Ascent of Volcán Chimborazo on 2008-12-17

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Petter Bjorstad
Date:Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Volcán Chimborazo
    Elevation:20561 ft / 6266 m

Ascent Trip Report

Chimborazo: 6268m, P4122m

Stats: 6km, 1225mH

Time: Wed 17 Dec 2008: 9h round trip.

Hut: Chimborazo upper refuge.

Start: From N, Chimborazo upper refuge (trailhead).

From the lower refuge (4858m), a broad rocky trail leads to the Chimborazo refuge (5043m). The Normal route starts at the NW (L) corner behind the refuge (NB the little-used Whymper route starts from the NE (R) corner and heads E). For the Normal route, a stony trail heads roughly N for a short way, then L once past a rocky buttress, then climbs a steep stony slope to gain the lower slopes of the mountain (snow-covered when we were there). The trail curves round to the R (roughly N) then cuts back L to gain the W ridge at a narrowish snow arete. Turn R here: the arete finishes in approx 20m in a broad ridge. This is the West ridge. After a few minor rocky sections, it continues as a fairly unrelenting snow slope at about 40deg, finally reaching the rounded lower Veintemilla summit (6235m GPSr). From here the trail gently descends E on a broad snow slope between big pits/crevasses before climbing SE fairly steeply to the higher summit (6277m GPSr; see separate discussion).

Apart from the altitude, our main problem was with difficult snow conditions (powder snow at a steep angle, from the previous night's snowfall) which made for arduous climbing. In recent years there was less snow; this gave rise to rockfall hazard in the couloir above the refuge, although better snowfall recently seems to have cured this problem for the present. The route from the north (which we had planned to use) was said to have likely avalanche problems at the time of our visit.

Smallish snow plateau with excellent views: Tungarahua to the NE with its half-hourly eruptions is a striking feature, against the early morning sky.

We had originally planned to climb Chimbo from the N to avoid the stonefall which has been associated with the West Ridge route, but this would have taken longer and we were advised by our Guide that the latter was in good condition.

Chimbo was the focus of our 2 week trip (see Trip details and logistics). We climbed it 3 days after Cotopaxi. Having stayed the previous 2 nights at Cuello de Luna mountain lodge, we arrived at the Lower refuge at 1:30 and hiked to the Upper refuge (23mins). After a leisurely afternoon we cooked a meal (gas, burners and all utensils are provided) at about 6pm then went to bed. We rose at 11pm, breakfasted and put on our mountain gear (including sit harness). Adam Helman had a severe headache and made the difficult decision not to climb. In view of the arduous conditions on the ridge this was probably wise. Petter and I, with our guide Diego, started hiking at midnight. We were more or less last to leave the refuge: parties had been leaving since before 11 p.m. When we started catching the first parties we stopped, put on crampons and roped up. The last long zig-zag up to the ridge was steep and fairly tough (for me anyway), but it was to become much tougher. Once on the ridge, we soon passed the remaining parties and found ourselves breaking trail, on a steep slope of fairly new powder snow, angles at approx 40deg. It was impossible to obtain stable footings for most of the time and this was extremely arduous. Diego was bearing the brunt of the hard labour, but even as 3rd on the rope I found these hours exhausting, and arrived at the lower summit (05:41) in a state of virtual collapse. We made the small descent and finally the ascent to the main summit, after a couple of stops, at 06:10. I've never been so tired in my life! A little while afterwards, 2 Norwegians arrived with their guide (this obviously pleased Petter!). Of maybe 50 who started from the hut, no-one else summitted that day, although we did encounter 2 parties on the lower summit as we were descending, who stated that no way were they going any further.

I was dreading the descent but it went quite easily, with enough leg strength returned to control the sliding motion, on snow which was much better suited for descent. In the couloir at 08:30 it was already baking hot in the sunshine, but no sign of the stonefall for which this place was notorious in years when there was less snow.

We were back at the upper refuge at 9 a.m. We spent about an hour recuperating and organising our gear then descended to the lower refuge and drove out, back to Quito to recover prior to our final, bonus summit: Cayambe

Chimborazo summit elevation and Map datum:
We visited the IGM offices in Quito and while there, we researched this issue (we also found the name and elevation of the summit Petter and I hiked on 15 Dec: Loma Santa Cruz Chica). We found a well informed gentleman who helped us find the maps we needed. He also indicated that IGM maps use a local South American datum, which explains the tendency for our GPS readings to be approx 15m higher than mapped elevations. It would appear therefore that the current geoid model used by GPS is ~15m too high, although we didn't visit the coast to check this. However when we asked why the available maps (1:250k and 1:50k) show Chimborazo as 6310m rather than the more widely accepted 6268m, he referred us to someone apparently more senior, who simply stated that GPS is inaccurate and the 6310m figure stands! We have since been referred to the Wikipedia article on Chimborazo which refers to a British survey team who visited in 1993 with 2 IGM surveyors attendance. The outcome was an elevation of 6268m +/- 2m. It is assumed that there is some political reason for the outdated figure being retained, although it is unclear why this should be. It is notable that there is still no 1:25k IGM map sheet for Chimbo (this sheet would presumably require a considerable number of fictitious interpolated contours).

There is a set of photographs on

For further details and photographs, see trip reports by Petter Bjorstad
also Adam Helman's trip report

Trip details and logistics:
Adam Helman, Petter Bjorstad and I made a private 2 week trip, the main purpose being to climb Chimborazo. Adam and I arrived in Quito (2850m) on 6 Dec with Petter arriving on 7 Dec. Our first (acclimatization) week was focussed on Ultras as far as pòssible. Thus on 8 Dec we climbed Pasochoa (P794m), and Ultras Guagua Pichincha 4794m 9 Dec, Imbabura 4633m 10 Dec and (in Petter's case) Cotacachi 11 Dec, and in the second week Cotopaxi 5896m 14 Dec, Chimborazo 6268m 17 Dec and Cayambe 5789m 19 Dec (the latter was an optional extra which turned out to be quite easy due to favourable glacier conditions).

For mountain guide services and transport we used Quito-based Compañia de Guias de Montaña ( Adam, who is fluent in Spanish, lead the negotiations. The CdG services consisted of Diego Zurita and his sturdy 4x4 vehicle. He was excellent - a competent climber and driver and with a nice easy manner, and a willingness to change things as we went along. We paid USD750 apiece for these services from CDG. In addition, while in the country we spent approx USD500 each. Refuges were used for the 3 big volcanoes: in each case we took our own food and sleeping bags, but all other equipment (bunks, cooking gas, burners and utensils) were already there.

Weather: there was an estabished daily pattern of cloud which built up from about 08:30 with the sun's heat, and dispersed around midnight. There was sometimes rain late morning or afternoon, although this was rare during our visit. Thus it is customary to start for the big peaks at around midnight, reach the summit at dawn for the view and get back to the refuge around 08:00 before the snow softens. This we did to good effect on Chimbo, Cotopaxi and Cayambe.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4114 ft / 1253 m
    Extra Gain:49 ft / 14 m
    Round-Trip Distance:3.7 mi / 6 km
    Route:West ridge (Normal route)
    Trailhead:Chimbo upper hut  16545 ft / 5042 m
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Guide, Hut Camp
    Weather:Cool, Calm, Clear
Clear from midnight til 9.a.m.
Ascent Statistics
    Time:6 Hours 10 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:2 Hours 10 Minutes

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