Mount Chimborazo is huge. A long, wide and, of course, towering volcano. One of the world’s highest peaks; the highest in Ecuador and, according to official measurements carried out by the Third Geodesic Mission, the farthest point from the center of the Earth. Until forty years ago, few approached its heights. Only fearless mountaineers or ice-men mining the glaciers would attempt it. At that time, the Carrel refuge was being built; but from that day on, everything changed.
This humble wooden shelter at 4800 meters above sea level was receiving thousands of people every day. Of course, most of them were not there for what the place was built for: a stopover from which to begin the climb to the top of the mountain. Climbing Chimborazo is not for everyone. But hot chocolate is. So, most had a visit, drank a cup, took a photo, touched the snow and turned around.
There’s nothing wrong with that. The sad thing, however, was not being able to communicate to those who wanted to truly experience the volcano that the refuge was probably the least interesting experience this particular nature reserve has to offer. Chimborazo is, in fact, a world within itself with many great adventures. In these pages we will tell you a little more about the mountain’s natural spectrum, since Chimborazo is a destination that can be visited many times; a place to cozy up to and make your own.
This trail takes us back in history to a time when there were no roads, no train tracks, only the “yunga-ñan”, also known as the Camino Real: the Royal Road. It was used to connect the southwestern coastal portion of the country and its main port Guayaquil and the high Andes and the Real Audiencia of Quito during Colonial times. This sector of that route was one its highest points and today, no one uses it or knows it exists. Of course, why would they? There’s no pavement… but it’s an incredible hiking trail surrounded by fabulous natural landscapes. Dating back at least 2000 years, this road served as an important trade route, essential for the development of ancient cultures and early-Colonial society; a veritable journey through time and history…
An opening, perhaps a portal, on the high slopes of Chimborazo volcano promises a path to the heart of the mountain, a spiritual place where one can find communion with that “telluric” force that dominates the Andes. The trail that takes us to the Machay “temple”, a large cave, offers a spectacle of views and landscape along rocky terrain at the base of the mountain’s glaciers. It is an unforgettable walk and a great introduction to mountaineering.
La Chorrera de San Juan
An imposing rock formation rises like a stone cathedral, La Chorrera de San Juan is a spectacular canyon, very popular amongst rock-climbers. There are many rock-climbing routes for all proficiencies and tastes, but its impressive nature and views are worth exploring even if you do not practice this sport.
Bosque de Polylepis
At the top of the world there is a magical forest. A forest straight out of a work of science fiction. Once you step inside, you’ll stand amazed that a place like this even exists on Earth. You must see it with your own eyes, as the branches and trunks seem to enter and leave dimensions, curving in extraordinary ways against the fog. It is certainly sad that so little remains, but it’s a worthwhile hike. You’ll find it to the left of the road leading up to the refuge.
Life around Chimborazo is a fascinating window into ancestral traditions linked to the mountain. In recent years, several community projects have sought to show their identity and life in the páramo in pursuit of not only protecting their precarious cultures and the fragile nature of their environments, but also seeking to create sustainable, dignified and beneficial economies for their future.
Rutas de ascenso
Climbing Chimborazo has its (many) requirements. The first is that those who want to try must be in excellent physical condition. The second requirement is that one will need an acclimatization process of at least 4 to 5 medium-elevation mountains (several weeks of preparation) and a high snow-capped peak before attempting to reach Chimborazo’s summit. These last fifty years of glacier loss have forced mountain guides to change routes, as they become increasingly dangerous and difficult. It is mandatory to hire a guide from ASEGUIM (the Ecuadorian Association of Mountain Guides) and complete the entire acclimatization process.
Check out our issue n°44: The Great Outdoors of Chimborazo here.