April 15, 2013

The Air is Thin Up Here

Continuing on our weekend journey from Riobamba, we decided to climb Chimborazo, the world's highest mountain (taller than Mt. Everest due to the earth's bulge at the equator). From the center of the earth, Chimborazo is 6,384 meters/20,944.9 feet high. Everest loses by 2 kilometers/6561 feet. It looks pretty imposing when you drive up to it.

Did we get to the top? Heck no! That would take hours and require amazing levels of fitness that I, for one, did not have.

What you do is you drive into the park and go about 8 kilometers by car along a very bumpy, gravel road. Along the way you see vicunyas, special alpine llamas-meet-deer, and fog rolls in and out. We were lucky because the top of Chimborazo came into view a few times for us.

You park your car at the car park at the first refuge, which is at 4785 m/15,700 feet, and then start walking to the second. You can literally see the second refuge up there. It also seems closer than it is because the air is thinner up there and things appear clearer because of it.

The two buildings are the two refuges -
they're not that far apart, but it feels farther when you're hiking it at altitude.
Another side effect of the air being thinner is that you have a hard time catching your breath and your heart starts racing. At least mine did. I was the slowest member of our group, but I did make it up without feeling too sick or out of breath.
V for Victory!

The second refuge is at 5000m/16,400ft. high. A lot of the Ecuadorians were going a little further up to play in the snow since they hardly ever get to see snow. However, I was ready to get back to slightly thicker air so Greg and I hiked back down to have some tea and cookies in the first refuge. Our friends joined us and then, we got ready to go. Little did we know that we had left the car with its lights on while we were hiking.

Chimborazo's summit peeking out for us
We get in the car and -lo and behold!- it doesn't start! We're stuck at 15,700 feet with a drained car battery. So we get out to push it down the hill so it can charge the battery. Keep in mind the air is thin up here and our arms/legs get tired more quickly. We push and push, and at some point, another guy comes to help take my spot pushing because my arms felt like limp noodles.

The car starts to roll down the hill and it turns on! I know most of you who know about cars were probably thinking "well, duh" at this point, but I had no idea if this pushing idea would really work or not.

The rest of our trip down Chimborazo and back home was fairly uneventful. We did pass the most beautiful river valley I've ever seen, but nothing was as exciting as pushing a car down a mountain. And there were friendly llamas, which always make life better.

Enjoy the llama cuteness!

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