Today I climbed to the 2nd base camp of Chimborazo Volcano, which was a wonderful adventure and a great way to spend my Tuesday. The sights were beautiful, the exercise made my lungs happy, and I learned a lot about climbing at high altitudes. Chimborazo is a big deal because it is the highest mountain above Earth's center. While yes, Everest has the highest altitude, Chimborazo's summit is the farthest point into space because of the Earth's equatorial bulge. This article explains the whole deal quite well! (http://geology.com/records/highest-mountain-in-the-world.shtml).
My initial plan was to hike to the summit. I understood that after acclimating (since the altitude is a good shock to the body), I could attempt to hike all the way to the top. People who do this normally climb from the 1st base camp, at 4800 meters, to the 2nd base camp, at 5000 meters, and then spend the day there getting used to running on the little oxygen there. Then, at about 11 PM, climbers go with experienced guides up to the summit, which they reach at about 6 AM. The reason this trek is done at night is because the snow needs to be hard for it to be as safe as possible.
I left my hostel in Riobamba at about 8:30 AM and arrived at the bus station at 9:00. From there, I took a bus headed to Guaranda (a nearby city where I celebrated an incredibly fun Carnival a year and a half ago) but told the bus driver I wanted to be dropped off at the base of Chimborazo, which was on the way. After about 50 minutes riding next to a mother and her adorable 2 month-old-son on the bus (at a cost of $2), I arrived at the base. From there, I was to hike to the first base camp, and from there to the second base camp.
Since it is possible to drive to the first base camp from the base of the mountain, my plan was to hitch a ride in a pickup truck to cut off about 2 hours of walking time. The craziest thing happened. I knocked on the passenger window of a car heading to the first base camp and after a quick exchange, I realized this guy was from BURLINGTON, VERMONT. Of all places! What a small world. He had come in December, tried to summit, failed, and was trying again these next two weeks. He was a gem and let me ride with him to the first base camp.
After speaking with the leader of a biking tour group, I learned that the conditions of the mountain were not necessarily great for summiting. First of all, it cost about $375 to rent the gear and hire a guide to bring me to the summit, and there were no guarantees I'd actually make it. Even if I can run in Quito, which is fairly high altitude, I'd still need to spend a few days getting used to this altitude. I could do that, since I had time. But even then, the weather could decide not to cooperate. If it snowed too much, I'd be forced to turn around with my guide. If the snow was too soft, we'd be forced to turn around too. I decided it was best to just enjoy my day here today, but promised myself I'd attempt the climb at some point in the future.
It's harder to walk at such high altitudes! This being said, the climb wasn't too strenuous, and I made it under 45 minutes. I took my big climbing backpack, which I'd packed the night before, because I knew it would be easier to climb with this one rather than my small black one thanks to the back support. I continued up to the small lake above the second base camp, which is where I took the bomb picture above. I hiked back down to the first base camp, ate some lunch, and talked with the other hikers staying the night. Then, I hiked for about an hour and a half on the Temple Machay trail before turning back around... I'd planned to do the 5 hour route down and around, but since the fog was so thick, I almost lost the trail, and I was nervous that if I continued I'd become one of the sad cases of people who die on the mountain due to exposure to the elements just 10 meters from the trail... SOOOO to avoid that fate I hiked back to the second refuge, taking some sweet pictures along the way. The fog cleared, and I hiked down to the first refuge since no pickup trucks were going that way. I caught the bus back to Riobamba at 3:00, catching sight of some vicunas (llama cousins) along the way.
When I woke up we were in Riobamba, it was sunny, and I was sweating! Crazy how the altitude and climate can change so fast in an hour. I made my way to the central square and quickly visited the train museum on my way back to the hostel "Tren Dorado" which I'd stayed at the night before. Highly recommend the hostel! For $15, I had a private room with a double bed, private bathroom with hot water (arguably the best shower of my life), and a picturesque peach tree in the hostel courtyard. For dinner, I went to a lovely crepe restaurant and splurged (legitimately haven't spent this much on dinner this whole trip) on a $7 meal which included a crepe burrito, chips and guac, and a giant lemonade. I skyped my worried parents who were glad I didn't have some sort of avalanche disaster before falling asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
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