Climber's Graveyard just above the 4,800m refugio

Chimborazo (20,702')

January 19-20, 1999

one of the mountain pages from Ecuador on muellerworld

a curious fox outside the hut Tuesday, Jan 19, 1999

Chimborazo has 5 reconized summits:

Weather is best in June & July, December and the first half of January are pretty good. As a general guide, August is windy, September is OK and October & November are know to have long periods of poor weather as do the rest of the months (with April usually being the worst).

There are two huts on Chimborazo and while the lower hut (at 4,800m) has facilities, but most mountaineers choose to stay at the larger Whymper Hut 200m above (at 5,000m) and a half-hour hike away. The hut costs $US10 per night.

The Whymper Route (to the far right as you leave the hut) used to be the usual approach to the summit, but after some deaths on the icy traverse below the seracs, it was abandoned for what is now called the Normal Route. We were going to be attempting the summit via the Normal Route. When we arrived, there were already a few climbing parties in the hut, and we quickly chose bunks upstairs and started making something to eat. I joined in a Yahtzee game (and lost badly) and went to bed when the sun was still up and a fox was roaming around outside the hut.

Our midnight departure was pretty idealic, the skies were amazingly star-filled and it wasn't cold or windy. About 10 of us left at the same time, making our way up a difficult-to-see trail to the left of the hut, towards the the area called El Corredor (a snow ramp up a chute that is prone to rockfall later in the day).

Route 1 - The Whymper Route Route 1 - The Whymper Route View of our route from the hut at 5,000m Chimborazo Summit, obscured by clouds

After a minor bottleneck while two guides rigged an anchor and a rope on top of the 4 meter ice face, we all climbed up onto the snow ramp that leads higher on the mountain. We traversed right for a short ways, then back to the left for a short climb towards a prominent rock called El Castillo. This part of our ascent took about three hours. We had planned on about 7 or 8 hours to the summit, but this is where our attempt started to slow down.

The next scheduled landmark is the false summit of Veintimilla Peak. As we gained altitude, we slowed down. Mauricio seemed very slow, and John wasn't at his strong pace from Cayambe and Cotopaxi, either. Being the slow and steady turtle, I wasn't setting any speed records either but I was feeling the best I have ever felt on a mountain, the weeks of acclimatization had served me well. At a small resting spot, I voiced my concerns about our slow pace, and also pointed out the clouds that were closing in around the mountain. We all agreed that we'd see how were were doing in 30 minutes. They were a very slow 30 minutes, but at our next rest spot (somewhere below 20,000 feet), we mutially decided to head back down.

We hugged and let rope out as I took the lead back towards the hut. The hard-earned elevation that took us hours to gain, were descended in a fraction of the time. We quickly dodged a few minor crevasses and came to the ice wall at el Corredor. There were two men below us, just finishing in lowering themselves to the dangerous chute below. They walked down a few meters, and paused on a rock to remove their crampons. As we readied ourselves for the short pitch of ice, a huge boulder from far above let loose and quickly rocketed past us and barely missed the two climbers below us.

"Hey, watch it!", they yelled, implying that we had dislodged the 3-foot rock and sent it hurdeling towards them at high speed. After realizing where they were seated, they did a quick and deliberate shuffle with one crampon on and one crampon off to get out of harm's way.

I was the first down the ice, John and Mauricio guarded me with a belay off the anchor that was set as we came up earlier that morning. Upon reaching the dirt below, I moved up hill a few meters, under an overhanging ice wall, figuring that it was safer than taking my chances with rockfall. I set a belay for John & Mauricio's descent, and we all quickly cleared the zone. A few minutes down the trail, we paused to remove our crampons.

We arrived back at the hut at about 4:30am. I am not sure what Mauricio and John did, but I crawled into my sleeping bag pretty much fully clothed.

At 7:00am, I woke and immeadiately headed to the window to see what the mountain looked like in the daylight. It looked pretty brutal; there was a cloud hovering on the summit, and it looked very windy up there. Of the six teams that I was aware of, we were the second of three to turn back. The three others has pressed on into the collapsing weather.

We ate a light breakfast, talked and packed our gear for the trip back to Quito. By the time we started the hike back down to the refugio at 4,800m, none of the three teams had emerged from the cloud cap high on Chimborazo. We took a few pictures and started down hill.

Matt & Chimborazo Spam resting in the graveyard climber's Graveyard


Please contact me with corrections, questions or comments: Matt Mueller revised: 15 January, 2001