Climbing the majestic Cayambe volcano in Ecuador is an extraordinary experience that demands careful preparation and the right approach, especially for beginners. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to conquer the nighttime ascent of Cayambe, covering essential steps to ensure a safe and successful climb.
Is Cayambe difficult to climb?
Hiking Cayambe volcano is a certain challenge! The rough terrain makes this ascent difficult. The climb is accessible for climbers with intermediate to advanced skills. The mountain features a glacier-covered terrain and involves traversing crevassed areas.
Climbers should possess basic mountaineering techniques, such as ice axe and crampon usage, along with proper rope work. While not as challenging as some of the higher peaks in the Andes, Cayambe demands physical endurance and mental determination.
Even though I knew this information, I climbed the Cayambe volcano with no experience, with never even done a mountain ascend before. I wanted to challenge myself during my 5-month backpacking trip, fysically and mentally.
So while this climb is technically not for beginners, I am going to write you a guide on how to hike the Cayambe volcano anyway. Because who says you cannot hike to a volcano summit if you set your mind to it!
How long does it take to climb Cayambe?
The ascent of Cayambe typically takes around 6 to 8 hours to reach the summit from the refuge, depending on your climbing pace and acclimatization level.
The adventure commences during the night, offering the unique experience of ascending in the moonlit darkness.
The nighttime climb adds an extra layer of challenge and mystique, requiring climbers to navigate using headlamps and the stars' guidance.
Step 1: Hire a Guide to climb Cayambe
Engaging a skilled and experienced guide is a crucial step in climbing Cayambe and is even obligated. My own journey towards conquering this majestic volcano started unexpectedly while I was tackling another Ecuadorian peak – Cotopaxi. Fate intervened, leading me to find a guide who would become my partner in the Cayambe adventure.
While I was attempting to summit Cotopaxi, I found myself chatting with a fellow climber who happened to be a seasoned mountain guide. We struck up a conversation, and amidst discussions about our mountaineering aspirations, we decided to team up for the Cayambe climb.
This collaboration arose due to the temporary closure of Cotopaxi's summit because of the volcano's activity at that time.
Mountain guides in Ecuador are relatively easy to come across, but for a more personalized experience, I discovered that seeking out local guides is a wise approach. Opting for a private guide who isn't affiliated with a large company can provide unique insights and a more tailored adventure.
My guide, Frank, exemplified this – despite having contracts with various organizations, his experience as an independent climber with over 45 successful Cayambe summits (probably even more by now) allowed him to offer us a more budget-friendly rate compared to larger companies.
Connecting with Frank was a breeze through WhatsApp, making communication seamless and efficient. His passion for mountaineering, extensive knowledge of Cayambe, and his personalized approach made him an exceptional guide for our adventure. You can reach Frank through Whatsapp or his Facebook page.
Step 2: Journey to the Cayambe Refuge
Begin your adventure by taking a jeep ride to the Ruales Oleas Berge Refuge. The journey through amazing landscapes sets the tone for your upcoming challenge.
You will ride next to steep cliffs and bumpy rides, so be prepared to have some bruises. Also when I was doing the summit a part of the road was closed due to renovations so we needed to hike ourselves for 1,5 km to the refuge with our gear.
What is the altitude of Cayambe's refuge?
Cayambe's refuge, known as the Ruales Oleas Berge Refuge, is located at an altitude of approximately 4,600 meters (15,091 feet).
This refuge serves as a base camp for climbers to rest and acclimatize before embarking on the summit attempt. Spending time at the refuge allows climbers to adjust to the altitude and prepare for the challenges ahead.
Step 3: Refuel and Rest before the night climb
Upon reaching the refuge, you'll enjoy a nourishing meal to replenish your energy reserves. During my stay the meal consists of potato soup, fish with rice and beans and fruit. It's essential to stay hydrated and well-fed to cope with the physical demands of the climb.
You will meet a lot of climbers during your supper at the Ruales Oleas Berge refuge. I remembered being the only one who had never done a mountain summit before.
Step 4: Prepare for the Night
As the temperature drops, the refuge's dormitories can become incredibly cold due to the absence of heating. Pack a specialized cold-weather sleeping bag and appropriate clothing to stay warm.
The temperatures can plummet below -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit), so adequate insulation is crucial for a restful night's sleep. I hiked the Cayambe in December one day before Christmas.
At around 6 p.m., it's time to head to bed, as the climb is scheduled to begin at midnight. Ensuring you're well-rested is essential for tackling the challenges ahead.
Step 5: The Midnight Ascent
At the stroke of midnight, the adventure begins. Equipped with proper mountaineering gear, including helmet, ice axe, harness, and crampons, you'll step into the darkness.
The first segment of the climb involves ascending on top of large rocks. This part requires extreme caution, as the snow covers the terrain, hiding potential hazards. Maintaining focus and precision is crucial to avoid any missteps.
