Although not Ecuador’s most technically difficult ascent, the climb to the summit of Chimborazo from the Whymper refuge requires large reserves of strength and stamina, previous climbing experience and confidence with full mountaineering equipment. Full acclimatization is essential, and climbing several other peaks in advance, such as Iliniza Norte, Carihuairazo and even Cotopaxi, is common preparation.
There are several routes to the summit, though following rapid deglaciation, the one known as the Normal Route is currently considered the safest and is the most commonly used. Fast-changing conditions and the vagaries of the local climate make it imperative to go with a guide who knows the mountain well. Most climbers set off around midnight or earlier, taking seven to ten hours to reach the summit from the Whymper refuge and about three to four to descend. The way up is relentlessly steep, and a long, hard slog, first over unstable rocky terrain, where route-finding is difficult, and then on snow and ice. Along with all the standard mountaineering equipment, you should wear a helmet because of the risk of rock fall in a section known as El Corredor (the corridor). The route tops out at the Veintimilla summit (6267m), from where it is a leg-sapping haul across a bowl of snow to the main Whymper summit (6268m), which can take anything from twenty minutes to an hour each way, depending on snow depth. The mountain has three other summits – trying to conquer them all in one go (called La Integral) is a rarely achieved feat of bravura carried off by only the most accomplished mountaineers. The best months for climbing Chimborazo are January and December; between June and October it can be windy, but it can be climbed, weather permitting, year-round.