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Expat Life

Volcán Tungurahua

Most people don’t get to see Volcán Tungurahua the way I did. The geographical location is often shrouded in Andean mists. But, surprisingly, there it loomed in all its grandeur on an early October morning. Encircled by a ring of cumulus clouds, it seemed unreal to me, like it was its own weather generator. There were no other clouds in sight on that blue bird day save those partially wrapping the volcán. The gently stirring breezes carried a fluffy cloud across its massive caldera creating a stark juxtaposition against the black lava fields that surrounded the 300 meter mouth of the stone monolith.

At a height of 5,023 meters, Tungurahua stands over three miles above sea level at its summit. Its name comes from the Quichua language and translates roughly to “Throat of Fire.” Another local name it enjoys is “Gigante Negro,” in English, Black Giant. It is a very dramatic landform and I chose to interpret it in monochrome, giving texture and form their due. The photograph shows the top quarter of the mountain. I wanted you to be able to view detail that I found interesting.

The volcán is about 100,000 years old and is in its third stage of continuing internal development from the calderas of previous cones. About 15,000 years ago, a new cone formed within the remnants of the previous mountain. Then, 3,000 years ago, a powerful eruption sent a huge avalanche and mudslides down its slopes opening the caldera into a “C”-shape to the west. It is from that caldera that Tungurahua III has been forming. Volcán Tungurahua is considered one of the most active volcáns in South America. It is a stratovolcano, known for violent eruptions delivering pyroclastic and lava flows to its base. This activity has previously caused the evacuation of the city, Baños Agua Santa, which lies at the bottom of its eastern slope.

As recently as 1999, the volcán had a summit glacier which has been melted away by the heat generated from its volcanic activity. It has been considered active since the mid-1990’s. According to EPN (Escuela Politécnica Nacional) which is based in Quito, the volcán’s most recent activity was in February of 2016 when it sent an ash cloud several kilometers skyward. The Geophysical Institute of the National Polytechnic School reported that in 2014, the volcán erupted sending an ash cloud six miles above the crater. The mushroom shaped cloud could be seen as far away as Cuenca, almost two hundred miles distant.

In my photograph, you will see the evidence of several huge mud slides and avalanches that have swept the high flanks of the volcán clean. Also, you can see the rivulets of mountain streams quickly descending the slopes carrying a mix of sediment and stone with them. There are a number of historical deaths attributed to Tungurahua’s activity, mostly from lava flows destroying hamlets and villages on the lower slopes. The volcán has been summited several times by experienced climbers but is considered too active to currently ascend, again, by the EPN.

Be sure while enjoying your travels in Ecuador to investigate this and other volcáns within the country. I think you will be amazed at the size of these huge cinder cones. There is an area referred to as Avenue of the Volcanos, stretching north and south from Quito, that offers striking views as you wind your way along the edges of the high Andean passes.