Chimborazo Climb – The Complete Guide
Everything You Need to Know Before Climbing the Chimborazo
If you’re a climber that’s visiting Ecuador, the Chimborazo Volcano is one that you can’t miss!
The Chimborazo’s claim to fame is that it’s peak is the world’s furthest point from the earth’s center.
I know what you’re thinking.
Everest is the highest mountain, everyone knows that.
That’s partly true – measured from sea level, Everest is the highest mountain… but it’s not the closest to the sun.
This is because the shape of the earth isn’t a perfect sphere. It actually bulges towards the middle (like many of us do).
This means that the top of the Chimborazo is well over a mile further away from the earth’s center than Mount Everest! You literally will not find a point higher than the peak of the Chimborazo volcano.
What’s really cool about the Chimborazo is that there are several climbing routes to choose from. This makes it a very accessible climb to people across several skill levels, and interesting for those with some experience.
When to Go
For the simpler routes, the best time to go is just before midnight. This will ensure that you’ve descended before 10 am. The reason for this is that the strong Ecuadorian sun can melt the ice and snow, increasing the chance of rock falls and avalanches.
The weather is commonly cloudy in the afternoon too, which can reduce visibility on the trail. At this altitude, you’re in the clouds.
Preparing for the Chimborazo Climb
This is actually really important if you want to successfully make it to the peak. Aside from bad weather, this is one of the main reasons why groups have to turn around and head back early. You need to be able to handle the altitude.
The nice thing about Ecuador is that there are tons of other mountains and volcanoes to climb to get you ready! For example, you could try the Tungurahua or the Cotopaxi volcanoes and get yourself used to exertion in thin air.
If you’re wanting a softer start to altitude, try hiking the 6-mile trail in Quilotoa which gets up to nearly 13,000 feet. It’s a giant crater that was caused by volcanic collapse around 600 years ago. Since then, it’s filled up with water that’s bright blue and green because of all the volcanic minerals.
Ever since 2012, the Ecuadorian government has made it mandatory for all ascents of major peaks to be made with a professional and certified guide. This is because of several avoidable deaths that happened as a result of a lack of experience/familiarity with the routes.
Refuge Carrell is at 15,750 feet. This is the lower of the two start points and requires an earlier departure time to make it down the volcano before the sun is too strong.
Whymper is the most popular start point, located at 16,400 feet. Here you can find bunk beds, food, bathrooms and a fireplace.
Routes to the Peak
There are three peaks on the Chimborazo (two of which are commonly climbed), and loads of ways to get there.
These routes take about 8-9 hours for the ascents. The original route will take you up 4300 feet, and the other two have a total climb of 3900 feet. The descents usually take around 2-3 hours.
For all of these, the climb starts before midnight. This is when the weather is the most reliable for climbing, and you’ll be nearing the peak around dawn. This makes for a pretty phenomenal view, and you’ll definitely get that “on the top of the Earth feeling” as the sun breaks over the horizon.
More Challenging Ascents
The North Side via the Thielmann Glacier and the South West Face are a little more complicated.
The Thielmann glacier can be ascended in 8-9 hours like the previous routes.
The South West Face usually will take a day and a half for the ascent.
These are classed around a grade 3, meaning that the climb is steeper and requires more strength.
Also, hand and foot holds need to be thought out a little more.
Climb for the Pros
The West Face is classed as a WI4, which means that you’ll be climbing ice walls.
Seriously cool, but you definitely need to know what you’re doing.
Ice picks and crampons are needed. There will be near-vertical steps of up to 30 feet.
The altitude doesn’t make this any easier.
If you’re a real enthusiast, Arista del Sol might be just what you’re looking for.
This route is classed as a grade 5, and it’s the hardest route on the Chimborazo to date.
The first 65% of the route is pure rock and overall it takes 2 days to navigate.
Why Climb Chimborazo
Another major perk is that, all said and done, you can potentially do it for a few hundred dollars. Compare that with the many tens of thousands of dollars and months of training needed for Everest.
Climbing to the highest point on earth is more than just another notch on the belt. From the peak of the Chimborazo volcano you can clearly see the peaks of the other nearby volcanoes, like the Cotopaxi, El Altar and Sangay.
It’s pretty common to see the clouds forming a blanket well below you, with other summits poking out in the distance. There is no doubt that you’ll have found the top of the world.
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