Ascent of Volcán Ubinas on 2017-02-04

Climber: Seán Caulfield

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, February 4, 2017
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Bus
Peak:Volcán Ubinas
    Elevation:18438 ft / 5619 m

Ascent Trip Report

I was back in Arequipa with a few days to kill just over a year after climbing El Misti & Chachani, so naturally I wanted to get up another volcano. I had spent the previous two weeks in the Bolivian Altiplano & had just completed the Ausangate trek from Cusco in Peru (AMAZING), so was very well acclimated to altitude.

Nevado Coropuna was my first choice since it was higher than anything I'd climbed before & reachable by public bus. Unfortunately, by all accounts it would be covered in knee-deep snow, making it too dangerous to attempt alone due to the crevasse danger & there was no way I was paying hundreds of $$ for a guide to rope up to.

After some more research I decided on Volcán Ubinas - it too was reachable by bus & would hopefully make for an interesting climb, it is the most active of the volcanoes near Arequipa.

Finding out about the bus times & departure locations proved to be a bit of a challenge. The information on the internet was old & outdated, so I first went to the official tourist information centre in the main plaza. The girls there tried to be helpful, phoning a couple of bus companies, but they didn't know anything about a bus to Ubinas & suggested I get a bus all the way south to Moquegua where I would surely find a connecting bus.

This sounded like a terrible idea, so I decided to walk to the bus stop for Chiguata (about 1/4 the way to Ubinas out the same road) on the corner of calles Espinar & Sepulveda un the Miraflores district & ask there. A couple of ladies who were waiting for the next Chiguata bus confirmed that there WAS a direct bus to Ubinas & pointed me to a shop halfways up the block on Calle Espinar where they sold tickets.

Unfortunately, the bus only departed from this stop 3 days a week (in the mornings at 6:30am) & the next departure wasn't until Sunday (it was Friday), but the lady there told me that on the other days there was a bus that left, also at 6:30am, from the Cayro stop on Avenida Jésus (the intersection of Cayro & Jésus).

So I did my shopping & packed my 40l backpack ready for an early start the next day. At about 5:45am I took a taxi from my hostel near the plaza for S/.7 to the Cayro stop & the taxi driver pointed me to an office a couple of doors down from the gas station where they sold the bus tickets.

I chose a window seat on the left hand side so that I could get a clear view of El Misti & Chachani as we drove out of Arequipa - the ticket cost S/.15, I asked to go as far as "Para" or "Paramayo", from there I would start hiking.

The bus was 20mins late leaving in typical Peruvian fashion, it took AGES to load on all the cargo, it seemed like everyone onboard had at least 3 items of luggage each, ranging from sacks of rice to vegetables, to children's toys, to alpaca wool... Eventually we were on our way, only to stop again at a gas station on the way out of Arequipa for more passengers & even more cargo. The views on the way out were great, it was a perfectly clear morning & El Misti & Chachani looked stunning capped in snow.

A little over 2hrs later we reached Salinas Moche, a village on a salt lake & a toilet stop. After a short but very welcome break I got back on the bus for the last 45mins to Para, my jump-off point. Soon Ubinas came into view & it was spectacular - there was a huge plume of smoke coming out of the top of it!

There is a junction at Para, I was planning on walking down the other road for a bit & following a route up Ubinas I had found on (the normal route I think), but the bus driver overshot the junction slightly & when I got out I was looking up at the south face of the volcano. It seemed like there were a couple of ridges that led up to the crater rim from this side, which would save me about 5km of walking (each way).

I decided to just walk straight towards Ubinas to get a closer look at the ridges, if they were too steep or dangerous then I could continue around the side to the normal route. The closer I got the more confident I became that there were two ridges that would get me to the crater rim safely, one to the left (west side) & one to the right (south side).

I decided on the ridge to the south since it was closer & there was a 4wd track leading in that direction which I came upon after about 10-15mins of following a vicuña trail straight towards the volcano from the road.

I followed the 4wd track to its end, where there was a big rock, a 4" pipe sticking out of the ground (possibly a well?) & a basin full of water. I wasn't feeling too good at this stage, I had absolutely no energy in my legs at all, & the volcano was still belching out massive amounts of smoke, so I decided to take a break here to rest & to give the volcano time to calm down.

I lay down on the rock & fell asleep, not feeling good about my chances of making the summit that day, or at all. I must have slept for hours, because it was 2:30pm when I woke up. I had some of my pre-prepared potato salad & then a whole 200g chocolate bar & decided to give the hike a go, Ubinas had stopped spewing smoke & the summit was clear.

