Parque Nacional Chimborazo, Ecuador – The world’s highest elevation

I’m hearing you groaning aloud. What does she claim now? The earth’s highest mountain is the Mount Everest! Correct. And still I’m in the right. The Chimborazo Volcano is the spot on our planet that has the largest distance to the centre of the earth. Therefore it was considered for long time for the world’s highest mountain. It’s paradoxically not. Its peak is only 6,310 m / 20,702 ft away from the earth’s surface. How does this go together? Let’s fall back upon Galileo Galilei. He wasn’t right with his assertion that the earth is a sphere. At least not completely. Isaac Newton stated that the earth goes baggy at the equator and is flattened out at the poles due to its rotation and the effect of the centrifugal force. Later this theory was proven. Therefore sea level isn’t the same like sea level. The surface of the oceans close to the equator is further away from the centre of the earth than close to the poles.

Even if Chimborazo isn’t he earth’s highest mountain, it is Ecuador’s only mountain over 6,000 m / 20,000 ft. Its glacier noticeably ices up because of leaking fresh snow, global warming and increasing UV radiation, and gets more difficult to climb. But we don’t want to get that high. The well paved road south of the volcano is already above 4,000 m, so it’s nothing to us to drive up the 8 km / 5 mi long dirt road to the Hermanos-Carrel shelter at 4,800 m / 15,750 ft. Here’s a parking lot and not far from it a complimentary camping zone.

In the ranger station at the access we again have only to pay the 2 $ local fee and the second day is free, although we declare that we want to overnight. Between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. the post shall be unmanned, but we happily pay the 4 $, the park has to be financed somehow. There was nobody in the camping area for long time, the snow is probably too deep. Arminius feels well here, and we also in the snow-covered solitude. After the engine is shut off, the vicuñas dare to get closer. Vicuñas are one of four kinds of the hump-less New World camels. Two of them are original wild species – guanacos and vicuñas – and the other two, lamas and alpacas, are millenniums-old breeding. Vicuñas are the daintiest and most elegant, but rarest and most endangered Andean camels.

They were nearly extinct because of their fur – the finest and most expensive we know. Since nearly 50 years the hunt for them is forbidden, they are just captured for shearing and released again. One animals produces only one pound wool, and this is worth around 300 US$. Their silky fur is yellow-brown to red-brown, the belly is white. Vicuñas adjusted best of all four species to their cold barren environment. They never live below 3,500 m / 11,500 ft, but they are still seen above 5,000 m / 16,500 ft. They modestly nibble at mosses and grasses. Thanks to a program of the Swiss government the animals were re-introduced to the area and the stock recovers well, despite the threat through recurring ash sediments from the neighbouring Tungurahua Volcano, vehicles on the road and Andean foxes that attack the small camels. The surrounding farmers got lamas and alpacas as presents, and as a countermove they withdrew the voracious sheep that challenge the vicuñas’ food.
Ranger station Parque Nacional Chimborazo: S 01°29’51.0’’ W 78°52’29.9’’
Camping zone at Hermanos-Carrel-shelter: S 01°28’21.0’’ W 78°50’56.6’’, 4,845 m / 16,000 ft

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