Cerro Hermoso is an non volcanic peak in the eastern cordillera with in the boundaries of Llanganates National Park, it rise at 4.576 m eventually covered with snow. The driest months from September to January, according to the locals November and December are the best months although in this mountain range you never know besides all the mystery surrounding this area regarding Atahualpas treasure locals say that the mountain sees whats in you heart and therefore it will allow you a nice or bad weather.
It is a 4 day trek and 42 km total, starting at Millin river(at Pisayambo lake) and ending at El Triunfo a little town close to Baños. It is possible to do it the other way but all uphill. Hiring a guide is essential, it is a moderate to hard trekking among a very unique paramo vegetation it has everything.
Guide service and/or portieres is 30 to 35 per day, they can carry up to 60 pounds and they have their own equipment (tent, backpack..)
IGM Topomaps 1:50.000 San Jose de Poalo and Sucre
Several buses leave every 30 minutes from Quito (South terminal - Quitumbe) to Ambato, it is a 2 hours ride. From Ambato terminal you need to take a bus to Pillaro, they leave every hour until 8pm it is a 40 minutes ride and it cost 0.50 In Pillaro you have to basic hotel from 7 to 12 USD per person if you arrive late at night. From here you need to go to San Jose de Poalo (20 minute ride 5 USD for a pick up truck) to meet your guide or directly to Pisayambo lake, this is a 25 to 30 USD ride and it takes about an hour form San Jose de Poalo. The road is in good conditions to the lake but you have to arrange your ride to take you a little further down that road to Rio Millin (same price) beyond this point the road is 4x4 only and peters out soon.
Before the bridge of rio Millon there is the path that begins to the right gently up south to Mesa Tablon elevation.
Once you end up in El Triunfo, if you are there before 2pm you might be able to take the bus to Baños, if not, you can hire a truck for some 20 USD. From Baños there are buses to Quito every 30 minutes.
Day 1 Rio Millin to Laguna Leones 9.4 km
9:44am From Rio Millin at 3675m we start walking south through a well defined path gently up for an hour towards a peak called Mesa Tablon 3915m. From hear you continue going up and around peak 4320 (unnamed on the map) until we reached Filo Jaramillo 4.102m it is 2 hours to get to this point. This day it was rainy and cloudy so we couldn't see much. You have to camping options here, one is to camp by the lake called Cajones 4.093m and some 3 hours and 20 minutes or if you still have energy you can continue to lake Leones at 4.028m and some 2 more hours. At this point of the trek we walked through a really dense "forest" of "flechas" (arrow like vegetation) which can do so harm to your exposed hands so light gloves is a good idea. Luckily at a round 4 pm the sun came out and we got a break from non stop rain and cold, we got the chance to dry our wet stuff and appreciate some amazing vies of Tungutahua, Altar, Cerro Negro and what we have to deal with next day.
Day 2 Laguna Leones to La Y some 5.6 km
We started walking this day at 8:30am going down from camp to the Valle de Los Leones a swampy basin some 140m below. Once we cross it we started going up a steep hill from 3.890m to 4.120m following an old landslide. Once on the top of this range, we continued traversing east through the ridge with some awesome views of the Llangantes range, lakes and the slopes of Cerro Hermoso. Then we descend to a campsite in the head of a u shaped valley arriving at 10:20am, it is possible to camp here but her had plenty of energy and time so we advance to La Y, which is not far from Laguna Leones. We arrive at 12:20 with plenty of time to explore the nearby area, even s quick trip Brunner Lake hidden in the slopes of Cerro Hermoso, this lake is named in the map Laguna El Cable. It is a beautiful place to visit.
At this camp our though of being the only once in this mythic place got disrupted by a big group of hikers arriving to our camp site in a hurry, there were 19 people with us now! It turns out some of them were old friends of mine, what are the odes to run in to some one you know in this place? anyway we really enjoy the company and we exchange some information on the summit, since they were there last year and this year they were no going there, just to Brunner's lake.
Day 3 La Y to Cerro Hermoso summit to Camp Mirador 12.3km
This day we woke up early with a rainy day and start to hike up the steep slope at 7:40am (3838m), in an hour or so, you leave the paramo features and enter the rock base of the mountain, we passed one of the many holes that surround this mountain, many explorers descend into them in search of the treasure. This area has a lot of quarzo. Although the way is cairn from here on it could be tricky to find the route with dense fog. The group we meet at the camp site recommended bringing a rope for a climb up and for the last traverse to the summit which it was supposed to be exposed, we didn't have any so we went to see how hard it would be, turns out that our guide took us a slightly different rout which didn't required any exposed traverse. We passed a tiny lake on the way up called "laguna negra", and then a big hole on the left side before we had to scramble a little bit through solid rock, this part might be a little tricky if there is snow.
