No. 90.
Mr. Wing to Mr. Fish.

No. 278.]

Sir: Referring to my dispatch No. 276,1 have the honor of forwarding, per this mail, two copies of El Nacional, of this city, of January 17 and 20, respectively, containing a report from the explorer, Dr. Reiss, to the president of this republic.

I also append hereto a translation thereof, which has been very hastily made, and may be a little faulty in a few points.

* * * * * * *

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure 1.]

Dr. Reiss to his excellency the President of the republic of Ecuador, regarding his trip to the Iliniza and Corazon Mountains, and especially his ascent of Cotopaxi.

Your Excellency: Through the governor of Leon I received the letter which your excellency did me the honor to forward me. Allow me to thank your excellency for [Page 225] the important information concerning the Galapagos Islands, which I shall return after having taken a copy.

I must request your excellency to excuse me for not having written in a long time, but since my departure from Quito I have lived in the paramos, availing myself of the fair weather, and working every day, and hence, for lack of time and means, I have been unable to write.

As I have already said, the weather has never been so favorable as at this time, so that I have been enabled to advance my work a great deal, and, should the season continue fine, I shall probably be able to finish my observations of the volcanoes of Ecuador by the middle of next year, and, if possible, I shall hope to visit the islands under the eminent assistance of your excellency.

Confiding in the interest and great kindness which your excellency has been pleased to exhibit to me, I take the liberty of setting forth here the results of my last trip.

On my departure, the 5th of November, I went directly to the hacienda of Mr. Philip Barriga, who bad offered me the hospitalities of his place, and where it was easy to secure men and everything necessary for my explorations of Iliniza and Corazon. Iliniza is composed of two distinct mountains. The north peak appears to be the most ancient, so that the eruptions from the south point have covered, in a great measure, the plains to the south thereof.

From these circumstances it appears that there is between the acclivities a hollow, at present filled with the snow that comes down from the southern point.

This hollow is rather wide, and, as it has a slope from the east to the west, it forces this snow to go down to the head of the Hondon de Cutucuche.

Almost all the high peaks of the western Cordillera are very elevated, and have deep valleys in the plains to the west. But Iliniza is an exception to this rule, so that it is easy to reach there on horseback: while deep and almost inaccessible ravines descend the eastern side, distributing their waters on the plains of Callo and Machache.

Iliniza is really one of the handsomest mountains of northern Ecuador. Its isolated position, its great height, and the union of the two snow peaks, cause it to surpass the other mountains of this Cordillera in beauty; and a narrow ridge, formed in part of ancient rocks and in part of volcanic material, connects it with the Corazon; while to the south it extends itself between Iliniza and the old Cordillera of Guangajé and Grintivi, and the plain of Curiquingue, in whose lap lies the town of Toncoa.

The old formation, which is covered with volcanic masses from Iliniza, extends to the west, forming the hills, covered with wood, which inclose the rivers Atacames and Toacho; and among them deserves to be especially mentioned the Cerro Azul, celebrated for its great wealth of Peruvian bark.

The point north of Iliniza is composed of thick streams of lava of a very singular composition. The lava does not appear like solitary and crystallized rocks, but rather like so many breaches, that is to say, that it is an agglomerated or entaxitized lava; while the lava of the southern point is compact and well crystallized.

As an interesting fact, I may mention that, in the midst of these rocks, essentially traptuff, varieties filled with olivine are to be found.

In short, Iliniza appears to be an old volcano, whose form is at present greatly altered by the action of the water; notwithstanding, the more recent lava preserves still the peculiar and characteristic aspect of the streams of its type.

The only indication of the interior heat of this peak is given, perhaps, by the hot springs of Caricunucyacu and Guarmicunucyacu, at the head of the river Blanco, on the eastern side of the hill.

I had already visited Corazon in the year 1870, together with Dr. Stubel, and was surprised at the deep hollow that this hill incloses. It was, however, impossible for us to descend into it from our point of observation. To see this same hollow again, I went to the southwest side of Corazon, from whence, with but little difficulty, I arrived at the bottom. This hollow, which is the deepest that I know of in Ecuador, is surrounded by rocks as high as those in the crater of Pichincha.

The point of Corazon is elevated 4,816 meters
The hillock in the hollow to 3,612 meters
Hence depth of hollow 1,204 meters.
Crater of Pichincha 773 meters.
Peak of Pichincha 4,787 meters.
Bottom of crater 4,016 meters.
Depth of crater 771 meters.

Deeper than the crater of Pichincha, but not so deep as the hollow of Corazon, is the crater of Rumiñagui, which can be seen from the road between Machache and Tinpullo.

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Peak of Rumiñagui 4,757 meters.
Bottom of crater 3,950 meters.
Depth 806 meters.

