Thursday, February 2, 2017

2017 Ecuador Cayambe/Antisana Skills Expedition (January 20 - February 3) - Dispatch 11

February 1st Dispatch

Climbers: Rod Lloyd Williams, Sean Mcllvenna, Ben Veres

Guide: Jeremy Devine

(From Jeremy)

We left at 11:25pm, last night, for our summit attempt of Chimborazo.  We made it through the initial climb above the Castillo (castle) at 1:00am. Continuing above there we encountered some wind, but it was not as bad as we had been experiencing earlier in the trip.

At 4:00am Rod and I reached 18,700 feet and decided to turn around.  Shortly after that the other two climbing teams, which were higher on the mountain, checked-in and let us know that they were finding poor snow conditions.

The mountain had received a lot of snow in the past couple weeks, and it had metamorphosed into a crust layer a couple inches thick.  Under the crust they found a foot or more of light fluffy snow, and below that there was a layer of large graupel [soft hail or snow pellets].  The breakable crust made movement difficult and the combination of layers meant the avalanche was not as low as we wanted it, so the entire team decided to descend.

We were all back at the hut by 6:30am and were very tired from our efforts.  It was a unanimous and quick decision by the group to head to Baños today and not make another summit attempt on Thursday.  It was clear to us that avalanche conditions were not going to change overnight.

It’s extremely unusual to have this kind of snowpack at this time of year (which is the middle of the prime climbing season), but you always have to accept and deal with what the mountains present to you whenever you go.  You can never let yourself be deceived or let your desires for completing a climb trick you into making decisions on the basis of what conditions at a particular time “ought to be.”  In this case, the mountain wasn’t ready for us, and we accept that.

Thanks to everyone on the early section of this expedition for helping our Chimborazo team prep and acclimatize for this final objective. Our highest elevation reached today was Franklin and Ben's team at 19,450 feet.

We are now relaxing in the semi-tropical down of Baños.  We’ve dropped down to about 6000 feet here, and though that’s a lot higher than the Amazon Basin, we’re at its geographical edge, and the climate is dramatically different from Ecuador’s central valley system.

I should note that everyone appreciates that there are palm trees here – a fun contrast to the alpine and sub-alpine environments in which we’ve been climbing. We’ll enjoy another day here and return to Quito on Friday.

It’s been a great trip and we’ve really enjoyed each other’s company, the climbing, the many beauties of Ecuador, and – don’t let me forget – the great food!

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