Ecuador's "Avenue of the Volcanoes"
325 km. long valley between the
major Cordillera ranges. Massive and standing alone, the volcanoes provide
brooding, snow-covered contrast to the green equatorial lushness. They also
provide mountaineers a rare opportunity to achieve very high altitudes without
technical difficulty. Volcano climbing offers an exciting, unforgettable
In the Indian language, Chimborazo means
"mountain of snow". It is an
enormous mass of overwhelming scale.
Alexander Von Humboldt mad an unsuccessful attempt to climb the Chimborazo in
1802, and believed it to be the highest mountain in the world (6,526 feet). This
distinction lasted until the discovery of Mt. Everest fifty years later.
Chimborazo was finally climbed by Edward Whimper in 1880. Today it is climbed
fairly frequently, but less than Cotopaxi, which is the highest active volcano
of the world (approx 6,000 meters).
Cotopaxi National Park - Cotopaxi is
located close to Latacunga, Ecuador. It is said
to be the highest active volcano in the world (though, as with most things
"highest," there's some debate about that claim). Whether you get
close to the summit or not, the view of its perfectly shaped, snow-covered cone
is stunning—if you get a clear day. The national park protects a large area
surrounding the peak, and it's home to wild horses, deer, some captive llamas
and several rare species you'll probably never lay eyes on, including puma and
Andean condors. The park includes forests and plains, home to animals and birds
such as condors, blue-billed pointed ducks, Andean gulls, hummingbirds, rabbits,
deer, gazelles, paramo wolves, bears, foxes and weasels.
Those with climbing experience and a couple of days to devote to the outing can
ascend to the summit. Others can find hiking trails in the park, including one
that follows the shore of Lago Limpiopungo, a small highland lake that sits at
12,465 feet. If you're in reasonably good shape and the altitude doesn't
wipe you out, consider climbing up to the Jose Ribas Refuge, where mountaineers
begin their expeditions to the top. Take the road until it ends at a dirt
parking lot just below the snow line. From there, you have a 650-foot climb
up to the refuge, which doesn't sound bad until you try to hike up the steep
path in the very thin air. Plan on an hour going up, and wear hiking boots for
the snow. At the refuge (15,748 feet), you can have a snack, pretend
you're a mountain climber, then head back down.
The park has a small museum on its geology and animals. There's not a lot there,
but it's worth a stop to see the stuffed Andean condor that's on display—it's
huge, with an 8-ft wingspan, and this is supposedly a small one. If you
have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you can visit the ruins of a remote Inca
fortress. Cotopaxi makes for a good day trip from Quito, though you can
overnight at a hotel (two near the entrance) or camp in the park (cabins are available).
Ecuador is part of a Pacific Ring
of volcanoes named "Ring of Fire" being an
Andean country is part of that ring and all its major peaks in the
Andes mountains are of volcanic origins. The Andes mountains began to
form at the end of the Mesozoic Era and are the result of 2 major
colliding tectonic plates. The lighter Nazca plate in the Pacific ocean
converges under the heavier American Plate. This process called
subduction, folded over millions of years. The type of volcanoes found
are high and steep-sided stratovolcanoes, which are known to have sudden
and violent eruptions with longer periods of dormancy.