Ascent of Volcán Cayambe on 2008-12-19

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Petter Bjorstad
Adam Helman
Date:Friday, December 19, 2008
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Volcán Cayambe
    Elevation:18996 ft / 5789 m

Ascent Trip Report

Cayambe, 5790m, P2075m

Stats: 8km, 1158mH

Time: Fri 19 Dec 2008: 8h round trip.

Hut: Cayambe refuge.

Start: From SW, Cayambe refuge. Reached via 30km of rough road (4x4 essential)

From the refuge, a moderately well defined trail leads NE, straight up the rocky "nose" directly above the refuge. This crosses a minor summit at 4851m, descends 10m to a saddle, then mixed rock and snow (easy) leads in a few minutes to the start of the glacier. Easy-angled snow slopes lead to a shallow re-entrant (5284m): after passing R of a rock outcrop, the LH slope of the re-entrant is followed up onto a ridge. Above, the steep upper section of the glacier is seen. At the time of our ascent, the route led half-right, below a section of seracs and deep crevasses, with 3 minor crevasses to be crossed en route. The route finally emerges fairly steeply L onto the summit plateau, with a steepish climb L to the smallish snowy summit dome.

Smallish snow dome with views extending from nearby Imbabura, Cotocachi and Pichincha, past Antisana and Cotopaxi to Chimborazo in the south.

Some minor scrambling just above the refuge (typically undertaken in the dark). The main difficulties lie in the upper part of the glacier. At the time of our visit crevassing was minor and easily dealt with. In recent years these problems have been quite severe and have prevented some groups´ascents. More snowfall in recent years has apperently helped.

We did this climb after Chimborazo, with a rest night at Quito (our usual hotel, Casa Helbling) before being picked up again by our guide and taken to the Cayambe refuge (3 hours from Quito). The final 30km of the drive is on a rough road, mostly cobbled and giving access to farms, but very rough in places, especially in the last 10km or so which zigzags up beyond the farmland through mountainous terrain. At the time of our visit, a stretch of road lower down was being reconstructed and was extremely muddy: only just passable, even with 4x4 vehicle.

There were 2 organised groups at the Refuge, there for 3 nights, spending time acclimatising and learning glacier techniques. I suspect they were somewhat bemused by our blitzkreig approach (total stay was 15 hours including the climb!) but I was grateful to one of them for the loan of a head torch when mine temporarily went missing.

Arriving at 6pm we cooked a meal (gas, burners, utensils and cutlery were provided as was the case with all Ecuadorean refuges we used) and were soon abed. We were up at midnight, breakfasted and climbing by 1 a.m. Diego led us up the rocky trail, in drizzly mist although stars were visible above. This trail could be awkward to find in the dark - worth checking out in daylight the day before if you are unguided. We were at the start of the glacier in 1 hour, and roped and cramponed up. Unlike our Chimbo climb, the snow on Cayambe although initially soft was mostly firm and good to walk on. Diego led us easily through the upper crevassed section. The trail was fairly obvious even though no-one had climbed it for a day or two.

We were at the summit at 06:20, just after sunrise. The panorama was superb, with views extending from the nearby Imbabura and Cotacachi, south across Pichincha and the giant Antisana, to Illiniza and Cotopaxi with Chimborazo gleaming white just L of the latter. With the exception of Pasochoa, every summit we had climbed during our 2 week trip could be seen - this climb was the perfect Finale. We note that the Equator crosses the snowy lower summit, just over 1km S of the highest point (we had also passed an inobtrusive marker post beside the track on the drive-in). There was a chilly breeze. We headed down at 06:50, carefully at first but once past the steep crevasse zone all was easy. The clarity of the view soon faded, as is usual, with the cloud base rising: Imbabura was first to be drowned. By 08:30 we were off the glacier and soon in mist. After retrieving our gear we were driven back to Quito, our climbing programme successfully completed a day early.

For guiding and trip logistics, see my Chimborazo report

There is a set of photographs on

For further details and photographs, see trip reports by Petter Bjorstad
also Adam Helman's trip report
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3862 ft / 1177 m
    Extra Gain:33 ft / 10 m
    Round-Trip Distance:5 mi / 8 km
    Route:SW ridge (Normal route)
    Trailhead:Cayambe refuge  15200 ft / 4632 m
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Scramble, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Guide, Hut Camp
    Weather:Drizzle, Cool, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time:5 Hours 20 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:1 Hours 55 Minutes

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