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El Altar

El Altar is an extinct volcano on the western side of Sangay National Park in Ecuador, 170 km south of Quito. Spaniards named it as such as it resembled a huge cathedral to them. The Inca called it Capac-Urcu, which means "King Mountain" in Quechua.


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 form a horseshoe-shaped ridge about across, surrounding a central basin that contains a crater lake at about , known as Laguna Collanes or Laguna Amarilla.

Access and recreation

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 and then checks in at the ranger station, where nationals pay $2 and foreigners $10 to enter the Sangay park. About 45 hours of an extremely muddy trail (knee-high rubber boots are recommended) leaves one at the official refuge, which is sometimes inexplicably locked, although entry can sometimes be found through an open window. 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

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


(in Spanish)

Global Volcanism Program: Altar

External links

Altar: Etymology

Altar: Climbing

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article El Altar

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