Climbing Cayambe

Don’t be fooled, climbing Cayambe is a serious peak that requires excellent physical preparation. Here are some tips, advice and information about how you need to prepare to climb Cayambe in Ecuador. Check out our upcoming trips, then contact us for more information.

Where is Cayambe

Cayambe is a volcano in Ecuador, in the Cordillera Central, a range of the Ecuadorian Andes. It is located in Pichincha Province, some 70km/ 43 miles northeast of Quito. Cayambe is the third-highest mountain in Ecuador, at an elevation of 5,790m/ 18,996 feet above sea level.

Cayambe is a massive extinct volcano with a glaciated summit. It is both Ecuador’s third highest peak and the third highest peak in the America’s north of the Equator. It also has the distinction of being the highest point on the Earth’s surface through which the Equator directly passes.


Does Cayambe Have Snow Year Round?

Cayambe has a permanent glacier and is snow capped year round.  At 4,690m/ 15,387 feet, its south slope is the highest point in the world crossed by the Equator, and the only point on the Equator with snow cover. When climbing Cayambe, we approach the glacier from the drier western flank. The glacier reach about 4,700m/ 15,400 feet.

Is Cayambe Harder than Cotopaxi?

Most Mountaineers would consider Cotopaxi more challenging than Cayambe. Cotopaxi is certainly steeper than on upper flanks of the mountain.  While Cayambe is not a particularly technical ascent, the obstacles and hazards along your climb make it a challenging volcano to summit. The movement of glaciers and their associated crevasses, combined with avalanche dangers, make it particularly difficult to climb.

Both Cayambe and Cotopaxi are generally a good first mountaineering experience. We consider Cotopaxi a little tougher than Cayambe.  Cotopaxi is known for having weather that’s a bit less volatile than Cayambe.

Climbing Cotopaxi again.

Is Cayambe Harder than Kilimanjaro?

I would have to say Cayambe is a tougher proposition than Kilimanjaro. Remember the Ecuadorian peaks are glaciated mountaineering peaks and moving on glaciated terrain is normally more challenging under foot. The weather, winds and conditions on Cayambe are more challenging than Kilimanjaro. Also the steep incline make Cayambe and Cotopaxi more challenging than Kilimanjaro.

The long hike down Kilimanjaro

How long does it take to Climb Cayambe?

Firstly, you have to consider acclimatization. We have extensive experience running trips to Cayambe. All of our itineraries are 11 or 12 days to Cayambe. After taking a city tour in Quito we take you on the road towards Cotopaxi. We will hike up Pasochua, Ruminahui and aim to acclimatize up to 5,000m/ 16,404 feet before moving to Cayambe.  We will then teach you some important technical skills before attempting the summit of Cayambe.

The summit climb should take 6 hours, while the descent will be around 2 hours. Reaching the top may be very technical and requires knowledge and mountaineering experience. That’s why all our trips are led by highly qualified and experienced guides. We have a ratio of 1 guide for 2 clients.

Climbing Cayambe

Top Tips for Climbing Cayambe

When it comes to climbing any big mountain there are things that are out of your control. Bad weather, deep snow, risk of avalanche and poor conditions may stop your ascent. Speaking from 20 years experience in the mountains your success on Cayambe or any big mountain will come down to a few important things.

1). Acclimatization

High altitude acclimatization is the process in which our body becomes accustomed to lower levels of oxygen in the surrounding air. This process can only take place gradually as you move up through various levels of altitude, spending time at each level before progressing upwards. We know there are key trigger points, so it is extremely important to take our time moving slowly to higher elevation. All our Cayambe itineraries have plenty of built in acclimatization offering you the best safety and chance at the summit.

Climbing Cayambe

2). Physical Preparation

To climb Cayambe you will need to be mountain fit. Not normal fit, but mountain fit. What does that mean you ask. Being mountain fit requires you have training that is specific to the peak you are going to climb.

You can certainly add in some CrossFit, jogging and bike work. Remember you are climbing a mountain up and down on angled terrain. You must training with that in mind. Muscle memory for activity is critical so hill work, or walking up and down stairs in a building with weight building up to 4/5 hours is extremely important.

You also need to be training in the gym on a 30 degree incline treadmill and Stairmaster with weight building up to 10kg/20lbs in your backpack at least 4 times per week.

Fail to train, prepare to fail!! So train hard, long term, consistently and often because you will need every ounce of that strength. Learn more.

Cayambe with Quito in the distance.

3). Training for the Downhill

You also need to train for the downhill. There are specific exercises you can be doing to prepare your muscles for the stress of descending a big mountain. It is extremely important to doing these strength building exercises on a week basis as you build up the strength needed for your climb.  Learn more.

Climbing on Cayambe

How we Acclimatize

If I took you from sea level to the top of Caymabe and tried to stay there we would not wake up the next day. It should show you how critical having good acclimatization is for any high altitude trip. When building any acclimatization plan we obviously need more time normally a minimum of 8 days before going to the summit of Cayambe.

We need to climb high and then sleep lower. When you’re acclimating, you’re basically trying to create more red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body. This process takes time and can not be rushed.

Moving higher into a zone with less oxygen triggers the body to start making the red blood cells and sleeping lower allows for reduction of stress on the body tissue from prolonged exposure to lower oxygen conditions.

Above 3,000m/10,000 feet you should never try and move up more than 600m/ 1,980 feet without multiple night to rest to adjust to lower levels of oxygen. We have developed the best itineraries offering you the safest approach to high altitude. Learn more.

Climbing high on Cayambe

Don’t be Fooled

Most organizations in Quito will take you on the 2/3 summit attempt of Cayambe or Cotopaxi. This is crazy, reckless and don’t be fooled by this calamitous approach to high altitude.  The risks are always high, even when you are well acclimatized. Be informed and be prepared.

Be Informed and be Prepared

Don’t do the bare minimum when it comes to training. Remember you are going to very high altitude with 50% less oxygen. Even with excellent acclimatization you are going to be under more pressure and you need to train accordingly.

Go the extra mile in your training so that you can have better awareness when moving on challenging terrain at high altitude. If you show up without the correct training the guides will not allow you to climb. This can be dangerous for you, your team mates and the guides.


Train with Weight

Please make sure you train with a weighted backpack. This training adds the additional pressure needed at sea level when training for low oxygen environments. I training almost daily with a weighted backpack building up the weight over time.

Right before a Cayambe or Cotopaxi trip I want to be comfortable carrying 10/12kg in my backpack. I will be doing this in all my training hike of over 1,000m/ 3,280 feet ascents and descents and all my gym training sessions. Even with absolutely perfect conditions a summit is difficult.

Mountaineering Equipment

You need to be comfortable with all your gear before arriving on the side of the mountain. Before you arrive you should break in your mountaineering boots.  Make sure you are comfortable putting on and taking off your crampons, using an ice axe, using prusiks and test out all your equipment before arriving in Ecuador.

The summit of Cayambe

Talk to the Experts

Climbing Cayambe is doable, just take the preparation seriously. We are here to advise on the best way to prepare. Get in touch and learn more about our service and set up in Ecuador.

First Ascent of Cayambe

Cayambe was first climbed by British adventurer Edward Whymper and his two Italian guides and companions Jean-Antoine Carrel and Louis Carrel in 1880. They made first ascents of most of the volcanoes in Ecuador. Cayambe remains a favorite of mountaineers today.

The main route runs through a much-fissured terrain of moderate inclination, and only in its final part does the slope increase to 45°. There is a formidable bergschrund to cross at about 5,500m/ 18,000 feet. On the final stages, there are many cracks and seracs to be overcome, and there are extensive views from the summit.

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