Cayambe is Ecuador’s third highest mountain and sits 70 kilometres (34 miles) northeast of Quito in the country’s Cordillera Central.
The potentially active Holocene compound volcano is easily accessed from the country’s capital and is not a technically difficult mountain to climb, making it a popular destination for mountaineers.
Cayambe sits at the heart of the Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve, which is home to a wide variety of endemic plant and animal species. The national park is a popular place for mountaineers heading to Cayambe to acclimatize. The reserve boasts hot springs, waterfalls and several pre-Incan archaeological sites to explore.
Quick Facts about Cayambe
- Cayambe’s southern slope is the highest point in the world that crosses the equator. Cayambe is also the only place on the equator where there is snow.
- The top of Cayambe is the farthest point on Earth’s surface from its axis, meaning it rotates the fastest while the planet spins.
- Climbing any glaciated mountain in Ecuador is prohibited by law unless you hire a certified mountain guide.
History of Cayambe
Cayambe is a potentially active volcano, with the last known eruption having taken place in 1786.
The mountain was first climbed in 1880 by the renowned British mountaineer Edward Whymper (who is most famous for being the first person to climb the Matterhorn and was also the first to climb Chimborazo) and his two Italian guides: Jean-Antoine Carrel and Louis Carrel.
The trio summited the peak as part of a nine-mountain climbing expedition that also included Chimborazo and Cotopaxi.
Experience Required for Climbing Cayambe
The main route to climb Cayambe is not a very technically difficult one. The ascent begins with some hiking and scrambling before the use of ice axes, crampons and rope is required on the glacier.
In spite of this, some previous climbing experience is good to have as the Hermoso Glacier is constantly changing, which increases the risk from avalanches. While it only takes an average of 2 days to climb, many novice mountaineers spend an extra day practicing ice climbing on the glacier.
Climbing Cayambe also requires a high level of physical fitness. Summit day requires a 6 to 8-hour ascent of glacier and another 3 to 4-hour descent. Be prepared to climb for hours at a time without stopping.
It is also important to acclimatize before beginning the ascent. Many climbers opt to spend a few days before the trip hiking in the surrounding national park to get used to the altitude.
Main Routes up Cayambe
The standard route is the main one up to the summit of Cayambe as it passes by the volcano’s only mountain hut: the Ruales Oleas Berge Refuge.
From the trailhead, the hut is only a 45 minute hike up on the foot of the mountain. Many guides will opt to hike a bit farther up the peak in order to acclimatize before returning to the hut.
The climb to the summit begins at about midnight and starts out with a hiking approach up the rugged terrain of the buttress. The crampons and ice axes come out shortly after and the rest of the ascent is spent winding around the crevasses of the glacier until the final bergschrund is reached at about 5,500 metres (18,000 feet). Once this has been crossed, it is a straight shot onto the summit.