Ascent of Cerro las Capillas on 2011-12-28

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Duane Gilliland
Bob Packard
Adam Helman -- Trip Report or GPS Track
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Cerro las Capillas
    Elevation:9449 ft / 2880 m

Ascent Trip Report

We climbed this from the north west - a 26 hour epic! An ascent might be best made from the south west (Durazno), although a faster party could make the 50 km round trip from the NW in a day. Alternatively go equipped to bivvy.

After our Nevado de Colima ascent we drove across to El Grullo. From here we took the road towards Autlan then shortly turned L at N 19.77213, W104.24879 on a good paved road which leads to El Chante. From the town square, at N 19.71693, W104.20174 a good dirt road heads south to the tiny settlement of Rincon de Manantlan. From here the topo maps show a track heading straight up the forested mountainside to link with a network of forest roads which (according to an older map) provide a route to the summit.

We arrived at dusk and were unable to verify these details on the ground. However we found a local (Hector) who agreed to guard our vehicles during our ascent. He said that the track we were relying on did not exist, but described a longer route which would get us to the summit. We spent the night in our vehicles at the bridge at N19.60771 W104.20523, 1461m.

Next morning we met Hector as planned and he drove us the remaining 2km south from the bridge to the "village" (where he failed to locate anyone to act as guide - not surprising in retrospect...). We drove a short way further before the track became impassible, so this was our trailhead (N19.59586 W104.20990, 1540m). Hector agreed to pick us up at sunset, and we set off.

The track continues south and has clearly been drivable in the past but nowadays there are several bouldery stream and river crossings which are impassible except on foot. The main stream was an easy boulder hop (possibly different in rainy conditions). The going is very rough in places, with water damage. It passes through luxuriant vegetation with many attractive wild flowers.

The route is mostly fairly obvious but note the following.
N19.59289 W104.21125 - wide bouldery streambed - straight across
N19.58210 W104.21633 - cross to W side of stream and follow obvious track which soon curves back L.
N19.57910 W104.21585 - cross back to E side of stream
N19.57593 W104.21710 - fork L up what appears to be a dry streambed but is actually a shortcut which bypasses a loop of the main track which has been obliterated. Main track is rejoined shortly (N19.57509 W104.21734) - turn L.

In 6.5 km the track had at last improved. An isolated building is reached (N19.55825 W104.23450, 2051m, 3hrs from the start). From here, the route follows good tracks to within a few metres of the summit itself.

At the "house" the track bends L and shortly reaches a good dirt road - we turn L on this (N19.55633 W104.23353) and soon reach another junction (N19.55478 W104.23355, 2078m, turn L). The dirt road coming up from the R is presumably the main forest access from Durazno which may be the better access option for this peak; according to Hector it is possible to obtain a key, although the forest road should be hikeable in a longish day.

Now at last we are heading east, towards the summit, still 9 km away, passing through very nice mature woodland. Shortly we reach a point where the road has been partially undermined by a landslide - one of the very few viewpoints on this hike. At N19.55498 W104.22245 we keep L and at N19.55479 W104.22093 fork L.

The route zigzags its way over the shoulder of a prominent summit (about P300m according to the SRTM contour map I have on the GPS). This costs us an extra 180m reascent. Just past the highest point of the track, at N19.55678 W104.21458 (2536m) we keep L. We reach a junction (N19.56095 W104.20374) and turn R, soon crossing a nice clean stream (N19.56685 W104.19933, 2355m). From here the dirt road rises gradually then zigzags more steeply to gain the N ridge of Capillas (at N19.56670 W104.17553, keep R at signboard; soon afterwards keep R again). The road heads generally S, contouring below the ridge line, passing a few minor junctions (keep L at N19.55614 W104.15552). A saddle is reached, with the impressive rock scenery of the north ridge to the R. The track curves L; we turn R at N19.55516 W104.14942, 2830m, then make a beeline L for the summit, a small rock outcrop in tall pines (N19.55507 W104.14717, 2893m GPS), with an impressive drop-off to the S.

It has taken us 9 hours to get here. We spend 30 minutes enjoying the isolation of the place, visit the nearby comms buildings then descend to the track. I spend a few minutes bush whacking to the highest point of the west spur (N19.55479 W104.15301). The GPS reads 2859m, consistent with the 2860 contour and confirming that the point we all visited is the Ultra. The W Top is well worth a visit, though, with a series of blunt pinnacles and what appears, through the mist, to be a big drop-off.

It is now dusk, and we don't fancy doing that last very rough section in the dark, so we go slowly, stop and doze a few times, reaching the "house" at 1 am, where we spend the rest of the night. It has roof and walls, but the cold dirt floor offers no comforts. Adam and I share his emergency foil bivvy bag - not a great success! Bob has a better idea and lights a fire. We sit round it breakfasting from the remnants of yesterday's hill food.

We leave just before 7 and it is fully light by the time we reach the first rough section. We wonder about Hector and our vehicle, since we missed the sunset rendezvous. We needn't have worried - when we arrive at 0930 he and the vehicle are waiting. The Suburban has succumbed to its second puncture of the trip (one per peak so far) and we find a place at El Grullo to get it repaired. We assume it's a function of cheap tyres and bad roads (the dirt roads have been good so far but the paved roads are badly potholed).

We spend the afternoon and evening driving to our next Ultra, Cerro Tancítaro.

Capillas photo album

A trip summary/overview can be found at the end of my Orizaba report

For a comprehensive illustrated description of the whole trip, see Adam Helman's expedition report
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5579 ft / 1700 m
    Total Elevation Loss:5579 ft / 1700 m
    Round-Trip Distance:31.1 mi / 50 km
    Grade/Class:YDS 2
    Quality:5 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country
    Gear Used:
    Weather:Cool, Calm, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:4988 ft / 1520 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 4397 ft / 1341 m; Extra: 591 ft / 180m
    Loss on way in:591 ft / 180 m
    Distance:15.5 mi / 25 km
    Route:from NW
    Start Trailhead:Rincon de Manantlan  5052 ft / 1539 m
    Time:9 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:4988 ft / 1520 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 4397 ft / 1341 m; Extra: 591 ft / 180m
    Gain on way out:591 ft / 180 m
    Distance:15.5 mi / 25 km
    Route:same as ascent
    End Trailhead:Rincon de Manantlan  5052 ft / 1539 m
    Time:17 Hours 
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rob Woodall
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
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.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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