Jul 3 – We bid adios to Baños this morning, and got back on the bus for the two hour ride to Riobamba. Today’s ride brought us two hours closer to Cuenca, which will be our final Ecuadorian destination.
Riobamba is a big, noisy city, with a few pretty buildings and bright blue skies.
The market had lots of colorful fare, and lots of potatoes. Fedora hats are popular among the indigenous people here.
We are staying in a beautiful old hotel, Casa 1881, surrounded by antiques. We have Netflix here!
The reason we are in Riobamba is its proximity to Mt. Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador, at 20,548 feet. The folks here maintain that Mt. Chimborazo is actually taller than Mt. Everest, if you measure from the center of the Earth’s core. It is a volcano, but it hasn’t erupted since 550 CE. Tomorrow, we will climb!
Jul 4 – We had an early five-star breakfast, with grilled vegetables, fluffy eggs and the best coffee we’ve had in weeks. Our host arranged a taxi to drive us the hour and a half to base camp one on Mount Chimborazo. From there we plan to climb up to base camp two. No, we will not be scaling the snowy summit – that’s just crazy talk. We are told that climbers practice Chimborazo before trying Everest, to acclimate to the very thin air.
Rosa picked us up promptly at 8am. First we left the city, then climbed up into the hills. Pretty soon, we were above the tree line, surrounded in fog. Below are vicuña (rhymes with petunia), relatives to the llama. They stay in the high altitudes – it doesn’t look like there’s much for them to eat.
The landscape looked like the surface of the moon – rocky and bare.
We entered the national park, signed in, and then Rosa continued driving us another 20 minutes up the gravel road to the Carrell base camp at 15,900 feet. There she let us out, and promised to wait for two hours. As soon as we got out of the cab, we felt woozy. The air is very thin here. The clouds are starting to lift.
The trail up is well marked with stones, and not all that steep, but the thin air made for slow going. I found that I had to pause and slow my breath every dozen steps or so.
We came upon an area of what looked like tombstones – sure enough, these were markers commemorating climbers who didn’t make it.
We continued our very slow ascent. There is nothing green here.
We reached the level of patchy snow. We are hiking through snow on the Fourth of July!
Finally, we could see the red roof of base camp two ahead. It took us a long time to get there, but we made it!
This camp is called Whymper. Whymper and Carrell were the first Europeans to reach the summit of Chimborazo in 1880, when it was thought that this was the world’s highest peak. We are on the route they took. The refuge huts have a kitchen and an upstairs sleeping area for those on their way to the summit. We achieved 16,404 feet, and that’s enough for us today.
As always, going back down was easier than climbing. Even though the altitude was the same, it felt much easier to breathe.
Soon we could see the road and our starting place. There’s our taxi!
We celebrated by sharing a chocolate bar with Rosa as we started back to Riobamba. As we drove away, the clouds lifted and we could see the summit of Chimborazo glistening in the sun.
What a day!