Sunday, July 17, 2011

Chimborazo, Ecuador

( ... Continue from the Cotopaxi climb, )

Chimborazo, 6310 meters, is Ecuador's highest mountain. However, its main claim to fame is being the highest mountain in the world from centre of the Earth (whereas Everest is the highest mountain when measured from sea level). It will take 2 days to climb it.

But first, day 7 is a rest day at Baños.

Baños is a picturesque town for holiday goers, just like Queenstown in New Zealand ... bungee jumping, canyoning, biking, hiking, mountain climbing, jungle tours, various extreme sports. If you ever go to Ecuador for a holiday, you must visit Baños!

Frank the mountain guide now puts on the hat of a tourist guide. In the afternoon, he takes Josh and I (there is only 2 of us climbers now) to where the Río Verde plummets as a waterfall at Pailón Del Diablo (the Devil's Cauldron). To walk to the waterfall, a section of the track is a tunnel where you need to crawl on your fours to get through, quite exciting.

After the tunnel, you can walk all the way to behind the waterfall. But it is too wet and we chicken out on this bit of the adventure.

Day 8 is spent driving to Refugio Hermanos Carell in Chimborazo National Park. Then a 45-minute hike to Refugio Whymper at 5000 meters. Only Frank, Josh, I and the caretaker of the Refugio are there for the night ... very quiet.

Day 9 is to climb Chimborazo. It is a perfect day ... well, a perfect night. We leave the Refugio at 0:45am. No wind. And the moon is up and bright, so we don't even need a torch to walk. One would have thought under such a condition, it will be a piece of cake to get to the summit.

We are supposed to walk on glaciers. As it turns out, there were recent heavy snow activities on the mountain. So everything is covered with a thick blanket of snow. When we walk, we sink into the soft snow to over the top of the boots. And since most of the time, the slope is steep, around 45 degrees, hence every step upward is also a step sliding backwards ... extremely tough going. By 5:30am we are only half way. Frank says at this rate, we will never make it to the summit by daybreak. He says it will be dangerous to come down the mountain when the sun is up. So he turns us back. I am so glad to hear him say this, because I am dead tired from all the sliding backwards in the snow.

If it is any consolation, no one else was able to summit this mountain for a whole week due to the thick snow. I suspect Frank knows this. We were supposed to start climbing before 12am. But he slept till 12am ... I think he knew it was a waste of time to get up too early, I think he knew we won't make it.

As is the case with the Cotopaxi climb, I don't have many pictures of the mountain as the climb was in the dark and we didn't reach the summit. (To enlarge a photo, click on it.)

1.) On the way to Chimborazo National Park, we stop for lunch at a city called Ambato. Somewhere there, I took this photo of an indigenous Amerindian girl. They like to dress up colourfully like this.

2.) The magnificent Chimborazo !

3.) In the afternoon, we park the car at Refugio Hermanos Carell, then take a 45-minute hike to Refugio Whymper (5000 meters) for the night. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, Refugio Whymper is in the middle of the pic. The mountain in the background is Chimborazo.

4.) Next morning, we start hiking at 0:45am. Here is me taking a rest at the lower slope of Chimborazo.

5.) We turn back half way up the slope ... the snow is too thick on the ground, making the climb difficult. Here is a photo taken at dawn at the lower slope of Chimborazo. Nice view looking down at the clouds below.

6.) Returning to Quito, passing this rural farm scene.

I should make a remark about our mountain guide Frank. He is a very good mountaineer and we feel safe with him leading. But he is one hell of a reckless driver ... drove at break neck speed, overtook cars on narrow winding roads regardless of any oncoming traffic! It is a miracle I survived to write this blog !!!

7.) Here is beautiful Carolina - tour consultant at the Quito hotel where I am staying. All the disappointments of failing to climb Cotopaxi and Chimborazo are gone when I return and see her smiling like this !!!

I have a few days rest in Quito before returning to Sydney. The following are some photos taken during these few days.

8.) A beautiful indigenous Amerindian girl at a souvenir stall in Quito. She is a damn good sales girl - talks me into buying the pink alpaca wool scarf she is wearing for 8 US$. Later on, at another stall, I find the same scarf for sale for 5 US$. But I am not complaining ... she is worth it !!!

9.) At the northside of Quito is a tourist spot called Middle of the World (La Mitad del Mundo). It is right on the Equator, latitude 0.

10.) A tower is built at the Middle of the World. I am at the top of the tower looking down ... The orange line down the middle is the Equator. The big N/S letters stands for Northern and Southern Hemisphere.

11.) I am jumping from the Southern Hemisphere, over the equator (orange line) to the Northern Hemisphere at the Middle of the World. The previous photo was taken from the top of the tower behind me.

12.) The 4th person from the right is the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa Delgado. Every Monday, he ventures out of Palacio Presidencial (Presidential Palace, this pic) to greet people ... and by chance, I was there!!! Not many presidents in the world would do this every week. By all accounts, he is a very popular guy.

13.) Here is a woman selling icecream at Plaza Grande just outside Palacio Presidencial (Presidential Palace). The temperature is about 25 celcius, it is amazing the icecream has not melted. I do not notice anyone buying the icecream from her. So, how does she make a living?

14, 15.) Me surfing above a forest canopy in a town called Mindo. It is fun!!! It costs US$15 for 12 rides .... very cheap. By comparison, in Cape Tribulation (near Cairns, Australia), it will be around US$200 for 10 rides !!!

16.) Dragon Fruit, Very juicy and sweet, I love it. But it is not available in Australia. Why doesn't Australia grow them in the northern tropical area ?

I like Ecuador. Nice country, extremely friendly and honest people.

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