Daring, beautiful, uncertain. The tour we planned to do was a mixture of feelings. After decades of mountaineering experience we were looking for a new big adventure. What we found was a tour that only a handful of people did. A tour that triggered our explorer instinct. A tour that crosses the highest mountain of Ecuador and reaches four of his five summits: The Integral del Chimborazo.
The Arista del Sol and Integral del Chimborazo combination was first done by Iván Vallejo and Os Morales in 1989. After them, only a couple of rope teams ever did it again. The Integral tour starts at the eastern side of Chimborazo ascending to Piedra Negra. From there, it goes up the Arista del Sol to the Nicolás Martínez summit. This is considered to be one of the most beautiful mixed rock and ice tours in Ecuador. Then, it traverses to the Politénica and main Whymper summit. Finally, you continue on the regular path to the Veintimilla summit and descend to the refuge.
We did the Integral tour in a team of three: Rafael Caceres, Juan José Cabedo and Jaime Vargas. On 5 January 2020 we met at Urbina train station and went to Portal Andino by car. There, our adventure began. After four days of heavy mountaineering and amazing views we finally arrived at the Carrel refuge.
In general, we were fortunate to have good weather. Only the second day it clouded up.
Equipment and food
For the Integral del Chimborazo we tried to pack as little as possible but as much as necessary. This is what we took with us: The normal equipment with crampons, different ice axes, helmet and climbing harness. For the night we had a tent, sleeping bags and sleeping mats. As camping stoves we used one Jetboil and one MSR Reactor. Our technical gear consisted of one 60 m (198 ft) rope, one 60 m (198 ft) Rad Line for rappelling in case of emergency, stoppers, friends, ice screws, quickdraws and some accessory cords, self rescue devices, ATCs, carabiners, pickets and slings.
For eating we had bread, noodles, cheese, bacon, tuna, dried fruits, snicker bars and sugar. Additionally, we brought some tea and coffee.
Tour Report of Arista del Sol and Integral del Chimborazo
Day 1 – Portal Andino to Piedra Negra
On the starting day we met at Urbina train station with the three mountaineers and Elisabeth Gschösser. There, we checked our equipment: Do we have everything? Can we sort out something? After that, we went by car to Portal Andino (4100 m / 13451 ft). We left Elisabeth who stayed the next days in Urbina to regularly keep in radio contact with us and we started our way up to Piedra Negra.
We were approaching the impressive Chimborazo and an incredible adventure. On one hand we were driven by the passion for mountaineering, excited to cross the whole Chimborazo. On the other hand we knew how risky the path was that laid ahead of us. If something happened, the chances of getting help were low. However, the first day went very well. Eventually, we reached Piedra Negra, a huge monolith. There, we installed our bivouac and spent the night in anticipation of the next tour section: The Arista del Sol, also called Proa del Sol Ridge.
Day 2 – Arista del Sol
We got up at 6 knowing that this day involves the most technical part of the Integral route. We had breakfast and packed everything up in the cold before the sunrise. At 8 we started the tour. Our expectations were fulfilled. The Arista del Sol was very challenging. We were confronted with crumbly rocks and nearly vertical sections that were hard and dangerous to climb, especially with the heavy packs that we carried. As we got higher the rocks were covered with ice. At some points we went on a narrow mountain ridge with huge cliffs left and right dropping down over 100 m (328 ft).
Nevertheless, the route was wonderful. Although some clouds covered the sky, our efforts were rewarded with amazing views. This combination of challenge and natural beauty is why we love mountaineering.
Ascending higher and higher our underground changed: We encountered the first snow. It laid on the mountain like a thick white blanket, untouched for several years. Although it looked peaceful we also knew how hard it is to climb those snow ramps. Moreover, we didn’t know how good the snow quality was.
Shaped by difficult terrain the day passed quickly. Finally, we built up our tent about 100 m (328 ft) short of Nicolás Martínez summit.
Day 3 – Nicolás Martínez and Politécnica summits of Chimborazo
We started our third day with lots of motivation because we knew that the first summit wasn’t far any more. We went up. The snow glittered in the sunlight. As we saw that we arrived at the highest point a big smile flitted across our faces. We gave us a high-five. Reaching the first summit of the Integral del Chimborazo filled us with new energy to keep going.
When we reached the Politénica summit we celebrated again. However, we also knew: Now comes the hardest part. After descending a bit the route went up again. The air became thinner and thinner. In addition, we faced some very steep sections where we had to climb one by one. Although it looked all very close it proved to be still far and demanding towards the Whymper summit. At this point we realized that it won’t be possible to finish the Integral route this day.
Just short of the main summit of Chimborazo, called Whymper, we set up our tent. That night we went to bed exhausted but satisfied. We already reached two of four summits and made most of the Integral tour. And we were sure to cross the finish line tomorrow.
Day 4 – Whymper and Veintimilla summits of Chimborazo
In the morning we arranged via walkie-talkie that Elisabeth goes to the Carrel refuge at noon if she doesn’t hear anything from us. After that, we continued on the last parts of the Integral tour. The deep snow still seemed like it didn’t want us to go on. However, with patience and profound breathing we hiked towards the highest summit of Chimborazo. It felt weird to approach the Whymper summit from the east side, leaving our “off the beaten track” route and joining the commercial path only at the main summit. It’s always great to experience new perspectives.
After a hard ascent, shortly before 10 a.m. we finally made it: We reached the closest point to the sun on earth, the Whymper summit at 6.263 m (20549 ft). It was relieving. We finished the most difficult part. From there, we were able to follow the footsteps of the normal route.
After going over the last Veintimilla summit we descended. At 2 p.m. we ultimately arrived at the parking lot next to the trail head. There, Elisabeth was already waiting for us with fresh water and new clothes. It was a happy reunion. We did it! We crossed the whole Chimborazo! After packing our equipment we went directly to Riobamba to celebrate that with good beer and a tasty steak. What an adventure!
Why do you do such an exhausting and dangerous tour? The Integral del Chimborazo was more than a journey across a mountain. It was a journey to ourselves. Everybody experienced the tour differently but we all took something from it. One person enjoys the solitude in nature. The other loves reducing life to the bare essentials. But eventually, we are all looking for the same on the mountain: Expanding our horizon. Climbing the Proa del Sol Ridge and the Integral del Chimborazo was an enriching experience that we will never forget.
The Arista del Sol and the Integral del Chimborazo are alpine style routes at its best. They are only recommended for very experienced, completely self sufficient mountaineers. There is no shelter, no fixed belay stations or any other help throughout the tour. The combination of the Arista del Sol and Integral tour has only been done by 4 rope teams in the past 30 years from 1989 to 2020. Amongst them was the famous Ecuadorian mountaineer Ivan Vallejo who summited the 14 8.000ers without supplemental oxygen. Part of the rope teams was usually an experienced local guide.
The difficulty of the tour results from scarce options to abandon once you start the ridge or traverse, unknown conditions (fragile rock, snow, crevasses etc.) and very little or no cell phone coverage in parts of the route. That’s why we strongly recommend a base camp with radio communication for safety measures. Additionally, the rescue possibilities are very limited due to the difficulty and remoteness of the tour. Besides, the weather conditions need to be stable for 2 to 4 days (depending on various factors) for successfully completing the tour.