There are three mountains in the world that could boast to be the highest on earth. Obviously, Mount Everest (8850 m), which I summitted in 2016, is one of them, being the highest point above sea level. However, the Ecuadorian vulcano Chimborazo (6310 m) is the point furthest from the center of the earth and you cannot get ‘closer to the universe’ than on the summit of this peak. Then there is Hawai’i-an vulcano Mauna Kea (4207 m), which is with 10210 m the tallest single mountain on the globe (although the majority of it is below sea level).
Last summer, I climbed a number of Ecuadorian vulcanos with my daughter and summitted Chimborazo on 10 July 2018. More recently, I hiked up Mauna Kea with my oldest sun and we summitted 23 November 2018. So, regardless the way you define the highest mountain, I’ve climbed it 🙂
After we had left Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, we drove down to Baños where we went out for dinner. Afterwards Joline and I toured downtown a bit and went to sleep. The next morning we went to the Pailon del Diablo, an enormous water fall in the Ecuadorian jungle. We took the whole morning to see the falls, flowers, humming birds etc.
After the Pailon del Diablo, we went back to Baños for lunch and then drove to Reserva Producción de Fauna Chimborazo. On the way we had some beautiful views of the highest mountain of Ecuador and the highest elevation when calculated from the centre of the earth.
Unfortunately the Whymper hut was closed for climbers, so we had to stay in the lower Refugio Carrel (4850 m) and as a consequence have a longer climb up Chimborazo. After dinner, we went to bed immediately as we planned to get up at 22 h and start the climb at 23 h. We set out at 23 h with perfect weather: clear, not too cold and very little wind. We progressed steadily to the Castello, a protruding rock formation on the west slope but then Joline slowed down considerably. Edgar was worried she would not make it and at 5600 m we decided to go down.
The next morning, Edgar drove Joline and Galina down to Riobamba where they would already go to the hotel and do some sight seeing whilst I stayed at the Rifugio Carrel and tried to rest a bit. Edgar returned end of the afternoon, we had dinner ans went to bed as the day before. At 22 h we rose and we left at 22:45 h as planned for a second attempt of Chimborazo. Th weather was slightly less than the day before with more wind, but otherwise very good. We progressed again steadily, but then the 700 m steep snow and ice slope was very hard. At the end I felt like a zombie and had to use all my internal psychology to keep climbing. We arrived at the Veintimilla summit (6267 m) just after sunrise. After a short stop we continued to the Whymper summit (6310 m), the highest point on the globe when calculated from the centre of the Earth.
After a short pauze, Edgar and I climbed the 1460 m down, of which almost 1000 m steep snowy slopes, to the refuge which was quite horrendous. I was totally exhausted when we arrived at the Rifugio Carrel. We had lunch at the hut, packed our stuff and drove down to join the ladies.
Yesterday we left Rocio’s “Puerta al Corazon”. The night before Rocio had prepared cuy for us. Cuy is a local dish of Guinea pig and probably an acquired taste.
We first drove downtown Machachi to leave most of our luggage at Edgar’s house and then to Parque Nacional Cotopaxi. Edgar arranged our permits and we drove about three quarters of an hour on bumpy roads to the parking place from where we hiked in about an hour to the Rifugio Jose Ribas.
The Rifugio Jose Ribas is quite popular as Cotopaxi, either to view or to climb seems to attract a lot of people from all over the world. We had lunch and talked to several people visiting before we went to sleep as we had to go up at 23 h. We got up at 23 h indeed and prepared and left at 24 h for the climb. Although in the afternoon the conditions loked very nice and favourable, the weather at night was very different. There was a very strong wind with gusts that made it difficult to keep standing. It was only about -10 °C but with the wind chill factor it felt like -25/30 °C. We struggled for quite a while but got colder and colder with little prospect of the wind getting any less. We were covered in ice and since the route is such that there we couldn’t expect it to get any better, we decided at 2:30 h to turn around…. Once back in the hut, we slept until the morning, packed our stuff and drove back to Machachi. We collected our luggage and drove down to Banos. Tomorrow we intend to go to Rifugio Carrel to climb Chimborazo.
Yesterday we had a relatively quiet day with as only goal getting to the Refugio Nuevos Horizontes. Edgar picked us up at 10 and, following his advice, we had rented a horse to carry the mountaineering equipment to the hut. So we could slowly walk up to the hut at 4750 m.
The Refugio Nuevos Horizontes represents the original concept of a mountain hut: a space with a couple of bunk beds, a place to cook and a table with a bench.
Unfortunately, both Joline and myself have caught some throat infection (probably some bugs at the plane or so) and are not entirely fit. We had decided to go for Illiniza Sur, which in my view is way more interesting than Illiniza Norte, which is ~100 m lower, has no glaciers but nevertheless attracts >95% of all climbs. To make sure that all glaciers, snow bridges etc. are well frozen you typically make an early start. We decided to go for 2 h. When we woke up at 1 h, Joline was a bit feverish and didn’t feel well. Edgar and myself decided therefore to go together and Edgar graciously offered to take Joline to the Illiniza Norte later as we expected to be back around breakfast.
