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It’s a long climb out of Salinas to approach Chimborazo but its a beautiful ride.

Mounds of vivid green moss dotted with tiny white, yellow-centred, daisies...

...remind me of the rich, bejewelled, colours and textures of a Faberge egg.

This, too, is all in the detail...

...but looking up it's all about sparse wide open spaces... once the clouds lift.

Finally, as I reach the main road that runs between Ambato and Guaranda, Chimborazo rises up before me. The summit of this mountain is, due to its combination of latitude and altitude, the point of the earth closest to the sun.

Initially, I head for the refuge on one of President Correa's smooth new roads.

Vicuñas are the wild version of llamas. Stream-lined and graceful, they graze the seemingly barren ground around Chimboarzo, where they are protected from hunting, in prolific numbers.

It takes quite a while to get any closer. But the vistas are compelling;...

...the vicuñas pose in stylish and photogenic silhouette against the sky...

...while on the other side, over the valley, the clouds do their thing.

The final leg up from the entrance of the park to the refuge is only eight kilometres but it a climb of a several hundred metres to an altitude of 4800 metres. It takes me a long long time and, I since I haven't eaten since breakfast, I bonk* hard. I wouldn't have made it at all if a carload of Ecuadorean tourists hadn't stopped and given me a bag of sugar cane and a packet of corn chips. As it is, I arrive at the refuge after sunset and the nervous guards, suspecting that I may be a dangerous bandit, don't want to let me in. It's below zero outside and so I am insistent.

Morning chill,...

...followed by the first glow.

The refuge...

...and other frosty things, at dawn.

Chimborazo’s relationship to the heavens is obvious - the mountain is luminous. It glows. But not with a golden light. It is a cold silvery gleam that emanates through the subtle shifting clouds that shroud the peak in mystery. Perhaps, afterall, it is the moon that rules Chimborazo - that pale cold ethereal light certainly doesn’t belong to the sun.


Chimborazo has claimed a lot of lives - the area around the refuges is littered with poignant memorials to the people who have died here, taking on the mountain.

Sometimes I just can’t help wanting it all. Despite having to backtrack 12km on the highway I rode yesterday, then head 20km north on the Ambato – Guaranda highway when, overall, I am trying to move southwards, and in the face of the vicious protestations of the Chimborazo park guards that it is only a walking track, I feel the call of a dirt road that I know lies between Chimborazo and Carihuairazo.

Sadly, clouds obscure the views of both mountains...

... but my consolation is more perfect flowers.

True enough the road soon turns to a walking track, masquerading as a stream bed...

... and I find myself doing a little more hiking than biking. (The astute may have noticed I am sporting a different set of panniers, of late. These are freebies, given to me in Quito by Aaron who worked on my bike there. They are Arkel and have rock solid attachments which simply do not rattle loose, no matter what the terrain. So far, I'm very happy with them.)


Chimbarazo's unearthly glow. I don't see the mountain once while I traverse this track but I can still feel its presence.

Looking back up the valley, which provided a pretty sweet camp site, in the relative clarity of the morning but still no views of the summit.

Rain again and the flowers draw their petals tightly in to protect themselves against it.

I am following in the inimitable tyre tracks of Cass Gilbert. The idea is to connect the track on this side of the valley with the road on the other, which then leads to Urbina. In his route notes he relates how he descended into the valley as soon as he saw the road - I'm guessing somewhere around about here - but he found the going somewhat challenging and recommends staying on the track. Well, there may be a connection further on but I certainly didn't come across it. True to say that clouds descended and I couldn't see more than 20 metres but if I were to try it again I think I would attempt to cross here.

As it was, when the clouds finally lifted, I could see a way out to the PanA across a series of paddocks.

I'm not really so very pleased to see the PanA up close but it's only 40km on a downhill run into Riobamba. It could have been worse. If the clouds hadn't lifted, I probably would have ended up in Mocha considerably further back up the highway.

* To bonk is to have something of a blood sugar crisis. In this case altitude was probably a big contributing factor, too.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. Cesca | June 14, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Hope the new panniers are sturdy and waterproof; that was a generous present. Nice cloudscapes and mountain scenery!

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