By Jonathan Cain
I am staying with a friend’s family in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, and tomorrow will meet up with my climbing partner, Pablo Puruncajas, to prepare for our expedition. I am here to collect tree ring samples and put up a weather station on Chimborazo, Ecuador’s tallest peak, to provide climate data about this region, which relies heavily on Chimborazo’s glaciers for water. It’s a project I developed as a master’s student in Columbia University’s Sustainability Management program with my advisers, Steve Cohen, executive director of the Earth Institute, and Kevin Anchukaitis, formerly a tree-ring scientist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, now at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
The weather station that we hope to place a top Chimborazo, at nearly 21,000 feet, will provide baseline information about the region’s changing climate while the tree rings will help us reconstruct past climate. Collectively, the data will contribute to a better understanding of conditions leading to the deterioration of Chimborazo’s glacier, which is uniquely positioned as the point farthest from the center of earth. To acclimatize to the extreme altitude, we will spend 10 to 12 days climbing four smaller mountains before ascending Chimborazo:
Fuya Fuya (4,263 m/13,986 ft)
Imbabura (4,630 m/15,190 ft)
Cayambe (5,790m/18,996 ft)
Cotopaxi (5,897 m/19,347ft)
We will climb from Nov. 10 to Nov. 22 and If all goes according to plan, we should spend our last 2 to 3 days collecting tree-ring samples and putting up the weather station (which luckily arrived safely in my checked luggage!).