Ascent of Volcán Imbabura on 2008-12-10

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Petter Bjorstad
Adam Helman
Date:Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Volcán Imbabura
    Elevation:15161 ft / 4621 m

Ascent Trip Report

Imbabura, 4634m, P1519m

Stats: 10km, 1153mH

Time: Wed 10 Dec 2008: 6h30m round trip.

Start: From NE, road from the city of Imbarra which climbs due S to pass San Clemente church then zigzags further uphill to end at a trailhead, 3481m (GPSr) (4x4 advised above church).

From Imbarra city, we turned S on a straight road which climbed high on the SE slopes of the mountain, to San Clemente community. At a small church we turned R down a rough track to our homestay. However, the route to the trailhead continues straight uphill from the church, becoming gradually rougher and zig-zagging. Finally it passes between some farm buildings and a security-fenced compound. Shortly afterwards, stop at a fork, elevation 3481m. Park and hike the uphill track (direction SW), continuing SW for 500m, past a building and across cultivated fields, up a short bank, across more fields (a couple of zig-zags). The route now turns W and climbs steeply up a grassy slope, emerging eventually on the E ridge (fine view of the craggy mountain above). The trail climbs the obvious spur. Before a steep section we turned R off the spur onto a fainter path and contoured for a while before heading straight up. Presumably one could stay on the trail following the spur, but it would be steeper and perhaps more exposed. Higher up we rejoined the trail on the spur. Finally the grassy slope runs out and the clear trail contours L across a slope to reach a saddle, then continues generally W on a clear trail following the ridge. It then trends L, climbing steeply with some scrambling (moderate YDS 3) then trends R up the ridge, crossing a couple of minor bumps to reach the rocky, well-defined "False Summit" 4580m, P30m. From here, painted arrows point the way: the trail winds between pinnacles (YDS 3, sustained, exposed; good holds) to a notch, then descends L to pass under a rocky buttress; a cairned path then climbs back up to the ridge, passing over a minor summit (4598m, P24m). A well trodden trail follows the ridge W, with a minor scramble on loose ground at one point. Before the summit the ground becomes looser. Cross a narrow neck: the route is then barred by a rock wall. Carefully traverse R here on loose rock for 5m, cross a notch, downclimb 2m (YDS 3, good holds), then traverse L (exposed) then climb diagonally on loose fine scree to another notch, cross a 1m wide rock bridge (good rock) then follow the loose ridge (note a hole through the rock at one point): you are at the summit in about 30m from the rock bridge. A minor bump is passed en route: this is lower.

Compact summit, of shattered rock, although the summit itself is stable.

Minor scrambling (YDS 3) is required to the first summit, and then extended scrambling beyond this to negotiate a section of pinnacles. A short section of scrambling precedes the summit (YDS 3 but exposed, and on loose rock). There could be routefinding difficulties on the initial hike up through fields, in the dark, although the general direction is clear.

There was some uncertainty over the summit´s Ultra status, so we made a point of carefully measuring the summit elevation, which our 3 GPSs found to be 4645m. We found that our readings at other summits and 2 lower elevation calibration points were consistently about 14m higher than SRTM and mapped data. Thus our 4645m (GPS) is consistent with the local mapped elevation of 4630m, and the Ultra status is secure, at c.1514m.

After yesterday´s Pichincha climb, we drove north and stayed at San Clemente homestay, high on the E slopes of Imbabura. Early morning our driver (and from today, mountain guide) Diego took us higher to a trailhead where we started at first light, 05:35.

Imbabura is a very impressive climb: initially fairly ordinary, through cultivated fields, then steep grassy slopes, then a ridge walk before encountering the first of several sections of scrambling, often quite exposed, mostly on good rock and enjoyable. From the first false summit (where "tourists" or acclimatisation-hikers, often turn back), the onward route looks highly improbable! Beyond a pinnacled section, and a small descent to go below a buttress, there is 500m or so of mostly easy, narrow, highly scenic ridge, with views (intermittently for us, through the clouds) of the two neighbouring Ultras, Cotacachi and Cayambe. There is a final short section of scrambling on loose rock to reach the summit. This is very exposed and requires care.

We arrived at the summit at 09:35, spent 30 minutes there then headed down, reaching the trailhead at 12:34, returning to our Homestay to collect our gear before travelling to Cotacachi town and onward to a small hotel/restuarant El Mirador, above a large lake (Laguna Cuyacocha "Guinea Pig Lake") with views across to the (usually cloud-covered) Ultra itself. Unfortunately I was unable to clinb Cotacachi due to a stomach problem, and Adam had crampon problems, but Petter made it: quite a challenging climb; details are on his website (link below).

Thursday afternoon we travelled back to Quito. As our "normal" hotel Casa Helbling had no room, we went upmarket a little, staying the night at Cayman Hotel. This has internet, so it was possible to catch up email and trip reporting. Then we travelled south in readiness for Cotopaxi

For guiding and trip logistics, see my Chimborazo report

There is a set of photographs on

For further details and photographs, see trip reports by Petter Bjorstad
also Adam Helman's trip report
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4134 ft / 1259 m
    Extra Gain:197 ft / 60 m
    Round-Trip Distance:6.2 mi / 10 km
    Route:East ridge
    Trailhead:above San Clemente  11421 ft / 3481 m
    Grade/Class:YDS 3 sustained
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 50 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:2 Hours 40 Minutes

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