In September 2017, Edita and I were sitting in the dining room of Refugio Carrel, Ecuador, the evening before our second Chimborazo climb. Our guide Romel introduced us to another guide, a cheerful character with big glasses. As we shook hands it occurred to me that he looked familiar.
‘Haven’t we climbed together before?’ I said.
He didn’t hesitate.
‘Of course, Antisana 2009. I remember your video. It’s the only video on YouTube of the whole Antisana climb.’
His name was Ramiro, and he was one of the three guides who had accompanied my party on one of the climbs during my first visit to Ecuador eight years earlier. I described this chance meeting in my new book Feet and Wheels to Chimborazo. The meeting may have seemed a coincidence, but it underlined my growing connection with Ecuador.
I don’t know how many people Ramiro had accompanied up Ecuador’s volcanoes in the intervening years, but it’s likely to be a few hundred if not thousands – I doubt that he would be able remember them all.
I don’t believe that my shiny bald pate and irreverent smirk are particularly memorable, and it seems unlikely that he remembered my jokes so well that he was still chuckling about them several years later.
No. Ramiro had remembered me because of a video I uploaded to YouTube. It’s not a video that has won any awards (though frankly I’m staggered that it hasn’t), but it’s one that may well appeal to people with fond memories of Ecuador’s volcanoes.
Antisana is one of the big four volcanoes in Ecuador, and in many ways the most enjoyable. It’s the most remote and consequently the least frequently climbed. Unlike the other three, it has no climbing hut at its base and you need to camp.
The route is quite an interesting one, zigzagging through a maze of crevasses and passing beneath towering ice seracs that are fluted like the pipes of a cathedral organ. The summit is an enormous plateau big enough to play football on (though the ball won’t bounce very high). It looks east across the Amazon rainforest, and to the west is a panorama of rocky volcanoes rising above the clouds like islands.
The mountain also has a rich history. A French chemist, Jean-Baptiste Boussingault, tried to climb it in 1831. It was eventually climbed by the more experienced mountaineering trio of Edward Whymper, Jean-Antoine Carrel and Louis Carrel in 1880, though not without a few hairy moments.
Our ascent wasn’t quite so pioneering, but I had read Whymper’s account on the day before we went up, which meant that I may have been the first person in mountaineering history to quote a paragraph from Scrambles amongst the Great Andes of the Equator to camera while standing on the summit.
Doubtless you will be itching to watch the video now, so here it is. But if you really want to know more then you may want to lay your hands on my book, where I describe both my own, Boussingault’s and Whymper’s climbs in more detail and throw in some jokes to boot.
And if you like the book and you’re the sort of person who is kind enough to post restaurant reviews or rate your Uber driver, then do please consider leaving a review for my book too. It took me a little longer than cooking a meal or driving home from the airport, and although it was published three weeks ago now, it’s yet to get any reviews on Amazon.
I’m sorry for asking, but in these days of increased competition it’s necessary to hustle to get heard. Besides this, every positive review gives me encouragement to write more and I’m grateful for each and every one.