Rochelle & Will
It was 5pm by the time we arrived at the Chimborazo national park having stopped in Guaranda for some supplies. We intended to spend a precious three days acclimatising on and around the mountain before making a summit attempt. But by the time we arrived at the park it had closed for the night so instead we found a hidden road side camp and parked up at 4200m with the foreboding 6268m Volcan Chimborazo behind us. After a bit of a sleep-in the next morning we returned to the park entrance, it took a lot of explaining to get past the strict rangers who kept insisting that we needed a guide despite only wanting to go up for acclimatisation purposes. Finally they let us through and we drove up the heavily corrugated road to the Carrel refugio. There were plenty of locals and a few tourists playing in the blanket of fresh snow but many were under dressed for the freezing wind and passing clouds. First we established that we could stay at the Carrel refugio for one night free of charge before making our way slowly up the 40 minute track to the 5000m Whymper refugio. We 'chilled' out there for a while talking to a few tour guides and the friendly hut warden. Here one lightly built bike tour guide asked if we were looking for a mountain guide. We said yes and after a bit of discussion realised he was one and was offering us his services. Glad we wouldn't have to drive the 40km to Riobamaba to find a guide we quickly agreed and came up with a plan to meet back at the refugio in two days time for a summit attempt that night.
Once back at the Carrel refugio we ordered a hot chocolate and a block of chocolate then claimed a bunk bed on which we sat and watched a movie. By evening it became clear that we would be the only ones staying that night so we offered to cook the refugio warden dinner which was simple spaghetti bolognese prepared by Will. We then huddled around the open fire eating dinner and chatting as best we could in Spanish. Our sleep that night was uncomfortable and noisy due to the cold drafty building and the powerful winds that blew relentlessly throughout the early hours. With mild headaches the next morning we decided to drive to some nearby thermal pools recommended by one of the guides we had met the day before. Later we learnt that the guide had actually never been to the pools and he might not have recommended them if he had. The car park and area surrounding the pools was muddy and the small pools were cram packed with locals on this rainy sunday morning. I contemplated not going in but Will started getting changed and once we walked our white shivering bodies over to the water there was no going back. After getting in I found it was best to not look into the water at the various things floating in it. The shock continued when some topless local ladies hoped in right beside us. Pretty soon we decided it was time to go so we showered off the extra pubic hairs in the ice cold water and got dressed as fast as we could without getting covered in too much mud. Afterwards we both looked at each other in disbelief that we had just swam in that "pool"….
We then decided to spend the night back at our previous road side camp where we could watch all the movies we liked without the watchful eye of the refugio warden. Over night the wind howled and shook the truck. By morning the low clouds were totally obscuring the volcano and light snow was falling. It wasn't looking very promising for our summit attempt that night. After brekie inside the car we drove back to the park entrance and asked about the weather and how we might contact our guide. Typically they couldn't help us whatsoever so we decided to drive the 40km to Riobamba and see what we could find out. On the way we spotted a mountain lodge that called itself the 'Chimborazo base camp' and jugging by its construction it wasn't locally owned so we drove in. Upon steping inside out of the poring rain we found a very interestingly decorated lodge with bright pastel pink and purple walls covered in animal skins, guns, horns and climbing photos. The two local workers there couldn't help us either but called their boss who spoke perfect english, we asked her about the weather and she said she would know more in three hours once her husband returned from a rekkie mission part way up Cimborazo. We then went to another lodge in search of our guide but the girl there said she thought he was up the mountain. Unsure what to do as the weather wasn't getting any better we drove back to the park entrance where Will had a hell of a time trying to get them to let us back up again because we didn't have a guide. We explained that we were meeting our guide up there but he replied that our guide Jose wasn't a mountain guide. Eventually another ranger corrected him and embarrassed he let us head up.
Up at the lodge our guide was nowhere in sight so we mucked around talking to some americans while it snowed around us. Another guide then informed us that Jose would be coming as agreed at 2pm. So we decided to get packing and at least try to summit. When Jose arrived we made our way slowly up to the Whymper refugio. At 4:30pm we cooked a dinner of vegetables and pasta and headed to bed at 6:30 despite wanting to stay up and talk to all of the new arrivals; only one of which was also hopping to summit that night. In our sleeping bags it was cold and drafty and despite the clearing clouds the wind blew to dangerous gale force levels. At 10pm we woke up to check the weather, it was clearish but blowing so hard I was almost getting knocked over by each gust. We agreed with the guide to check again in an hour before calling the climb off. So we went back to bed and after another windy hour passed we didn't even bother getting out of bed we knew already by the groaning of the roof that we wouldn't be attempting to summit that night.
We both had disturbed cold nights sleep and by 6:30am we were up and ready to leave for a warmer climate. Downstairs we discovered the door had blown open during the night and there was snow inside making it very slippery and explaining our cold sleep. We trudged back down to the car and cleared off the snow which was the most exciting part of the summit attempt; snow at the equator! Then we drove to Riobamba to drop off the guide who still asked for a full payment even though all he had done was sleep. We had cooked dinner and given him a ride but he had no compassion. Finally we drove out of Riobamba more than ready for some hot weather with endless blue skies and ocean swimming. No more mountains for a while we agreed.
Rochelle & Will