Agrihan (also spelled Agrigan) is a large stratovolcano located about 250 miles north of Saipan in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). At 965 meters (3166 feet) Agrihan is the highest point in the CNMI and all of Micronesia. Based on different topological maps there appears to be two candidates for the true summit of Agrihan. The western summit is at 18.767621 N, 145.665751 E while the eastern summit is at 18.767946 N, 145.674248 E. Most maps indicate the western summit is the high point.
Western shore of Agrihan
Elliptical in shape (roughly 9 kilometers/5.5 miles north-south by 6 kilometers/3.5 miles east-west) and densely vegetated, the main landing site is on the southwest. There is an abandoned village near the landing site which is sometimes occupied by locals from Saipan. The lower 1/4 is covered in mostly coconut palm forest while the middle 1/2 is covered in dense, high sword grass (2 meters/6-7 feet). The upper 1/4 is a mix of stunted trees and knee-high sword grass/ferns.
Getting to Saipan is easy with regular flights by Delta Airlines and United Airlines passing through Guam and Japan.
The challenge - getting from Saipan to Agrigan. The usual method is to charter a boat from Saipan for the 20-24 hour journey to Agrihan. There are only a few boats capable of doing this. Here is a partial list (all prices are from 2015):
- Super Emerald - a former ferry boat with a large air-conditioned interior with plenty of room for equipment, supplies and sleeping on benches. US$3500/day
- Kaiyu III -
a semi-converted fishing vessel with a medium-sized air-
conditioned cabin for equipment, supplies and sleeping on the floor. US$3500/day
Blue Marlin - a fishing vessel with a clean hold for equipment, supplies and sleeping on the floor. US$2500-$3500/day
??? - large research ship with unknown facilities although we heard they are far more comfortable than even the Super Emerald. US$10,000-$11,000/day
An alternative is to fly to Agrihan by helicopter (AmeriCopters - http://www.americopters.com/en/),
although this will likely require fuel being staged on the island of Pagan. They can carry 800 pounds (passengers and cargo) in roughly 4 hours one-way. US$2550/hour.
As of May, 2016, there has not been a successful summit of Agrihan. In June, 2015, members of the US Highpointers Club made a summit attempt aiming for the western summit with the hope of traversing the crater rim to reach the eastern summit. Looking at topo maps and satellite photos it was decided to attain a south-southwest ridge which slightly zig-zags its way from near the village to the western summit. What follows is a brief description of their attempt; full details are found in their trip report.
The team decided to charter a boat to get from Saipan to Agrihan for the team of 6 mainlander climbers, 5 local support members and all their food/water/camping gear. Talking with NIMO and the boat captain it was decided the best landing place is on a southwest beach near the abandoned village. The team established a beach camp while establishing a path through the dense sword grass (slow work) along the south-southwest ridge line.
Shuttling between boat and shore with climbers/supplies
The lower 1/4 of Agrihan is covered in mostly coconut palm forest. Along the edges or empty canopy there is moderate undergrowth, but in denser areas there is little undergrowth. The primary concern/danger is being careful of the abundant number of feral pigs.
The lower 1/4 is covered in mostly coconut palm forest
The middle 1/2 of Agrihan is covered in dense sword grass (typically 6 feet/2 meter tall) that you have to machete your way through. This is where the 5 local support members came in valuable. Three members would work on cutting new trail while the other two would carry water/supplies.
The middle 1/2 is covered in dense, high swordgrass (6-7 feet / 2 meters)
After two days the team established a base camp at 1980 feet / 603 meters. From here it took another 2 days to almost reach the western summit.
We were lucky to find a fern field for our base camp around 1980 feet / 603 meters
A second camp was established at 2570 feet / 783 meters. At this altitude the sword grass becomes less dense and smaller (waist high). The upper 1/4 of Agrihan has patches of trees which are easier to pass through than the sword grass.
The upper 1/4 is a mix of stunted trees and knee/waist-high sword grass
On summit day it was pretty windy and cloudy. It seemed like it would be easy to reach the western summit ... until we came to a dead-end. The ridge line broke away at some point in the past leaving a 40 foot vertical drop before continuing again to the crater rim and the western summit.
The western summit block - with an unclimbable 40 foot break between us
The team back-tracked down the ridge line to the second camp looking for althernative paths but didn't find any. Given time and supply constraints it was decided to abandon the expedition.
US citizens should note that they need their passports even if passing through Guam (a US territory) to reach Saipan.
Access to the northern islands of the CNMI, including Agrihan and Pagan, is controlled by the Office of the Mayor of the Northern Mariana Islands Municipality (NIMO). In 2015 the Honorable Jerome Aldan was elected Mayor for a 4-year term. The contact information for the Mayor’s Office is P. O. Box 10007, Saipan, MP 96950. We dealt with the Mayor’s Administrator, Lee Kaipat, (670) 664-6466. We found that NIMO required two documents. The first was the Mayoral Authorization for Entry (MAE) to the Northern Islands and the second was a Limited Power of Attorney (LPA) for their office to be able to interact with other government agencies on our behalf. Our stated reason on the MAE was to enter Agrihan to promote reaching some of the highest mountain peaks in the Pacific. Part of the MAE requires us to obtain all necessary licenses, permissions, etc. This is where the LPA was handy. We found that NIMO (using the LPA) and the operator of the ship obtained all the necessary approvals for us
When to Climb
The sea crossing is the critical factor in when you can climb Agrihan. The seas are calmest between May and September although rain showers are more frequent starting in July
- The lower slopes of Agrihan have been taken over by feral pigs which were abandoned in 1990 when the local villagers were evacuated due to increased volcanic activity.
- There are a few feral dogs as well.
- Monitor lizards can also be seen on the lower slopes.
- Your sanity is in danger due to the millions of gnats which infest the entire island, even the upper slopes near the summit. They are non-biting but a great nuisance until sundown when they disappear.
- Using a machete to cut the sword grass leaves many punji sticks which can be painful. You may want to wear tight-weave socks (for the punji sticks) and leather gloves (for the leaves) to protect yourself.