The 6,263 meters-above-sea-level summit is enough to inspire awe and make one wish to honor such an imposing height… but most prefer to observe it from afar. We leave the feat of climbing to the top for experienced mountaineers, for the “tough guys”. We respect Chimborazo… and sometimes we just get to the base of its glacier and quickly turn back around.
In reality, there are infinite ways to discover this great mountain. A little-known excursion just as stimulating as climbing (in our humble opinion) is the 360-degree wrap-around along the slopes of the snow-capped volcano. The five-day trek covers a distance of 70 km and crosses old hidden paths used by liquor smugglers back in the day, where we’ll encounter curious archaeological sites and changing vegetation.
Chimborazo Lodge – from where we began our expedition – has branded the trek Trago Ñan (“Drink Road”). The name is due to the fact that many of these paths were used in the 1970s by alcohol smugglers during the Ecuadorian equivalent of the Prohibition. In those times, selling alcohol was strictly regulated and heavy taxes were implemented on the industry. Many local ‘aguardiente’ makers, that made their drinks in sugar mills, sold their products to smugglers who, to avoid the regulations, used these hidden routes adjacent to the main highways, traveling on foot to make their deliveries to cities like Riobamba, Guaranda, San Andrés, Quero…
Those same roads that only 50 years ago were being used by smugglers, five centuries before were also being traveled by the Incas. Traces of their passage through these lands remain. Chimborazo Lodge itself being one of them, since it is located in the Totorillas Valley and the main house lies on an Inca tambo (resting spot for messengers). The town of Chuquipogyo, which this trek explores on day three, bears its name (Fountain of the Chuquis) because the site belonged to the “chuqui” people, a migrant group brought by the Incas when conquering northern lands in order to take care of the water. Here, we also find an Inca tambo.
Though, perhaps the piece de resistance is the passage through impressive archaeological ruins, that could even be an example of sanctuaries where the Incas performed sacrifices and offerings to the mountain, the sun, or fertility of the land.
The 360-degree trek around the mountain of Chimborazo, in addition to offering much history, is full of impressive and changing Andean landscapes. We walk next to vicuñas and alpacas, across valleys, sandbanks, and wet and dry páramo. We tread where centuries ago pre-Inca and Inca settlements stood, where thousands of years ago glaciers covered entire plains, where now only “erratic” boulders remain – giant rocks found in the middle of the páramo, traveling many kilometers as glaciers have thawed. They now sit firmly as evidence of a changing ecosystem. The chuquiragua flowers, the grassland, the valeriana bushes… are our faithful companions on a magical hike under the watchful eye of the great Chimborazo.
Day one. We depart from Chimborazo Lodge in the Totorillas Valley towards the Chimborazo glaciers. We walk along the western flanks of the volcano, below Veintimilla Peak and come across ancient archaeological ruins.
Day two. The trek continues west, heading towards Mt. Carihuairazo and crossing into the province of Tungurahua down to the Abraspungo valley. We visit by the Michawaska community tourism project. We camp near Laguna Yanacocha in the “almohadilla” páramo.
Day three. We cross the pass between Carihuairazo and Chimborazo to the site of Chuquipogyo, discovering an ancient Inca tambo.
Day four. We head towards the southern face of Chimborazo, past the glaciers, and back towards the Totorillas Valley.
Day five. Return to the lodge.
Total distance: 70 km
Daily distance: 10 – 12 km daily
About 6 hours hiking daily
Time: 5 days
Photos: Murray Cooper