who definitely belongs to the most … interesting, wise and spiritually developed people who we met during the journey.
We stop for a while at Julio’s and at the end he goes with us with his bicycle to the Via Flores route. It goes uphill the whole time in a deep canyon close to a river and widens at the end when we finally reach 3700m altitude and the thermal baths (one flat tire repair on the way and one bottle of water as a present).
Everybody pays 1USD entrance but we 2USD because of one unpleasant guy – and everybody just watches that. We know that the bastard lies but if we want to get to the water we need to give up. I’m still disappointed and angry because of him ane the others.
The water is warm but the pools are crowded and the surrounding not nice-looking. After giving 2USD to the guards we are allowed to stay in a booth at the parking lot. We cook and build the tent on a really uneven surface and sleep well in the temperature o 2°C. We get up early, pay the normal price now and enjoy the really hot water alone (it’s Monday 7am and nobody else is here).
Warmed up and with relaxed muscles we are leaving in fog and drizzling towards the slopes of the legend – everybody talks about it and we’ve already spotted it from Ambato but we don’t realize yet how majestic it is – Chimborazo.
After 2 hours of pedaling uphill the sky becomes clear suddenly and it is there … with all it’s beauty, majesty and white-powdered – the hill which is the closest point to the sun.
How is it possible, that a mountain with 6268m is higher than Mt. Everest with 8848m? Simply – Earth is not perfect sphere and on equator it’s diameter is wider and as we are close to the 0° latitude the distance from Chimborazo to the center of Earth is more than 2km more than to the world’s giant. Of course the difficulty of climb depends from the altitude over sea and getting to the top of a 6-thousand is much easier than to 8-thousand.
We cross the Arenal desert full of short-haired lamas (licunas as we later get to know – it looks like a mix of a deer and camel without hump). We stop for shopping and prepare big portion of scrambled eggs in front of the shop and we get on the road with hailstorm, wind against us, fog, rain and cold. We get to the touristic center in 4300m altitude but they tell us the refugios are in reconstruction and it’s not possible to stay at them… but we can stay here for free.
Continue against the night another 8km uphill where is nothing or stay here? The answer is easy and we think about that maybe half of a second and happily accept the offer.
We get a room full of bunk beds – enough place to store our stuff also. The buildings are new with interesting architecture and nice grass grows around them – even one vicuna came to eat (I don’t have a picture with it holding it around neck but 3 meter distance is quite close for a wild animal :)).
There are no heaters in the room so the temperature outside and inside is the same – 0°C – it’s just not windy here. But in the sleeping bags it’s OK (once more thank to the donors of the dawn sleeping bags – in Central America we didn’t appreciate it, but here we are really happy to have them! :)).
We get up early after 12hours of sleep, eat something, admire Chimborazo and talk with the rangers about the Friday’s climb.
At 11am we register at the entrance and with full backpacks leave to an acclimatisation trip (and to see how much power we have in this altitude).
First 8km is a dust road with moderate inclination which is OK, just the strong wind and cold drizzling is against us. The first cottage in 4800m is not working but it’s possible to buy hot chocolate and we stay to talk with the great guy there one hour.
A little more then half an hour to the second cottage in 5000m, we talk with the workers and they offer us to sleep inside (it’s under construction, nothing is inside, but still better then tent). Then we continue to Whymper rocks in 5300m. Now it’s a little more difficult – the gravel rocky slope is steep and we feel the lack of oxygen. Also it starts to get foggy and we see just 10m ahead us. Pause, cookies, 30s hole in the clouds and look at the glacier, way back, goodbye to workers, tee, pasta and get fast to sleeping bags because inside is -2°C (in Quito we’ve bought as a replacement for the stolen phone a tiny keyring with thermometer and compass – we don’t know where we are but we know the orientation and temperature :)).
During the night-peeing we see some animal close to the cottage (it’s not dog but we aren’t sure if fox). Night is windy, doors bang and we are alone here at the cottage under Chimborazo (we really think not many people can say this). Early morning we get out – the floor is hard and we’ve slept already 10hours.
Breakfast, tee, perfect clear weather – down and to the mountain – and we walk fast down to the first cottage to the toilet (of course there are enough big rocks around which can be use for the same purpose, but it was cold like in a Russian movie).
Hot chocolate and coffee at the cottage guard who supports us and thinks we can get to Chimborazo in 6 hours (normally people do it in eight) – it’s good motivation and now we really think we can get up.
It’s sunny, clear, nobody around us but vicunas, stones, rocks and orange flowers and we walk the 10km “shortcut” – it’s nice, we have good mood, enough power and nothing hurts … even if this route can be described as “it’s longer but at least the road is worse” we don’t mind and everything is great.
