Fast Facts About Chimborazo

Chimborazo from the city of Riobamba
Eduardo Navas/Flickr    

With an elevation rise of 13,527 feet (4,123 meters), Chimborazo, is the 16th most prominent mountain in the world and the highest mountain in Ecuador. It’s the highest mountain north of Peru in South America and the highest mountain in the Americas north of Peru. Denali, North America's highest mountain, is 241 feet lower than Chimborazo.

​Fast Facts: Chimborazo

  • Elevation: 20,561 feet (6,267 meters)
  • Prominence: 13,527 feet (4,123 meters)
  • Location: Cordillera Occidental, Andes Mountains, Ecuador.
  • Coordinates: 1° 28' S / 78° 49' W
  • First Ascent: Edward Whymper, Louis Carrel, and Jean-Antoine Carrel, 1880.

Chimborazo is a dormant stratovolcano that last erupted around 640 AD (+/-500 years), or about 1,400 years ago. At least seven eruptions have occurred over the last 8,000 years. The volcano had a major collapse about 35,000 years ago, with major debris avalanches sweeping down the mountain and damming the Rio Chambo and forming a temporary lake.

Chimborazo has a circumference of 78 miles and a diameter of 30 miles. Its crater is 820 feet deep and has a surface diameter of 1,600 feet. Chimborazo has four major summits—20,561-foot (6,267-meter) Veintemilla; 20,702-foot (6,310-meter) Whymper, the highest point; 19,094-foot (5,820 meters) Politecnica; and 18,274-foot (5,570-meter) Nicolas Martínez, named for the father of Ecuadorian mountaineering.

While the summit of Mount Everest is the highest point on the Earth above sea level, the summit of Chimborazo is the farthest place on the surface of the Earth from its exact center, a distance of 3,968 miles (6,384.4 kilometers). It’s important to remember that the Earth is not a perfect sphere but instead bulges out at its equator. Chimborazo is only one degree south of the equator, while Mount Everest is 28 degrees north. Chimborazo’s summit is 2.1 kilometers farther from the Earth’s center than Everest.

Chimborazo’s upper elevations are covered with glaciers. The glaciers have slowly decreased in size over the last fifty years due to global warming and falling ash from the active volcano Tungurahua, which falls on the glaciers, warms in sunlight and melts the snow. The glaciers, providing water for Ecuadorians, are also mined for ice which is sold in markets.

The exact origin of Chimborazo’s name is murky. Some linguists say it combines schingbu, which means “women” in the Cayapa language, with razo, which is Quichua or “snow,” resulting in “Women of Snow.” Local natives call it Urcorazo or “Mountain of Ice,” combining the Quichua urco, meaning “mountain,” with razo, meaning “snow” or “ice.”

SAETA Flight 232, a Vickers Viscount carrying four crew and 55 passengers, disappeared on a Quito to Cuenca flight in August 1976. The crashed plane was found 26 years later in October 2002 at 18,000 feet (5,400 meters) by a team of Ecuadorian climbers on the Integral route up Chimborazo’s east side. The bodies of the 59 people were recovered.

Explorer Baron Alexander von Humboldt, Aime Goujaud AKA Bonpland, and Carlos Montufar made the first known attempt to climb Chimborazo in 1802, reaching a high point of 19,286 feet (5,878 meters) before turning around at an “insurmountable cleft” with altitude sickness. Edward Whymper, who made the first ascent of The Matterhorn, made the first ascent of Chimborazo with Italian guides Louis and Jean-Antoine Carrel up the Southwest Ridge in 1880. They were the first Europeans to summit a mountain higher than 20,000 feet. After his ascent was disputed, Whymper returned with David Beltran and Francisco Javier Campaña and climbed a new route to the summit that same year.

The worst accident in Ecuadoran mountaineering history occurred on November 10, 1993, on Chimborazo’s upper slopes. Three parties, two descending and one ascending, were on the steep snow slopes below the Veintemilla summit when the slope avalanched, sweeping and burying ten climbers—six French, two Ecuadorans, one Swiss, and one Chilean—into a crevasse at 18,700 feet. Over 20 mountain guides searched Chimbo for 10 days to recover the bodies.

Climbing Chimborazo

Chimborazo is heavily glaciated and subject to severe weather and avalanches. Most parties that attempt the mountain turn around because of heavy snow and avalanche danger. Conditions vary on the mountain depending on snow conditions. If little snow has fallen, expect sections of hard snow and ice that require frontpointing with your crampons. Heavy snow increases avalanche danger.

El Castillo Route

The El Castillo Route (Grade II/PD) is the standard normal route used by most climbers to ascend Chimborazo. The route ascends 4,250 feet (1,300 meters) up the west side of the mountain. Normal ascent time is between eight and 12 hours to the Whymper summit. The descent takes three to five hours. Route trip time is 12 to 16 hours. Start at night so most of the climbing is done before sunrise when the snow warms up and begins avalanching and rockfall danger increases. The route is usually climbed December to February and June to September.

Whymper Hut to Veintimilla

The route begins at the Whymper Hut and climbs northwest up scree and then rocky mixed terrain to a saddle above El Castillo, a prominent castle-shaped rock outcrop. This section has rockfall danger. From the saddle, climb a glacial ridge northeast and east to the Veintimilla summit. Much of the ridge is steep (30 to 40 degrees) with crevasses. This section can be very dangerous with new and soft snow on it.

On to Whymper Summit

Many climbers turn around atop Veintimilla. It is 0.6 mile (1 kilometer) from Veintimilla Summit to Whymper Summit with an elevation loss of 165 feet. It takes 30 minutes to an hour to cross the wide snow-filled basin between the two peaks, depending on snow conditions. Deep snow usually blankets the basin, which becomes a nightmare of thigh-deep slogging in the afternoon or after snowfall. Plan on doing this section early in the day when its surface is crusted.

Climbing Guides to Chimborazo