The other crater and hollow are insignificant in comparison with those of Corazon with the exception of Antisana.

I took the height of Corazon, and, according to the results of my trigonometrical observations of 1870, and November, 1872, I find that the peak of the hill is a little more than 4,800 meters, about 30 meters higher than the barometrical observations.

During my visit to Corazon the sky was very clear, and several times I succeeded in seeing the peaks to the west, almost to the plains near the sea, and particularly the valley of the river Curiyacu, beyond its conjunction with the river Toache; and I must confess that you can rarely find better ground for a road than that beautiful valley.

In the midst of the innumerable hills that surround it, almost at the heights known as Cerrito de Chaupi, it appears that, notwithstanding that, it is a volcanic range which in any other part of the world would be called high and large. From almost all sides three peaks may be distinguished which appear to form a small range, but which in reality are the highest points of the walls of a rather large crater called Hon don de San Diego, whose waters, running down the northern side, unite the river Curiquingue with the water that passes the bridge of Sambeli.

The eruptions from this mountain have made a union of Rumañigni and Iliniza, thus breaking the continuation of the deep valley between the two old mountain-chains, and which, by means of volcanic ejections, form the high plains of Machache and Latacunga.

In my former trips I examined Cotopaxi from all sides, with the hope of finding some point where a successful ascension could be made, and I fixed on the most elevated part of the mountain, where some black lines come down from the crater to the lower snow-level.

Being occupied in taking trigonometrical measurements in the hacienda of Chaupi, I succeeded in observing the mountain for several days. In the beginning of November the brow of the mountain was so covered with snow that not a single black spot could be seen, and this seemed to corroborate the expression of Baron Humboldt that it appeared as if shaped by a lathe.

With the dry and warm weather of November the snow which had fallen in the storms of the previous month slowly melted, and very soon the black rocks in several places on the western side were visible.

The border of the crater was relieved of the snow, showing a black line on the southwest peak, which every day extended itself lower down.

On this part of the mountain several black rocks were discerned in the low snow-limit, which visibly grew larger in the direction of the crater.

Day by day the opposite extremes of the two black lines came closer together until, the one descending and the other ascending, they met, forming a narrow, black road to the southwest border of the crater.

On the 24th of November the union of the two black lines was effected; and on the 25th I went to Tiopullo to make immediate arrangements for my trip to Cotopaxi.

On the 26th, while the peons were getting ready, I made several observations, visited the small mountain of Callo and the ruins of an old Inca palace. It appears that the Callo mountain is the peak of an eruption similar to that of Panecillo, at Quito, but is now almost buried by the ejections and inundations from Cotopaxi.

The ruins of the Inca edifices are very interesting, but it is painful to see the way these relics of a past civilization are destroyed. The owners of the San Agustin hacienda dispose of these ruins as something of no value, but rather a nuisance; and the walls of the ancient temples, which have resisted for three hundred years the weather and volcanic shocks, serve to-day as pig-sties, or are tumbled down to make use of the well-cut stones, and to give room for new houses, (which, to say the least, are mere piles of mud,) which could have been built in any other part of the hacienda.

These ruins are not really the property of the owners of the hacienda, nor do they only belong to the country, whose ancient history represents the most glorious times, but they belong also to the civilized world. It is very important to save the little that now remains.

A single room exists to-day intact; and now this last rememberance of the Inca arts will be destroyed to build upon its ancient walls a new hut. It is true that these walls are still preserved intact; but soon they will be soiled and closed with mud, under the pretext of whitewashing the house, and then the walls will be broken to make windows and doors, which will afterward be closed with mud.

There is no salvation whatsoever for these interesting ruins unless they are placed under the protection of the government.

Your excellency will excuse me if I have departed from the limits of my report, but [Page 227] it causes indignation to see these ruins (which should he kept sacred for the high interest they claim in the civilization of a primitive people) thus barbarously destroyed. If I mention this matter here, it is because I am convinced that once the attention of the enlightened government of your excellency is called to this fact, the country will be spared the misfortune of having destroyed in the nineteenth century that which was respected by the bigoted and rude Spanish conquerors.

And it does not appear to me difficult to save the room that exists, as it is not large, and as the hacienda has ample space for the building of new houses.

The owner should sell for a moderate sum this small part of his land, on the condition that the walls should be kept intact as national property.

On the morning of the 27th all the mountains were entirely covered with snow from the peak to the base, and unfortunately among all the peons that the authorities of Mulalo had sent me there was not one who was acquainted with Cotopaxi; but as I had already examined the shape of the mountain, I went from Santa Anna in a straight line to the south-west point; and as there are no cultivated lands it was easy to follow the direction, especially after the peak appeared above the clouds.