It took a little more than 2 hours to get to the summit from the camp site. Unfortunately it was cloudy the whole way up, and even at the summit it didn't clear up for a nice shot of the area. There is a small cement mark built by the military at the summit, someone recently drilled an anchor for belaying in case you want to explore the east side of the peak.
After some 15 minutes at the summit we started our descend to la Y camp, and after un hour and a half we were there packing the tent and getting ready to continue to camp Mirador. It is possible to traverse around the mountain and come down the south-east ridge so you will end up by Bruner's lake, it will take longer but I bet it is a beautiful trip if the weather is clear.
The walk from camp La Y to camp Mirador was very hard, adding the summit beat to it made this no so hard traverse a little intense since you walk through thick Andean forest on muddy terrain, in the end my legs were clumsy hitting every hidden branch and rock in the mud making this walk feel that it took for ever.
We pass along 2 possible camp sites, one with in 45 minutes from camp La Y and the other one with in one and a half hour by Rio Verde Grande, in fact there were some tents there when we walked by of some hikers coming in from El Triunfo (hardcore) Once you cross the river you have to climb traversing the mountain to the top, you pass by a lake name Sto. Domingo (unnamed on the map) and a swampy area to reach the top, then down a little to two tiny lakes where lies camp Mirador. It is some 3 to 4 hours from La Y camp, we arrive at 3:20pm exhausted only half and hour from the big group how left pretty much at the same time as we did to the summit, our guide was running! Getting close to the camp site we came to Don Segundo, a 70 year old guide how have spent most of his live in this mountain, in fact he was leading 4 people to a 12 days adventure to rio Topo, he leaves in el Triunfo.
Anyway we had a perfect sunny afternoon at 3720m with amazing views of the paramo, Chimborazo and Tungurahua.
Day 4 Camp Mirador to El Triunfo 13.4km
We start walking around 8 am, gently uphill for 20 minutes an then downhill to the bottom of the Quebrada Rio Muyo, from 3720m to 3400m through a very nice forest until we cross a little stream that connects with rio Muyo, which is a medium size river. From here and on we continued on a path on the left side (east) of rio Muyo slowly reducing altitude till we got to el Triunfo. In this portion you walk on a jungle forest with some ups and downs, sometimes close to the river some a little far from it. We were supposed to cross to the right side of the river twice but later on we figured it wasn't necessary, you can wade across it or use some slippery logs fixed on the river to do it, you walk for some 20 minutes and then you have to cross it back to the left.
El Triunfo is located at 2510m so have an idea o how much you descend, or if you want to do it from here you will have to climb quite a bit. We arrived at 3:00pm, the path eventually enter some pasture lands and then meets with a dirt road you have some 3km to the town.
Locals cut a lot o "paja" to put it under the tent it will keep you dry and some how isolated, you will see this remark on all camp sites. Water is available in all camp sites some from lakes some from little streams so treat it anyway.
There may be some wood in some camp sites but dont relay on this, bring you own stove just in case.
Some camp sites have a paja roof so you can cook but a small tarp or plastic will work for the others.
Rice, potatoes, pasta, tuna, sardines, powder milk, coffee, tea, etc... Everything taste great after a long day of hike.
Other things to consider
Rain gear jacket and pants.
Descent tent with all the way rain fly.
Plastic or tarp
Warm sleeping bag at least good for 0 comfortable.
Crocs or light shoes to be around the camp**
Backpack rain cover
Light gloves (garden like)
Clear sunglasses (I definitively recommend this since I almost hit my eyes with potentially harm branches)
Plenty of socks
Everything in plastic bags.
*I personally hate walking with rubber boots and I disagree with some friends about their features, I end up doing this trek with them, but I was thinking the whole way that good hiking waterproof boots with good gaiter will be better regarding comfort and traction on summit day.
**Since I end up using rubber boots I brought some crocs that worked just fine, light weight and waterproof. We had awesome afternoon weather so it worked out perfectly, it also depends if you are going to carry your stuff or hire a portiere to do it.
***I bring them everywhere but this time they were a pain... I probably used them 45% o the time the rest they got stocked in the bushes and it was a nightmare, but I used them to dried my wet cloths.
Antonio Paucar 03 2763088 In San Jose de Poalo
Park Station (Pisayambo):
Patricio Espin 087129229 at the park entrance he can provide more information on guides and permits that foreigners might required due to treasure hunters.
Rene Paucar 03 2768002 In San Jose de Poalo
Patricio Moya 081224807 In Pillaro
*Some of the porters from the big group commented me that they are about to become a Communitary Tourism Association and they will have a website with all the info, so in the future I will update this, or google that with the San Jose de Poalo on it.
Ministerio del Ambiente
Instituto Geográfico Militar - Mapa del Ecuador
Jaime wrote this blog and through him I contacted our guide Antonio.