Ascent of Volcán Calbuco on 2014-01-07

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Duane Gilliland
Adam Helman -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Adrian Rayner
Date:Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Volcán Calbuco
    Elevation:6611 ft / 2015 m

Ascent Trip Report

This peak is the last of a two week trip to the Chilean Lakes District, climbed 3 days after our Volcan El Mocho ascent. It involves 10m of easy roped climbing and is a lovely ascent.

From Puerto Montt we head SE on Ruta 7, turn L at Puente Chamiza (road becomes good gravel, was being surfaced while we were there), L in the small community of Correntoso at S41.45273 W72.66004 (gravel road rather potholed) then L at S41.40537 W72.62792 on a road signposted Cascades and Volcan. This road is rough but there are no clearance issues. It leads to the large Rio Blanco fish hatchery with a large parking area at the entrance S41.39454 W72.63907, 391m. This is the trailhead.

We first drove here the previous morning after our planned Osorno ascent was rained off. The weather wasn't ideal and time was short, so after visiting the waterfall a short way along the trail, we spent the rest of the day in Puerto Montt, returned that evening and camped at the trailhead. We had the company of a friendly but rather unkempt dog (in good company!)

Registration Soon after we arrived, the Conaf ranger returned to his vehicle and took our details. The office is about a mile along the trail and opens from 9 until 6, which makes registration difficult in practice. There is however no other check point along the trail so the recommendation is to put a note under the office door with the names and countries of people ascending, then another confirming safe return.

Ascent Next morning we started hiking just after 7. The trail initially skirts the east side of the fish hatchery and has nature trail information boards and sections of boardwalk. At the NE corner the trail to the waterfall turns L while the main trail turns R and climbs, soon reaching the Conaf office (S41.38745 W72.64259, 491m), not open until 9 but has an outside water tap. In 1 km the well marked trail crosses a small slightly rickety bridge (S41.38092 W72.64426, 534m) over a tributary then a bridge over the Rio Blanco. The next short section crosses some rock slabs and may be difficult to follow if hiking in the dark. A forested section leads to another rocky section, with lovely views of our peak. The last km or so before the refugio is a little more difficult and has several steep and/or muddy sections.

The Refugio Calbuco (S41.34530 W72.63527, 1090m) has two small buildings and no facilities. We're there in 2.5 hours. The trail continues to be very clear. First a short steep descent, then a nice rocky area, then a steep climb through antarctic beech which is useful for hand and footholds. A memorial cross is passed (S41.34297 W72.63356, 1230m). As we climb, the beech and shrubs become dwarfed then give out at S41.34131 W72.63206, 1328m where there is a good view of the remaining route including the rock step. Near here we meet The Dog, who had presumably come up with two military lads who started before us, but doesn't want to go higher.

A gravelly ascent leads to another rise where the small snowfield affecting the route is seen. We had decided not to bring axe and crampons just for this one obstacle. We follow the ridge to its R, then walk across its top edge until we can make a short scramble on easy but loose rocks. The final ascent to the foot of the rock step is quite loose and at one point a large rock is dislodged which crushes Adam's thumb. Thankfully it is just two deep cuts and he is patched up and able to complete the ascent.

Just below the snowfield we meet a group of three who have turned back at the rock step. They mention there is an issue with stone fall once the sun is on the face. At the foot of the rock step are two army lads whom we saw at the trailhead. One is very good with the mouth organ: I am serenaded with Bizet and Vivaldi! There are numerous routes up the step. We spot several feasible looking lines, Class 4 or 5.

Rock step: We choose a corner immediately L of a small prominent overhang. Starting at S41.33380 W72.62278, scramble up easy rocks then climb corner. Gain a shelf to R at waist height (crux) then climb L to wide rubbly shelf. Final 2m ascent leads to easy ground (belay).

This is the shortest route. I have a half track and use two smallish rocks and a small friend. We have a pair of 30m ropes, the second added for the abseil descent.

We were told that it is possible to pass L of the step on snow to 40 degrees. We could see the route but couldn't tell what if any other climbing might be required beyond the snow.

Above the pitch an easy gravelly ascent along a ridge leads to the base of the summit. It is best to traverse L just before scrambling up reasonably stable boulders to the fine rocky summit. The highest point is a sharp rock (S 41.33242, W 072.61822, 2011m) just S of a stake with a summit register. The previous entry was about two weeks previous.

There are several other summits, all lower. The closest competitor is 300m to north. We could see clear over it to the horizon behind; I'd say it's at least 10m lower.

We returned to the top of the pitch. There is a rock spike at the top of our route with 4 good new slings which we were happy to use. The rope gets jammed in a rope crevice so I get to do the climb again, partially protected by the abseil ropes. Next time with better planning the rope pulls through OK.

The snowfield is soft and easily descended in the afternoon. We're back at the trailhead by 2020, ie 13h20 round trip, over 3 hours of which were at the rock step.

The weather was very nice throughout, clear and breezy. A fine peak and a superb end to our visit to the Chilean lake district. Adam and I head to Colombia to climb Ritacuba Blancoin a few days time.

Volcan Calbuco photo album

Chile and Los Lagos: notes
Chile is a developed country and the area felt safe to travel. People were friendly and helpful.
Driving is easy, signposting is reasonable. Unpaved roads are an integral part of the road network and generally well maintained.
Maps: we used the National Geographic Chile map plus two sets of digital mapping: a satnav loaded with xxxx which generally routed well except for undue avoidance of unpaved roads. My Garmin Etrex 30 was loaded with mapping from with 20m contours plus hiking routes from Google Earth and other sources. Navigation worked well
Weather: generally warm and often sunny, at least at low level. However, on average only one day in two was suitable for peaks but weather forecasting was inaccurate, sometimes changing overnight. and its sister site are very convenient but not accurate enough although the latter site seems used regularly by the chileans. seems more accurate although does not cover the peaks directly. Plenty of weather days need to be allowed for.
Permits/registration: registration seems to be expected for most if not all significant peaks in Chile but the only places where it was an issue were Cerro Cantillana (which we didn't know about) and for Villarrica and Osorno where we were allowed to climb based on our experience and an American Alpine Club membership (although we were weathered out of our Osorno ascent). I would expect other mountaineering club cards to work. They just wanted to be satisfied that people have the necessary skills to climb safely

Richard Mclellan's photos from their 2014 trip
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5564 ft / 1694 m
    Extra Gain:131 ft / 39 m
    Round-Trip Distance:11.2 mi / 18 km
    Route:Southwest ridge
    Trailhead:Rio Blanco fish hatchery  1309 ft / 398 m
    Grade/Class:V Diff, YDS low 5
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time:7 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:5 Hours 50 Minutes
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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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.

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