Volcan Chimborazo not only stands proud at as Ecuador’s highest point, its summit also happens to be the furthest point on the Earths surface from its centre. At 20,564 ft (6,268 metres) Chimborazo is by no means anywhere near approaching the league of big mountains, instead it achieves this distinction by its canny position on the Earths equatorial bulge. This is an interesting fact, but perhaps more interesting (for adventure cyclists) is the fact that there is a cheeky little route running between this volcanic beast and its northern neighbor, Carihuairazo (16,470 ft, 5020 m). My sister Jo and I had planned to take this route as a continuation of a course from Quilotoa through Simiatug to Riobamba. Unfortunately this was not to be when mechanical issues forced us back to Latacunga. Instead we ended up using this charming little piece of dirt riding/pushing as a quick but interesting route from Latacunga to Riobamba. For us, the section between the volcanoes was the extremely juicy filling between two dull and dry pieces of highway.
In my last post I complained about how the children around Quilotoa had almost been turned into commodities by the influx of tourism into the area. I compared them to the excitable and curious children that I often find away from the Gringo trail. It just so happens that Jo and I tapped into a rich vein of these adorable little rogues when we stopped for lunch at the start of the dirt section of this ride. Accordingly, the enduring memory of the four days from Latacunga to Riobamba won’t be the tremendous views of the highest point in Ecuador or the exhilarating riding, instead it’ll be of the eighteen grubby little kids that engulfed us that lunchtime. The true beauty of the interaction was that I’m sure it will live with the children as long as it lives with us… and not one of them asked us for anything.
It only really took a day to ride the dirt section between Chimborazo and Carihuairazo but it was one of those rides where it made me extraordinarily happy to travel by bicycle. Adventuring into these kind of landscapes is nothing short of a rare and beautiful privilege. Even when the weather isn’t so good and the views obscured, the plants at your feet, the sounds and smells around you and the thump of your heart in your chest make these places special. It can be hard work hauling a loaded bike through bogs and up muddy tracks, but the harder the work the more frequent the rests and the more frequent the rests the more time to lift the head and drink in the real reason why you’re there. So thank you to my bike Shermy for being so bloody strong and helping me explore the places I want to experience.
As is often the case we got the bare bones of our route information from Cass Gilbert, see his relevant post here. However, we approached the turning off from the Ambato-Guaranda highway from the opposite direction and followed a different route to Urbina. In regards to finding the turn off the highway it was a bit difficult to see the Escuela Manuela Canizates Cass mentions when coming from the north, so it’s worth looking out for the yellow church in my photograph above. Just make sure you take the turning away from the church and not towards Cunuyacu. There is a working tap just outside the church.
On route the trail is obvious, running past the cabanas and down into the valley. Having descended into the valley there is a shepherd’s hut and a small stream to cross (6 miles or 9.5 km from the cabanas). Cass went freestyling from here and advises against copying him, instead he suggests climbing the hill and then dropping down to cross the Rio Mocha and reach the road to Urbina. We went up the hill as advised but found no easy way to drop down to the river. However, this is no bad thing as the trail climbs up onto a stunning piece of ridge on the north side of the Mocha valley.
Once over the ridge and dropping down the north side there will be a junction of farm tracks (about 9.75 miles or nearly 16 km from the cabanas). Take a right here and then the upper of the two tracks you can see from this first junction (the one going up over the hill). This will bring you back around into the Mocha valley. There may be a way down from here into the valley to join the Urbina road Cass talks about but I haven’t ridden it so can’t be sure. We vaulted the gate and took a series of farm tracks east down towards the river. As you get near the river you’ll have to turn north along the valley where the road descends to cross the water before heading up and south. This will take you onto the road towards Urbina. Continue south down this road, over the railway line to Urbina. Urbina only consists of the railway station and a posada/cafe/restaurant which was closed when we arrived.
This route involves a fair amount of pushing and shoving through deep mud. It wasn’t unusual for the bike to sink up to the bottom bracket. It crossed my mind whilst out on trail that this would be a difficult route to take if you ride low-rider front racks. Things may be different in the dry season and although I thought this worth mentioning, I wouldn’t let it put you off.