Parque Nacional Chimborazo, Ecuador – The 5,000-metres mark (16,500 ft) cracked

I heavily breathe with every step. It’s only ridiculous 900 m / 990 yards to go and 200 m / 660 ft of elevation to overcome. That would be a piece of cake – if we wouldn’t be in 5,000 m / 16,500 ft elevation. The volcano Chimborazo that has erupted last 5 million years ago offers mountain hikers one of few possibilities to get into these heights. From Refugio Hermanos Carrel, the lower shelter, we plod through deep snow to Refugio Edward Whymper on nearly exactly 5,000 m / 16,500 ft (S 01°28’21.9’’ W 78°50’18.9’’). Here evidence stickers are available for one dollar the piece.

The atmosphere is quieter than at the Cotopaxi, wintrier and awe-inspiring. At night temperatures drop below freezing. We can walk a bit above the shelter; we reach 5.100 m / 16,830 ft for our logbook. Don’t dare to climb into the glacier as hobby mountaineer. In spite of all panting walking is still better than anything else. Eating, drinking and sleeping belong besides tying shoes to the silliest activities to do in this elevation. Since it is not possible to continue breathing while eating and drinking without choking, shortness of breath inevitably results, which has to be made up by vehemently gasping for breath. The nights are even worse. Sleeping – that’s quite out of the question! Concentrating on deep and fast breathing when still half awake, we immediately fall back into the acquired shallow breath when falling asleep, and we wake up struggling for breath. The whole night feels like a slight asthmatic attack lasting several hours. Only bending down is worse. Since one doesn’t have the entire lung volume at one’s disposal, it is impossible to tie the shoes without choking fit.

While hiking breathing is automatically faster and deeper and in fresh air we feel relieved. We manage the ascent in deep snow in just under half an hour, and we dash down in ten minutes. An oncoming group of hikers that struggles up through the snow uncomprehendingly stares at us – as if we cam from another planet.

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