Cotopaxi from the Air
Cotopaxi is a stratovolcano in the Andes Mountains, located about 45 kilometres (1 km = 0.621 statute miles) south of Quito, Ecuador, South America. It is the second highest summit in the country, reaching a height of 5,897 m (19,347 ft) Cotopaxi has an almost symmetrical cone that rises from a highland plain of about 3,800 metres (12,500 ft), with a width at its base of about 23 kilometres (14 mi). It has one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world, which starts at the height of 5,000 metres (16,400 ft). The mountain is clearly visible on the skyline from Quito. It is part of the chain of volcanoes around the Pacific plate known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. Cotopaxi means "Throne of Moon". The mountain was honored as a "Sacred Mountain" by local Andean Indians even prior to the beginning of Inca domination in the 15th century. It was worshiped as rain sender, that served as the guarantor of the land's fertility and at the same time it's summit was revered as a place where gods lived. The first European, who tried to climb the mountain was Alexander fon Humboldt in 1802, however he only reached a height of about 4500 m. In 1858 Moritz Wagner investigated the mountain, but he also could not reach summit. On November 27, 1872, geologist Wilhelm Rajss finally reached the summit of Cotopaxi. In 1873 it was summited by Moritz Alfons Shtjubel (Moritz Alphons Stübel), then in 1880 by Edward Whymper. Painters Rudolf Reschreiter and Hans Meyer reached the summit in 1903 and many of Reschreiter's paintings feature a view of Cotopaxi. Today, mountain guide companies offer regular guided climbs of the mountain. These involve driving to a height of 4300 m. At 4800 m is the Jose Ribas mountain hut, where climbers can spend the night and from which their summit bid begins Cotopaxi is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. However, claims that Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in the world are incorrect. Llullaillaco volcano is considerably higher and is definitely in an active phase, having erupted as recently as 1877. Ojos del Salado is higher still, and there are indications near its summit of recent activity, although its remoteness precludes a definitive statement as to whether it is currently active. There have been more than 50 eruptions of Cotopaxi since 1738. Numerous valleys formed by lahars (mudflows) surround the volcano. This poses a high risk to the local population, their settlements and fields. Cotopaxi's most violent eruptions in historical times occurred in the years 1744, 1768, and 1877. In the 1877 eruption pyroclastic flows descended all sides of the mountain, with lahars traveling more than 100 km into the Pacific Ocean and western Amazon basin draining the valley. There was a major eruption in 1903 through 1904, and some minor activity in 1942 as well as 1975 but it did not produce any major events. In the most recent case, fumarolic activities and sulfuric emissions increased and ice around the inside and on the southeastern side of the cone started to melt. The main danger of a huge eruption of Cotopaxi would be the flow of ice from its glacier. If there were to be a very large explosion, it would destroy most of the settlements within the valley in the suburban area of Quito (pop. more than 1,000,000). Another city which would be in great danger is Latacunga which is located in the south valley. In 1744 and 1768 an eruption destroyed the colonial town of Lata.