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I think he said he didn't like papery rainsuit I was using, and he frowned at my homemade ski mask. When he saw my insulating vest, a feathery piece of poly batting with a hole cut in it for my head, I just pretended not to understand what he was saying.
I hadn't intended to go climb Chimborazo with such lightweight gear, but I'd come to Ecuador on a courier flight, and could bring only carry-on luggage. I had12 pounds in my pack to begin with, so by time I put on all my clothes that night, weight on my back was irrelevant. The weight of my body, however, wasn't. Paco had to coax me up that mountain.
Hiking On Glaciers
The glaciers start near hut, and hiking became mountaineering. I put on crampons for second time in my life (there was that sledding hill). During one of my many breaks ("Demasiado" - too many, which I pretended not to understand), I noticed my tiny, cheap thermometer had bottomed out at 5 degrees fahrenheit. I wasn't cold, but I was exhausted at times - times when I moved. When I sat still I felt like I could run right up that hill.
We struggled (okay, I struggled) up Mount Chimborazo, hiking, climbing, jumping crevasses, until I quit at 20,000 feet. Of course I had quit at 19,000 feet, and at 18,000 feet. Quitting had become my routine. Lying had become Paco's, so he told me straight-faced that summit was only fifty feet higher. I wanted to believe him, or lack of oxygen had scrambled my brain. I started up ice again.
The Summit of Mount Chimborazo
We stumbled onto summit at dawn. Well, okay, I stumbled. Paco, who seemed slow and tired down at refuge, was energetic at 20,600 feet. Dirtbag Joe, a nineteen-year-old kid from California with ten bucks in his pocket, borrowed equipment, and my Ramen noodles in his stomach, was waiting for us, smiling.
The sky was a stunning shade of blue you can never see at lower elevations. Cotapaxi, a classic snow-covered volcano, was clearly visible 70 miles away. We enjoyed view for a few minutes.
Handshakes all around, and it was time to head down. I was told you don't want to be on Chimborazo when she wakes up. She wakes up at nine a.m.
Paco kept looking at his watch and frowning. He got further and further ahead, like he planned to abandon me on mountain. When I finally caught up, at hut at nine a.m., I heard rocks falling out of ice above as sun warmed it. Now I understood - we really did need to get down by nine. A thousand feet lower my mountain climbing adventure ended with a photograph that mercifully can't show my shaking knees.
To climb Mount Chimborazo, it's cheapest to wait until you get to Ecuador to make arrangements. Talk to almost any hotel manager in Riobamba, and he or she will find a guide for you. It's also cheaper if you're part of a group.
Steve Gillman is a long-time backpacker, and advocate of ultralight backpacking. His advice and stories can be found at http://www.TheBackpackingSite.com