About Us

Welcome to our blog, describing our voyage aboard Bravo, a Kelly Peterson 46 sailboat with homeport in Seattle, Washington. We headed south in 2010, destined for Mexico and beyond. Cheers, Adam and Cindi

"As for me, I am tormented by an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts." -Herman Melville, 1844

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Biking the slopes of Chimborazo....Mars rover has landed!!!

After our terrific visit with Alfredo and Isabelle, we hopped a bus back to Baños, and then on to the city of Riobamba, well known for it's railroad connection through the mountains toward the south....known as Nariz del Diablo....the Devils Nose!!!  Written up in all of the guidebooks as a sort of "must do" tourist thing, we bought our tickets for the steep fare of $25/person.  A "big ticket" for us, as we typically spend no more than $25 total per night for a hotel.  Nonetheless, we were looking forward to the great ride on the Ruta de los Volcans, as the train makes it's way past many of the big mountains of the Andes. 

We were told to show up at 7:30am for the 8am departure.  No worries.  But wait....there is one small one....there's no damn train in Riobamba!!!  In fact, there hasn´t been one for a couple of years, we find out.  We were supposed to catch the rascal in Alausi, a 2 hour bus ride away!!!  Not good, not good at all.  We went back to our hotel to check the internet about this predicament.  Turns out, yup, even though our digital, latest version of Lonely Planet said to catch the train at Riobamba, lots of other websites gave the REAL latest update.  And lots of disgruntled tourists as well, as the train route has now cut out the best portion of the trip while raising the price.  So we headed back to the station when it opened, and asked the ticket guy for a refund.  No way.  OK, how about we go tomorrow???  Ummmmmm....OK.....but only if we pay a $25 penalty.......R-I-P-P-P-P  (sound of tickets being torn up into little pieces!!!)  Bummer, but no point throwing good money after bad.

OK....what does this have to do with biking Chimborazo????  Absolutely nothing, just wanted to let folks know about it if they're traveling around Ecuador.  Now that it´s out of the way, let's get started with the good stuff!!!  And it is GOOD!!!   REALLY good

Chimborazo seen from city park in Riobamba
Chimborazo is the highest mountain in Ecuador, at 6300 meters, a shade over 20,700 feet above sea level.  Much like Mt Rainier in Seattle, it dominates the Riobamba views.  An interesting side note about it's elevation.  Due to the shape of the earth, (an oblate spheroid, for you scientific types....does this blog really have scientific types reading it???? (not counting Ward)) the surface of the earth is further from the center at the equator than elsewhere.  Called the ¨equatorial bulge¨.  This has the summit of Chimborazo further from the earths center than Mt. Everest!!!  An interesting claim to fame.

But I digress.  Although tempting, we decided not to attempt a climb on Chimborazo.  Instead, we heard about a terrific opportunity to do a mountain bike descent of the mountain;  no, not from the summit, but from the Carrel climbers refuge at 4800m / 15,744 feet.  Sounds intriguing, yes???

We headed over to Probici bike tours to check it out.  Met with guide and owner Galo, a great guy and an absolute wealth of information on the history, people, and cultures of Ecuador, and  especially the indigenous people of the Riobamba and Chimborazo region.  He knew the mountain like the back of his hand, and more we talked, the better we felt about biking with this gang.  After we booked for the next day, we were carefully fitted for our helmets, protective gear, and finally bikes.  And the bikes are excellent;  top US makes with hydraulic disc brakes, front suspension, and in great shape.  We picked and tried our bikes, Galo put our names on them, and we were set to go up the next day.

The morning dawned clear and cold.  Perfect!!!  After ace guide Mario picked us up at our hostal at 8, we headed out for Chimborazo, along with German traveler Tim.  What a gorgeous mountain it is, too!!!  The views just kept getting better the closer we got, as we passed through indigenous villages on its flanks.  Terrific!!

We stopped frequently on the drive up to take photos and just soak in the views.  There's one area which is one of the region's top rock climbing areas.  Mario showed us where to crawl out to an overlook of a vertical 500m face.  Quite a rush, unroped!!!

