El Altar

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El Altar
Kapak Urku
Volcán El Altar - Riobamba Ecuador.jpg
El Altar in 2006
Highest point
Elevation 5,319 m (17,451 ft) [1]
Prominence 2,072 m (6,798 ft) [1]
Listing Ultra
List of volcanoes in Ecuador
Coordinates 01°39′48″S 78°24′33″W / 1.66333°S 78.40917°W / -1.66333; -78.40917Coordinates: 01°39′48″S 78°24′33″W / 1.66333°S 78.40917°W / -1.66333; -78.40917[1]
El Altar is located in Ecuador
El Altar
El Altar
Parent range Andes
Age of rock Pliocene-Pleistocene
Mountain type Stratovolcano (extinct)
Last eruption Unknown
First ascent 1963
Easiest route rock/ice climb

El Altar or Kapak Urku (Kichwa kapak principal, great, important / magnificence, urku mountain,[2] "sublime mountain", hispanicized Capac Urcu, Cápac Urcu)[3] is an extinct volcano on the western side of Sangay National Park in Ecuador, 170 km south of Quito. Spaniards named it so because it resembled two nuns and four friars listening to a bishop around a church altar. In older English sources it is also called The Altar.[4]


The mountain consists of a large stratovolcano of Pliocene-Pleistocene age with a caldera breached to the west. Inca legends report that the top of Altar collapsed after seven years of activity in about 1460, but the caldera is considered to be much older than this by geologists. Nine major peaks over 5,000 metres (16,400 ft) form a horseshoe-shaped ridge about 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) across, surrounding a central basin that contains a crater lake at about 4,200 m (13,800 ft), known as Laguna Collanes or Laguna Amarilla.

Laguna Collanes or Laguna Amarilla

Access and recreation[edit]

El Altar is perhaps the most technically demanding climb in Ecuador. December through February are the best months to attempt an ascent. Much more accessible is the hike to the lake within the caldera of the mountain. From Riobamba, one takes a bus for about an hour to Candelaria and then checks in at the ranger station, where nationals pay $2 and foreigners $10 to enter the Sangay park. About 4–7 hours of an extremely muddy trail (knee-high rubber boots are recommended) leaves one at the refuge belonging to Hacienda Releche, which can be rented for $12/night. The refuge has many beds, a kitchen, and even hot water. To hike to the lake is another 2 hours from the refuge across a valley and up a steep hill.

List of peaks[edit]

The nine peaks of El Altar, starting with the highest summit on the south side and proceeding counterclockwise:

Peak name Translation Elevation Direction from lake First ascent
Obispo Bishop 5,319 m (17,451 ft) South July 7, 1963, Ferdinando Gaspard, Marino Tremonti, Claudio Zardini
Monja Grande Great Nun 5,160 m (16,929 ft) Southeast August 17, 1968, Bill Ross and Margaret Young
Monja Chica Small Nun 5,080 m (16,667 ft) East-Southeast January 16, 1971, Peter Bednar and party
Tabernáculo Tabernacle 5,180 m (16,995 ft) East
  Fraile Oriental     Eastern Friar   5,060 m (16,601 ft) East-Northeast
Fraile Beato Devout Friar 5,050 m (16,568 ft) East-Northeast
Fraile Central Central Friar 5,070 m (16,634 ft) Northeast
Fraile Grande Great Friar 5,180 m (16,995 ft) North-Northeast December 1, 1972, Lorenzo Lorenzi, Armando Perron, Marino Tremonti
Canónigo Canon 5,260 m (17,257 ft) North March 7, 1965, Ferdinando Gaspard, Lorenzo Lorenzi, Marino Tremonti, Claudio Zardini

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Ecuador: 15 Mountain Summits with Prominence of 1,500 meters or greater" Peaklist.org. Retrieved 2013-03-01.
  2. ^ Kichwa Yachakukkunapa Shimiyuk Kamu (Ministry of Education, Ecuador) (Kichwa-Spanish dictionary), 2009
  3. ^ Miñaca Rea Silvia Patricia, Vallejo Lara Vicente Orlando, Diseño de paquetes turísticos para el Nevado Los Altares por el sector Inguisay, Universidad de Chimborazo, 2010 (in Spanish)
  4. ^ The New International Encyclopaedia Volume 1 ed Frank Moore Colby, Talcott Williams 1918 Page 618 "The northern group, mainly comprised in Ecuador, is the most imposing collection of active and extinct volcanoes on earth. ... The Altar, a truncated mountain, 17,736 feet in height, is said to have once been the highest in the region"


External links[edit]