I really believe that, as human beings, we have an innate need to explore, to see what's around the corner. Jimmy Chin I don't climb mountains. I am far too lazy and unmotivated for that. I prefer my athleticism to take place on the back of a horse or under the water. Mountains scare me; they're places where planes crash, they're places where people are lost forever, they're places that might spew lava and ash for days. However, I know people who do climb mountains. One of those people is my brother. I know nothing about climbing resumes but he has one and I'm pretty certain it's impressive. In fact, January 2018 will see him climbing Aconcagua near Mendoza, Argentina. At 6,960 meters (22,837 feet) it's the tallest peak in the Andes and the tallest mountain in both the southern and western hemispheres. This mountain is the real deal and I'm very excited for his adventure. While I may not climb mountains I still find them awe-inspiring. I love to read books about climbers and watch the films. One that has really made an impact on me is "Meru", recommended to me by my brother and made by Jimmy Chin, whose quote I used to introduce this post. If you ever had any questions about what makes mountaineers all around bad asses then this film will answer them. So, as I stood in the shadow of Chimborazo in Ecuador, huffing and puffing at the effort of simply standing upright, I began chatting with a young Greek woman. As she swigged from her bottle of aguardiente and drug deeply from a cigarette she casually mentioned, "It's not so much a technical climb, this one. It's just the altitude." Chimborazo is Ecuador's highest mountain. The elevation at its peak is 6,263 meters (20,548 feet). We were nowhere near the peak but in the tiny town at the volcano's base where climbers gather to acclimate to the altitude and its effects are still very real. And while people come from all over Ecuador and the world to climb Chimborazo someone like me might ask why? If it's not technically difficult and not even close in terms of altitude to the higher peaks of the Andes what's the appeal? Chimborazo is not only stunningly beautiful but it has a special distinction to it that I was not aware of. Despite the numbers this dormant volcano is actually the highest point on the planet. Due to math, physics, and other things that I don't understand, the fact that the Earth is a sphere, and that Chimborazo is only one degree south of the equator it benefits from from the few extra kilometers added at the bulge of the equatorial region. This means its peak is the furthest point on Earth from the Earth's core and the closest place on the planet to outer space. Generally Chimborazo is surrounded by clouds. Like most mountains of its height it makes its own weather. On a rare day it can be seen from Guayaquil, 140 kilometers away. But, like I said, that's rare. The day before we arrived Will had a brief, early morning glimpse of it but by the time I woke up the clouds had gathered. So as we made our way down a dirt road to the campsite I struggled to see it even though we were so close. What if I had to spend the night at 5,000 meters and clouds ruined everything? But, almost as if Chimborazo knew we were coming, the clouds began to scatter not along after we set up camp and there it was. All I could do was sit there and gawk. It's also very, very cold. As if the snow weren't an indicator, right?
At that point the sun was just a short time from setting directly behind us and I knew if the clouds stayed away the light would be exquisite. And I was right.
Dark came quickly and we retreated to bed, ibuprofen and water flowing like wine. But you shouldn't drink wine at altitudes like this as I learned from our failed attempt to see Cotopaxi, Ecuador's second highest peak. And because we were at the base of the tallest point on Earth we felt it only fitting to watch "Meru" again. It was a good choice.
When you're not acclimated to altitude like this sleeping is hard. I woke up at 4am and couldn't go back to sleep. The sky was dark with clouds and I wondered if I'd be able to see anything with the arrival of daybreak. However, I was wrong. I got one last shot before the clouds swirled in.
We left shortly after and I was exhilarated to breathe properly again and for my headache to go away. However, as I often do on this trip, I was more grateful for the experience.