El Altar

El Altar or Capac Urcu (possibly from Kichwa kapak principal, great, important / magnificence, urku mountain)[3][4] is an extinct volcano on the western side of Sangay National Park in Ecuador, 170 km (110 mi) south of Quito, with a highest point of 5,319 m (17,451 ft). 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.[5]

El Altar
Capak Urcu
Volcán El Altar - Riobamba Ecuador.jpg
El Altar in 2006
Highest point
Elevation5,319 m (17,451 ft) [1]
Prominence2,072 m (6,798 ft) [1]
List of volcanoes in Ecuador
Coordinates01°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 rangeAndes
Age of rockPliocene-Pleistocene
Mountain typeStratovolcano (extinct)
Last eruptionUnknown
First ascent7 July 1963 by Marino Tremonti, Ferdinando Gaspard and Claudio Zardini[2]
Easiest routerock/ice climb


El Altar consists of a large stratovolcano of Pliocene-Pleistocene age with a caldera breached to the west. Inca legends report that the top of El 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 recreationEdit

El Altar is perhaps the most technically demanding climb in Ecuador. The route to the El Obispo summit is graded D+.[6] 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 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. The refuge has many beds, and a kitchen. To hike to the lake is another 1.5h - 2 hours from the refuge across a valley and up a steep hill.

List of peaksEdit

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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c "Ecuador: 15 Mountain Summits with Prominence of 1,500 meters or greater" Peaklist.org. Retrieved 2013-03-01.
  2. ^ Neate, Jill. Mountaineering in the Andes: A Sourcebook for Climbers. Royal Geographical Society, 1994, p.26.
  3. ^ Kichwa Yachakukkunapa Shimiyuk Kamu (Ministry of Education, Ecuador) (Kichwa-Spanish dictionary), 2009
  4. ^ 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)
  5. ^ 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"
  6. ^ Comair, Chris (17 January 2018). "El Altar, The Modern Italian Route". Gethighonaltitude.com. Retrieved 26 March 2019.


External linksEdit