No, I did not climb Everest. I have summited Mount Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador:
(I try to use only my pics on this blog, but the mountain was shrouded in clouds while I was there, so I have stolen this pic from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chimborazo_seen_from_highway.jpg, forgive me)
Relative to sea level, of course, Mount Everest is much higher. But, the Earth is not a perfect sphere. It has a bulge around the middle. And, Chimborazo lies near the equator. So, relative to the centre of the Earth, Chimborazo is actually 2000m higher than Everest! This same bulge makes the summit of Chimborazo the closest place on Earth to the Sun. And now I have been there. If none of these makes sense, check out this diagram which I have borrowed from http://www.summitpost.org/mountain/rock/150349/chimborazo.html. (Incidentally, this diagram also includes Mount Rainier, for the Seattle readers.)
All this geometric trickery aside, getting to the summit of Chimborazo is no easy task. It is damn high: 6,310 metres (20,823 feet for my imperial friends). I have broken through the 6,000m barrier for the first time. For those of you who have never climbed this high, let me tell you what it is like up there: it sucks.
At this altitude, there is about half the oxygen compared to sea level. Given how key oxygen is for us humans, this makes things difficult, as you might imagine. Breathing is hard. Actually, everything is hard! Each step is a monumental feat. Plus, you probably have some altitude sickness, likely in the form of the most painful headache you have ever had. And, you are suffering from nausea. You have climbed through the night, so you are dead tired. Plus, it is freaking cold up there. Your legs hurt from climbing uphill for hours. Your feet hurt from those plastic mountaineering boots. The altitude makes everything taste like crap, and you feel sick so you don´t want to eat, but you need to put stuff down your throat to provide the large amount of energy you need. You don´t feel like drinking either, but you need to get some water down, too, as the altitude is dehydrating you at a record pace.
Basically, you feel like shit. I think mountaineering is an exercise in being miserable.
I am not selling this high-altitude-mountaineering thing well, but it has 3 things going for it: the views from up there are incredible, the air is the cleanest your lungs will likely ever breath, and the sense of accomplishment of summiting is intoxicating. I think everyone should try it one time.
Plus, I like the feeling after I am down. I like how the food and the beer tastes. At that point, it is fun to reminisce about the climb. As my past occassional climbing partner Buddy Betts once said, “Mountaineering is fun in retrospect.”
I should tell you about my climbing team. I am pretty sure my guide, Edgar, is not human. This man´s strength is ridiculous. I should have checked him for a pulse. His nephew, Diego, also a guide, joined us. The other client in the group, Marit from Norway, is a serious mountain/rock/ice climber who is travelling around South America with all her mountaineering gear, bagging big mountains. She also does some guiding in Norway. So, the group is made up of 3 guides and me :) I may not be a great climber, but do I know how to assemble a kick-ass team, or what?!
As usual, I am representing the hockey-guy-from-Cornwall-Ontario-never-even-hiked–near-a-mountain-until-my-mid-twenties demographic. Obviously, there are not many from this group of people who do things like tackle 6,310m mountains, but this never stops me from getting in over my head, as I often do. It’s something I am quite good at.
A few logistical details for the climbers out there. Marit and I spent 3 days acclimatizing at the highest indigenous village in Ecuador, at 3800m. Each day we would hike up to about 4500m or so. Next, we joined our guides and drove up to 4800m (how crazy is Ecuador, where you can drive up to that altitude!!). We climbed up 200m to the climber’s hut at 5,000m. I tried to sleep for few hours, but no dice. At 11pm, we donned our crampons and headlamps, grabbed our ice axes, and began our 8 hour climb to the summit. We reached the top around 7am. We slogged back down and arrived at the hut around 11am. Victory. There was no other climbing team on the mountain that day. We had all 6,310 m of it to ourselves!
I wish I had more pics, but I was too tired to get my camera out most of the time. Here are a few:
At the summit. From left to right: myself, Guide Edgar, and Marit. Behind the camera is Diego. This spot right here is the closest to the sun on the planet. Check out my rented down parka. I think it is from the 70s. I affectionately called it “Big Blue.” (pic from Diego)
At the false summit. In the distance is the true summit. At this point, I feel like puking.
Reaching the false summit. In the foreground is Marit, then me, then Diego. False summits are mountaineering´s version of a cruel joke. (pic from Edgar)Thanks for reading my baloney. Talk soon.