We passed the river Cutuche, which comes from Limpiopuugo around the western foot of Cotopaxi, near the huts of the San Joaquin hacienda, where it passes through a wide drain between low hills of volcanic stones. The plains in this part of the base of the mountain end on the banks of the river; and as they are composed of soft volcanic stones, it is possible to ascend anywhere.

Insensibly the ground rises from Ventanillas to the foot of the slope of the cone; but these plains, which from Santa Anna appeared to be of short extent, are in reality, very extensive. Scattered stubble from three to four feet in height form the vegetation of these arid and dry plains, and for lack of water no cattle can be kept there. All the water immediately penetrates the porous, tophus stones, and comes out again in very small streams through the rocks by the banks of the river, leaving the ground perfectly dry.

Only during heavy rains are small streams formed on every side, destroying with the sand the little grass that is produced in the shade of the stubble.

At 9.15, two hours after our departure from Santa Anna, we reached the beginning of the ascent of the cone of Cotopaxi.

It was not easy to lose the road, as the spot where I wished to put my tent in the snow-line was the upper part of the hill that is inclosed between the two deep ravines of Manzanguaico and Pucuhuaico.

Both ravines commence a little above the snow-line.

The northern ravine runs to the west, and unites near San Joaquin; while Pucuhuaico, the southern ravine, goes to the southwest, forming with Sisihuaico the river Saquimalac, which, passing near the town of Mulalo, unites much lower down with the Cutuche.

It is clear that the hill between the two ravines, forming a triangle, whose base is the river Cutuche, and whose peak is in the snow-level, was the point desired for our camp, that is, the hill, very wide at its base, grows narrower toward the top, and ends in the snow limit, where the two ravines are separated by a narrow ridge of rocks; so that once we had passed the river Cutuche between the confluences with the two mentioned ravines, we had only to continue going up without crossing any other deep ravine.

The weather cleared up a little and gave us time to inspect the point to which we had arrived.

An elevated hill was noticed on the left-hand side, and extended like a promontory into the plains towards the Cutuche.

This is the Ami hill, visible from some distance, and one of the points was to serve as a mark in the road. Ravines of considerable depth, separated by narrow ridges, descend here from the elevated part; but these ravines are dry, commence near the sandy ground, and are completely lost in the plains of Cutuche. Very small trees, forming a real forest, cover the hills between these ravines, and it was somewhat difficult to make a road for the cargo-mules.

Soon we arrived at another plain, higher, but narrower, than the first.

A new ascent presented itself before us, very high and much worn by the rains which fall during the storms, and come down like small creeks upon these barren slopes. At this point there are no bushes; and the straw is also scarce and almost destroyed by the sand and ashes from the volcano.

Notwithstanding that in this ascent yellow tophus is found, I think it best to fix in this point the beginning of the sandy part.

This ascent, though short and somewhat dangerous, brought us directly to the sandy part, that is, that part of the mountain where all vegetable life ends, and where the surface is covered with black sand and ashes.

Almost all the west side of Cotopaxi, between 3,900 and 4,600 meters, owing to this sand, has the appearance of a black, gloomy desert. The desert exercises an influence of terror to the traveler. It is impossible to judge of distances or the size of visible objects.

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At every step one sinks into the sand, and it is hard to travel without great difficulty.

The lack of water in a place that appears destined to cause thirst; the metallic reflection of the ashes; the monotonous form of the mountain-side, whose irregularities have been leveled by the action of the sand, which becomes deeper in proportion to the ascent; the uninterrupted silence of these places, where man appears to be an intruder, all unite to impress the imagination, and direct the thoughts to the mysterious subterranean forces, which, laughing at human attempts and investigations, carry with them death and destruction, changing into uninhabitable wastes lands teeming until then with life and vegetation.

In fine weather these sandy places can be passed without difficulty, and the immense view from these heights, and the proximity of the snowy cone, divert the observer; but, in bad weather, covered with clouds, with strong winds and snow-storms, it is impassable. It was not then to be wondered at that, under such circumstances, the peons lost heart, and principally those who had ascended so high a mountain for the first time, and should more desire to return than to keep on, when even the veterans who had been with me for three years now advanced with great unwillingness. Without knowing if our journey’s end was near or far we traveled in the midst of dense clouds, without being able to see the road we were to take or the part we had passed over.

Slight undulations of the ground seemed like deep ravines or high mountains, and, often losing the direction, we were forced to make useless turns, without being able to judge of the distance gained.

A hail-storm, brought by a cold strong wind, rendered our situation more disagreeable; and when the clouds scattered, we discovered on our left hand a deep ravine, whose, bottom was filled with fresh smoking lava.

We were now near the end of our day’s journey, as this lava was but the lower part of the large mass which forms the black lines already mentioned.

A little after we could see the snow, and with renewed strength we went ahead.

