Ascent of Volcán Atitlán on 2012-12-29

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Edward Earl
Duane Gilliland
Adrian Rayner
Date:Saturday, December 29, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Boat
Peak:Volcán Atitlán
    Elevation:11604 ft / 3536 m

Ascent Trip Report

We climb this peak two days after our Volcán Tajumulco ascent, having taken a travel/rest day in between. We overnight in the tourist resort of Panajachel.

We climb from San Lucas Toliman at the southeast corner of Lake Atitlan, involving a 30 minute trip in a fast boat, arranged by our tour operator Adrenalina Tours (we had wandered down there the previous afternoon but none of the boatmen seems interested in a "private" trip early the next morning).

The boatman meets us early morning outside our hotel and we walk down with him to a small wooden pier N14.73686 W91.16018 where his boat Glendy is moored. The water surface is calm and we speed across the empty lake at 30 km/h by the light of a full moon - very nice.

Victor ties up at San Lucas N14.63928 W91.14170, 1560m, just after 5 am, then walks all the way up through town with us to make sure we find the route to the mountain. This is a kind gesture although not really necessary as I have Richard Mclellan's route on my GPS; also we have Adam Helman's description from his ascent. By an odd coincidence, both men had climbed on the same day and met at the summit!

From the pier we walk directly uphill, turn R at N14.62989 W91.14561, L at N14.63047 W91.14710, R at N14.62978 W91.14741 then L at N14.63011 W91.14828 at the edge of town, following an incongruously fancy block-paved road uphill to a small village N14.62673 W91.15114, keeping straight ahead on the now dirt road, descending a little. We stay on the road as it passes cultivated fields. I note another dirt road coming in from the L at N14.62007 W91.15593, 1665m: this would be an alternative route in from the highway, avoiding San Lucas completely, subject to road transport being available (see note at end of report).

Continuing along the dirt road we come to a fork where the road has been washed out. We keep L, crossing a small causeway at N14.61684 W91.15764 then continue along the road to where it ends at N14.61591 W91.15828. By now it is daylight. The route continues along a slabby dry river bed, forking L at N14.61446 W91.15909 then in time gradually climbing L out of the river bed. The clear trail climbs steadily, through coffee plantations, corn fields and stretches of forest. Our peak towers ahead: behind us are nice views across the lake. At N14.60984 W91.16315 is a trail fork: we turn L.

The sun rises and it becomes quite hot although it's still early. Edward is struggling with a cold: the three of us go ahead hoping he makes it at his own pace (he does). The trail passes just L of the Volcan Toliman saddle and enters mature woodland. We cross an apparent firebreak and reach a large litter strewn clearing at N14.59890 W91.18655, 2596m: evidently a camping spot. In descent be sure to keep R here: straight on leads to a wide trail which appears to head L of Volcan Toliman and presumably down to Santiago village.

The trail becomes steep with loose soil but is generally OK: the tall forest has some fine trees and it's cool in the shade. A fallen tree at N14.59033 W91.18679, 3070m provides a landmark (Adam had mentioned it) and a slightly awkward scramble. Eventually the forest suddenly thins and ends at N14.58648 W91.18680 (a waypoint is potentially useful for finding the trail on the way down, especially in poor visibility).

The last 200m of the ascent is a combination of relatively stable rock and loose talus with some reasonable sections of trail. Adrian and I find a nice trail which leads up left, out to the east top N14.58328 W91.18560: this point has only 2m prominence but a fine view to Volcan Pacaya poking out of a sea of cloud. We arrive at 11:15 in just over 6 hours from the boat. There's a dozen young Guatemalans there too, possibly planning to spend the night.

We wander up the short nearly level ridge to the summit (N14.58337 W91.18641, 3540m, small outcrop near shelter cairn), then, following Richard and Denise Mclellan's example, we walk a short way west and make a circuit of the crater. It's not large, but involves about 100m of reascent and an awkward area of brittle "crevassed" rock. There are also a few active vents, at least one sulphurous; the shelter cairn quite warm due to a vent there. We find a large empty bottle marked Ron Botran XL (a Guatemalan rum from Xela) during the re-ascent to the summit.

When we get back to the summit, Duane is waiting. While we're eating lunch, Edward arrives. We descend at 12:30, finding a trail which leads reasonably easily to the main route down. En route we meet a group of about 10 with a police escort; the policeman comes over for a chat. He says he's just here as a precaution: the hike is pretty safe.

We descend in 4 hours. On the way down we meet a Japanese man who has given up on the climb. It is amusing to see his reaction when Adrian starts speaking to him in Japanese! He tells him about our peakbagging trip there in September.

Adrian texts an ETA to our driver Manuel and when we arrive at 16:30 Victor has the boat waiting for us. The ride back to Panajachel is quite choppy but not at all bad. On arrival we make the short walk back to the hotel, retrieve our belongings and are soon on our way east. We catch a meal en route and spend the night at a cheap hotel Manuel knows at Chimaltenango near Antigua. A busy but enjoyable and successful day, with all four of us summitting what is the most physically demanding peak of the trip.

Tomorrow is a rest day of sorts: we'll do minimal hiking: the plan is to visit Cerro El Pital, the El Salvador country highpoint and an Ultra.

Note: It should be possible to drive round Lake Atitlan to commence the ascent from the main highway at about N14.61756 W91.14882 (obvious on aerial imagery e.g. Google), avoiding San Lucas completely. This would have saved some effort and money although there would be little if any time saving due to the slow road journey. Our tour company were not however prepared to do this, citing armed robberies along the road, although the policeman we spoke to on the mountain said it is safe nowadays. However, the boat journey is efficient and enjoyable.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:6518 ft / 1985 m
    Total Elevation Loss:6518 ft / 1985 m
    Round-Trip Distance:14.1 mi / 22.7 km
    Grade/Class:YDS 2
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Open Country
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:6502 ft / 1981 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 6486 ft / 1977 m; Extra: 16 ft / 4m
    Loss on way in:16 ft / 4 m
    Distance:6.6 mi / 10.6 km
    Route:From northeast
    Start Trailhead:San Lucas Toliman  5118 ft / 1559 m
    Time:6 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:6502 ft / 1981 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 6486 ft / 1977 m; Extra: 16 ft / 4m
    Gain on way out:16 ft / 4 m
    Distance:7.5 mi / 12.1 km
    Route:From northeast
    End Trailhead:San Lucas Toliman  5118 ft / 1559 m
    Time:4 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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