Atop Chimborazo: A Journey to 20,600 Feet - Trip Report

Elliot Epstein
January 15, 2024

Short Summary

Here I will outline my experience climbing Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador. The short summary is as follows:

  • Day 0 (December 19): Arrive in Quito.
  • Day 1: Take a bus to Riobamba to Quito, rent gear and head to the Chimborazo base camp at 3800 m. Do acclimatization hike to 4300 m.
  • Day 2: Take a car to 4800 m, do acclimatization hike to 5250 m, sleep again at base camp.
  • Day 3: Take a car to 4800 m, hike to high camp at 5300 m, get dinner at high camp and "sleep" in the high camp.
  • Day 4: Wake up at 11pm, start climbing at 12am, summit (6268 m / 20564 ft) at 5:40am, back to high camp at 9am, back to base camp at 12pm, back to Riobamba at 2pm.
  • Day 5: Recover in Riobamba (2700 m).


To climb a mountain over 5000 meters in Ecuador, you are required by law to have a guide. I chose to climb with Ecuador Eco Adventures, I paid around 700 dollars for all the accommodation, meals, gear, and guides for the 4 day climb. They had a lot of decent gear that was free to borrow for the climb, which was very useful.

Day 0: Arrive in Quito

I arrived one day before heading to Chimborazo to become a bit more acclimatized before heading to higher elevation, as Quito is already at 2500 m. As I walked the streets of Quito I was amazed at how cheap everything was compared to the Bay Area. There were street food stalls where you could buy a meal for $1.00 and I payed $7.00 (!) for a night in a basic but decent hotel.

Day 1: Travel to Base Camp and Acclimatization Hike

After taking the bus from Quito to Riobamba in the morning, I picked up the gear from Wlady, the director of Ecuador Eco Adventures, and then took a car with a fellow climber named Robo, also from California, to the base camp at 3800 m. The base camp was a collection of small buildings along with a slightly larger building that served as a kitchen. We had a nice lunch and then went on a short hike to 4300 m to get some acclimatization. During dinner, I met several other climbers, who had elected to try to climb the mountain in 2 days, instead of 4, which is the standard. I am glad I had picked the longer acclimatization as none of the climbers on the 2 day plan made it to the summit. During the dinner I also met Daniel, an Aussie working with sales at AWS, who would summit the same day as me. We ended up climbing and preparing together for the hike.

Two llamas, one dog, me, and Chimborazo from the base camp (3800m)
Two llamas, one dog, me, and Chimborazo from the base camp (3800 m).

Day 2: Acclimatization Hike to 5250 m

At Chimborazo, we were lucky that it was possible to drive up to 4800 m, to the Carrell refuge. We set out on an acclimatization hike, and the path we took was very steep and covered in scree. We saw several warning signs for rockfall, and before long we saw several small rock falls. At an open area just below a very steep section, very suddenly we heard a loud noise, and we saw 6-8 large boulders the size of a human coming tumbling down the mountain right in our direction. Daniel and the french guy we were hiking with were a bit behind me and found a huge bould to hide behind. I was in the open, and I prepared myself to dodge the rocks as they were coming down. Luckily, the rocks stopped tumbling down some 50-100 meters before they reached us. This, along with the increasing steepness, and ice on the path (and we didn't bring crampons for this hike), made us turn around at around 5250 m for the day. This was still great, as we had reached the altitude of the high camp, and we had a decent idea of what to expect for the summit push.

The path was icy and steep where we decided to turn around for the acclimatization hike
The path was icy and steep where we decided to turn around for the acclimatization hike.

Day 3: Acclimatization Hike to 5250 m

After a half day of rest, we drove up to the Carrell Refuge again at 4800 m and started the push towards the high camp at 5300 meters, with all our gear for the summit. The extra weight of the sleeping bag, ice ax, mountain shoes, and crampons made a big difference. A bit less than two hours later we arrived at the high camp, after a strenuous hike. The camp consisted of 3 tents, 2 for sleeping and 1 for dining. There was also a small toilet "building".

At dinner, we met the 3 other climbers who were heading to the summit that night. Seeing the other people who were going to the summit made me realize that this was a serious mountain. One of the other climbers had summited both Everest and K2, and during the dinner he told us a story on how he lost two of his fingers due to frostbite on the summit of K2. There was also one climber from Germany, who had also been on 8000 m peaks before. I hardly had any appetite, but I forced myself to eat as much as I could.

At 6pm, it was time to go to bed. My pulse was very high, and it was totally impossible to fall asleep.

When we arrived at the high camp, it was covered in fog.
When we arrived at the high camp, it was covered in fog.

