I left off on Chimborazo, Ecuador in my travel tales. It’s been a while, but I still remember the feeling of triumph. I’m not an athletic person. I like to “hike” in the sense that I can walk for a short period. Sometimes, I can walk uphill.
In the case of el Chimborazo, I met a challenge. It inspired me and sparked a desire to get better at hiking. I have bad knees and asthma, so every hike will be an uphill climb. But after my experience with the highest point on Earth, I know I can do it. Even if it’s slow and steady.
I donned my new llama wool jacket I’d bought in Otavalo. I strapped on my hiking boots. And I began the walk up the pathway leading to the second refuge on the trail. With each step, my muscles ached and knees throbbed. My lungs expelled air at an alarming rate. How much further to the refuge?
My father and I both forgot a crucial detail: altitude. My asthma never affects me so bad in cold weather. But we both forgot that Chimborazo Ecuador has a peak that lies over 20,000 feet above. The thinner atmosphere exacerbated my lungs’ usual battle for air.
As we climbed further up, my head began to spin. My legs wobbled. The corners of my vision blurred. It felt like I would pass out. But my dad remembered something else: sugar. When he made the climb up the volcano in his youth, he brought rapadura along. The lump of raw sugar from the cane helped combat altitude sickness.
Like he did as a kid, my dad started to beg for pieces of candy and rapadura from strangers making their way back down the trail. I sucked on the sweet bits, feeling the sugar quell my growing nausea. I caught my second wind. But it didn’t last long. Try as I might, I couldn’t make it to the second refuge from where we began our journey at the park entrance.
I didn’t reach my goal of making it to the second refuge. But I still did something I’d never done before: hiked the tallest mountain on Earth. I’d like to go back when we can travel again, better prepared and better trained. And maybe, with an inhaler as backup.
Have any of you done a seemingly impossible task? Or visited Chimborazo Ecuador? Let me know in the comments.
Updated 8/17/2020: My dad reminded me we’d driven to the first refuge, and when we hiked, it was toward the second refuge.