El Altar

Page Type Page Type: Mountain/Rock
Location Lat/Lon: 1.6857°S / 78.54172°W
Sign the Climber's Log


El Altar is a remote and rarely accessed extinct volcano in Ecuador in the Sangay National Park. It was first climbed in 1963, making the last of the major peaks in Ecuador to be summited. It stands at 5,319m, with its highest point being El Obispo (The Bishop). El Altar is considered as Ecuador's gem of technical climbing, but between it's difficult routes and access, it is rarely climbed.

Getting There

The closest city to El Altar is Riobamba. There is signage to the mountain, but it is very incomplete and will likely not lead you to the correct location. The trailhead begins in what looks like a person's personal small ranch, and is not clearly visible from the street. The best indicator is a water dam by the road. It is best to hire somebody who knows there way to get here. 

Getting to the Campo Italiano is quite straightforward from the trailhead. All roads lead to Rome, as they say. (Get it, Italiano..?) The trail is very muddy and knee high rubber boots are essentially required. There are surprisingly trail markers on the trail, but they begin a little to late and end a little too early. 

Between the trail markers and the incomplete street signage in Riobamaba, it seems like at some point there was an effort to make this an actual trail. The thick mud likely thwarted all efforts in the end to make this an enjoyable hike though.


El Altar has 9 major peaks, with Obispo being the highest of them all.  The Italian Route, to the summit of Obispo, is graded at D+/TD.  No peaks on this mountain are trivially ascended.  

Peak Elevation First Ascent
Obispo, Bishop 5,319 m July 7, 1963, Ferdinando Gaspard, Marino Tremonti, Claudio Zardini
Monja Grande, Great Nun5,160 mAugust 17, 1968, Bill Ross and Margaret Young
Monja Chica, Small Nun5,080 mJanuary 16, 1971, Peter Bednar and party
Tabernáculo, Tabernacle5,180 m
Fraile Oriental, Eastern Friar5,060 m
Fraile Beato, Devout Friar5,050 m
Fraile Central, Central Friar 5,070 m
Fraile Grande, Great Friar 5,180 m December 1, 1972, Lorenzo Lorenzi, Armando Perron, Marino Tremonti
Canónigo, Canon5,260 mMarch 7, 1965, Ferdinando Gaspard, Lorenzo Lorenzi, Marino Tremonti, Claudio Zardini

Red Tape

This is actually one of the most accessible peaks in the country, red tape wise.  Because there are no huts and very few climbers, it is arguably the lest regulated yet accessible 5000m peak in the country.

When to Climb

With it's proximity to the rain forest, weather on this peak can be very fickle.  It is best to climb during December, Ecuador's driest month.


A popular camp site to access the peaks is El Camp Italiano, perched on a ridge overlooking the glacier at around 4600m.  

External Links

You can read my detailed account of my ascent to El Obispo in 2017 here:  https://gethighonaltitude.com/...



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