The mules could hardly advance, as they sank to their knees at every step, and suffered a great deal from the rarefied air, so that I was obliged to have my baggage carried on the shoulders of the men for the few hundred yards of the ascent. At two o’clock I arrived at the top of the hill, which comes almost to a point, as the rocks of the two ravines unite here, and the currents of lava which come down from farther up, united a little above the end of the hill, divide here in two parts, the one for Manzan-ahuaico and the other for Pucahuaico.

During a hard snow-storm, which in a little time covered the black sand to the depth of an inch, we put up the tent.

But this was not an easy task, as the greater part of the peons shirked the work, discontented, until I lost patience, and with irresistible logic I dissipated their fears. From the hacienda of Chaupi I had brought the poles, for the tent, and charcoal to procure water for us.

To remain in this part of the ascent of Cotopaxi it is necessary to go up to the snow-level, or carry water from the river Catuche, for without water it is impossible to exist in this high land, where thirst is more terrible than in hot countries.

At about six in the evening the upper part of the mountain suddenly cleared up, allowing us to enjoy a sight at once grand and imposing. The snow-cone lifted itself just before us, not very high, and consequently steep.

In the cavities of the almost vertical rocks that surrounded the crater on this side, as also from the border of the crater, the sulphurous air arose in white clouds.

The border of the crater was shown by a wide line of high rock at the northern and southern side.

Below the rocks that crown the crater very steep tracts of sand extend, in which, as in the snow, you can see the lines made by the stones thrown from above, and in the southwest side of the mountain comes out of the largest sandy tract an immense mass of lava that extends down almost to our camp, where it divides and enters into the two mentioned ravines.

I was able to note that this lava is composed of four principal currents, that, uniting and separating, form the black line that is distinguished at a distance on the mountainside. All this lava is still warm, as was shown by the quantity of sulphurous steam which arises from the many holes therein, and which my peons compared very well with the smoke of the charcoal-burners.

Night had set in, and still all my peons had not arrived, so that I was obliged to go down almost to the place where we had unloaded the mules to make them come faster.

In the afternoon the thermometer was nearly at zero; during the night it went down to 3½ centigrade below zero, while, at a less elevation, in the Hondon of Cutucuchu and the western slope of Iliniza, I had seen it go down to 6° below zero.

On the 28th all our hopes were realized. The mountain in the early morning was clear, while at our feet the clouds filled like a sea of cotton all the lower part of the high mountains; so that but a few snow-peaks were visible above the clouds.

Unfortunately it was impossible to leave early, as the half-melted snow of the previous [Page 229] day was during the night changed to a soft ice-like glass, and it was necessary to wait until 6.45 to ascend with security. Coming down the rocks on the Manzanahuaico side, we went between them and the sides of new lava to the point where it is separated from the principal mass. Here it was necessary to ascend on the lava; but as the stones that covered the surface of the currents of lava permitted us to step with safety we managed to ascend with security from stone to stone as on a ladder. The lava forms large hills that end in the lateral sides in very steep declivities, covered with gravel fallen from the large stones during the movement of the lava.

The surface is composed of large stones, almost always scorified, and piled up in a fantastic manner, forming peaks and steep picturesque slopes in one place and arranged with symmetry in another; but the borders of the lateral sides are always higher than the central part of the lava; so that there are two high parallel lines, between which the principal part of the lava descends. The four streams which have come out of this part form an immense stony section, and, hence it is impossible to exactly determine the course of each one of these arms. These unite and separate again, thus inclosing holes often deep and filled with sand and gravel.

Near the tent, before the two arms of Manzanahuaico and Pucuhuaico separate, the lava is from 600 to 800 meters in width, and gets narrower little by little, until it ends in some black rocks, surrounded by sand, at a height of 5,560 meters.

The lava is black, and of the same appearance as the new lava in the different parts of the mountain, but, as I have said, still warm in the entire course.

While the temperature of the atmosphere did not descend to zero, it was, according to my observations, from 26° to 32° centigrade in the fissures of the lava. It appears to me that the hot gas that comes out between these fissures is merely atmospheric mixed with a little steam, and these exhalations are caused by the evaporation of the snow falling upon the under warm lava.

The elevated temperature of the lava explains the lack of snow, and I think now that the fresh lava also, that it is absorbed under similar circumstances, in the other parts of the mountain, may have still as high temperature; but I have not observed this fact in consequence of the slight difference that in a clear day must exist between the natural temperature of the lava and that of the lava heated by the sun. This temperature is not maintained by the inner fire of the mountain, as no fissure communicates to this lava the central heat; it is merely the remainder of the heat that it has when it comes out in a liquid state from the bowels of the mountain.

