This day will go down in my memory bank as one of the best of my entire life. No exaggeration! I’m not even certain where to begin…. it’s actually tomorrow (well, it’s today, but this is about yesterday, so really it’s tomorrow) as I type this…. I confuse easily these days, so just stay with me here, folks!
We left Riobamba in great spirits after having had a full night’s rest — high fives for no Karaoke Bars! Joaquin hit it out of the park with our hostel; it was quiet and comfortable! I have to say our decision to hire him for the first part of our adventure was indeed the right one. We have learned and experienced more and on a much deeper level than we would have had we been solo-swinging it — which is coming up shortly, and yes, I’m freaking out about that. The Gong Show heads to Peru on Saturday via a 39 hour bus ride. Gulp!
Here’s a great shot of Joaquin Andino. He is an Ecuadorian mountaineering guide I met with Berg Adventures in November when I came here to climb. At the time, we had chatted about the idea of my family hiring him privately but it was one of those things that you might say but not ever do. Well, we did it and I’m so glad!!! This man has put up with us Canadians for 2 weeks now and he’s still smiling. We are so grateful for his wisdom, patience and openness with us.
Following breakfast we piled into the Prado to head to a very sacred and special place. I’ve been waiting for this day for so long!!! The mountain is called Chimborazo, named the same as the province it’s in. It is Ecuador’s highest mountain at an altitude of 6,350M or 20,500 ft (approximately). I attempted to climb this massive beast in November with Berg Adventures, and my guide was none other than Joaquin. Luck was not on our side in the Fall, as there was very little snowfall on the lower part of the mountain. The snow is what acts as a glue to hold the rocks together and prevent them from falling. As we had climbed in the middle of the night up towards the glacier, we found ourselves in the middle of a rock fall and had no choice but to turn around for safety reasons. Alas, the mountain had spoken. But to be heading to this extraordinary place — at an elevation that is technically higher than Mount Everest due to the equatorial bulge in the centre of the earth — with my family in tow was what moved me to actual tears. I’ve been very blessed to have the most supportive family ever, especially Alvi, encouraging me to indulge in this crazy thing called mountain climbing. Yet when you try to show pictures and describe what you saw, felt, experienced, lived through, it’s nearly impossible — unless you come see for yourself. The altitude alone is epic in and of itself. One must be VERY acclimatized to attempt to come visit this mountain. At the highest we trekked to — an altitude of 16,100 ft — the air is 1/3 what it is at sea level… which is where we live. I’ll write some more on this in a moment.
Once we got to the initial entrance to Chimborazo — it’s a national park — we could feel the wind whipping around us and the altitude was noticeable already at 14,500 feet. We made a quick pit stop as Joaquin had encouraged us all to drink a lot of water in order to stay better acclimated. We then drove up to the first hut where myself and the Berg team had spent the night prior to our climb back in November. When we got there, were were almost at 15,000 ft. Adrenaline alone was keeping us all excited and eager, but there was a nervous, almost cautionary feeling in the pit of my stomach. Was it safe for me to bring the kids this high? What about Alvi and his carbon-fibre aortic valve? Was this selfish on my part? Everyone seemed ok until we started our trek, and with just the first few steps under our belts, Piper almost passed out. Everything went black for her and she proceeded to lie on the ground. I knew exactly how she felt and was worried. We halted the operation to a stand-still and brought her inside the hut, ever so gently and slowly, to see if it would pass. She was a real trooper… I have to say. Feeling overwhelmed and scared over her body’s reaction, she decided a lot of it was mind over matter, drank some tea, stripped off most of her outer gear and took half hour to recollect herself. At the same time, I was noticing Alvi who said he felt fine, but he was white as a sheet — almost grey-like and I began to silently freak out. Maybe we should go down? Maybe this was the world’s dumbest idea? These people have never been higher than the altitude of Whistler, B.C., summit of which sits at 7,000 feet. Saffy was in her glory because she got to eat a Snickers Bar and a doughnut. I took inventory of my own internal workings at this elevation and decided all systems were “a go”.
And so, off we went! Now, please understand this was NOT a climb lol. Not by my standards! But for my family, it was an incredible victory. Piper pulled herself together and we moved in almost slow motion up to 16,100 ft where Wymper Hut sits — the furthest you could stay on the mountain before making a go of the summit. The trek itself was not difficult at all — the challenge was the altitude. Saffy complained the ENTIRE TIME about growing pains and her legs hurting. At one point, she was walking like she was drunk and though she proclaimed to feel nothing (when it came to the altitude) she was acting like she had just consumed tequila lol. I played every game in the book to try and keep her motivated, including but not limited to the infamous bribery trick (“if you just hang in there, we’ll get you a new game!” <stellar parenting, I blame the altitude>) and then the more realistic “there are doritos available at the top hut! Let’s just keep on going!!!” She caught on when I implemented the age-old “distraction” technique and asked her to explain to me all the characters she had created in her latest fave video game. “MOM, YOU KNOW I’VE NEVER BEEN A WALKER!!!” she urged. And then, “I’M ONTO YOU! I KNOW YOU’RE JUST TRYING TO DISTRACT ME!!!”
I hung back every now and then to check on Piper who was doing such a great job. I taught her the “rest step” technique I have used on my mountain climbs and she seemed to get into a real groove. And Alvi was amazing. Though he had a headache and felt light-headed, he was so very proud of himself for making it to the top hut and reaching that altitude in one piece. In fact, once we all got there, my heart was bursting with both pride and joy. I tried to explain to everyone that having them get to feel a little piece of what I went through meant more than anything in the world. I think they understood….
After being on the mountain for several hours and having fuelled up with some hot tea and soup at the first hut, we began our descent back down in the Prado. We all left with positive, individual impressions of this sacred mountain; but shared in the pride of having down something cool as a family. In the car, Joaquin put his Top Tracks on, and Neil Young’s Harvest Moon — which is a favourite song of mine — came on. I could not help be overwhelmed with emotion, firmly implanting this memory in my heart and mind forever. I don’t think anybody saw the tears streaming down my cheeks, but they were there. It made me feel so good to have shared this with the people I love more than anything…. And now, we head down to 5,800 feet where Baños sits, as do some well-deserved hot springs!!!