El Altar

El Altar

It doesn't matter where you view it from; this ancient and extinct volcano is the most impressive in Ecuador's Andes. The fifth highest, it is the most technical of all the mountains in Ecuador. Known as "Capac Urcu" in Quichua for Sublime Mountain. El Altar presents the hardest climbing in Ecuador.
A legend says that El Altar tried to steal Tungurahua, Chimborazo’s wife. Chimborazo went to war against El Altar and won, leaving El Altar smashed. According to Indian legend, the collapse happened in 1460; geologists say that the collapse happened a lot earlier. The Spanish named the mountain El Altar, for it resemblance to a cathedral; German explorer and climber Hans Meyer christened the peaks with their individual religious names. El Altar is made up of nine major summits arranged in a reverse C-shape. Starting with the highest in the south and going around counter clockwise the peaks’ names are as follows: Obispo; Monja Grande; Monja Chica; Tabernaculo; the three Frailes, Oriental, Central and Grande; and Canónigo.
El Obispo 5.319m / 17,451 ft is the most popular peak of El Altar because it is the easiest to get to and the highest. It has also some of the best climbing in Ecuador, which in good conditions is excellent. The choice of which the three standard ways up to Obispo, depends on the snow conditions.


El Obispo in the BackgroundSummit day on El Altar begins early as we climb in the predawn hours on the route we decided upon the day before. Steep snow and ice leads to the upper superior glacier. From here a narrow gully of steep ice leads to a very exposed notch in the summit crest. From the notch we can look north into the deep inner cirques of El Altar. The last section of the climb is often the hardest with a steep rock wall above the notch presenting technical rock climbing difficulties. The holds are large but the rock is steep. Descent is by rappel and down climbing. El Altar is a long summit day with varied climbing. It is no wonder it was the last of Ecuador's 5.000 meter summits to be ascended!

Day 1Climbing El Altar

  • Pick up at Quito at around 9:00
  • Lunch at Urbina
  • 5 hour drive to Vaqueria Inguisay 3.550 m /11.650 ft for night camping

Day 2

  • Hike up to Campamento Italiano 4.600 m / 15,090 ft

Day 3

  • Climb Obispo and return to camp

Day 4

  • Spare day

Day 5

  • Walk down to Vaqueria Inguisay

Day 6

  • Return to Quito

Important Note: This schedule is subject to change due to unforeseen difficulties.


Also see our Interactive Map.

El Altar


El Altar - Highlights

The El Altar Climbing Excursion offers you the following highlights:

      • Hard climbing.
      • Unique location that allows great views of the southern Ecuadorian volcanoes such as Sangay and Tungurahua (both active).
      • Good chances to see some of the last wild condors in Ecuador.
      • Good view of Chimborazo.
      • One of the least frequently climbed mountains of Ecuador.

El Altar - Logistics

Duration: 5-6 days

Access: Hike in and out with horse support

Seasons: Best from November to February

Guide-Client Ratio: 1 guide for every 2 clients

Pre-requisites: Very good physical condition and proven alpine mountaineering and rock climbing experience.

Equipment: El Altar Climbing Excursion Gear List
Please download the Pdf

Accommodation: Camping


Difficulty Level:
Very advanced - Andeanface will ask clients for a detailed climbing CV before committing ourselves to take any clients there.


El Altar - Suggested Combinations

The El Altar Climbing Excursion is for climbers with proven climbing experience who are looking for off the beat track challenges. We can also offer you:
1. South Iliniza
5.263 m / 17,267 ft
2. Antisana
5.758 m /18, 891 ft

Climbing Excursions

Andeanface offers you the following Climbing Excursions in Ecuador, which you can include in your trip. Please check the different pages and contact us through
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information, suggestions and prices:
Glacier School
El Altar
South Iliniza
North Iliniza