Step 7: Transition to Crampons
After an hour or two of careful progress, you'll reach a point where crampons are necessary. You'll attach yourself to your guide with a rope for added safety. This marks the beginning of the steeper ascent to the summit, which sits at an impressive altitude of 5,790 meters (18,996 feet).
Step 8: The Final Push
The climb to the summit is demanding, characterized by a steep incline and icy conditions. Despite the challenge, the absence of oxygen isn't a concern at this altitude. With determination and synchronized movements with your guide, you'll conquer the final stretch and stand atop Cayambe's summit.
Conquering Cayambe's nighttime ascent is an accomplishment to be cherished. The unique experience of scaling this imposing volcano under the stars and amid icy challenges offers mountaineers an unforgettable adventure.
With the right preparations, equipment, and a skilled guide by your side, the summit of Cayambe becomes an achievable goal, showcasing the power of human determination in the face of nature's grandeur.
Step 9: Descending from Cayambe's Summit
After a challenging ascent and a triumphant arrival at the summit, the journey isn't over yet. Descending from Cayambe's peak is a crucial phase of the climb that requires as much attention and care as the ascent itself.
As you reach the summit around 6 a.m., the breathtaking beauty of dawn unfolds before your eyes. Gazing out from the highest point of the volcano, you're rewarded with an awe-inspiring panoramic view. The golden hues of the rising sun illuminate the surrounding landscape, creating a moment of awe and wonder.
Around 15 minutes after enjoying the sunrise spectacle, it's time to start your descent. While the summit provides an unforgettable view, the journey down demands focus and precision. The icy terrain and potential hazards call for cautious steps and well-coordinated movements.
The descent leads you back to the refuge, where you began your adventure. Arriving around 10:00 a.m., you'll likely find a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as you reflect on the challenges you've overcome and the magnificent sights you've witnessed.
Can you Conquer Cayambe as a Beginner?
For many aspiring adventurers, the thought of tackling a mountain like Cayambe may initially seem daunting, especially for those who have never embarked on a mountain climb before.
However, the journey to the summit of Cayambe holds stories of triumph for individuals of varying levels of experience, even beginners.
As a beginner, I personally set out to conquer Cayambe without any prior mountain climbing experience.
The allure of scaling this impressive volcano under the starlit sky was a temptation too strong to resist. While the climb posed its share of challenges, it's worth emphasizing that, with determination and preparation, even newcomers to mountaineering can aspire to conquer such peaks.
In my own climb, my friend and I encountered an obstacle that many climbers, regardless of experience, can face: altitude sickness.
At around 5,200 meters, my friend began to experience symptoms of altitude sickness, which include headache, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath. These symptoms can vary in intensity and affect individuals differently. It's important to recognize the signs and take them seriously, as altitude sickness can become severe if not addressed promptly.
Acclimatization, the process of allowing your body to adjust to higher altitudes, is a critical factor in tackling mountains like Cayambe.
The refuge located at approximately 4,600 meters provides climbers with the opportunity to acclimatize before the summit attempt. Spending time at this altitude aids in gradually adapting to the lower oxygen levels, reducing the risk of altitude-related complications.
While my friend and I were unable to continue the climb beyond 5,200 meters due to altitude sickness, our experience underscored the importance of recognizing our limits and making safety a priority.
It's crucial to listen to your body and heed the advice of experienced guides. For beginners like us, the journey to Cayambe's summit can be seen as an introduction to the world of mountaineering, where learning, acclimatization, and adaptability are key components of success.
We liked this first experience so much, that we both got a tattoo from the Cayambe volcano on our leg with the text "Por que no?"
How much does it cost to climb Cayambe?
Embarking on this nighttime expedition usually comes with a cost. For a private guided climb, the expenses can vary based on factors such as the guiding agency and included amenities.
As of now, the estimated cost for you and a friend with a private guide is approximately €240 per person. Keep in mind that this cost may encompass services like guide fees, transportation, equipment rental, and refuge accommodation.
Is Cayambe more difficult to climb than Cotopaxi?
Cayambe and Cotopaxi are both formidable peaks in Ecuador, but Cayambe's difficulty level is often considered slightly higher.
While both mountains feature glaciers and crevasses, Cayambe's glacier tends to be more complex to navigate due to its active nature. Cotopaxi, on the other hand, has a more straightforward glacier route and is 100m higher at 5,897 m (19,347 ft). However, the difficulty comparison can vary based on personal experiences and climbing conditions.
Climbing Cayambe isn't just about reaching the summit; it's about embracing the entire adventure, from the dark hours of the night climb to the dawn of a new day at the top.
Each step, each challenge, and each view contribute to the narrative of an achievement that exemplifies the spirit of mountaineering and the human desire to conquer the heights of nature.
It's an experience I will never forget. It made me feel empowered, if you believe enough in yourself, you will see how much your mind and your body can handle. A climb of a lifetime for a beginner like me.
Keep on exploring and Fly Along