Be Better

#Chimborazo2015 Expedition Post 10: Gill’s Blog - Summit night and the birth of Las Chicas

Published on October, 22nd 2015
By Greg Wells

Around the Chimborazo Lodge, Sara and I became known as Las Chicas – The Girls. The only ones who made it. Apparently, when our guide Paül radioed the other teams to tell them we made it to the summit, the response was just laughter. The other guides, the other climbers, the kitchen boys – everyone thought it was the most incredible thing, the dark horses, a total long shot. We surprised the hell out of everyone else staying and working at the climbing lodge. In fact, the only two people not surprised by it were the two of us. There was never any talk of turning around, not making it, being too tired, too thirsty, too cold. Every break was a pep talk, and while we moved, the only direction you looked was up. It took us between 8-9 h to climb ~1.5 km vertical from 4800 m to 6300 m and not a single minute was easy (or even moderate). My heart beat 108, 042 times to get us up and down that mountain and averaged 140 bpm for 14 h. I burned over 4000 calories, which somehow outweighs all of the chocolate I ate to fuel myself (like that ever entered into my decision making…).


So it’s now been about 2 days since Sara and I made it to the top of Chimborazo. In hindsight, we’re both so proud of making it up. This was not a lock – the success rate (averaged over the whole year) is about 30% and the conditions in dry season are the most challenging with pedetentes (~1 m high snow/ice drifts) covering the whole glacier. So from ~5700 m to 6300 m you are basically scrambling on hands and knees in a very inelegant form, digging your ice axe and crampons into any surface you can gain any stability from. Also, the steepness ranges from about 45% incline at the beginning of the glacier to about 60% as you approach the summit. The glacier alone took us 4 hours, probably 10 intentional breaks (many sort of incidental), and many, many, many swears (most of them inside your head because you really can’t spare the energy). It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and possibly will ever do, and I’m so proud we made it to the top. Sure, it might have been worthwhile to do a quick Google search of anything with the word “Chimborazo” in it to see what we were actually getting ourselves into (having climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, I figured it would be the same but a little higher – I was so completely wrong). But anyway, all is well that ends well, right?


For anyone contemplating attempting this mountain, here are the play by play highlights:

Around 5000 m, the sky cleared and we could see the stars so clearly – they looked like I had needed glasses my whole life and finally had a prescription.

Around 5700 m, after exhaustively making our way through extremely variable ice terrain, Sara asked how much longer to the top – the guide said 4 hours. Sara was not happy. Roughly at this same time, I started my Chimborazo catch phrase: “this is REALLY hard”.

Around 5800 m, upon seeing what appeared to an iceberg in front of me, I asked “how do we go around that” – our guide replied “we go up”. My follow up question was “when does it get flatter”, he looked at me like he was going to tell me there was no Santa Claus and dropped the bomb that it only gets steeper. He was not joking. Not only did it get steeper but it also somehow got higher.

Around 6050 m, I noticed I had dropped my iPhone (it’s new) with all of our pictures, a lot of photos of equipment readings for the climb, and Strava tracking our GPS. I considered it a sacrifice to the mountain. At about this same time, I looked at Sara and noticed her lips were blue. Like blue, blue. Sickly blue. She told me so were mine. It’s a sign of what we call “cyanosis” or when your heart is recirculating deoxygenated blood. Generally, it is not considered performance enhancing on a climb. Despite this, it was about this time when the challenge wasn’t even about the altitude anymore, it was the mental exhaustion of pushing through the most challenging terrain that got more and more difficult with every meter increase in vertical progress we made.


From 6050-6300m (the top), I started to see green and grey packages under the ice. I thought it was very smart that they had GPS marked the trail for when they have more snow. When I remarked on this to Sara, it became clear that I was in fact hallucinating. These visual tricks on my mind continued for not only the climb to the top but the entire climb down in which many rocks were either tents, cars, or ladies selling goods. Not a single one of those ladies would give me a good deal on alpaca goods.

6300 m – The summit. In my head, I started wondering if I could actually make it after about 5 minutes on that glacier, so 3h and 55min of doubt was hard to push through. I’m extra pleased with us for not only making it up but actually still having the presence of mind (forget about the whole “hallucinations” thing for a second) and motivation to pull our the camera and do a couple of interviews and some testing. Of course the 70km/h winds froze the lactate analyzers and the pulse oximeter had a hard time measuring blood oxygen saturation of white fingers. But nonetheless, we got what we came for.


As a side note, not that this should matter but somehow it does: Sara and I were the only people to make it to the top since we arrived at Chimborazo Lodge and until we left (i.e. still nobody else has made it). We were the only group climbing that night, so for a few hours or at least several minutes, we were the three people (including our guide) that were the furthest away from the centre of the earth. It’s uncanny how it makes you feel so special and so insignificant at the same time, but there it is. A modest claim to fame for a little while anyway.

Can’t wait for the next limit crossing adventure Greg takes us on!

PS. I found my phone on the way down (in case the screen shots of Strava and equipment seemed to poke holes in my story). It was just sitting by a pedetente with ice frozen to it – it was on, still charging from the extra battery pack case on it, with no sign of a struggle. Technology is truly unbelievable.