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Altitude & Snow, EC



January 1, 2018   HAPPY NEW YEAR/FELIZ ANO!

Again, we had super early flights to catch so we were up at 3:30 to catch the 4am shuttle to the airport only to learn our 6:05am flight had been delayed to 7:30! Then to top it off, we did not take off right away as there was an issue with the portable water tank and after it got repaired (with some heat!), we finally took off at 9am. Lucky for us (and unlucky) we had a long layover in Houston anyway, so the 9 hour layover became six hours.

We decided to sit in a lounge to wait out the second flight from Houston back to Quito (departing 6:16pm) only to learn that now they only allow you to sit in the lounge for three hours! If you want to stay longer, you have to shell out another $27. We just did one stint in the lounge, had plenty of food and drink before heading to the gate to sit and walk for another couple of hours. The flight left a little late but landed more or less as scheduled, we got through customs without any issues (we had $1100 worth of stuff and you’re only allowed $500 each – we did have over $100 worth of car parts for a friend) or questions and caught a cab back to Tigger at Colibri hostel. All was safe and sound, the usual wet spots from water leaks (they apparently had 2-3 days of heavy rain) and we went straight to bed around 1:30am.

Ecuador had a cold wet snap over the New Year and many mountains/volcanoes received a fair of snow. We heard that the latter part of the road from Quito to Papallacta (where we’d enjoyed the thermal pools a few weeks back) received so much snow it was closed!

Our friend, Barna, arrived around ten while we were unpacking, sorting and putting away. He very kindly gave us a bottle of Tequila to show his appreciation we chatted for a while and then he left. We left Colibri around midday, hit a grocery store and then went to the Rondador hostel near Cotopaxi that we’d stayed at before hoping to begin acclimatizing to do a hike at Volcán Chimborazo in a few days. We saw many snow covered peaks on the drive south:

We thought we might meet up with Christine and Mark at Chimborazo (with her daughter who’s visiting) but we found out they planned to hike on the 2nd and we would not do well at 4800+m/15,800+’ after being at sea level for the past ten days.

Wednesday, we decided to spend a second night here and Doug got a few “to do’s” done that we brought back parts for: we now have a toilet that flushes again and he reconfigured the water filter space so we can fit in a power tansformer for 220v to 110v which we will begin encounter when we get to Peru next month.

We are feeling the altitude, some headaches and a bit hard to sleep so two nights here at 3100m should help and we think maybe a night at 3600m then  another at4200m should help before going to do the hike. We’ll play it by ear. Thursday we awoke after terrible sleeps, Doug had another headache during the night and we decided we’d push on and see what the weather held as we approached Chimborazo figuring we’d rather head to the coast sooner rather than later and not spend nights at 3600-4200m.

Enroute south we encountered another one of those caterpillar trains broken down on the side of the highway – it’s kinda creepy how we keep seeing them!

As we approached the city of Ambato it was getting clearer and warmer. Our experience has been that the mountain tops are usually clear of clouds in the early morning and it’s now after ten so we are “holding thumbs” that the blue sky continues.

Once out of the city limits heading west we see Volcán Carihuairazo, Chimborazo’s neighbour – it too has a glacier and is looking pretty snowy now.


About ten clicks later, lo and behold, there is Chimborazo! Practically clear sky and lots and lots of snow on it.

We stopped a few times for pics and encountered a llama too!

And we encountered several vicuñas on the practically barren landscape along the side road to the mountain:

Note: The vicuña is one of two wild South American camelids that live in the high mountain areas of the Andes (the other being the guanco). It is a relative of the llama, and is now believed to be the wild ancestor of domesticated alpacas, which are raised for their coats. Vicuñas have extraorindary hearing and produce small amounts of extremely fine wool (considered the warmest), which is very expensive because the animal can only be shorn every three years, and has to be caught from the wild as vicuñas are protected by law and were declared endangered in 1974. They live in groups of 5-15 with one male and they feed on low grasses that grow in clumps on the ground. When knitted together, the product of the vicuña’s wool is very soft and warm. The Incas valued vicuñas highly for their wool, and it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wear vicuña garments.  Legend has it that the vicuña was believed to be the reincarnation of a beautiful young maiden who received a coat of pure gold once she consented to the advances of an old, ugly king.

We decided to go at least to the visitor centre inside the park itself; this is located at 4200m/13, 800′. The road to the refugio starts here and that is 8km of dirt road then there’s the hike……

Upon arriving at the visitors centre, feeling very short of breath whenever we walked some, and Doug began getting another headache, we decided we’d been lucky enough to see the volcano in all its glory and the thought of hiking in the snow (after Toronto!) at 4800 – 5100m /15,800-16,700′ did not appeal to us. We’d seen Christine and Mark’s photos and there were walking IN the snow; no thanks!  The visitor’s centre advised that part of the road remained snow covered as well.

Note: With a peak elevation of 6,263 m (20,548 ft), here’s a few facts about Chimborazo:

  • its last known eruption was in 640 AD
  • it has a circumference of 78 miles and a diameter of 30 miles
  • it is the highest mountain in the country;
  • it is the highest peak near the equator;
  • it is not the highest mountain by elevation above sea level, but its location along the  equatorial bulge makes its summit the farthest point on the Earth’s surface from the Earth’s centre;
  • the summit of Mount Everest is higher above sea level, but the summit of Chimborazo is widely reported to be the farthest point on the surface from the centre of the earth, The summit of the Chimborazo is the fixed point on Earth that has the utmost distance from the center – because of the oblate spheroid shape of the planet Earth, which is “thicker” around the equator than measured around the poles;
  • it is about one degree south of the Equator and the earth’s diameter at the equator is greater than at the latitude of Everest (8,848 m (29,029 ft) above sea level), nearly 27.6° north, with sea level also elevated. Despite being 2,585 m (8,481 ft) lower in elevation above sea level, it is 6,384.4 km (3,967.1 mi) from the Earth’s center, 2,163 m (7,096 ft) farther than the summit of Everest (6,382.3 km (3,965.8 mi) from the Earth’s center). However, by height above sea level, Chimborazo is not even the highest peak of the  Andes.

So our next destination is the pacific coast of Ecuador to get in some beach time. As it was well over 360km from Chimborazo, we found a place about 60km away from the visitor’s centre on iOverlander: a small hostel/restaurant that takes overlanders. We arrived after lunch, Hugo greeted us and showed us where to park (on a large concrete pad between the restaurant and hotel) and we decided to have lunch there. We had a lovely bean soup, a fresh juice smoothie and a rice and beef dish. Here we did not get power but we had to clean toilets (no showers) and  internet.

We both went for walks doing Spanish and then spent some time on the decent internet offered here. Doug then tackled replacing our coach water pump (it had been acting up so we brought back a new one).     It went well but it seems to make a lot more noise; we thought it might be air in the lines but we can’t get rid of it.

We received a message from Christine and Mark that they too were now headed to the coast now with her daughter, and we made a plan to meet in the small town of Machalilla which is surrounded by a national park with Ecuador’s best beach we are told. You cannot overnight at the beach so we found a hostel that takes overlanders and will make a day trip all together.

Until next time…..