Hiking and biking on Chimborazo

Trip Start May 05, 2013
1
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Trip End Nov 06, 2013


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What I did
Chimborazo

Flag of Ecuador  , Chimborazo,
Sunday, June 16, 2013

We had heard conflicting reports of Riobamba, some people love it, others seem to be ambivalent. We liked it. We booked into Hostal Tren Dorado for a couple of nights, which as the name implies, is right next to the train station. Unfortunately the train to the famous " Nariz del Diablo" hasn't run from here for a couple of years as the track is being repaired ( it now runs from Aluasi). As a result there are few visitors to the town and the tourism industry is suffering. We are the only people in the Hostal which probably has a maximum capacity of 40 guests!

We wander around the city centre and explore the markets and squares and it seems a very relaxed kind of place, much less frenetic than some others we have stayed. As it is a nice sunny day we get tantalising glimpse of Volcano Chimborazo which, at 6300m is the highest mountain in Ecuador, the peak of which is allegedly a couple of metres higher than Everest when measured from the centre of the earth?

After lunching on the roast pork for which Riobamba is renowned, we set off in search of a biking company called "Biking Spirit" which, our guide book tells us is just around he corner from our hotel. Unfortunately, despite being dated 2011 our guide book is already way out of date as we later find out that they moved five years ago! A little online research and we find the phone number and call the guy and arrange a trip to Chimborazo for the following day.

Their correct contact information is on their very good website: 
 
http://bikingspirit.com/2013/index.php/en/
 
Edison, the owner and a dead ringer for Robert Downey Junior, picks us up in his 4WD at 8.00am sharp and off we go to Chimborazo. The drive there takes around 90 mins and we pass through the suburbs of Riobamba ( which is bigger than we thought), through the outlying villages and then rising into the Paramo (moorlands). We continue ever upwards, passing into the altiplano where there is little or no human habitation, indeed, the only signs of life are alpacas and vicuņas. Eventually we reach the ranger station at he entrance to the Chiborazo NP, stop for a break, and then continue on ever upwards along gravel and sand tracks until finally we reach Hermanos Carrel refuge at 4800 m. Here we take a break for some coca tea to help with the altitude (illegal in Ecuador, they have to import it from Columbia)

After, our coca tea break we set off on foot to the Whymper refuge, which is where the mountaineers ascending to the peaks spend the night before their final ascent. We chat with the man that looks after the refuge who tells us that he spends two weeks at a time here looking after the place before going back home for a week at a time. A lonely existence in the quiet season!

We set off on the climb to the Whymper refuge, named after the English mountaineer who first ascended to the peak. It is only 1 km away and a 200m increase in altitude to 5000m but it is hard going. Another group is making the ascent at the same time and some of them decide to turn back after a short distance with the altitude taking its toll. Edison tells us that it normally takes 45 mins for this ascent but it seems like forever. Eventually, we do make it to the refuge and Edison tells us we managed it in 38 mins which apparently is pretty good going. Either we are getting fitter, more used to the altitude, or both. Either way, it is and amazing feeling to have made it and the views are simply wonderful!

The return journey takes a mere 15 minutes and we are back at the lower refugio and Edison is setting up our bikes. Biking Spirit sensibly offers three options when it comes to routes back down the volcano depending upon experience and, I suppose, desire for an adrenaline rush. We choose the middle option of around 36 kms., of which 8kms. is on Tarmac the rest on dirt tracks. As we will find out later, a proportion is uphill as well as down!

Our only experience of mountain biking is around the gently rolling farm land around our home in England. Carolyn's brother John is an adrenaline junkie and a very keen mountain biker so I am keen to see what all the fuss is about. It doesn't take long to find out!

The first section of the route back is around 8kms back down to the NP entrance zig zagging down the dirt track which in places has been corrugated by the effects of the wind and feels what is perhaps best described as like siting on top of a pneumatic drill! We soon learn to avoid the worst patches when we can.. As the road winds back down the mountain the wind gets quite strong and blows sand into our faces which stings a bit at times (now understand why we were told to bring sunglasses). After 20 mins or so we are back at the park entrance and we are yet to actually pedal our bikes. A huge thrill and I can now see why my brother in law is hooked.

The next section of the route is on nice smooth Tarmac and takes us down through the altiplano and paramo whizzing past the alpacas and vicuņas along the way. This is really smooth cycling and although we are going downhill, we still have to pedal away quite hard to keep going when the wind is against us. We stop briefly for some water at a big gorge part way down and just marvel at the wonderful scenery. We continue on down until we reach the point where we leave the road again to head uphill on a dirt track. We are still at high altitude, maybe 3600 m so this is really, really hard work partly beacause of the altitude but also because we are trying to ride through volcanic sand (imagine trying to ride along a beach uphill and you will get a general idea!). We carry on, at times pushing our bikes through the worst bits but the views make it all worthwhile. After what seems like forever, we come to the end of the uphill sections through the paramo and come to a crossroads from where it is all downhill through the villages. Edison warns us to go carefully through the villages, partly because the many dogs like to chase cyclists and partly because it is Sunday afternoon when most of the villagers will be busy getting drip ink on Chicha ( beer made by chewing corn, spitting it into a bucket, topping up with water and leaving it to ferment - sound nice? It certainly didn't look appetising! We pass through a few of these villages managing to avoid the drunk pedestrians and eventually, 35kms later, we arrive back in a small village which is just packing up after its fiesta. For a small village they have clearly been doing a lot of celebrating!

We load the bikes back onto the 4WD and, completely exhausted, head back to Riobamba, totally understanding why brother in law John is addicted to mountain biking. Death Road in Bolivia, here we come... maybe...
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Comments

Debbe on

I am really enjoying your posts. I think that we will attempt that bike trip as well. (live42day-Fodors)

Stephanie Harrison on

thank you for your fantastic stories. It is giving me inspiration for my trip to Ecuador in 2015. The bike ride looks great but a bit scary.

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