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South America, Ecuador, El Obispo, El Altar

El Obispo, El Altar. In early January, my wife Julie and I made the beautiful two-day approach to the volcano, E1 Altar. We intended to repeat the Italian route on the north face of E1 Obispo. (5340 meters, 17,520 feet), the highest of the nine summits of E1 Altar. When we reached the main glacier at first light on January 3, we had a good look at the enormous bergschrund that had opened and had been preventing parties from climbing E1 Obispo for the last month. We continued west and dropped below a long rotten rock nose and headed up toward the major icefall and climbed it directly. Two-and-a-half pitches of ice up to 80° were followed by another 200 feet of rock climbing on welded tuff up to 5.4 in difficulty. We then climbed 60° to 65° ice-and-snow runnels for nearly six pitches to the base of the rock summit pyramid. We climbed 400 more feet of 45° runnels with some small schrunds to the last 200 feet of very rotten rock. This very steep, technical route was unusual for Ecuador and much more reminiscent of Peru or Bolivia.

Matt Culberson, American Alpine Institute