We set out at 2 h and had a wonderful climb. Until about 4 h is was clear with some moon shine and we climbed the long, steep (up to 60°) snow walls so efficiently that we were about 30-40 min from the summit at 4:30 h and would arrive at the summit well before sunrise. We decided to have a long break and had a nice conversation at high level (literally, it was at ~ 5100 m) with a spectacular view. Unfortunately, it became very cloudy and when we reached the summit at 5263 m around 6 h, it was covered in a cloud. At -12 °C that means we were soon covered in a thick layer of ice. We climbed down and were back in the refuge ~ 7:30 h. Joline would rather go back to the cottage than climb Illiniza Norte as she still didn’t feel very well.
Yesterday we left Quito and drove southward direction Pasochao. In some small village Edgar’s brother showed up and took our duffel-bags to drop them off in the cottage where we would stay later. We drove over a cobble stone road with more holes than stones for about an hour to an old hacienda at ~ 3500 m, where we parked the car and started our ascend of Pasochoa.
It took us a little less than 6 h to climb to the summit at 4230 m. After we had climbed down, we drove again for one and a half hour over very bumpy roads (you really need 4-wheel drive here) to the Cottage “Puerta al Corazon” where Rosia, the owner, welcomed us. She didn’t speak English, but reasonable French. Apart from two Americans there were about a dozen French climbers, preparing for Cotopaxi.
Today (July 3rd) we got up at 6 h, got a nice breakfast and Edgar picked us up at 7 h for another drive over bumpy roads. We learned that some of these roads where actually build 600-800 year ago by the Incas (and apparently lacked all maintenance since). After about an hour we arrived at the trailhead just below 4000 m. We had some marvellous views at the Cotopaxi, but also at both Illinizas (actually Corazon is located in the Illiniza Ecological Reserve) and our first glimpse of Chimborazo.
We had a strenuous climb where we needed ropes to belay ourselves at about 4600 m to reach the summit at 4790 m in just over three hours. This made Edgar very happy as he told us that with most of his clients it takes easily 5 or even 6 h to reach the summit. It seemed to confirm his opinion that we would be very well up to climb Illiniza Sur (which requires some steep ice climbing). Edgar and myself are very much inclined to opt for the Illiniza Sur which is rarely climbed as >95% of all people climb the Illiniza Norte, which is only about 100 m lower, but has no glaciers, snow or ice.
Yesterday we arrived, after a luckily very uneventful flight, in Quito on time. Edgar Parra, our guide, was already waiting for us and brought us to our hotel, where we got a room with a perfect view on old Quito.
Today we did a bit of sightseeing of Quito and Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the earth, i.e. the equator line). We first visited the hill with the largest aluminium statue in the world that towers on a small mountain over the old town of Quito. The weather was very nice and we even could see a glimpse of the snowy Cotopaxi.
We had lunch in a nice little restaurant “El Cratero” literally located on the rim of a gigantic vulcano crater, allegedly the only crater in the world with villages inside the crater. From there we moved to Mitad del Mundo, where we visited two musea that both claim to be located exactly on the equator. The oldest (and most famous) one, that is pictured in all tourist guide, however, was a couple of years ago with modern GPS measurements proven to be a few hundred meters off…
In the new museum they had a series of fascinating small experiments to show the effect of being exactly on the equator. For instance they showed in a little basin that, when placed exactly on the equator, there was no vortex when the water was drained, but just moving it two meters on the northern hemisphere caused a nice left-turning vortex and when then moved two meters on the southern hemisphere a nice right-turning vortex.
Yesterday, I arrived home (flying from Kathmandu, via Abu Dhabi, to Amsterdam) where a large crowd of family and friends welcomed me at Schiphol airport !
Again, I’d like to thank everybody who sent messages via the satphone (I received more than 150 !), via the website (100+), by email (200+), or Facebook (I lost count….). You can hardly imagine how important all this support has been to keep me motivated, especially when Ulrich and Ciprian had left. THANKS !!!
After two days travelling through the Tibetan Highlands from EBC to Lhasa, I have arrived in Kathmandu today. So I’m no longer suffering from the Chinese restrictions on Facebook, Google, and even this webiste (the Chinese blocked my updating, so my oldest son took care of that whenever I sent information by whatsapp or satphone, but typing on a smartphone screen whilst driving a 4WD in the Tibetan highlands did not prove very effective…). Anyhow, I’m safely back in civilisation now with unlimited access to food which is not unimportant as there is quite a bit less of me than when I started since I lost about 12 kg of body weight.
Some of you asked for an account of the summit climb.
