When we set off for the summit push a little past midnight, we could see the stars and the moon above us. Berta stayed at base camp to take a time-lapse video and track our progress on the mountain. But after an hour of clear views, clouds rolled in and hid the mountain from her sight. Since she could no longer see anything, she went back to sleep.
Luckily, the weather remained good higher up on Antisana. As soon as the sun rose we were surrounded by spectacular views. Antisana’s glacier was very beautiful, and it reminded me of the peaks in the Himalayas – vast, deeply-crevassed snow slopes, and towering ice blocks on the face of the mountain.
We made good progress through deep snow, crossing numerous snow bridges on dangerously crevassed snow fields. At one point we went back and forth, looking for a way through a maze of crevasses. I started thinking this was the end of our summit push … But finally, we found a way across the final stretch of the snow field and reached the summit ridge. We were now only a short distance below the summit plateau. Benno and Romel, our two experienced mountain guides who have climbed Antisana many times before, said they’d never seen Antisana in such bad conditions before!
Margaret was recovering from a back injury before the expedition and the pain returned during the Antisana summit push. She turned around just a hundred meters below the summit. Benno stayed with Margaret, but Romel and I continued all way to the summit.
The final steep slope leading to onto the summit plateau, packed with deep and unstable snow, was the most hair-raising part of the climb for me. Any mistake could have resulted in a tumble several hundred meters down the ridge, setting off an avalanche.
The views from the summit were spectacular. We could see most of the prominent volcanoes from there: from Cotopaxi’s summit shining gold in the rising sun, to El Altar in the furthest distance. It was real bliss!
While we were on the mountain, Berta waited for our return. It remained cloudy most of the morning and she couldn’t see us. Somehow she got a wrong idea about our return time. She thought we would be back by 7 AM instead of 11 AM. She walked to the start of the glacier and got really worried when we did not show up at 7. After the longest four hours, when she finally saw us emerging from the glacier, Berta was happy beyond belief…
After four hours of waiting, she was sure something must have happened to us…
We left Antisana base camp early in the afternoon, and stopped for a well-deserved rest at a hacienda at the exit of the Antisana ecological park. It was a nice place in the middle of the valley, surrounded by tall mountains. We were looking forward to a relaxing evening there, but most of all, a hot shower and a glass of wine!
It was a wishful thinking – it rained so much earlier that day that a landslide nearby went straight into the main water source for the hacienda. There was no shower that night as none of us were keen on getting washed in dirt water. We had no choice but to lift our spirits up with the wine, even though it cost 40$ for an average bottle of Argentinean Malbec. Ecuador does not produce wine of its own and all wine imports have 100% of tax.
Next morning, April 16th, we left the hacienda to head for the biggest adventure of our trip – Chimborazo via the northern (Meyer Glacier) route). This route is rarely climbed due to the logistical difficulties of getting to this remoter side of the mountain. There are no refugios to stay in, so you need to bring all your camping gear and food for the duration of the climb. It’s more difficult to get to the base camp – you need to hire horses to take camping gear there, and it requires many hours of trekking to get to the start of the glacier at 4,900m.
We had an eventful drive, getting a puncture in a tire of our jeep that took some time for Benno to change. We also stopped in Ambato town, where we picked up Romel and went looking for fried chicken to take to Chimborazo.
Finally, as it was just starting to get dark, we arrived in Urbina, at Posada “La Estacion” – a mountain lodge run by a friendly guy called Rodrigo Donoso. Rodrigo is an accomplished mountaineer and photographer. Posada “La Estacion” is located on the foothills of Chimborazo volcano, in front of the highest train station in Ecuador. We chose this place because of its uniqueness and history. The lodge is full of mountaineering memorabilia, paintings and pictures of famous mountaineers. Many well-known mountain climbers and explorers passed by this place on their way to climb Chimborazo.
To be continued -next post on Chimborazo and more…
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