Well the time had finally come to face my dream (or bluff?) of climbing my goal for most of the past year. I wasn't sure if I could do it even before conditions deteriorated following the larger eruptions from Tungurahua last August. We took a rest day in Banos after spending the night after Cayambe in Quito. As we drove toward Chimbo from Ambato I hoped that all the time I spent training in the gym and outside would pay off so I could face my family and know that the time and effort I spent would not have been for nothing. As we approached Chimbo it was apparent that we would not get a good look at it since the entire mountain (except for its massive base) was shrouded in clouds.
Vicuna herd in the mist around 14,000 feet on Chimborazo's slopes
At this point we had done some acclimatization on the peaks of Pichincha and climbed Cayambe. I felt great and hoped that the weather would not be a factor. We drove to the lower hut below the Thielman glacier (about 4,800 meters) since the route leaving the Whymper hut at 5,000 meters had more black ice. We had hired a second guide, Marco, in case one of us couldn't summit so that each of us would have a chance to make it to the top. It only cost $100 each to get the second guide. After eating a dinner of trout and a discussion of the game-plan, we settled-in for a nap to end at 11:00! Unfortunately for Nord I was out in minutes and he was faced with my snoring.
We awoke at 11:00 and had breakfast. I slept with my boot liners and gloves in my bag. I actually was able to sleep and felt pretty refreshed. We went out of the door just after midnight and were greeted by a clear night. The lights of Guayaquil illuminated some clouds over the distant horizon to the Southwest. The way began as a dry trail of scree and as we gained elevation it became more rocky. Along the ridge the ground became harder as we reached the black ice which was pretty slippery. After an hour it seemed Nord was tiring. We continued for another hour, I was being led by Patricio and Nord was following Marco. The plan was that we would all climb as one team until we reached the harder and possibly technical ice of the glacier. Near the base of the Castillo it was apparent that Nord and Marco turned back, so Patricio and I continued. We passed the Castillo and after a very short walk along the ridge above, we reached the glacier, put on our crampons and roped-up.
The Castillo is the large rock formation on top of the ridge- taken while descending
The going was easy enough at first. The slope eventually steepend a bit, and as we were climbing I felt a rumbling and asked Patricio if it was an avalanche. He told me it was Tungurahua erupting- I didn;t believe him at first, but when the sun finally came-up this was confirmed by a very large plume of ash visible in the distance above Tungurahua. Before long the slope steepened considerably and turned to hard, blue ice. Patricio went ahead for a rope length as I boot/axe belayed him. The slope was steep enough that I was using much of the time the 4 front points on each foot for purchase, and dagger technique when possible. The ice was so hard that my axe would make a shallow depression in the ice and not really get good penetration into it- sometimes it would glance-off the surface! At this point I wished I had my technical axe handy but it was too late. When I reached Patricio I was relieved that the pitch was over, but he told me "We can't stop here- it's not safe". We had to do several pitches without really resting and this was pretty exhausting. This was complicated somewhat by a tender big toe which didn't help me to kick steps, but I managed to do this without too much trouble. I could rest a little when I belayed Patricio, but I was worried that there was probably no way I could stop us from sliding down the mountain if he fell. After we finished this section I was very relieved!
Icy slopes of the glacier taken during the descent.
The snow became much better for a short while, and soon we passed over a few large crevasses and entered an enormous field of penitentes which reached the summits.
The penitentes were up to 6-7 feet tall. Sometimes the rope would get caught between them and I would smash them with my axe to free it from time to time.
Penitentes covering the Veintimilla summit- these were similar to those below the summit
There were occasional crevasses between them too. I was having a harder time breathing above 19,000 feet, and I needed to stop for a quick breather more frequently. We initially took a track to the left, but this turned out to be a bad idea as the penitente field became more dense and there were more crevasses. We turned around and headed to the right at this point which placed us on a direct path to the summit. The last 700-800 feet was very tiring for me and I would need to occasionally hunch over my axe and lean on it with my chest and both arms and inhale/exhale deeply to try to adequately pressure breathe. At this point I was satisfied to know that I would have to stop at the Veintimilla summit, because I was worried that if I was too tired after attempting the Whymper summit the descent might become very dangerous.
Before too long we finally reached the Veintimilla summit- I took a look over to the Whymper summit.
Patricio on the Veintimilla summit
The way to it was covered with larger penitentes, and they covered the Whymper as well. We stopped for a few pictures and a snack. I was a little surprised to feel fine, other than a little tired, I didn't even have a headache. We quickly made it through the penitentes and crevasses and reached the steep, icy slope that gave me some trouble on the way up. The ice softened a bit, enough that we could downclimb it facing outwards and head straight down. We used ice screws for two pitches. It was a little hard to go straight down since my legs were tired, but I managed to make it down without falling. By the time we reached the glacier, the hut still seemed a long way off, and the clouds moved in.
The Whymper hut is left, with the green roof, Carrel is right, with an orange roof.
We kept our crampons on until we passed the Castillo due to the black ice. By then, the sleet came and shortly afterwards it turned to snow. We reached the hut and I was happy to have finished the climb- I now really realized that my goal for the last several months was realized. On the way out, the snow was falling pretty thickly, and I never had a good view of massive Chimborazo coming or going. I wouldn't trade it for the view on top, though! We returned to Quito for an evening of rest before heading out to Cotopaxi.