Climbing
Sport climbing, Trad climbing
Alpine climbing NCCS rating
Grade II
Elevation Gain
313.00 m (1,026.90 ft)
Distance
2.40 km (1.49 mi)
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Cojitambo (or Coji for short) is located just west of Azogues outside the main city of Cuenca. It was Ecuador’s first developed crag and is still one of the most extensively developed areas and definitely superior to other Ecuadorian crags in the way of multi-pitch climbing. There are over 100 routes with more on the way. The second you arrive in the small, sleepy village of Cojitambo, after which the crag is named, you immediately greet the striking 500-foot volcanic cliffs that practically beg to be climbed. Many places claim Baños’ Eco Zoologico San Martin to be the best crag in Ecuador, but that’s only because they’ve likely never put in the effort to get to the admittedly harder-to-access Cojitambo.

Cojitambo, Quechua for “inn of gold," is historically significant as the site of Inca and pre-Inca archaeological ruins. Most of these ruins are located on the more gradual western slopes of the mountain, but a few alter remains can also be found at the base of the cliffs. From the north, you can actually drive along a moderately steep dirt road all the way to the top. Or you can take the fun way and climb up to the very same spot!

Directions by Bus

Driving to Cojitambo only takes about 30 minutes traveling north on the Cuenca-Azogues highway, but if traveling without a car, you’ll need to get there via two different routes, which take close to 2 hours.

  1. Cuenca to Azogues: $0.75 each, 1 hour.
  2. Azogues to Cojitambo: $0.50, 45 minutes. (The Azogues terminal is small; look for the bright green “Panamerican” bus that runs about every half-hour to Cojitambo.)

The Approach

Start at the main square of Cojitambo (where the bus will drop you off if arriving by bus), flanked by a beautiful white Catholic church on the right and a row of little tiendas and panaderias on the left. You can stop and stock up on snacks for the day here or grab a full breakfast at one of the open-sided cafes. Keep left and walk to the far side of the square toward a row of houses, crossing the main road, Via a Cojitambo, and continue straight on a smaller road between the houses. This road will soon curve left at a wide meadow; instead of following the road, continue straight on the rocky dirt path entering the woods.

This path splinters into many as it enters a limestone quarry, where the tinkering of hammers and the chatter of locals fills the air with an almost overwhelming cacophony. Beyond the quarry, the path becomes extremely faint, and navigating the approach becomes incredibly difficult. While you always have your destination in sight and at least know the right direction in which to travel, many of the paths are overgrown with stinging nettles and thorny plants, or worse, abruptly end at impassable rock ledges.

Just keep trucking along, suffering through the trial and error until you reach the base of the cliffs. From there, you at least only need to travel along one path, though the it is still erratic and unmaintained, overgrown by thick brambles and huge aloe plants, dipping up and down into muddy divots. Wear proper hiking boots or approach shoes and long pants if you want to save your skin some serious ouch by the end of the day.

If you’re lucky, you’ll run into a local named Juan Gabriel Carrasco, who operates a small climbers hostel in town (located about 1 kilometer west of the main square, decorated quite obviously out front with climbing gear) and developed most of Coji. He frequents the crag, guiding visitors and showing them the area beta. He’s a very sweet and helpful man who speaks fluent English and is more than happy to help you out of you get lost.

The Climbing

It is highly recommended that you download some of the free wall topos provided online by Monodedo Ecuador prior to going to this crag. The descriptions are entirely in Spanish, and the image quality on the site isn’t the greatest, but the color-coded route maps alone are invaluably helpful. Follow the hyperlink or go to the main site and click on Zona 3 (the southern third of Ecuador) to find Cojitambo topos. If you can’t do this, you can snag a copy of the guidebook (name unknown) at the climber’s hostel in the village.

Coji is mostly volcanic rock, which yields an interesting combination of crimps and slopers, with very few jugs to be found. This is all fine and dandy for the slabby starts to routes, but it's pretty tricky for the overhanging top parts. This is because many of the walls are slightly concave, first cutting inward and demanding a pitch or two of some technical slab climbing, then curving outward to finish on a brutal overhang once you’re already pumped.

The rock quality is solid and subject to little breakage, though a helmet is still recommended due to the multi-pitch nature of many of the routes. Anchors and bolts are all well maintained and trustworthy. The only thing not recommended to use are any old pitons encountered; they are likely at least 30 years old. For trad climbers, there are hundreds of vertical cracks systems within which to place pro, many of them uneven (bring a full rack!) but well protected.

There are five “zones” all together (moving left to right across the wall), though the bulk of the climbing is concentrated in zones two to four.

Zone 4 is probably the best the crag has to offer, with a mix of easy warmups and hard climbs. It is well marked by an ancient Inca altar, now no more than a broken semi-circle of white bricks built neatly into the very cliff itself. This wall has also seen the most recent development. From bottom to top, most of these routes are two pitches long, splintering variations of each other in many cases, but there are also hard, overhung, single-pitch sport routes on the upper shelves, which can be accessed by rappelling down from the vegetated top of the cliff. This is where most of the standing projects are located.

To warm up, start just left of the altar on a two-pitch warmup (5.7/5.8) that serves as an excellent introduction to the climbing of the area. Plus, with a short hike beyond the top anchors, it tops out on the very summit of the mountain (where the road from the north goes) and gives you a sweeping panoramic view of the entire area. From there, you can work steadily through the increasing grades to however hard you want to climb. For the highest routes extending up to five pitches in length, Zone 3 is where you’ll want to set your sights.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Winter
Spring

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Solid rock and protection placements. Solitude. Mostly solid belay spots. Frequented by developers/local experts. Multi-pitch. Friendly locals. Big vistas.

Cons

Difficult approach. Hard to navigate. Frequent rains. Slab sun facing. Stray dogs.

Pets allowed

Allowed

Trailhead Elevation

9,360.24 ft (2,853.00 m)

Highest point

10,387.14 ft (3,166.00 m)

Features

Potable water
Historically significant
Old-growth forest
Wildflowers
Native artifacts
Big vistas
Bird watching

Access

Hike-in

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Primary aspect

East facing

Class / Rating

5.7-5.13b (not including unsent projects speculated in the 5.14 range)

Drinking water

Unfrozen water

Location

Field Guide

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