The lava covered with scoria preserves its heat for a long time, cooling very slowly, and more especially if the mass is large. And according to the shape of the ground it cannot be doubted that this mass is 30, 40, and up to 60 meters in depth, because it has not only filled the upper parts of the two ravines several times mentioned, but has also covered the hill between them, forming an elevated line, where before there was a hollow in the brow of the mountain. According to the notes I have been able to make, this is the lava of the eruption of 1854, when the inundations from the river Catuche carried away the Latacunga bridge.

Many persons still remember the beautiful view that was to be seen of the cloven mountain, as they call it, from top to bottom, when the inner fire on the brow of the mountain could be seen.

But this fire was merely the descending lava, and the rivers of mud were caused by the snow melted by the heat of the same lava.

The water, suddenly produced in large quantities, must have caused destruction in the elevated part of the mountain, and, mixed with sand and ashes, came down like mud to the plains at the foot of the mountain.

Stones still hot from the lava were carried down by this inundation, so that the river Catuche near Callo appeared like a river of fire; and it is asserted that hot stones came as far as Latacunga.

As in this eruption, it happened the same in others: these eruptions, which are the terror by the streams of hot lava that descend the snow on the upper part of the mountain, and never by the expulsions of water. The snow never melts, either, on all the mountain, as is generally believed, for should this happen at any time, torrents of water would be found in all the ravines. It is not so, however, and the water is only found in one of the many new streams of lava that are in the circumference of Cotopaxi. If, at any time, all the mountain appears black, it does not proceed from the lack of snow, but from the black ashes which have fallen on it.

Mr. Gomez de la Torre ascended with several companions after the eruption, and, according to the account of these gentlemen, it appears that the interior fire, that is to say, the burning stones of lava, were in two parallel rows, which came down from the brow of the mountain and were joined together by means of many transversal lines of fire. This description is in conformity with the figure of the lava mentioned above; the two parallel rows correspond to the contact of the running lava with the lateral hills now consolidated, and the transversal lines are caused by masses of scoria, which, swimming in the liquid lava, are moved very fast in the middle of the stream [Page 230] and, consequently, are arranged in curved lines, convexed underneath, and allowing the warm under lava to be seen in the interstices.

No accumulation of scoria nor crater-stones show the point from which this lava comes.

The highest points of the lava disappear under a steep, sandy covering, which comes down from the rocks at the peak, and is lost in the arms of this lava.

At 8.45 we arrived at the upper part of this, having ascended 900 meters in two hours.

But farther on the ascent was more difficult. In a plain of fine, deep sand, whose inclination increased from 35 degrees in the lower part to 40 degrees in the upper, was the path we were forced to follow, for, to the right and left, the sand was covered with snow, or, rather, hard smooth ice, which afforded no secure footing; while the sand, which had a temperature of £5 degrees, gave us a really had, but not difficult, road. Going backward and forward we managed to make a little headway, although we were soon tired in consequence of the sand, and, at short intervals, we were compelled to rest, and for the balance of the way I was unable to enjoy a cigar.

We left on our left hand the beginning of another stream of lava, which probably belongs to the same eruption, and which is also still warm, as on the surface the snow liquefied very quickly.

This lava must have come out with much velocity, as, instead of following the inclination of the ground, it crossed the brow of the mountain diagonally, and descended toward the other ravine. But only a part of the lava could descend by this ravine, while the principal portion was forced with such swiftness down the side of the cone that it extended itself on the hill at the opposite side of the precipice. This black line, which goes from one ravine to the other by the snow-section, presents a singular aspect to the western slope of the mountain, and is visible from a distance. The snow of Cotopaxi had been clear until then, and the rising sun behind it threw upon a plain of clouds the immense shade of the cone, which was extended to Iliniza, diminishing every moment until the sun lighted up our road also.

Of the other peaks the only ones visible were Iliniza and Chimborazo; but above the clouds, in a southwesterly direction, a dense mass of smoke, composed of four columns, heavily loaded with ashes, which arising perpendicularly to a great height could be seen. There was Sangay, whose peak was invisible, but whose eruptions were manifest in the manner indicated. As the sun slowly arose the clouds scattered, revealing the different provinces extended at our feet. Like a large map spread out before us, we could see the plains of Latacurga, the Rumiñiagui, covered with snow, surrounded amidst its fantastic rocks, the plains of Hornoloma and Pedregal, and in the distance the valley of Chillo. Nearer to us, and almost at our feet, was the peak known as the Cabeza de Cotopaxi, toward which descended a steep slope of ice and snow, which to look at almost caused vertigo. The clouds kept ascending faster than ourselves, and while some of the smaller clouds coming from the east sailed towards the peak, the clouds from the west caught us. When we could no longer see where to go, we quickly lost courage and confidence in our strength; and even I thought several times in this part of the ascent that it would be impossible to reach the peak. We arrived at last at the most difficult part of the ascension; and as it was impossible, to continue straight ahead toward the upper part of our sandy path, it was necessary to go a little to the south to reach some rocks that descend from the southwest of the crater in the direction of the Cobeza del Cotopaxi. Fruitless were the attempts we made to cross these rocks, as the sand was hard and mixed with ice, until at last we passed them by going up to the point where they overtop the snow. Having arrived at the rocks, (5,712 meters,) at 10.15, I sat down for the first time to await my companions.