Later we go to Riobamba (closest city) – to do laundry and shop food for the climb to be able to just rest tomorrow. There are no laundries for coins but at least we will have enough food.
Back in the touristic center is a group of Americans who are going to climb up tonight. We talk just a little because they go to sleep early before the all-night-long walk.
It’s morning … tonight we are going to climb it up. Jan feels his lower back again, my nose is full and my leg hurts also (at this moment we just feeling all our body more). At 8am first climber with one guide is back – he didn’t have enough energy and turned back. At 11am the rest is back – neighter they got to the top.
We start to be afraid, we don’t want to go, we still haven’t tried the equipment and we haven’t met our guides so we don’t have any information… it’s around 12 when we try the gear and realize that the boots (just one number) are too big for me and too small for Jan and the guys don’t have crampons for our shoes.
Great! But they knew the sizes of our feet before and had 3 days… we have two options now: give up (easier and now really much more preferred option) or go to Riobamba (one hour there, rent boots, one hour back) and get back till 4pm, pack things and hurry to the second cottage… I don’t know how, but the second option wins and we are really back at 4pm with the boots, crampons, and gaiters for both of us (each pair for 30USD).
I prepare sandwiches for us, we eat something (in this altitude we don’t eat much), drink – add water to our bodies, recycle the least smelly socks (we were not able to do the laundry and haven’t showered last 3 days :D), we pack all needed stuff and around 5pm we slowly drive up to the 1st cottage in an old pick-up which has really problem with the altitude. Before dark we get to the 2nd cottage, make tea, photograph the fox (yes, there lives a fox here) and we go to sleep – in 3 hours back in the kitchen. Jan takes the pills for his back to be sure, I take the drops for my nose.
Guys wake us up and we realize that we didn’t set the alarm correctly. We eat a little, drink a cup of tea, poor hot water to our bottles and at 11:45pm start to walk – with headlamps towards the clear windless night of Friday 13th.
First is Manuel, then me, Jan and Pablo. We go slow and it’s cold so we push them a little bit to be faster. After one hour we put on crampons, tie to the rope (I change place with Jan) and take the ice-axe in the hand.
Now the hill comes … sometimes we slide a little bit, but it’s still OK … we take of sweatshirts … hour, two … the inclination is now 45° and we are walking on ice towers which is really terrible … ice, sliding, tiredness, cold, warm, dark! … “Why anybody does something like this? Why am I doing it? No, shut up … walk, don’t think! Breath in, step, breath out, step … aaaa … I want bed, sun, I cannot more, hope it’ll be over soon!” – these are my thoughts the whole way to the top.
Jan falls down to the ground at 3am, swears – everything is f****, argues with Manuel about the length of rope, hits his fist against the snow and hates the mountain…
We struggle like this till 6am when we frozen and with the last physical an psychical powers just before the sunrise reach the first top – 6228m (we are quite fast – 6 hours).
Around us are visible the other volcanoes of Ecuador, in front of us is a bloody red horizon and 300m ahead and 40m higher is the main top.
We leave the backpacks and continue without them. Everything is covered by the ice/snow hills/towers and craters – it looks like a big snowy plowed field and walk on it is almost impossible. After 20min and 100m we see that this is too tiring and we don’t have 2 more hours because we need to get down before the ice starts to melt.
Difficult walk back to the backpack, couple of photos with dying frozen battery (Jan needs to warm it up under jacket to take at least some pictures), frozen sandwiches, water with pieces of ice, -15°C and we cannot stay too long before the conditions may get worse… it’s clear now – this type of mountaineering is not what we want to repeat – to suffer whole night just to get to the top and be able to cross the name in some kind of list.
The descent follows… long, difficult, tough. We are at the end with strengths but we cannot rest too long because the part where the rocks fall is under us and the sun starts shining on it.
4 hours to the second cottage, we pull the legs behind us, we are dehydrated, hungry (but the problem is we don’t feel we want to eat nor drink), psychically destroyed and more and more sure it was not worth it.
Another hour and we get to the touristic center, pay 220USD to the guides, return all the equipment and get to the sleeping bags.
After 2 hours of deep sleep we get back to life, pack our things, drink some tea and get on bikes and with last energy bicycle down 40km to Riobamba to find a hotel with hot shower, heating and place to eat some normal food.
Message to home that we are alive, upload photo to facebook for friends where we were and persuade ourselves that it wasn’t so bad and it was worth it… Still we think that if we knew how it is going to be, we wouldn’t go. On the other hand we now know that we don’t want this… one has to go to mountains to enjoy it, see beautiful views and make stops to realize the nice moments, eat something and get the positive energy and rest!
One day in the town, meeting another cyclist Vladimir from Russia and we get on a night bus (cheap per person, expensive for bike) to get to boarder and discover another country in the row and get some heat at the coast of Peru :)