Climb Ecuador's 3rd tallest peak and reach the highest (and only snow-covered) point the entire Equator. Traverse glaciers and hopefully spot an Andean Condor. 

Cayambe is Ecuador’s third tallest peak and is often recommended as an excellent mountain for first-time mountaineers looking to gain glacier travel and high-altitude climbing experience.  It’s also the highest point along the equator anywhere in the world.  At 18,996 feet (5,790 meters), it’s the real deal, and frequent seismic activity adds yet another element of excitement to the climb.

Like any volcano climb in Ecuador, licensed guides are required (and highly recommended) and can range anywhere from $180-500 per climber, depending on the agency and size of group.  I used Andean Face and their guides were experienced, knowledgeable, professional, and personable.

Beginning at the Refugio Cayambe, a full-service climber’s hut at 15,092 feet (4,600 meters), prospective climbers spend anywhere from a day to a week acclimatizing and waiting for a weather window to attempt the summit.  Most guides will opt for a climber’s start around midnight where, after a quick equipment check, teams will begin the initial ascent from the Refugio up a talus and rock slope and along a broad ridgeline to the base of the glacier.

Once on the glacier, teams rope up and put on crampons, donning their ice axes and beginning the methodical climb up the primary ice slopes.  Huge and frequent crevasses are immediate evidence of the importance of competent guides who are very familiar with Cayambe’s routes and glaciers.  Snow bridges sometimes give way underfoot, meaning climbers should be familiar with roped travel and basic crevasse rescue.

Around 17,500 feet, climbers reach a broad bench and the last flat section before the final summit cone, which is markedly steeper than the previous approach route and sports noticeably larger crevasses.  This final section of the ascent covers the last 1,500 feet of Cayambe, passing beside and below some impressive seracs, and topping out on a broad snowfield, usually around sunrise if timing works out properly.

Guides usually opt for a quick-paced descent in order to avoid more dangerous glacier conditions brought on by the heating of the day and to allow time for a morning nap before descending the epically rutted road from the Refugio and back into the city of Cayambe a vertical mile below.  With any luck, an Andean Condor or two will make a brief appearance along the cliff walls above the road in the Cayambe-Coca National Refuge, but even if none does, the rolling green hills and huge glacial valleys are enough eye candy for any lover of wild places. 

Pack List

  • 2 Jackets (mid-layer, puffy)
  • Base Layers (both lower- and upper-body)
  • Softshell Pants
  • Waterproof Hard Shells (both pants and jacket)
  • Warm hat/buff
  • Two Pairs of Gloves (thin liner, warm outer)
  • Liner Socks
  • Warm Socks
  • Gaiters
  • Sunglasses (preferably glacier glasses)
  • Climbing Pack (~30-40L)
  • Headlamp and Extra Batteries
  • Lots of your favorite Snacks (finding good trail snacks can be difficult in Ecuador, especially for those with gluten allergies)

The Following May be Provided by your Guide or Rented in Quito:

  • Crampons (be sure these are compatible with your mountaineering boots--Microspikes/YakTrax won't cut it)
  • Ice Axe
  • Rope/Harness/Carabiners
  • Climbing Helmet
  • Mountaineering Boots (Ideally double-wall or better, but some insulated Single-Wall may work)

*Be sure to consult with your guides for a more comprehensive list and to be sure to cover all your bases on equipment and outerwear.

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RT Distance 5 Miles
Elevation Gain 4000 Feet
Activities Photography, Hiking, Rock Climbing
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Autumn, Winter
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Bathrooms
Easy Parking
Scenic
Wildlife

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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