Carihuairazo


Technical Climb Info:

  • Mountain: Carihuairazo
  • Elevation: 5,018m
  • Route: Normal Route
  • Length: 600m
  • Grade: PD/AD

Carihuairazo or Carihuayrazo?

Spelling the name of this peak seems to be just as challenging as pronouncing the name. I practiced in my head, but when I’d open my mouth, unstrung syllables just gobbled out. The indigenous people’s story goes as such. Carihuairazo and El Altar entered an epic battle against Chimborazo over the love of Tungurahua. Carihuairazo and El Altar were left battered and destroyed, only remaining as the calderas that they are today.

This peak had been on my radar for a few years now, but it was more of a question mark than anything else.

Googling this peak, I really had no idea what to expect coming in. Some photos showed glaciated terrain with a ton of snow, some photos depicted a rocky wasteland left behind by a mostly extinct glacier. Some show what appears to be a technical finish, some show happy summiteers walking to the top. Some talk about camping with an 8 hour walk in, while others talk about a quick jaunt up from the road. With the particularly snowy year, I had seen a few short video clips of locals climbing in what looked like fairly snowy conditions. All I could really tell was that the peak was not popular. I guess we’d have to find out on our own. 

A hut in the highlands

Nacho picked us up from our hotel at 9am, and we made our way out of Quito. The hut we stayed at was truly fantastically located. In the middle of indigenous land, surrounded by both wild and herded lamas, and Chimborazo towering overhead, the hut was located in what one would dream of an Andean highland experience. The hut was still completely maintained by the indigenous folks of the land, and it was still a work in progress. The whole thing had a charm. We spent the afternoon hours playing with the lamas, taking photos, and shooting the breeze in the literal Andean breeze. When the sun started to crest behind the hills and the rain began to drizzle, we popped into the hut, reheated some chicken and rice, drank tea, and called it a night by 7pm. 

The hypoxic tent we had been sleeping seems to certainly have worked, because I dozed off and woke up as if I had been in my own bed. That is, minus the sound of the wind cresting over the aluminum roofing.  I made a breakfast of bananas, granola, and jaka flavored yogurt.  That combo was out of this world, btw.  

“How did you sleep?” 
“Too well”

Hopefully they’ll clear, they look thin. 

The night looked clear as we hopped in the car, but there were low clouds looming ahead. Hopefully they’ll clear, they look thin. 

We had a few glimpses at the stars through the clouds as we started the hike in. The ground squished under our feet. The spongey moss that provides water to the highlands covered the landscape. The moss sparkled and shimmered green with the dew in the air, just shy of being bioluminescent in the night. “This is a really special place,” I said.

Continuing higher and higher, the clouds got thicker and thicker. It wasn’t raining, but the air was dense with millions of tiny hanging water droplets. The ground turned to mud and my ultralight down jacket took on the complexion of a used tissue. 

After about an hour and a half of walking and deteriorating weather, we arrived to the final remaining patch of the glacier. I don’t even know if this is technically a glacier anymore. It was just a small patch of ice dripping into a pond. I’d be surprised if that ice made it through the  end of year.  Most modern maps don’t even show what’s left of this glacier to exist.

After about an hour and a half of walking and deteriorating weather, we arrived to the final remaining patch of the glacier. I don’t even know if this is technically a glacier anymore. It was just a small patch of ice dripping into a pond. I’d be surprised if that ice made it through the  end of year.  Most modern maps don’t even show what’s left of this glacier to exist.

SUBOPTIMAL CONDITIONS

We geared up for climbing. I strapped on my ultralight Petzl Irvis Hybrid crampons, held together by a precarious loop of dyneema chord. I can never get them on as tight as they need to be when I first strap them on. I gave them a little pressure test and watched them flex under a bit of weight. Note to self- no front pointing and no rock. 

Well, my “no rock” came to the test extremely quickly. The route had completely melted out since December when it was experiencing heavy traffic. It was the first peak to reopen during the pandemic, and that along with the extremely heavy snow year raised this route from the dead, per se. But now, there were only thin traces of snow, with the majority of the route being loose volcanic scree with patches of verglas in all the wrong places. 

We made our way up and up, there were some 4th class moves made much more sketchy by the verglas. The weather had gone from not-good to clearly-bad. We scrambled out way to the top, never feeling quite secure. The photos of happy people walking on snow up the summit ridge blinked on my mind- a bad hand we got dealt. 

We got below the final step to the summit. Just a few meters away. But this damn final step was a near vertical 2 or 3 meters of poorly bound volcanic rock with a glaze of verglas. FUCK THAT, went through my head. After about 30 seconds of debate, we decided that was a non-option. 

Maybe the gullies would be a better option? If anything, the other side of the mountain would at least provide an easier descent. We traversed around the peak, now getting back on snow, albeit extremely shitty snow. The gullies were in similarly shitty condition. Maybe a bit better, but still a no-go. 

Summit, minus a few meters

Well, today we’ll have to call it 5 meters from the top, I guess. We descended the shitty sticky snow in the dense fog. Everything was wet. You need to know the bad to appreciate the good, I guess. We made the long way back to the car, slopping first through snow and then through the muddy trail. We managed to snap a few photos of wild guanacos meaning through the fog. Why would they be up here?, we wondered. Maybe that’s what they were wondering about us. 

I’m still unable to pronounce “Carihuairazo” on the first try. Maybe if I had stood on the very summit I would be able to…we’ll never know.

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