Sabancaya (which means "tongue of fire" in Quechua) is an active Stratovolcano located in the Andes of southern Peru, about 60 miles northwest of Arequipa. It is in the Cordillera Occidental, and is part of the Ampato group, which also includes Nevado Ampato (6,288 m - 20,630 ft) and Nevado Hualca Hualca (6,025 m - 19,767 ft). Probably its biggest claim to fame is that ash from its eruption caused the melting of the glacier on neighboring Ampato, which made it possible for archaeologist Johan Reinhard and mountain guide Miguel Zárate to find the Inca mummy Juanita, also called the Ice Maiden, in 1995. The first modern ascent of the summit was in 1966, the first ascent of all three of the summit peaks was in 1972.
Sabancaya can be climbed from the same base camp as Ampato, or if you want to work harder, you could do it as a two-day trip and climb it after summitting Ampato, by coming down the side facing Sabancaya. However, fit and acclimated climbers can do both as day-hikes from the lowest base camp, so there isn't much reason to lug all your gear to the top of one to do the other.
According to John Bigger's latest edition of The Andes, A Guide For Climbers (2005), because Sabancaya was erupting for much of the '90s, it could possibly be higher than 6,000 meters now. Unfortunately, we didn't have a GPS with to check the elevation. Currently (July 2008) it is not erupting, and there were only a few puffs of smoke coming from the fumaroles, two in some rocks near the east rim and a couple more from the crater floor. There was also an intermittent smell of volcanic fumes as we climbed, but it was nothing very strong. The last known eruption was in 2003. The summit cone is 1Km (.61 miles) in diameter and 170 meters (557 feet) high.
Due to the distance from Arequipa, it is expensive to hire transportation to Ampato (up to $250 we were told). The route to take is the main highway to Chivay, the entrance to the Colca Canyon. On the way, you go through a vicuña reserve, in the middle of which is a tollbooth. Right after that is the easily missed gravel road that goes to the backsides of Chachani and Misti. After passing through a swampy puna, there is a very interesting tourist information center on the right side of the highway, with many displays of life on the high plain. Just after a normally busy open air tourist market on the left side of the road, there is a small concrete building on the left, and a small road sign on the right. It takes about 2 ½ to 3 hours from Arequipa to reach this point. The road sign is a red stop sign (PARE) and it says Patapampa underneath it, below that is an arrow pointing left and AMPl. Turn left and follow the main tracks angling away from the highway in the direction of the canyon. Do not take the sharp left angling back in the direction you just came from.
Follow this road for about 2 hours, always staying on the most used tracks. First you go in a westerly direction, going towards Nevado Ampato. The road on the map looks almost straight - it isn’t, it wanders all over the place. The first landmark you will pass is a small building (which no longer has an antenna tower on it), on the right side of the road. There are lots of large rocks along the road near here. Soon you will start going southwest and drop down into a minor canyon. You will no longer be able to see the mountain and it may seem like you are going away from it. Don’t panic; follow the road, continuing to go down in elevation. This is the roughest section of the road; very rocky with a few stream crossings, after that it gets better. You will soon be able to see Ampato once again, and shortly after that come to a cemetery on the left side of the road. Past the cemetery, turn right at a "Y" and go through an opening in the fence. The next landmark is El Refugio on the left side of the road. It is a small complex of once beautiful stone buildings with tile roofs, but now is rather run down. It is shown as Sallalli on the map. There is an old couple that lives here and raises llamas and sheep. They have a couple of dogs that are very friendly.
From here it is about five minutes or less to a set of tracks going off to the right, going directly towards Ampato. If you miss the first turn, there is a second one a minute later. There may be a small rock marker at one or both. This "road" starts out as a fairly smooth sandy trail, but turns into a steep rocky 4x4 trail, climbing about 2,000 feet from the refuge. Follow this trail until you reach the obvious campsite behind the large boulder, which is surrounded by rocks. There is also a small rock wall in front of that, and the road makes a circle track around the wall. The 4x4 trail does continue a little farther, but ends before the higher camps for Ampato. The elevation here is 16,540 ft. (5,041 meters).
[img:426257:alignleft:small:Looking Down Into the Crater]
There are numerous possible routes; the one we took was fairly direct and simple. Starting at base camp and looking towards the mountain, you will see a fairly deep canyon between you and the mountain. There is a sharp bend in the canyon, about one third of the way from the left of the mountain, where it changes from a lower ridge to a steeper mountain. Hike cross-country basically straight for the far side of the bend in the canyon, (there is no trail at all) crossing various smaller gullies, hills and a bowl. At the far side of the canyon bend, it will make a left turn and climb steeply up towards the gap between the left peak and the rest of the mountain. Just before this, there is an easy climb up the right side of the canyon. (It may be possible to continue up the canyon and climb up the mountain from the left.)
Once up on the higher rocky lava flow, turn left and go in the general direction on the middle of the mountain. You will then drop down slightly to a broad sandy plain. Looking at the mountain you will see a shallow valley that goes up between two ridges. There was snow on the right side and none on the left in July of 2008. Later in the year I am sure there wouldn't be any snow. Follow this valley until you reach the base of the mountain. We went straight (with zigzags) up to the top of the ridge by the smoother area between the shallow snow covered valley on the left and the diagonal zigzag crevasse on the right. It was mostly crusty snow with varying degrees of penitentes, usually less than a foot high, and a couple of patches of smooth ice. I don't know what this route would be like towards the end of the year with no snow. At the top of the ridge, follow the crater rim to the left to the summit. (There is a false summit around the rim to the right.)
This part is a very sharp ridge composed of loose sand and rocks. At times it is possible to walk on the very crest, but in the center of the traverse the crest falls away sharply on the outside of the crater, so it is not possible to do so there. Therefore you must walk on the inside of the crater. The inside of the rim is a steep slope down for a few hundred feet and then drops straight off down to the unseen floor of the crater. If you are brave enough it is possible to walk on the slope a few feet below the rim, if not you will have to crab walk sideways like I did, one hand on the crest and hooking your ice axe over the crest with the other hand. A one-foot diameter rock I dislodged was very impressive as it careened down into the depths of the crater!
The return was similar, except we went down the sand for a ways before going over to the snow and down to the valley. It is possible to stay in the sand on the ridge to the right of the valley almost to the plain, rather than in the bottom of the valley.
Round trip time takes 8-10 hours.
Red Tape, Other DetailsNone. Also remember that no help is available, we didn't see any other vehicles in three days after turning off the main highway, although there were car tracks fresher than ours about an hour away from base camp on our return.
When to Climb
Almost any time of the year but watch out for snow storms during the rainy season, January through March.
Like Ampato, Sabancaya is an expensive mountain to climb, compared to the ones close to Arequipa. A climber I met at Zárate's told me that they paid $400 for two people; I don't know how many days that was for.