WHEN I was but thirteen or so
I went into a golden land,
Took me by the hand.
- from Romance by W.J. Turner (which is still in copyright, otherwise I would include it in its entirety)
Cotopaxi is one of the highest mountains in Ecuador, second only to Chimborazo in height, rising 19,388 feet (5,911 metres) above sea level, and is located in the Cotopaxi National Park, south of Quito. The crater at its summit is approximately 800 metres in diameter. It is the highest active volcano in the world, since Chimborazo has not erupted in recorded history - Cotopaxi is classified as a stratovolcano and has erupted fifty times since 'official' records began in 1738, with the most recent eruption in 1904. There were reports of an eruption in 1942, but perhaps the world's attention was elsewhere at the time, as this was not confirmed. As recently as 1976 there were reports of minor earthquakes and melting snow and ice from the glaciers on its slopes.
It was first 'officially' climbed in 1872 by Wilhelm Reiss and Angel Escobar, and then later by a British climber, Edward Whymper, who was the first to reach the summit of Chimborazo and several other Andean peaks. Cotopaxi is famous for its perfectly conical shape - in 1802, Alexander Von Humboldt said: "The Cotopaxis shape is the most beautiful and regular of all colossal peaks of the Andes. Is a perfect cone cover by a white snow cap that shines with the sun, overlapping to the blue of the sky." It was immortalized in a painting by Frederic Church, who also painted Chimborazo. Church captured Cotopaxi in 1862, a time when one of its most violent eruptions had sent mud flows pouring over the land for up to 100km all around. His dark, red, violent painting 'stunned' the art world, and people queued for hours to view it, adding to the mystique that already surrounded the volcano.
That mystique seems thoroughly dissipated now, and Cotopaxi is a very popular weekend destination for amateur mountain climbers, or even adventurous tourists. It's a straightforward climb by most accounts, and it must be pretty cool to be able to come home and say to your friends "I climbed the highest active volcano in the world."
Pictures of Cotopaxi: http://volcano.und.nodak.edu/vwdocs/volc_images/south_america/ecuador/cotopaxi2.html
Climbing Cotopaxi: http://www.frontiernet.net/~ecuador/daypicts/cotopaxi.html
Church's Painting of Cotopaxi: http://www.geo.wvu.edu/~kite/Geo221Lect4Volc2001/sld001.htm