Tungurahua is one of the worlds most highly active volcanoes, just two weeks ago the giant was spewing out car sized lumps of lava and had an ash cloud reaching 4km into the sky. Activity is currently at a low but the area remains on high alert and access is strictly forbidden.
I’m joining budding volcanologist Jose Luis and mountain guide Fabian Yasaca to study this beautiful volcano. We make our Base Camp in the abondoned refuge; it hasn’t been used since eruptions began in 1999; rain drips through a hole torn through the roof by volcanic rock, an eerie reminder of what this mountain is capable of.
7am and we start the summit bid, the mountain stayed silent overnight but we proceed with caution; gas masks and helmets are mandatory. It’s a hard climb with the 50 degree gradient, the snow and the ash. We navigate through old lava fields and around rock falls. Sulphur rises from pores in the rock creating a toxic mist that drifts across the mountain and the ground is scorching hot in places – we take a second to warm toes gone numb in the snow.
10am: we reach the summit! (5023m) The clouds have rolled in and the crater mouth descends into fog. It’s a humbling experience: standing at the edge of one of natures most powerful wonders. Our journey is purely observational: we’re here to gain an insight into the movements of this volcano and study the mineral composition of the latest eruption. We don’t stay long… the Mama Tungurahua has a cheeky habit of waking unexpectedly.