Ecuador 2011

The Andes ski adventure – Episode 1, Ecuador

Here comes the first episode from our ski adventure through the Andes. We had a great time in Ecuador and especially around the mountain town of Riobamba in the high sierras and I finally managed, on our third try, to climb and ski the highest point in the country.


The ventilation system is running wavelike in the roof. You can hear the air going through the shack in the middle of the building but we can’t look out. We don’t have a window. The walls where once white, but are now brownish and there is a distinct smell of smoke that fade away after some time in the room. 
There is no way of running away from the heat and the humidity in this place. The panic might come creeping, but there is really no way out, so just go with it! Feeling the heat and the pulsating beats of air from the vent system gives me a desire to meditate and a friendly  helping hand in to reality. 
It feels like we have sailed in to a pirate port in a time long ago and are now enjoying the ups of civilization life after months at sea. In reality we have just arrived to Ecuador’s financial capital and biggest city; Guayaquil. After a five hour bus ride from Riobamba on winding roads from around 3000 meter above sea level, up to over 4000 and then down all the way to the Pacific ocean in a wild chicken race kind of lap against tractors, trucks and kids with death as the only viewable end for the ones that loose. 
Still, this feels like a place lost in time and a no place to be for anyone resembling a gringo. The white folks are hiding in fear of reality at the posh hotels and the streets are pulsating with life so naturally human that anyone in fear of dirt will instantly run away. The real life takes it turns out on the streets and anything that goes is a good idea in the game of surviving. Old ladies selling ice cream out of black plastic bags, young boys running around with Coca Cola bottles selling coke by the glace and many others hunkering up on the side of the streets selling whatever they have found worthy looking at. 
We are wandering the town in search of the adventure. Everyone we ask where to go tells us Hotel Continental is the only safe place for us gringos. Over there they have 24/7 security and we will not have to worry. After a wonderful chinese dinner we loom after some colombians to check Continental out. 
We order two beers and sit down to watch some baseball. After half an hour we are bored out of the sterility of the hotel and wander out. On the way we find out that those two beers where more expensive than the dinner we just had. 
It is said that allergy doesn’t exist in farms where the children constantly get in contact with the bacterias from the animals and the dirt. Some kind of connection with that thought hit me when I walked out from the hotel – the only place in town where gringos feel safe. 
In the lonely planet book its said that if you are out in town after dark you should take a cab even if only going one block. All the information we get seems to be bathing in fear. Anyways, we left everything worth stealing in our bunker of a hotel. 
We head towards the darkest alley we can find in search of finally getting robbed. No guns or knifes anywhere to be seen. Instead we get searched up by two climbers from Mendoza. They liked to go down to the ocean where we a couple of hours before found that pirate ship that came to symbolize this town. 
Bjarnes stomack says no, so we run for the hotel. A night in fantasy and fables is coming to an end. I’m mostly happy for not paying the bus driver the three extra dollars he tried to scam us on when we arrived. And sad for the black taxi dude who got caught by the police when driving us to the the terminal terrestre. He paid 25 cents to drive us to the bus terminal from town – that doesn’t feel fair. 
Andreas: 5
Bjarne: 3
Andreas: 1
Bjarne: 2
The view from the bus
Pit stop
Bjarne “Peluche” Salhén is rocking salsa style
Fires in the streets of Riobamba

Chimborazo – A long night on Ecuador’s highest mountain and some amazing skiing close to the equator

