National Geographic : 1929 Jan
THE VOLCANOES OF ECUADOR in the air like angry teeth bared to the heavens. The volcano's poisonous breath was exhaled in a column of yellowish vapor, heavily charged with sulphur. To add to the eerie nature of the scene, innumerable fumaroles intermittently belched forth clouds of steam. In many places hungry flames rippled by the rocky slopes, while from below came a dull, heaving roar the like of which I had never experienced. The whole effect was terrifying. I re called a despairing remark Peres had made on our way up: "Senor, it is impossible to proceed farther. The whole mountain is on fire." He was not far wrong. From every nook and cranny issued clouds of steam, which gave one the impression that the whole place was just about to burst into flames (see page 67). Dust blinded our eyes, icy drafts chilled our spines, and the soles of our feet were scorching; ice and snow, fire and vapor were mixed in the most intimate confusion. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon dense clouds rolled up from the east and put an end to our activities. Cameras were col lected and we retraced our steps. The next day a second ascent was made, and this time Tungurahua was in a very different mood. A curious stillness held the frozen world tight by the wrist. Not a murmur came from the purple throat. The fangs on the farther lip of the crater stuck up cruelly clear, as if snarling at the peaceful sky. Not even a labored breath was audible. Steam still struggled out between bowl ders and rolled lamely up into the air. A few sickly flames rippled despairingly up the giant's palate, but to our pygmy eyes Tungurahua, the black and terrible, seemed to lie dead at our feet. THE DEAD COMES TO LIFE: THE FURY OF TUNGURAHUA Mist started to accumulate and a hurry ing breeze bore in invisible arms an ap propriate winding sheet of snow-white clouds in which to wrap the face of the departed. Here, on this funeral pyre, only the steam jets sighed forth a prayer for the spirit of the volcano, and sobbing winds that had lost their way stole around the barren rocks bemoaning the tragedy. Suddenly a number of fumaroles began to awake. New ones sprang up and old ones, rejuvenated, began to spurt forth enormous clouds of vapor. Along the low lip of the crater appeared a compact row, which hissed out streaks of whiteness into the morning air. The noise of internal commotion grew louder and louder, as if the safety valves of a thousand boilers had suddenly been opened to ease excessive pressure within. Our boys were lined up on the crater edge for one last motion picture. While I cranked the handle of my camera the whole floor of the pit trembled, the rocky mass appeared to rise and fall, as if float ing on water; rocks began to bob up and down like corks. Before we had time to realize what was happening, the dead came to life. Tun gurahua awoke and shook with pent-up fury. The bottom of the crater was sud denly transformed into a living, writhing mass. Convulsion followed convulsion, until everything seemed to break loose at once. A deafening roar came from the bowels of the earth, and then the scenery shot up into the void and disappeared over our heads! SITTING ON A VOLCANO WHEN THE CORK BLOWS OUT The confusion and din that followed baffles all description. Clouds rushed madly into the heart of the disturbance, only to be split by the great column of squirming blackness which had been hurled aloft like a projectile from the barrel of a gun. A reddish glow diffused itself in the mist. Rocks fell in the snow about us with sickening thuds. As there seemed to be no avenue of escape, my one thought was to get a photo graphic record of what was going on. Unfortunately, the black smoke turned day into night, and very little was possible. A series of minor explosions generated additional clouds of dust and ashes. Dirt got into our eyes, our mouths, our ears; it lodged on our clothing, stuck to the camera. Everything was like sandpaper to the touch. In the everyday life of Tungurahua nothing very unusual had happened; only the cork had blown out. But if ever you are so lucky as to be sitting on a volcano when the cork blows out, you will never forget it.