Basically, after the talk of the leader of the rope-fixing team with Namgya and Norbu, we were pretty sure they would finish the final stretch on May 19th. Namgya had told Dawa and Pasang to go up with me on the 17th for a summit attempt at the 20th. However, talking around, I realised that about 120 climbers/sherpas would go to North Col on the 17th, and only about 30 climbers/sherpas on the 18th. I did not understand why Dawa and Pasang were not too enthusiastic for the 18th until I realised they had been given ‘marching orders’ by Namgya. So, I called Namgya on the satphone and he fully agreed: “you’re on the mountain, it’s your choice”. In the end, this appeared to be a very good choice as not only was the weather better on the 21st but there were indeed far less people on the mountain as well.
We left the 18th for the North Col (7.1 km), which was a fairly straightforward climb as there was much more snow than before. I slept with Dawa in the tent we had previously set up, which was quite a challenge as the tent was stocked with supplies and other tents etc. Next morning (19 may) we climbed over the long snow slopes to Camp 2 (7.8 km). We progressed steadily, but unfortunately it started snowing and there was a very hard wind which made it very difficult to reach the tent as Camp 2 is scattered over quite a big area since there are very few flat places where you can put up a tent. Nevertheless, we arrived and after have cooked dinner went immediately to sleep to have a good rest for the climb to High Camp next day. I was slightly scared that the bad weather would persists, but fortunately the forecast held and the winds became much less and it stopped snowing.
Next morning we climbed, in good weather, and in very variable terrain, with rocks and ice, to High Camp (8.3 km), where we arrived around noon. High Camp is again scattered over a rather vast area because there are few places suitable for setting up a tent. It’s a ghastly place, full of remains ot tents blown apart by the strong winds, the frozen bodies of climbers who did not make it, empty gas cylinders etc., and human waste… We tried to sleep and eat until we left at 21:30 h for the summit. Pasang took the lead and we passed half a dozen teams that had left before us and then there seemed to be nobody in front of us…
Only when we stopped at ‘Mushroom Rock’ I realised that we had already climbed the 1st Step, at 8550 m. The 2nd Step, at 8625 m, cannot be missed with its ladders, but was not too difficult either. The 3rd Step, at 8700 m, however, was quite a challenge. I actually broke out a big boulder of it as I rather use the rock itself than the rope to pull myself up and quite a big block become loose when I tried to pull myself up on it and Andrea later kicked it out when she stepped on it. In fact, the famous steps are probably not the most challenging part of the climb, I think it’s rather the many traverses on very small ledges, which most of the time are not flat but are under an angle of up to 45 degrees or more, over very deep voids of several hundred meters. They evoked deep respect for the Chinese rope-fixers: these guys are real heroes and superb climbers to fix the ropes in such places. Moreover, I developed strong doubts whether Mallory and Irvine have been able to climb this in 1924. With the gear and equipment they had available at the time it seems very unlikely they would have been able to climb these traverses unless there was an enormous amount of snow.
However, after the 3rd Step, it was rather easy to climb to the summit, where we arrived at 3:45 h (Nepali time). We set an excellent time (6 h and 15 min from Camp 3 to Summit) but arrived in the dark, well before sunrise.
There were a couple of climbers from the South, but they did not stay long. It was rather windy and cold. Taking photo’s proved difficult (the lens froze and batteries don’t like the cold) and we moved down after about 20 minutes. At 4:15 h we were sufficiently far down to let Namgya know by radio we had made it. We then quickly moved down to High Camp, and subsequently all the way to ABC. Funny enough, we passed many teams that had summitted the day before on our way down. In addition, we had two rescue operations. The first was just above North Col. When we went down from Camp 2 to North Col, the weather deteriorated fast and when we were about at 7.5 km, there was a complete white out. Just before the point where the slope goes up again before Camp 1, an American fell and strained/twisted/broke his ankle so that he was unable to walk. There was chaos with half a dozen people trying to do something when we arrived. Dawa immediately took over the situation and got the guy to the camp at North Col. About two hours later, when we were descending the face of the North Col, one of the Indians fell in a crevasse. Although attached to the rope, he could not rescue himself since he had given all (!) his gear to his sherpa. Nurbu got him out with a Flaschenzug. All together this took quite some time, nevertheless we all arrived safely in ABC around 20:15 h.
The next day, Andrea, Norbu and myself descended to EBC. Dawa and Pasang went back to collect material at North Col and followed a day later.
Back in EBC, we heard good and bad news. The good news being that Jaco Ottink (a colleague of my brother) had summited from the South side on May 13th (making him the 9th Dutch Seven Summitteer). The sad news that Eric Arnold, after summitting from the South side, had passed away in his sleep on the South Col. Eric and I started our Everest attempts both in 2012 from the South and we actually met in the Cwm in 2012 on our way to ABC there. It’s really sad he cannot enjoy his final success to climb the top of the world.