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Trip Report (continued):
The beginning of this trip report is here.
Day 9:We travel to the Whymper hut.
We woke up to our second morning at this small, charming hotel outside the Cotopaxi National Park. Diego should pick us up around 0900, until then we were busy with breakfast, reorganizing gear and taking photos of Chimborazo in the south. She had been totally invisible yesterday, but today the weather was clear to the south and suddenly she was there. Enormously large, that was easy to see from this distance.
It was indeed a fine morning. Illiniza was barely visible above the local hilltop to the west and Cotopaxi was still clear of clouds in the opposite direction.
We left the hotel around 0915 and had a safe drive to the parking at the lower refugio serving Chimborazo. Along the way, we passed the city of La Tacunga, and got a good view of the recently more active volcano Tungurahua (5023m). From the lower refugio, the short hike to the upper refugio took about 25 minutes. We arrived in rather foggy weather around 1300. This hut, the Whymper Refugio, was quite well organized with several smaller bedrooms. This is preferable as the level of noise and general disturbances are greatly reduced. Located at an elevation of 5040 meter, it is also by far the highest location of any hut that I have visited.
The evening came with a rather spectacular sunset. We had clouds sort of above and below, with the sun setting between the layers. We all hoped that this would evolve into another cloudless night providing good conditions for our upcoming climb.
Day 10:We climb Chimborazo.
The plan called for the same two teams that we had formed on Cotopaxi, but with Adam and Diego starting already at 2300, while Rob and I would head out at midnight. It was felt that giving Diego and Adam a head start and allow them to move a bit more slowly would maximize Adam's chances of getting to the summit.
However, at 10 PM when it was time for Adam to get up and prepare for departure, he did not feel well and decided against climbing. This, obviously, was a significant setback, but there was little that could be done at this time.
Rob and I got up at 2300, we had breakfast and we were ready to depart by midnight. It turned out that everybody else had left by then. Thus, again we were dead last. However, we set a good pace and by the time we hit the ridge (after 45 minutes) we were almost in front. A short way up the ridge and we overtook the team in front. It turned out that the snow condition along this ridge was pretty difficult. Loose snow and no support for an ice axe, it went straight down to the blade if I tried to lean on it. Combine this with a steep uphill, every time I tried to step in the place left by Diego's boot my boot would slip backwards at least half way back. Thus, the crampons were of little help and walking uphill seemed at least 50 percent more work than what one normally would expect. Diego carried the lion's share of the work, but it was still hard to break trail walking as number two. I could also see and hear that Rob following behind me had continuously hard work.
The hill seemed to go on indefinitely. We could see some sort of horizon, but it moved ahead about as fast as we moved uphill. No other team seemed willing or capable of helping out with the trail breaking. In fact, most teams slipped farther and farther behind and below us. We made a number of brief rests as we steadily gained elevation. I was quite surprised about how tired I felt, very different from Cotopaxi. This ridge, 1800 meter long, took us 5 hours to ascend. We finally topped out around 0540 at an elevation of 6240 meter. To see that the remainder of the climb was mainly flat terrain with a small uphill at the end gave us a considerable moral boost. As we headed across, we could see that we and the morning would arrive at the summit together.
We were at the summit at 0610, and just looking, the volcan Tungurahua decided to start an eruption right then in order to celebrate our ascent. It put on quite a show, an impressive sight from a very special spectator's position.
After about 20 minutes a second team made the summit. A local guide and two Norwegians from Rogaland! What an unlikely event. The two looked very tired and they both declared that without us breaking trail, they would never have made it. It turned out that no other team made the summit today, thus 3 Norwegians and one Englishman plus two local guides made the true summit this day. Considering that at least 50 people had started out, this was indeed a very low percentage.
We enjoyed a spectacular view from the "top of the world", nothing higher going north in America. Cotopaxi looked really nice, we were there 3 days ago. Looking back to the false summit also revealed a beauty in this summit landscape. The first volcanic eruption across from Tungurahua subsided, but shortly thereafter a second eruption created a new, symmetric plume of ash rising vertically above its top. Our route was free of crevasses, but one need not look much to the side to see that there are quite a few crevasses almost everywhere. Also, just to the left of our route ascending the west ridge, the terrain looked a lot less inviting.
We started the descent at 0650. As always, walking downhill on soft snow is a lot easier than walking up. In fact, in seemingly no time compared to our ascent, we were back down at the snowridge in the col. From here, we had a very good view directly down to the refugio. The route below here has gained a bad reputation due to rockfall danger from the cliffs. This year, because of abundant snowfall, this danger was very low indeed. We were in no hurry to descend, it was still very early in the morning. We had been very tired, but this was now all gone. Rob was truly enjoying the ridge views before making the final descent. Similarly, Diego surely was quite happy. His team had made the summit and he had contributed in a significant way. There was little left, but to descend the last steepish hill.
We were back down by 0900 after yet another long rest where we took off crampons and fleece. The sun was baking hot above 5100 meter. We departed from the refugio by 1000 and the car was ready for our long drive back to Quito before 1100. Interesting, Chimborazo was already gone in a thick cover of clouds. On our way back, we had good views of Cotopaxi as well as our little bonus top, Loma Santa Cruz Chica.
We all felt motivated for our last planned peak Cayambe. The agreement was that Diego would pick us up around 1500. This would allow just enough time to drive to the Cayambe hut, have dinner, then sleep before our third and last night climb. If this worked out, we would be back in Quito by Friday afternoon, leaving Saturday for some Christmas shopping before our early Sunday morning flights.
Thus, this trip report continues with the ascent of Cayambe.