Ascent of Cerro El Pital on 2012-12-30

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Edward Earl
Duane Gilliland
Adrian Rayner
Date:Sunday, December 30, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Cerro El Pital
    Location:Honduras/El Salvador
    Elevation:8957 ft / 2730 m

Ascent Trip Report

We climbed this peak as a day trip from Guatemala between our Volcán Atitlán and Acatenango ascents, although at 21 hours door to door it wasn't so much of a rest day as we had in mind!

After a 7 hour 340km drive across Guatemala we enter Honduras at the Agua Calientes border crossing (N14.53589 W89.27836), then make the 30 minute drive across the corner of Honduras to enter El Salvador at El Poy (N14.37040 W89.21004). Here we run into a problem: our Guatemalan driver is refused access as his ID card is deemed illegible (it is smudged, although just about readable). The other point of interest here is that our passports aren't stamped, just entered into the El Salvador computer system: there's also a $3 fee levied upon entry (USD is the currency there).

There's quite a bit of misinformation about access to this peak: the Summitpost page clearly implies it's possible to drive up in a normal car (it's not). Our tour company had got the impression 4x4 is needed all the way (it's not) - although to be fair we knew they'd never been here.

For us it turns out to be fairly simple. First we take a short bus ride from the border at El Poy to San Ignacio (N14.33943 W89.17881, 1011m). These gaily painted ancient "chicken buses" are quite a feature of central american travel: the classic yellow USA school buses pensioned off and given a new lease of life further south. It's driven by a young lad (early 20s?) with another collecting the fares.

The village of San Ignacio would be the normal starting point for anyone already in El Salvador. From here we take a second bus, to the small village of El Pilar (N14.35363 W89.14601). They seem to run every half hour. The steep winding road takes nearly an hour: first gear nearly all the way, climbing from 1010m to 1700m. It's fun to use the bus, pretty crowded and informal but quite civilised, and people are friendly, taking no especial notice of these four gringos in their midst.

El Pilar (2200m) can also be reached by standard passenger car. From here it would be simple to hike to the summit (500m, 4.5km each way, YDS 1) although being short of time we pay a pick-up $25 to drive us to the upper parking lot and wait 30 minutes while we visit the summit. He seemed to be waiting near the bus stop looking for business.

The road up from El Pilar is steep and, in the light rain that prevails for the whole of our visit, slippery in places.

From the upper parking lot (N14.38201 W89.12698, 2659m), we discover there are two summits. Following a track south leads to a summit at about 2690m. To reach the true summit, instead cut back north (left in relation to the direction of arrival) from the parking area, either via a road which initially descends a little, or slightly more directly with less descent, take a small gate then a grassy path across the (deserted today) camp site, passing L of the main buildings to join the above mentioned road. At N14.38351 W89.12911 it's possible to either go straight on a grassy track which soon bends R, or turn R and take some steps which pass through two open gates to join the same track, which services a comms mast compound. The summit (N14.38439 W89.12917, 2745m) is just beyond the compound, marked by a white painted pillar which looks like a triangulation point but is apparently just a border marker (there are others at the El Poy border crossing) marked on the base with El Salvador on two sides and Honduras on the other two. Thus it is safe to claim this as the El Salvador country high point - although not that of Honduras, which has a higher summit elsewhere.

The GPS here reads 2745m, fluctuating by up to 2m either way, just a little higher than the expected value. I hop over the barbed wire fence and head back into the Honduras forest about 30 metres distance, descending all the way: there's nothing higher.

We return to our waiting pickup and head back to El Pilar. In the half hour before the next bus arrives we have a meal in a cafe (with no ill effects!), then take the bus back down to San Ignacio. There we cram into a public minibus which quickly takes us back to the border and we retrace our steps through the border crossings back into Guatemala; some of the officials are a bit bemused by all the comings and goings but there are no problems other than the usual minor annoyances. None of our bags are searched, in either direction.

Manuel drives us back to the town of Chimaltenango near Antigua where we spent what's left of the night before climbing Volcán Acatenango next day.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:165 ft / 50 m
    Total Elevation Loss:165 ft / 50 m
    Round-Trip Distance:0.2 mi / 0.3 km
    Grade/Class:YDS 1
    Quality:5 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail
    Weather:Raining, Cool, Breezy, Low Clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:132 ft / 40 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 99 ft / 31 m; Extra: 33 ft / 10m
    Loss on way in:33 ft / 10 m
    Distance:0.1 mi / 0.2 km
    Route:From south, El Pilar
    Start Trailhead:El Pilar, upper parking lot  8858 ft / 2699 m
    Time:10 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:132 ft / 40 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 99 ft / 31 m; Extra: 33 ft / 10m
    Gain on way out:33 ft / 10 m
    Distance:0.1 mi / 0.2 km
    End Trailhead:El Pilar, upper parking lot  8858 ft / 2699 m
    Time:5 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rob Woodall
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
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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