Looking down.....straight down!!
Rock strata show volcanic history and plate interaction

Our route would take us from approximately snowline, and head down about 50km to the town of San Juan.  Although it included a lot of dirt and gravel roads, it also included a fair bit of terrific single track riding.  After arriving at the Carrel refuge, we were allowed to hike up to the Whymper refuge at 5000m (16,400 ft).  The hike was fun, though obviously slow at the altitude.  But neither of us felt badly.  Adam hadn't been to this elevation in many years, and Cindi reached her highest point of her mountain career!!!

The two refugios....Carrel at bottom center, Whymper above

Memorial to the many climbers who have died on Chimborazo

Fire starting in the Whymper Refugio
Eventually it was time to head back down to Carrel refuge and begin our bike descent.  Mario and the other two guides Carlos and Samuel (our group had become 9, including 2 Spaniards and 4 other Americans) had unloaded our bikes, and off we went!!!

The route begins in what is known as the Altiplano, a region which can only be described as a mars replica.  Except for the occasional herd of vicuña, the barren landscape could have been right out of the pics from the mars rover.  High, dry, and volcanic, the area supports little vegetation, and we got a kick out of descending across the unique environment.  But the area is a biological reserve created to reestablish the herds of vicuña in Ecuador, which had been nearly wiped out over the years. 

In 1988 Peru and Chile each gifted 100 vicuña to the newly established Chimborazo reserve (58,000 hectares, 143,000 acres).  Now they number over 4000.  What they are eating up there is difficult to imagine, but this is the terrain that they are made for.  We came upon several small groups as we descended the mountain.

The first leg of the route was on the gravel road down from Carrel to the park entrance at 4000m.  This section was truly mars-like, and with the incredible views it was hard to focus on the road, often like riding a washboard.

I had fun with our GoPro camera, mounting it on the handlebars, and shooting one shot every 10 secs on the descent.  A lot to edit and delete, but some interesting results.

 At last we finished up the gravel road, and headed off road for some terrific single track riding.  Though not too hairball, it nonetheless had enough challenges to require our attention, and in places a mistake would have been a bad thing.

Sadly the single track eventually ended, and we were back on gravel roads.  But the roads passed through beautiful indigenous farming pueblos, and we enjoyed the interactions with the locals we passed.

Although the day was mostly flat or downhill, there was a stretch of about 3km of uphill.  At this elevation, even 3 km became quite a workout!!!  But one of the great things about the trip was that our route often intersected and crossed the main road, and our guides would be waiting there with the trucks.  So we didn´t need to carry a thing, as water and food and warm clothes were never more than 1/2 hour or so away.  Sweet way to travel!!!

One of Galo's goals on his trips is to provide more than just a terrific bike ride, but also to show some unique places in the region and explain some of the local history and customs.  To this end all of the guides did a great job.  We stopped at one spot which used to be an Inca village.  Some of the raised foundation mounds were still visible, as well as a couple of large stones which were thought to be used for animal sacrifices.

Carlos explaining the altar rock
 There was even a mineral spring where the ancient village could get slightly carbonated mineral water right from the ground.  We filled water bottles with the perfectly pure cold sparkling water.  Tasty business!

Finally Cindi and I were still looking for more off road grins, so Mario offered to take us up to the "silver mine".  The mine is a deep hole in the ground where legend has it that early peoples dug in order to find silver.  They were guided by fire coming out of the ground, perhaps from ammonia or methane deposits ignited when fields were burned to clear brush.  Whatever the truth about the history of the "mine", it clearly was a spiritual site of great importance.  The area is still used as a temple site for an annual indigenous worship service.  We felt honored to be able to feel the magic of the place in the dwindling twilight sun before riding the final 8 miles or so to the pickup site in San Juan.  We were back in Riobamba by 7:30.  Beat but happy!!!

Probici http://www.probici.com/index.php is a really high quality mountain bike company, run by Galo, an extremely bright, detail oriented guy. His staff shares his philosophies of guiding, and his respect and reverence for this mountain.   Our day with his guides went like clockwork (save a bit of a forehead gash suffered by one of the riders who took a small spill).  We cannot recommend Probici highly enough, and anyone traveling in Ecuador, and looking for adventure, really needs to check them out.

We're now enjoying the beautiful city of Cuenca, which we'll explore for the next few days.

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