Ascent of Volcán de Agua on 2012-12-24

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Duane Gilliland
Adrian Rayner
Edward Earl
Date:Monday, December 24, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Volcán de Agua
    Elevation:12339 ft / 3760 m

Ascent Trip Report

This is the first peak of an eight day trip targeting the six Guatemala Ultra prominence summits.

Adrian and I had arrived in Guatemala City late Saturday and stayed in the Hotel Dos Lunas, close to the airport, reasonably priced and with helpful and knowledgeable proprietors. They had us shuttled back to the airport Sunday where we met Duane, Edward and our van and driver provided by Adrenalina Tours. We made the short drive to Antigua where we finalised arrangements with Adrenalina and checked into the Hotel Posada La Merched.

Volcan de Agua has security issues and an armed escort provided by the Antigua based Tourist Police is the normal arrangement. We had been trying through Adrenalina to arrange this for some time and were pleased to find on our arrival in Antigua that arrangements had finally been made for an ascent the next day. Making arrangements in advance doesn't seem to be the Guatemalan way.

Monday 24 December
We are at the tourist police compound N14.55517 W90.73941 before 05:00, but our planned early start isn't quite as early as planned (the two policemen aren't ready; I have to retrieve my GPS from the hotel) but by 05:30 we are on our way to the village of Santa María de Jesús where the ascent starts. There is a permit fee which goes to the local community, 20 Quetzales per hiker. This is news to us but not a great deal of money and soon dealt with. There is a small office at N14.49411 W90.70990 where the hike starts: we sign in and are given nicely produced permits. This fee is in addition to the escort fee: 2 policeman get 200 Quetzales each. We learn that the police take it in turns to be allotted this work in pairs, although the arrangement doesn't seem entirely equitable as one stops halfway and leaves his colleague to summit with us: maybe they also take it in turns to summit. Incidentally, Richard and Denise Mclellan in 2011 used an unarmed off duty policeman, Armando Mixtun tel. 59826142, e-mail I did email him when our own arrangements seemed in doubt, but received no reply.

We start hiking just before 06:00, initially with head torches although it is soon light. We hike uphill on a cobbled street, turn R at N14.49293 W90.71163 then L on the next street which we follow to its end. We continue straight on a dirt trail, soon forking R at N14.49023 W90.71500. It's a cool dry morning - perfect! We go straight over two dirt roads and it's a fairly simple matter of keeping to the main trail as it heads uphill through fields. Our policeman act as guides although with a GPS track from Richard Mclellan, and Adam Helman's description it is straightforward. There are also large blue signs pointing the way to the mountain, useful in their way but rather obtrusive and ugly.

At N14.47700 W90.72559 we turn R on a rough jeep road which we follow to N14.47630 W90.72722, 2686m where it ends, at a surprisingly flat(ish) field planted with neat rows of vegetables! This is the farthest point accessible by vehicle and it is notable that above here the route is strewn with food wrappers, plastic bottles, the odd newspaper.

Farther up we are passed by about 20 runners descending. They had passed us earlier on their way up and assuming they had been to the summit, from the timings will evidently have summitted in 2 hours or less. We learn from our guide that they are led by Erick Barrondo, who made history at the London 2012 Olympic Games, winning Guatemala’s first-ever Olympic medal after claiming silver in the men’s 20km walk.

The trail zigzags uphill through nice woodland, with lovely views down to the village and also to Antigua and farther off, Guatemala City with its high rise downtown. We pass a cross: there are about 5 along the trail, identically constructed in metal, perhaps marking pilgrimage stations. Soon afterwards the trail crosses a bouldery gully (N14.47165 W90.73711) exited via a slightly exposed section known as malpaso.

Higher up there seem to be a few alternative routes; at N14.47042 W90.74016 is a R turn which some of us nearly miss; near the summit we take a slightly more direct line than Richard's. We reach the rim of the (small) crater (cross at N14.46722 W90.74138 above ramshackle hut) then ascend the final 100m to the summit area. It is a dense forest of comms masts with several summit contenders, fortunately all accessible despite a few fenced areas. The view to Acatenango and its slightly lower neighbour Fuego is most impressive. Both are higher than our summit; the summit of the other nearby Ultra, Atitlan is just visible over the shoulder of Acatenango.

Near the point where the trail reaches the summit area, there is a building with a man who apparently looks after the comms masts but also sells coffee. Just beyond here (left, south) is the summit which we believe from hand-levelling and general observation to be higher. It is a levelled area and may originally have been higher than it is now. The highest ground excluding buildings is a tree base, N14.46539 W90.74277, 3771m. We also visit the north summit: rock outcrop beside building, N14.46668 W90.74312. My GPS actually reads higher (3776m) here but the difference is too close to call given the expected vertical accuracy of about 6m.

After an hour at the summit we descend in 3 hours. The frost is coming out of the ground and the trail is slippery in places. There is a lot of upward traffic: hikers who will evidently be starting their Christmas day at or near the summit.

It's very pleasing to have Agua in the bag, given its security issues and it being one of the biggest vertical gains of our trip. Manuel our driver is waiting for us (our 3pm ETA proving remarkably accurate); we return to Antigua to retrieve our belongings from the hotel then drive to Huehuetenango (about 4 hours) where we have 2 nights and 2 Ultras. Tomorrow we tackle the Cerro Chemal / Cuchumatanes highpoint.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5728 ft / 1745 m
    Total Elevation Loss:5728 ft / 1745 m
    Round-Trip Distance:6.2 mi / 10 km
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail
    Gear Used:
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:5728 ft / 1745 m
    Distance:3.1 mi / 5 km
    Route:From northeast
    Start Trailhead:Santa Maria de Jesus  6611 ft / 2015 m
    Time:5 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:5728 ft / 1745 m
    Distance:3.1 mi / 5 km
    End Trailhead:Santa Maria de Jesus  6611 ft / 2015 m
    Time:3 Hours 
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rob Woodall
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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