Ascent of Cerro de los Cuervos on 2012-12-25

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Edward Earl
Duane Gilliland
Adrian Rayner
Date:Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Cerro de los Cuervos
    Elevation:12589 ft / 3837 m

Ascent Trip Report

We made a fairly late start on this peak, having just had a long day climbing Volcán de Agua then driving across. The peak took us 7 hours at a steady pace.

The twin summit conundrum
We were aware from others' recent trips that there are two points of similar elevation, 2 miles apart. Having visited both we are confident that the northwest summit (Cuervos area) is higher than the southwestern summit (Torre area), but only by about 5 metres, so until an accurate survey is undertaken, it's probably safest to visit both - and it makes a very nice hike.

Route options
We did both peaks from the southeast (La Ventosa), but Bob Packard reports it's possible to visit the Cuervos high point from the north quite easily, although a high clearance vehicle is needed. Finally, we encountered two pickups in the area between the two summits, carrying tourists, so this would appear to be the easiest way of getting the summits. My guess is that they come in from the northeast.

Our hike
We are based in Huehuetango for 2 nights and leave at 8. It being Christmas Day we fail to find breakfast nearby. We drive through Chiantla then make a long twisting ascent, gaining about 1000m, with fine views across to the volcanos including Santa Maria's classic cone. Driving across the plateau above at about 3200m we find a small restaurant open, Comedor Amparito N15.43458 W91.45924 and enjoy an excellent breakfast of local fare.

The trailhead is now only a short drive away, in the small village of La Ventosa, on a saddle N15.46604 W91.53940, 3400m on the road to Todos Santos. We start hiking just after 10:00, following a rough dirt road north from where it starts 50m southeast of the road saddle.

Using GPS tracks from Richard Mclellan and Ken Jones, we find the way quite easily without a topo map: the clear visibility we enjoy all day obviously helps.

In a short way we reach a fork at N15.46729 W91.53877 where our two GPS tracks diverge. It's possible to fork L here, which is the way Ken Jones and Bob Packard's local guide took them. Not having a guide we reckon this would be a bit cheeky, although Adrian and I later descend this way and attract no interest except from a few dogs. In ascent we stay on the main track which bends L and passes some houses, then after the houses we turn R following an obvious track which heads uphill below some cliffs. It becomes steep then narrow and rocky but is reasonably well defined. At N15.47603 W91.53264 we branch off L (no obvious trail) following Ken's GPS track, which mostly follows small paths through pine and juniper, heading generally towards the Torre summit. We reach a level area at N15.48090 W91.53226, 3706m and get a view of a summit: a small path leads R onto the ridge which we follow L to the first summit N15.48349 W91.53441, 3818m, which has a small comms mast and an amusing sign "Fancy a coffee break?" pointing to a nearby shack (which is closed).

This first summit has a fine view west down the valley towards Todos Santos. The second summit N15.48452 W91.53575, 3832m is in pines, poorly defined. The third and highest of the Torre area, N15.48817 W91.53944, 3847m, 700m beyond the first, is a rock outcrop marked with red paint. Again the view west down the valley is rather fine. We manage to get a view NNW to the Cuervos area: Cerro los Cuervos is the rocky summit to the left; the high point to the R has a little more tree cover and Duane's hand level suggests it's a little higher than where we are, by 5-10m, too close to call without going over there and making the reverse sighting, which was always our plan.

We take a fairly direct line towards the NNW summit, initially on easy grass before we hit more complex terrain, threading our way through limestone outcrops and juniper to reach a good track at N15.50419 W91.53638 which we follow NW. Once we are in line with the highest summit, Edward and Duane head up to it across broken ground. Adrian and I fancy visiting the (lower) Cuervos summit first, following the track to an intersection then heading up, taking in a little easy (avoidable) scrambling en route. The summit N15.52203 W91.55041, 3835m is a limestone outcrop in juniper scrub. We then cross easy ground to rejoin the others at the main summit, passing a lower northern bump at N15.51891 W91.54515. We note four locations of very similar elevation:
Bearberry knoll N15.51846 W91.54462
Juniper N15.51824 W91.54453 3846m (this appears to be the highest by maybe 1 ft)
Small cairn N15.51815 W91.54452
Rock outcrop N15.51806 W91.54442.

From the latter we sight back to the SSE summit and confirm our earlier findings: the NNW summit is slightly higher than the SSE, by approx 5-10 metres. My GPS puts them the other way round, with the SSE (Torre area) summit at 3847m, 1m higher, which is too close to call given that the 3m positional accuracy probably implies 6m vertical accuracy. I would however be surprised if there prove to be much more than 5m elevation difference between the two summits.

We descend to the wide track at N15.51338 W91.54568 and follow it SE, noting a couple of pickups carrying tourists. I guess they came in from the NE. Adrian and I fancy the summit at N15.49889 W91.52892 so make the 90m climb (summit is rocky grass in scattered pine, 3813m) telling the others we'll catch them up but we never do (they take a higher line across the slopes of Torre and get behind us). We descend S, cross the shallow valley then ascend to follow a track contouring SE then following a narrow path past a building, across a re-entrant then contouring before ascending gently to cross a wide shallow saddle, following Richard's GPS track, before rejoining our outward route at N15.47603 W91.53264.

At N15.47226 W91.53356 we fork R, following Ken's route for the sake of variety. A wide rough track descends above low cliffs, then we cut back L at N15.47097 W91.53770, bending R at N15.46992 W91.53700 above houses then following a fairly obvious path beside a fence, down to the unpaved road at N15.46729 W91.53877. We are back at the road at 16:40 with Duane and Edward arriving a few minutes later. We head back to Huehuetango. We climb Montañas Peña Blanca the next day.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2746 ft / 836 m
    Total Elevation Loss:2746 ft / 836 m
    Round-Trip Distance:13.2 mi / 21.2 km
    Grade/Class:YDS 2
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:2418 ft / 737 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 1434 ft / 437 m; Extra: 984 ft / 299m
    Loss on way in:984 ft / 299 m
    Distance:6.6 mi / 10.6 km
    Route:From south, La Ventosa
    Start Trailhead:La Ventosa  11155 ft / 3400 m
    Time:4 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:1762 ft / 537 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 1434 ft / 437 m; Extra: 328 ft / 99m
    Gain on way out:328 ft / 99 m
    Distance:6.6 mi / 10.6 km
    End Trailhead:La Ventosa  11155 ft / 3400 m
    Time:3 Hours 
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

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