But the only one I saw was my major-domo, a faithful companion for more than four years in all my journeyings, and my poor little dog, which followed his master-crying and moaning in great trouble. The rocks where we were were the remains of a decomposed old lava filled with many cavities, from whence began to exude a penetrating smell of sulphuric acid. From below it had been impossible to judge well of the nature of these rocks, and I had doubted the possibility of being able to ascend by this road. As this part is very steep, and the ground that covers it in many places was hard and slippery, this part of the ascent was somewhat difficult; but, assisting ourselves with our hands, we managed to ascend very slowly, resting at every step.

We walked along the border of the southern side, whore we had already made several attempts to reach the mountain peak. Whoever has had occasion to see this slope from above, as we have, would not have wondered that nobody could have arrived by this road. A blue compact ice covers the slope, whose inclination is from 35 to 40 degrees. It is true that the ice has no smooth surface; on the contrary, it is much cut up by the small points from 3 to 4 inches in height, notwithstanding that it is impossible to walk without cutting steps and exposing one’s self to a certain death by a fall. Walking on the firm ice was less fatiguing than walking upon the uncertain sand, where we could walk without attending to the stones that came tumbling down from the rocks at the peak in immense jumps, and whistling like balls.

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One moment we had to stoop, another to jump from one side to the other, to avoid injury from stones falling for more than 300 meters from the height above, as large as a man’s head, and which had force enough to occasion serious wounds.

Until then I had been in advance, but I noticed that my major-domo lost courage when walking behind. I made him take front and I the rear.

The walking in this last part was bad, as the decomposed stones broke under the weight of man.

One of those stones fell on me in a point where it was impossible to avoid it, and I was so hurt by it that I felt constrained to return, though I was very near the top, and from which I have not as yet recovered, though more than a month has passed.

The peak was entirely covered with clouds, and for this reason the rocks in front of us appeared very high and distant; but going more to the southern side, we suddenly arrived at the top.

At that moment the clouds were dissipated, and for the first time human eyes explored the bottom of the crater of Cotopaxi.

I cannot, nor do I wish to, deny that I was happy in having been the first to ascend the highest of the active volcanoes of the world. A similar sensation was painted on the face of my companion, Angel Maria Escobar, of Bogota, who had had a real triumph in ascending to that height, although he suffered a great deal from the rarified air, while I had felt nothing on the entire road. The border of the crater was covered with clouds which, without filling the cavity, passed by the peak of the mountain.

We had reached the western part of the southern edge, alongside of the southwestern peak, in a place where there was no snow.

The crater appeared to have an elliptical form—wider from north to south than from east to west. From all points large rocks hang down, which unite at the bottom in almost a point. A large mass of snow covered the northern part, almost from the top to the bottom, while in the other parts of the crater there are but a few pieces of ice.

The many falling stones which have descended from all parts do not allow the true construction of the walls to be seen. This falling is very frequent, especially on the western side; and the noise from the rolling stones is continually heard.

The less inclined part, and where the crater could perhaps be entered, is on the southwest, where we observed many cavities of considerable size and without any noise, dense clouds of white steam which have a strong odor of sulphurous acids, and where small deposits of sulphur have been formed. From several points on this side hot steam issues, but we were unable to See any sublimate deposits, and no evidence of that strong coloring that is observed in many craters. The depth of Cotopaxi appeared to me to be about 500 meters, but this calculation is in no wise absolute. Being completely isolated in the air, far from points of comparison, tired from the effect of the ascent, it is almost impossible to judge with certainty distances and heights, and much more when the clouds threaten to conceal everything from view, so that neither time nor tranquillity are allowed for observations. We were but a short distance from the rocks at the southwest peak, which is the second in height, according to my trigonometrical observations, repeated many times from different points and bases.

My barometer gave me 5,993 meters, so that the results obtained by both methods give a higher altitude than those published by previous explorers. It is very probable that the temperature which I have taken in account is too high, but as probably all the air above the crater has an elevated temperature from the hot steam, I have been unable to secure better data.