I felt much better & stronger & after about 10mins I decided to ditch my big backpack in a large sandy clearing at 4,700m (perfect campsite) & shoot for the summit - the only bus back to Arequipa would pass between 9:30am-10am the next day, so if I set up camp I would be under time pressure to make it up & down the following morning.

I packed my 10l summit pack & headed to the right towards the ridge & started gaining elevation quickly. The entire ridge was very steep, but not dangerously so, there were no big drop-offs like there were on the ridge we followed on Chachani. Between about 5,000m-5,300m there were more boulders that I had to scramble over, but not too difficult. Further up was more sandy scree & snow.

There were streams coming down the mountain from melting snow, but they were not suitable for drinking without a LOT of filtration, they were full of volcanic ash. I actually followed one of the streams for a good bit of the way, it was easier than climbing over big rocks.

Eventually, at about 6pm, I made it to the top of the ridge & the crater rim. There were two summits, a huge pillar of rock to my right & a ridge leading to what looked like the highest summit to my left. The topo map on my GPS also seemed to confirm that the ridge was higher by at least 10m & anyway I don't think it would have been possible to summit the pillar without climbing gear.

I headed to my left along the crater rim, descending down then climbing up again (a short scrambling section) before following the ridge all the way to the summit. The last 20m or so were more difficult, the ridge was very narrow with huge steep drop-offs & it was made of crumbly volcanic ash.

I made the top in time for a beautiful sunset behind Pichu Pichu & the sky over the crater was full of colours. El Misti & Chachani also looked great silhouetted against the red/yellow sunset.

Lots of photos taken, I headed back down - descending the narrow ridge from the summit was much more difficult than ascending had been, but I made it back to the main crater rim safely & took a quick walk around a large flat area below the rim but above the crater. After the huge plume of smoke I had seen from the bus in the morning, there was nothing coming from the crater now, I didn't even get a smell of sulphur.

I tried to follow the same route down, to either side of the wide ridge were some very steep & dangerous slopes. I was able to descend using only the light from the half moon & stars, just over an hour after standing on the summit I was back at my bag & setting up my tent.

After a dinner of ramen noodles & some warm tea I crawled into my sleeping bag & fell asleep. The next morning I packed up after breakfast & walked less than half an hour to the main road & my starting point to wait for the bus. At 9:40am, like clockwork, I heard, & then saw, the bus coming & jumped on for the 3hr+ bouncy ride back to Arequipa, another successful 5,000m summit achieved.

*Some notes for anyone thinking of climbing Ubinas

-the bus timetables, departure locations & the companies running the route seem to change often, so best to investigate yourself in Arequipa the day before, go first to the stop where the buses leave to Chiguata. I got the same bus there & back, a 45seater of the company "Coaquira Tours" ph. 054-764979 or 95-8457746. The final destination of the bus was Matalaque. You could also just go to the gas station on the way out of Arequipa towards Chiguata for around 6:30am & catch the bus there I guess.
-the route I took up Ubinas probably wasn't the easiest or best, but it got me there. It's definitely not for everyone.
-there was almost no traffic on the road to Ubinas, the only other vehicles I saw were the bus heading in the other direction, an ambulance & a local man on a motorbike. Hitchhiking would be pretty difficult I'd imagine, although I was on the road Saturday & Sunday, maybe there'd be more traffic midweek.
-I was the only person on the volcano the day I summited, tours rarely go here because it is farther from Arequipa & not as high as Chachani or El Misti.
-bring LOTS of water, there probably won't be any drinking water in the volcano
-bus drop-off time at Para (start of hike) approx. 10am, bus passes heading back to Arequipa around 9:30am
-money spent on hike S/.15 for bus e/w, S/.7 e/w for taxis to/from Cayro terminal - total S/.44 (US$14)
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4029 ft / 1228 m
    Total Elevation Loss:4029 ft / 1228 m
    Round-Trip Distance:6.1 mi / 9.8 km
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:4029 ft / 1228 m
    Distance:3.1 mi / 5 km
    Route:South Ridge Direct
    Start Trailhead:Para  14409 ft / 4391 m
    Time:4 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:4029 ft / 1228 m
    Distance:3 mi / 4.8 km
    Route:South Ridge Direct
    End Trailhead:Para  14409 ft / 4391 m
    Time:1 Hours 30 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Seán Caulfield
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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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