Two centuries ago, Humboldt warned that “Ecuadorians are rare and unique beings: they sleep peacefully amidst creaking volcanoes, live poor amidst incomparable riches and rejoice in sad music” and while it is difficult to understand these contradictions, the beauty of Ecuador’s volcanoes can be easily explained
One of these beautiful volcanoes is Antisana, a huge and majestic active volcano, covered with snow, with an altitude of 5,704 m. It is the fourth highest mountain in Ecuador and is also known as one of the most difficult to climb due to its glaciers and changing crevasses that do not allow defining a standard climbing route.
From the guardhouse of the Antisana Ecological Reserve there are several routes of different levels of difficulty that go along the La Mica lagoon and are suitable for hikers and nature lovers. These routes offer an excellent view of the lagoon, the surrounding mountains and on clear days a spectacular view of Antisana. The weather changes very quickly so waterproof clothing is recommended.
The Antisana complex contains 2 generations of volcanic cones, an older volcano cut by calderas and eroded by glaciers and a young cone. The only confirmed historical eruption was from 1801 to 1802, when a lava flow erupted from the summit. It is estimated to be approximately 800,000 years old and is known not to have erupted but lava flow found in its surroundings is due to cracks in the volcano.
It is located between the volcanoes of Cotopaxi, Chacana, Cayambe, Reventador and Sumaco. Its glacier lost at least 36% of its original mass in the last 50 years. Because of its strategic importance, it is the most studied of these Andean peaks. Its length is measured annually and its mass every month. The thawing of its glacial hull and the moorlands located around the volcano are one of the most important sources of drinking water for the city of Quito, capital of Ecuador.
The volcano originated on the remains of an ancient volcanic caldera, which today, the volcano occupies almost all of it. Antisana II is said to have experienced regular eruptive activity for more than 14,000 years, with at least 40 small to moderate eruptions recorded in this time period. This type of activity would have stopped approximately 1000 years ago or at least there is no clear geological record of more recent activity.
It is currently considered an active volcano, due to the activity of several hot springs in the Quebrada del Azufre Grande, and relatively recent past eruptions. The volcano is located on an almost uninhabited wasteland far from civilization; however, it could be a risk if it erupts again, as it is always covered with snow, and could cause lahars that could flood Quito with water, as the volcano is one of the main sources of this resource for the city. Nearby crops would also be destroyed.
In Antisana there are wet and dry ecosystems, forests and swamps with wildlife as striking as the mountain tapir and flora as beautiful as the chuquirahua, the national flower of Ecuador. You can visit the house where Humboldt stayed in the early nineteenth century, in the old hacienda known as “La Ovejería”, where, decades later, the Spanish troops, would raise their final assault on Quito, in 1822 for the feat of Independence.
According to indigenous mythology, the Antisana is a male volcano because its slopes are populated by achupallas, moorland plants whose elongated and pointed leaves stretch like a bouquet of spears.
Did you know?
Antisana means lamb or dark mountain. Translated from the Cañari language.
The belief is that the volcanoes share love stories, all of them under the protective eye of their guardian spirits called chusalongos, a word that comes from two Quichua words: chusa, which means small, and longo, translated as young man.
Another legend that runs through this volcano says that when you see lightning near the Cotopaxi and Antisana is because these two are fighting and are betting their flora and fauna, the legend tells us that the winner will have more animals or plants in the year.
For being a huge, imposing, beautiful and majestic volcano you can not miss the opportunity to visit it, you will not regret it.