The rocks at the southwest are split all over; and steam of 68 degrees centigrade issues in great quantity with a strong sulphuric acid odor, which cannot be tolerated when the wind blows toward the observer. In these cavities a white substance is found, which, according to the assays of Father Dressel, is a kind of chalk, but it is interesting to find, together with the chalk, chloride, because it is the first time that chloride has been found in a South American volcano. Humboldt, even, thought that the lack of hydrochloric acid was characteristic of the volcanoes of the new world; and neither Boussingault nor Deville had met it during their observations. Iliad found a direct proof of the existence of this acid in the iron of Antisana, but it was reserved for Father Dressel, of the laboratory of Quito, to prove in a direct manner the presence of this interesting acid. The products of these cavities showed a very singular reaction; all the papers that were used were spotted with violet, which after some time disappeared; notwithstanding that, I sent samples to Father Dressel to find some indication of iodide, or some other substance that could have occasioned these spots.

While I was mounted on the border of the crater, and Angel Maria held me by one hand, and examining with the other the deposits of the cavities, a gust of wind filled both eyes with sand impregnated with sulphuric acid, causing a strong and immediate inflammation, from which I have suffered several weeks; so that, almost blind, I could only think of returning downward as fast as possible. At 11.45 we reached the border of the crater, and at 1.15 we commenced the descent.

Avoiding the rocks as best we could, we descended at all speed.

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About 300 yards from the peak we met the two first peons, and at 5,700 meters another peon with provisions for breakfast.

Notwithstanding the fact that we had only had a cup of coffee in the morning, we could not eat. After a few prickly pears, and some brandy mixed with pieces of ice, and happy, without minding a keen hail-storm, we ran down through the sand.

A few moments after we reached the edge of the lava, and at 3.30 the camp, just as a strong snow-storm began.

I wished to examine in a fuller manner the new lava and the western side of the mountain, but the snow-storm, lasting twenty-four hours, obliged me to break camp and return to Santa Anna, where we arrived the 30th of November, between one and two in the afternoon.

I have made a lengthy report of my ascension to the top of Cotopaxi, because I was the first person to do so, and because I know that the few persons who would ascend, from scientific interest, could not undertake the trip without your excellency’s assistance; so that this report will serve as a guide. I have dwelt at length on the first day’s journey because nil depends on the point where you pass the snow-limit.

I will not say that it is impossible to ascend from another point, but I am inclined to believe that my road is the best and shortest of all.

In no part is there much danger. In four or five hours one can go from the snow-limit to the peak; but as this ascent is long and somewhat hard, it is best to sleep the first night at the snow-limit, carry a tent the second day to the sandy section, at 5,500 meters height, where you can sleep very well, as the sand is warm, and go up the third day to the crater. In this way you can arrive early, explore the entire circumference of the crater, descend to the bottom, and, in short, make all those explorations that I was unable to execute.

If the scientific results of my ascension do not correspond with the expectations of the savans I can console myself with the idea that I have shown the road, and that other more skillful, stronger, and more fortunate travelers can go up in future to the crater of Cotapaxi, free from the bug-bear, the difficulty of difficulties—that is, the general conviction that it is impossible to ascend to it.

In the accounts of the ascent of these high mountains, much is said of the influence of the ratified air. In Cotopaxi I did not suffer any difficulties of this kind. It is always to travel in such high altitudes that this difficulty exists, though I do not think that it increases with the height. In other mountains and at less heights, I suffered principally from a short headache, and considerable difficulty of breathing.

My major-domo and the peons who accompanied me to Cotopaxi suffered all these ill effects; and one of them, a very powerful man, remained in the middle of the road vomiting, but none of them suffered nose-bleeding.

That animals are subject to the same things, was demonstrated by the difficulty with which they traveled on heights greater than 4,000 meters; and my dog, which generally appeared-not to suffer, reached the crater moaning, and it was necessary to animate him, so that he should not remain behind.

The time necessary for the trip is as follows, although it could be done in two days:

November 27.

Left Santa Anna at seven o’clock 3,238
Rio Cutuche 3,150
Foot of the Ami Hill, 8°.1 C 3,547
Beginning of sand, 8°.8 C 3,890
Manzanguaico, 5°.8 C 4,195
Tent, snow-limit 4,627

November 28.

Left tent at 6.45, 2°.0 4,627
Beginning of sand, 0°.8 5,559
Beginning of lava, 0°.2 5,712
South west peak 5,992
Left peak 5,992
Arrived at camp 4,627

November 30.

Tent 4,627
Santa Anna 3,238

Very little remained to be seen in Cotopaxi. In a trip to Limpiopungo I examined the rest of the western side up to the lava of Yansusache, which I had visited at the beginning of this year; and in a trip to Mucucuchu I examined the southern part of the mountain, which, by the way, is interesting for the peak called Cabeza de Cotopaxi.

