The two great volcanoes of

Chimborazo mountain

Mountains and Volcanos of Ecuador

Chimborazo became world famous when Humboldt mentioned that mountain in his memoirs as the highest mountain on Earth.

This erroneous information led many expeditions to attempt his conquest during the seventeenth and eighteenth century, until finally Whimper and the brothers Carrels succeeded to reach the summit in 1880.

The Chimborazo volcano is the highest mountain in Ecuador. It dominates the valley of San Andres.
A lot of different microclimates influence his clime, going from the humid mountain region of the Abraspungo valley to the desert area of the "Arenal".

This mountain is the last and highest elevation of the Western Cordillera of the Ecuadorian Andes. It is the center of the preserved "Fauna Production Reserve of Chimborazo". This is one of the coldest mountains of Ecuador, but due to general warming and the ash deposits from eruptions of the nearby active Tungurahua volcano, the snow layer is very thin or sometimes non-existent. Its glaciers are reducing.

Photo Yves Delrieux
General Information:

Its Quichua name is URCORAZO, which means "mountain of snow.

This volcano is located 28 kms (17.4 miles) northwest of the city of Riobamba in the extreme west of the "Sanancajas mountain chain.
It shows 3 summits: from East to West, the eastern peak or Nicolas Martinez summit, the Central or Polytecnica peak and finally the huge western massif with the uppermost 6310 m (20.702 ft) Whymper summit or Ecuador peak. The main summit himself surrounded by two smaller peaks, the Veintimilla on his west side and the Mexico summit on his north side.

Chimborazo is in fact a double volcano composed by older volcanic stratums. The oldest one forms the Nicolas Martinez and the Central peaks and the newest one forms the western massif with the uppermost Whymper summit. The predominant formations are composed by andesite piroxen rocks.


For a very long time, before the discovery of the giants of the Himalaya and the southern Latin America chains, Chimborazo was regarded as the highest mountain in the world.

That is why some of the most famous scientific explorers of that time were attracted by this mountain. On the slopes of the mountain you can follow the tracks, among others, of the French academicians who came to Ecuador in 1746 to measure the circumference of the Earth and for proving that the form of the Earth is not completely round as it was believed at that time. They attempted to reach the summit of Chimborazo without success, but the two academicians Bouger and La Condamine had enough time to deduce that the Earth was not round but rather oblate.

Nevertheless, Chimborazo will remain as the highest mountain in the world. Indeed, if the summit is measured from the center of the Earth its altitude is higher than Mount Everest. For this same reason, the summit of Chimborazo is also the point on the surface of the Earth nearest to the sun.

Years later, Alexander Von Humboldt made another attempt. He failed too, but he went higher than any man had ever been. He wrote at the end of his life: "All my life I thought that, of all mortals, it was me who had reached the higher point on Earth".

After many other failed attempts, the English climber Edward Whymper and his two Italian guides, the Carrel brothers, finally conquered the summit on January 4, 1886. They climbed by a route that is still known nowadays as the Whymper route.

Photo F. Moncayo
The Ascent:

The ascent of Chimborazo is actually quite difficult and technical, mainly due to the melting of the snow caps and the decrease of the youngest ice layers, which forces the climbers to progress on what's call “black ice”, it’s to say very old, compacted and solid ice. A very good crampon technique and a lot of self confidence is then required because the risks of slipping are very high and some transitions are exposed.

The altitude must of course also be taken into account: risks of acute altitude sickness are very high. Weather instability is also an important point that should not be overlooked.

Many different routes go to the summit, they all require good mountaineering skills, a good previous acclimatization to altitude and a very good physical condition.

The climb begins early in the morning, around midnight - 1 A.M., the ascent requiring around 7-8 hours to reach the summit and the descent 3-4 hours.
The normal route starts from the Whymper refuge (5000 m / 16.400 feet) and climbs toward the west-northwest to reach the base of a rock formation called "El Castillo" (The Castle)
The route continues along the ridge and climbs into a corridor to reach the entrance of the Thielman glacier. From there, you can either go straight, which is more demanding, or make a zig zag crossing towards the ridge located to your far left, which separates this glacier from the Stubel glacier. Once you reached this ridge, you will have to follow it and climb it straight up until you reach the Veintimilla summit (6230 m / 20.439 ft).
From there, the Whymper summit is only separated by a natural depression of about a mile long. This hollow is usually filled by a deep cap of soft snow. Crossing it at this altitude and next climbing up the slope to reach the main summit requires a good physical condition and is quite demanding.

The current route requires good technical skills and the dangers such as falling rocks or ice are quite common, especially when you reach the Thielman glacier.

Photo C. Bichwiller There is also a high risk of slipping when crossing the ridge. Crevasses are sometimes numerous, but normally they are fairly easy to discover and to cross.

Be very carefull in case of recent fresh snow falls, the danger of avalanches is very important and wind slabs can form very quickly. Anyway, when climbing the Chimborazo, avalanches hazard must always be kept in mind and a detailed analysis must be done before each climbing attempt independently of the month of the year.
A complete mountain equipment is necessary and we strongly recommend to be accompanied by an experienced mountain guide.

Still more demanding routes can also be found on the other summits of the Chimborazo. The Politécnica as well as the Nicolás Martinez peaks are both offering beautiful technical climbs.

Pictures on this page were lend to us by various of our customers . Those pictures are of their exclusive propriety.
Mountain Biking Chimborazo
Mountain Biking Chimborazo
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