“Bjarne, dont fall asleep!” 
“Ehh, no, I wont!”
15 minutes later: 
“Andreas, are you sleeping?” 
These are extracts from my and Bjarne’s conversations last night. And its not from a normal flatmate discussion, but from a scene where we are both leaning on our ice axes on a mountain side with our faces in the snow somewhere between wake and slumber. 
Chimborazo, some say it’s the biggest thing you’ll ever see… 
We are on our first stop on our South America adventure – Ecuador’s 6310 m high Chimborazo, also famous for being the point furthest away from the center of the earth (thanks to the ovality of the planet around the equator). 
During the last week, most of our concentration and time have gone to this mountain. There are different game rules here in Ecuador from what we are used to back in Europe. The mountains are higher and you can take a taxi to their doorstep. Weather service is by no means exact and the bacterial flora in the food is often much more hardcore than we are used to. It also have to be added that the climbing season on this mountain is December-January and June-August, leaving us on the mountain alone with the worst weather pattern of the year. 
We came here with good self confidence but with the second thought in mind that many of our good mountain friends been slapped in the face by the Andean mountains. This was kind of our warmup and acclimatization object of the trip so maybe we where taking it a bit to lightly. 
We started in Quito one and a half week ago by going up to the volcano Pichincha at 4800 m twice. Then we took the 2,5 h bus ride down south to Riobamba and right away from there a taxi up to the Carrel hut at the foot of Chimborazo at 4850 m. From here we walked up to about 5300 m just to keep on breathing the thin air. The following days promised excellent weather so we thought we go for it the next day in a on day push with an really early taxi from Riobamba. This was almost a good idea, but just almost. We got up to 5400 m when the sun hit the face on an exposed section and the only sober thing to do was to turn back down before the rocks strated raining. It was a petty though as we where feeling our strongest so far on this trip. Had we taken the taxi one hour earlier in the morning I think we would have made our way to the summit. We thought we make another try the following night, but we where both (me more than Bjarne) feeling really bad from the altitude so we hitched back down to town first thing in the morning. We where totally exhausted from this little adventure and needed three days of rest before we could even think about another try. But three days later the weather in the night looked ok and we thought out another fresh strategy. 
We took the taxi at six o’clock PM from Riobamba and arrived at the park entrance gate at seven thirty. The rock n roll park service didn’t at first want to let us through, mainly I think because we didn’t hire one of their local guides, but after some negotiating and showing of Bjarne’s business card we finally was let through. We went straight in to the hut and made us some dinner and two hour later, at about ten PM we took of aiming for the summit of Chimborazo. 
Ten o’clock is really early to take of on this mountain. The guides with clients usually starts at around midnight, but we started from the lower hut at 4850 m (most people start from the Whymper hut at 5000 m) and we didn’t feel really well acclimatized for the almost 1600-1700 m climb up to 6310 m, which is more than 100 m higher than Denali. And do I need to add, we wanted it badly this time, optimizing everything we could. 
So we where walking through the night (yes, lets call it a walk. I counted three or four climbing moves during the whole walk up and down). Everything went smooth, but pretty slow. Its said that it take a week at altitude before the body even starts making more red blod cells, that are one of the more important factors in long-term acclimatization. 1,5 weeks after coming from sea level and living at 3000 m and climbing above 6000 m is hardly enough for any kind of performance. But then again, time on altitude is what we have lots of for the remaining part of this adventure. 
It was a clear night with almost no wind and we where steadily gaining altitude. I was in front and Bjarne followed. The pace was set on such a slow pace that we would be able to get enough oxygen thorough the body while still taking that step upwards. But each 15 minutes, when we took a brief break to drink, we fell down on our knees resting on our ice axe, and on the later part of the night, almost fell asleep. 
We had to dig deep within ourselves to get anywhere and at around 5700 meters four o’clock in the morning Bjarne had had enough. He was feeling really sick from the altitude, and we agreed that he was going down. I was feeling worried leaving him by him self in the darkness, but we had our radios on and we where on snow which meant i would be able to ski down to him in a matters of minutes. 
I kept on upwards having one of the toughest fights in my life with myself. I had to gather all the concentration i had to just gain a few steps and in between I was lying on my ice axe trying to breath. But slowly, slowly I got higher and soon i felt like I was on the top of the first snow dome, the lower Ventemilla summit. I told Bjarne I was almost there, almost on the summit, but it would take another hour before i stood on the top. But I was not done yet. I still had to ski down about 50 vertical meters and then climb up on the true, Whymper summit. This was the physiologically most demanding thing on the whole 
undertaking – to, in a very beaten condition at altitude, put myself in a position where I couldn’t immediately ski down if i started to feel too sick. 
But I kept at it, and in the end i stood at the top just after dawn, alone on a volcano a little bit south of the equator, after one of the most mentally demanding things i have done in my life. Its by no means, on the paper, close to one of the hardest things I have done in the mountains. However, combining the physical condition I was in (worn out), the timing and degree of acclimatization I must say I was extremely relived standing on the summit and also breaking my personal altitude record (It has to be added that Bjarne broke his own altitude record for every step he took above 5300 meters). 
After skiing down from the Whymper summit and working my way back onto the Ventemilla  summit I once again clicked in to my bindings and buckled up my boots. I hadn’t been skiing since I was on Mt Byron in the coastal range in Alaska together with Greg Collins, Magnus Kastengren and Heidi Adamson in june. And it was with a tired but happy smile i took of down the west face in big turns. 
Far below my ski tips I had the clouds and desert like lowland of Ecuador. Even though seven in the morning the sun was heating up my face and I was really enjoying the warmth  when I now and then had to lie down to catch my breath. 
Further down the snow got harder and I had to take it a bit easier, but still enjoying every turn I felt i had earned. Bjarne stood waiting for me at the snowline and all in all i got over 700 vertical meters of skiing in the falline and a great experience from a beautiful mountain. 
I got one sad surprise though, when coming below the snow line. My climbing boots that we had hidden under a rock was gone, like everything else we have left unattended on this trip. I guess I shouldn’t blame anyone but myself leaving a pair of boots worth a months wage (for someone with a good job) out on the mountain.
Maybe it was the hardest earned 700 meters of skiing in my life. But the skiing, this time, came as a bonus. The real reward was the secrets I found within myself in the calm and painful darkness. More on that later. Now we are back down at Hostal Oasis in Riobamba and we are looking forward to I night out celebrating in town tonight before we hop on a bus tomorrow – direction south towards Guayaquil and then Peru! 
This would be hippie if back home…


And this would not be legal


And these would be exotic


Chimborazo in normal late september weather


Bjarne making early morning porridge 

Our happy taxi driver. Bjarne cant get over that he stole our chips!