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This peak is composed of several thick bands of agglomerate and tophus scoria. This tophus does not form part of Cotopaxi, and belongs to an older volcanic formation, as also the lava and rocks which cross the Hondon de Sigsihuaico. It is possible that these rocks are part of the same volcanic mountains, which, now being covered with the more recent eruptions of Cotopaxi, do not admit of an examination except in a few points. The ancient eruptions produced much obsidian, which is not to be found in the lava of Cotopaxi, and it seems that the deposits of pumice-stone near Latacunga proceed from the same eruptions. The southern and western brows of Cotopaxi are less interesting than those of the north and east, because the prevailing wind, the east, has thrown the ashes and sand from every eruption upon these parts, while the north and east are almost clear of sand, so that the lava that composes this mountain can be observed. The extension of the ice is also much less on the western side, and the circumstances are favorable to study the formation of the inundations. But none of them have thrown up so much lava as the eruption of 1854.

The modern lava has pieces of quartz buried in it, and in some places they are to be found by thousands. And this is not to be wondered at, because the miraculous slate is found very near Cotopaxi, forming the mountains of Cubillan and Carrera, and there is no doubt but what it also exists under the lava of Cotopaxi.

With a visit to the “Morro,” near Chalupas, I concluded my explorations, and the 9th of December I left again Santa Anna to examine the western Cordillera, and look for the “Quilotoa,” in which trip I spent three weeks.

But I have already abused your excellency’s patience too much, and I do not dare to continue my report. I will only say that, thanks to the governmental order, I was assisted with much zeal by the authorities of the towns, with the single exception of the lieutenant of Chugchelan, who thought that a governmental order gave him the right to explore the person introduced, so that I was obliged to take him in my service, without which I should have remained without men.

I have entered a formal complaint against that employé to the governor of the province of Leon.

If I have praised the authorities of the smaller towns, what will I say of the governor of Leon.

Mr. Alcazar received me more like a friend than a traveler; and while on the one hand he afforded me his official protection, on the other, he and his lady made me forget that I was a stranger in this country. Mr. Alcazar has been so kind as to ask for me a special order from the governor of Tunguragua so that I can go to Llaganate.

I have aranged my trip with the assistance of the jefe politico of Pillaro, and tomorrow I shall leave with twenty-five men for the Cerro Hermoso with the intent of clearing up the mystery of the volcanoes of Mr. Guzman.

Allow me to repeat at this point my acknowledgment for the high protection and kindness that your excellency has deigned to favor and honor me with.

I am, &c.,


Height of several points in this report.

Hacienda of Chisinche 3,200
Hacienda of Chaupi 3,365
Cruzloma 4,365
Cutucuchu 4,149
Snow-level of Chaupi 4,448
Limit of snow-level of southwest side 4,653
Tisisiche Mountain 4,241
Town of Toacaso 3,261
Cunuchoquio 4,155
Snow-level of northwest side 4,771
Pass between the two mountains 4,800
Pass between the two mountains, west side 4,600
Mountain limit, east side 3,799
Beginning of sand 4,886
Cuniquingue plain 3,551

chaupi mountains.

Propunteo Peak 4,074
Hondon de san Diego 3,548
Pass between Iliniza and Chaupi 3,772
Pass between Rimañigui and the Chaupi Mountains 3,604
Lastana de Tiopullo 3,238
Pastocalle 3,150
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Peak 4,816
Bottom of hollow 3,612
Pass between Zorrocuchu and hollow 4,016


Callo Mountain 3,279
Hacienda of San Augustin 3,179


North peak 5,943
South west peak 5,922
Snow limit 4,627
Upper part of lava of 1854 5,559
Rio Cutuche in San Joaquin 3,150
Rio Cutuche in Churupinto 3,430
Rio Cutuche in Chuto 3,479
Mulalli 3,077
Barrancas hacienda 3,295
Barrancas River 3,220
Mujumcuchu 3,579
Bercha Hill 3,740
Cunturbamba River 3,562
Sauripamba Hill 3,892
Beginning of sand, south side 4,246
South foot of the Cobeza del Cotopaxi which is also the snow-limit in this part of the mountain 4,629

List of peons who accompanied me to Cotopaxi and who may serve as guides:

  • From Mulaló: Manuel Espino and Juan Ortega, almost to peak; Li man Prado, Manuel Ortiz, Agusteon Prado, Luciano Prado, Eubio Beltrau, Ildifonso Villareal, Francisco Santa Cruz, and Fidel Freire, to tent.
  • From Quito: Vicent Roman, almost to peak; José Roman and Mariano Sigeha, to tent; and the Colombian, Juan Bautista Anaya, married, in Quito.

The Quito peons are preferable to those of Mulalo, as they have traveled a long time with Dr. Stubbell and with me, consequently they, being accustomed to these trips, can make camp and do everything that is necessary.