Forget the Himalaya – for true bragging rights, head to the Andes, says Lyn Hughes
Thought Everest was the highest point on earth? Think again, because the world’s highest peak is in Ecuador – providing you measure from the centre of the earth, rather than from the surface. For here, at the equator, the planet bulges outwards, with the summit of Chimborazo being 6,384.4km from the Earth’s centre, while Everest is a mere 6,382.3km.
Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, 6,310m-high Chimborazo was thought to be the highest mountain in the world by any definition, making it far more famous than it is now. There were many unsuccessful attempts to climb it, until British climber Edward Whymper, along with the Carrel brothers, made it to the summit in 1880. No one believed him so he went back up it a few months later just to prove a point.
Situated at the southern end of the Avenue of the Volcanoes, Chimborazo is an inactive volcano that last erupted around 1,500 years ago. It’s a hulk of a mountain; the base covers around 20km, and the top is covered in ice and glaciers, although these have receded over the past decades. It’s still an important symbol in the Americas and features on the Ecuadorian coat of arms.
Chimborazo is called Taita – father – by local indigenous people, while a neighbouring inactive volcano, Carihuairazo, is Mama. Together, they form a reserve set up to preserve alpacas, llamas and, most importantly, vicuñas. Known for their fine wool, these shy and graceful camelids were hunted to extinction in Ecuador but were reintroduced in the 1980s. They can be seen today when exploring the park.
There is excellent walking and trekking in the area, and two refuges on the mountain itself: Carrel at 4,800m and Whymper at 5,000m. Rufty-tufty types who want to attempt to climb to the summit will need plenty of mountaineering experience, as well as a guide.
While on Chimborazo, you may see some of the glacial ice being mined by hieleros (the name comes from the Spanish for ice, hielo), to be sold in Riobamba. So, even if you don’t make it up the slopes of Chimborazo, perhaps you can track down some of its ice and drink a toast to the highest point on earth.
Have you visited Chimborazo, or even climbed it? Any other extreme mountain contenders you can think of? Tell us all about your experience on the Wanderlust forum