Sincholagua’s name comes from the Quechua language and means “strong above”. Certainly its jagged peaks are imposing, but sadly the name “strong above” cannot be said to be an accurate description of its glaciers; once 1.5 kilometres in length, they disappeared over a decade ago. At 4899m, Sincholagua sits under Ecuador’s current permanent snowline of 5,100m – 400m higher than the snowline is considered by scientists to have been in the late 19th century, due to rising temperatures brought about by climate change. Hence the patches of white that are seen at its peak now are not permanent glacial ice but névé – compacted, granular snow.
The first known person to summit Sincholagua was Englishman Edward Whymper, best known for being the first to climb the Matterhorn in Switzerland. When Whymper ascended Sincholagua in 1880, the Río Pita (Pita River), which runs around the mountain and was historically fed by glacial meltwater from the mountain, was “200 feet wide and 3 feet deep”. After the volcano’s last major eruption in 1892, it was “1,100 feet wide and 50 feet deep”. Now that Sincholagua’s glacier cover has gone and rainfall has lessened, the Río Pita is considered only a stream.