How to Climb Chimborazo, the Mountain That Dethroned Everest

Credit: Daniele Pellegrini / Getty Images

A team of scientists and explorers at the Institute for Research and Development in France discovered that Ecuador’s 20,564-foot Volcán Chimborazo is officially the highest point on Earth.

The announcement came last week after research proved that due to differences in the planet’s diameter, Chimborazo is technically further away from the earth’s core than Mount Everest, which was previously heralded as the world’s highest point. While Everest is still the tallest mountain on the planet, standing atop the peak of Chimborazo puts you as close to space and as far away from the center of the Earth as you can get while still standing on land.

The geoid shape of the earth (slimmer at the poles, wider at the middle) can be blamed for the Everest title ousting. Chimborazo, which is located in the Cordillera Occidental range of the Andes sits near the Equator at a latitude of 1 degree and 28 minutes south of the equator. Everest is further from the equator, at 29 degrees and 59 minutes north. This explains why the Andes volcano is around 1.5 miles higher from the center of the Earth than the legendary Himalayan giant.

And while climbing Everest is continually becoming more controversial, Chimborazo is a peak that is more accessible and affordable. That means if it isn’t already on your mountain climbing bucket list, it should be.

“The climbing in Ecuador is much more doable for people who want to reach such heights without the months of prep and huge costs,” says Eran Hayoun, owner of Gulliver Expeditions in Quito. “It’s more accessible than Everest, and you still get to challenge yourself.”

Chimborazo is a glaciated stratovolcano, and the ice covering its surface is constantly shifting — making for a climb that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Climbers taking on Chimborazo are suggested to have previous experience with alpine climbing. If not, beginners can take an alpine climbing and glacier trekking course with their guiding company to learn the proper techniques of climbing and become familiar with the gear. “Chimborazo is a technical climb, and the routes can change rapidly because of the moving ice,” says Hayoun. “You are climbing at high-altitude the entire time, so glacier courses and proper acclimatization are requirements to attempt the summit.”

But because the elevation of Chimborazo is measurably lower than Everest (which stands at 29,029 feet), acclimatization prep is not as strenuous. A summit attempt at Everest can require years of planning and months spent in Nepal prepping. And all that time adds up to a lot of money. On average, an attempt at Everest costs between $65,00–$100,000 and takes one to three months of acclimatization prep. The American Alpine Institute offers a Chimborazo climbing package that costs $1,290 for a stay of 5–15 days, includes overnights at haciendas as well as huts, and provides multiple climbs on nearby volcanoes such as Cayambe to prep for Chimborazo. Gulliver Expeditions offers acclimatization packages as well as single-peak guiding.

You can also climb Chimborazo on your own time. Because of Ecuador’s location in the equinox, there is little variation in daylight hours and no changes in the seasons. “That means we get to climb all year long — there isn’t a single month that our teams don’t summit Chimborazo,” says Hayoun.

He has climbed the mountain a handful of times, and says that it’s no easy feat, but it’s worth it. “It’s a very big challenge to take on,” he says. “You start the climb from camp at 16,404 feet and climb to over 20,000 feet. From Chimborazo you have views of 10 other volcanoes, you pass Incan ruins, you can see the valleys of Cotopaxi, you are above the clouds, and you can’t help but to feel that you are on very special land.”