Day 4: Summit Push

During the night, I had not slept at all, so I was excited when I checked the phone to find out that it was almost 11pm, the time to go up! I got dressed quickly and went into the dining tent. My appetite was very weak but I had to get energy, so I had hot water and continually added a huge amount of sugar, this went down well. I tried to drink as much of this as I could. I also added sugar to my water bottle. I thought I would be able to eat some chocolate, or bread, but the appetite was just not there. In hindsight, it would have been good to have brought some energy gels or other food I knew I could eat at altitude.

At 12:10am, me, my guide Willie, Daniel and his guide started the long hike towards the summit from the high camp. We were all in good spirits as we started towards the top. The first few hundred altitude meters were at a good pace of over 200 m altitude gain per hour. This section was also less steep. My plan to get to the top was to keep a slow but steady pace and take a minimal amount of breaks. After a short section with a more technical scrambling, we soon reached the glacier.

From this point onwards to the top, my pulse was constantly very high, I would approximate around 180 and breathing became harder and harder. On the more steep sections (50 degree angle) I would take 2 quick steps, take three large breaths, and then take another 2 steps, and so on. We made really good progress, and we reached the false summit (6228 m) at 4:45am. From here, it would normally be 30 minutes to the true summit. However, as it was in full darkness, we decided to slow down the pace to get a chance to catch the sunrise on the true summit. We walked as slow as we could without getting cold. At 5:40, me and my guide Willie were the first group to reach the summit. The sun was just starting to rise and we could see the headlamps of Daniel and his guide coming closer. Before long, Daniel was also on the summit. We took a few awesome drone shots before starting to head down again.

We left the high camp (5300m) at 12:10am to push for the summit in great spirits
We left the high camp (5300 m) at 12:10am to push for the summit in great spirits.
On the summit of Chimborazo at 6268m altitude
On the summit of Chimborazo at 6268 m altitude.

Day 4: Descent

The descent faced very different challenges from the ascent, with several events that were potentially dangerous. As I had almost not slept at all the night before, I started getting tired. I tried hard to not take any breaks, as I knew that sitting down would make the tiredness kick in even more. One of the toughest parts was to keep focused during the descent on the glacier. Climbing up in the dark, I had perhaps not realized how exposed the glacier was.

At 6:30am, on the middle of a steep slope on the way down, an old wake up alarm went off on my phone. Despite the exposed position, I took the phone out and turned off the alarm. However, in the process of doing this, I took off my mittens and placed them between my legs. As I put the phone back, one of the mittens fell and started plummeting down the steep glacier. There was no way to retrieve the gloves, and they were soon out of sight. I luckily had an extra pair of thick gloves that I had brought as a reserve. I put these on instead. I realized that this could have been a much more severe event if it would have been more windy and if I didn't pack spare gloves to the top.

So far on the way down, I had not been drinking much. In total, I started out the climb towards the top from base camp with around 1 liter of water and 0.75 liters of Gatorade, given advice from my guide to bring "At max two liters of water". However, around half way down I realized that most of my remaining water had frozen to ice! I had kept both my water bottles in the outside pockets of my bag. Looking back, having at least one of them inside the bag could have been good (however, given how exposed the upper slopes of the mountain was, it was hard to find good places to safely take off the bag). As soon as I realized this, I also got more thirsty. I tried to save the water left and only drink when necessary. The upside to this was that my pack was light and I could make fast progress.

Two more near misses happened on the way down. I had borrowed a pair of crampons with decent but not great quality. This, combined with my exhaustion, caused me to touch the crampon binding of my right foot with my left foot while descending. This made the binding come loose, and on two occasions, the right crampon detached from my shoe. Luckily, both times I noticed it right away, before stepping again, so I was able to safely put the crampons back on. The second time was on exposed glacier, it's likely that if I would have stepped without noticing that the crampons had come off, the crampon would have slid down the face of the steep 45 degree glacier. This would have made the descent much more dangerous. I had taken very few breaks on the way down so far, but once I sat down at around 5700 m I could feel that I was extremely tired from not sleeping at all the previous night. Finally, we came down to the end of the glacier, and I regained energy. After what felt like a very long time me and Wille saw the tents in the high camp.

A crevasse we passed on the way down from the summit
A crevasse we passed on the way down from the summit.
By the end of the summit glacier
By the end of the summit glacier.

Back in high camp, 8:40am

The first thing I did was drink around a liter of water. It felt great to be back in the high camp, but I dreaded the long hike down to the Carrell refuge at 4800 m that was ahead of us. I was still unable to eat, and I felt that I was getting a bit weaker. After packing up the gear, we started the hike down at 10am. When back in the refuge, we soon departed for the base camp to get our belongings before heading down to Riobamba in the afternoon. When I arrived at the hotel in Riobamba, I realized that I was not just tired and hungry, but I was in fact also sick. This got better after a few days, and I was able to greatly enjoy a trip to the Amazon rainforest that I had planned for the days after the climb.