Protection in the hut



Waiting time in the hut on our first attempt


Sun set in the Ecuadorian mountains


Late drive to the mountains. Now I know enough Spanish to bargain – we got this one for half the price!
Bjarne eating dinner in the dark


Chimborazo @ night


Bjarne @ night


The Whymper summit, the highest summit on Chimborazo, and of course in Ecuador


View from the top


View from under my skis


A tired Andreas


Bjarne walking down in the clouds


The big reward! 
Check out Bjarnes video blog at
And read more about Chimborazo at 

Down south in Riobamba

Today is a rest day in the charming city of Riobamba. I’m still feeling really down and a bit sick, but I’m hoping a day of rest will set me back on track.
I would have done this update earlier, but Internet has been down in the whole country of Ecuador for the day. And then to make it even more adventurous, the electricity went out for a couple of hours.
Yesterday we took the three-hour buss ride from Quito and it feels like we are starting to have the real Ecuador experience. Lots of people we meet seem to be worried we will get in trouble with all our gear, but so far we have only met really friendly people. The only problems we have had have been to find restaurants with big enough portions to still our hunger. A normal evening we have gone to one restaurant, and when we are done we just look at each other, and one of us will say; “ok, so shall we go to the next place”… 
Life seem much more grounded and real over here than back home. The chaotic nature of the human mind appear to realise it self in the everyday life in a totally different way than the often repressed feelings in northern Europe. Traffic is flowing in a confused disorder, but everyone seems to get where they are intending to go. Life on the streets and the everyday life flow with the “anything goes” attitude. It’s poverty everywhere, that gives me a simmering feeling of guilt, but the lively eyes from the people on the streets quickly takes a way that feeling and replaces it with; sure we are rich in things and “thinks” (yes, intellectual thoughts) but these people have a richness in grasping life that we back home doesn’t even come close to.
Last night we teamed up with our newfound friend Charlotte from the Netherlands and went out on the local market to buy vegetables for dinner. It ended up being one of the liveliest experiences in our lives. In the dusky light under the market’s grand roof with no lights, the play of this Latino bazaar played it self out in the shadows. The aroma of fresh vegetables, meat, fruit and spices blended together and the only light came from the glowing eyes of the shop keepers and their children that where playing under and around the tables. The local Quichua dialect and Spanish where the only languages to be heard and there was an instant delight and laughter when I tried to get by with my 4 day old Spanish (mixed with some French) with some help from Charlotte. I chose to not take out my camera, because I could see the change in faces when Bjarne captured the moment on film. Instead I will always remember the playfulness and curiosity in the small kids when they came to meet us with high fives and questions on where we where from. 
If I feel stronger tomorrow we will try to find a taxi that can take us up to the mountains. Its been raining heavily in the last few days, so I’m concerned for the avalanche danger up high. But if we are lucky what creates fear in my mind right now will create joy while making turns in Ecuadorian pow-pow. 
Quito @ night
B-man, playing it cool
On the buss to Riobamba…
Riobamba @ Night
Bjarne and Charlotte
Sunday in school

Everyday workouts in Quito

The last two days Bjarne and me have worked the neighbourhood as good as possible for thin air. The town itself is located around 2800 meter above sea level and just being here is good acclimatisation. But a good thing with Quito as a pre-climbing destination is that there is a gondola in town taking you up to 4100 meters. From this viewpoint you can get an additional 700 meters by a easy 2h hike to the summit of Cumbre Rucu Pichincha. We have now done this hike two days in a row and have been hanging out on the summit for a few hours working on our Spanish, listening to music, talking about life and just freezing in general.
But Quito is of course not only mountains; it’s a really cool city with very friendly people. In between our workouts we have been strolling the town, eating some good food an trying to get info about further transports south.
Tomorrow is a rest and travel day south to the higher mountains. It’s going to be exciting to see the big Ecuadorian lumps of snow, rock and ice but the weather doesn’t look very good. However I have found a window in the next few days, so if we are lucky we will get into what we came here for.
I’m very tired after the long journey and the last two days. Bjarne flew in one day before me and had time to sleep in, but I really feel the lack of sleep even though the body have been feeling incredibly well on altitude. Coming from sea level to 4800 meters can feel like a shock, but so far I haven’t even got any bad signs.
Now we are of for our last night in Quito. Bjarne is keen on samba; lets see where this is going! 
First dinner in Equador
Bjarne in the gondola
“No bandidos aqui ahora” said the guard at the lift station while imitating being stabbed in the belly…
The first view of Cotopaxi and the real mountains in Ecuador
Gloria at giving us some well needed help