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South America, Ecuador, Sangay

Sangay. Sebastian Snow and I were sent by the Weekend Telegraph to climb this 17,463-foot volcano in May. We were accompanied by Jorge Larrea, one of Ecuador’s most experienced climbers. It must be the world’s highest truly active volcano. While we were in the vicinity, it erupted an average of once every 24 hours. There was no molten lava, though there was a stream of red-hot lava blocks on the west flank. The violence of the eruptions varied — it was difficult to see them since the weather was consistently bad. One night there was a major eruption, the largest in living memory. We climbed Sangay twice. We first approached it from the south, from the small town of Macas. It had never been climbed from this side and it took us six days to hack our way through virgin jungle. The ascent was more exciting than I had anticipated. We climbed the glaciated and crevassed east flank. Throughout our ascent we were bombarded by large rocks, thrown out by earlier eruptions, which set off down the slope as the ice around them melted. Since we completed the ascent in a sleet blizzard, we could not see anything on the crater but could feel the hot air of the vent and were nearly gassed by fumaroles. As I had been unable to get good pictures, I decided to climb it again, but we had now run out of food. We returned to Quito and then approached from the west by Riobamba and the Hacienda Aloa, in the direction from which Sangay had been climbed on previous occasions. (First ascent by P. Austin, R. and T. Moore, L. Thorne, 1929.) This much easier approach over heavily eroded grasslands took us three days. There was no ice on this side and the walk up to the crater was straight-forward. It pays to have a high camp at about 13,000 feet to save too long a plod to the crest.

Christian Bonington, Alpine Club