Sunday, 2 July 2017


Subject of volcanoes came up the other day when the quizmaster asked "At 6,893 metres (22,615 feet) Ojos del Salado is the world's highest what?" Of course I got the answer completely wrong, as it is the world's highest volcano and not the world's highest ski lift. (No comments please!) However I did wonder if, had I known the origin and/or meaning of Ojos del Salado, the answer was staring me in the face. So I looked and produced the following list of the world's highest volcanoes, dormant and active, to see how they got their names. The list includes every volcano over 6,000 metres, all of which are found in South America, and beginning with the highest.

Ojos del Salado - 6,893 metres (22,615 feet) - is also the highest active volcano on the planet. This name means 'the eyes of the salty one', a reference to the large deposits of salt forming within the glaciers giving the appearance of eyes.

Monte Pissis - 6,793 metres (22,287 feet) - not named after a waterfall but after a French geologist working for the Chilean government. Pedro Jose Amadeo Pissis.

Nevado Tres Cruces - 6,748 metres (22,139 feet) - this is Spanish for 'three crosses'.

LLullaillaco - 6,739 metres (22,110 feet) - from the Kunza tongue where llulla means 'lies, deceit' and llaco 'water'. Here the message speaks of how meltwater, which would normally be seen as a source of fresh water, is quickly absorbed into the soil.

Cazadero - 6,660 metres (21,850 feet) - a Spanish name meaning 'a place for the pursuit of game'.

Nevado Tres Cruces Central - 6,629 metres (21,749 feet) - is, as above, 'the central three crosses'.

Incahuasi - 6,621 metres (21,722 feet) - is easy to see when we know this is Quechua for 'Inca house'.

Tupungato - 6,570 metres (21,555 feet) - means 'star viewpoint' in the Huarpe language.

Nevado Sajama - 6,542 metres (21,463 feet) - while nevado is Spanish for 'snowy' I'm afraid I drew a blank on Sajama. Any suggestions?

Ata - 6,501 metres (21,329 feet) - whether the Ata people took their name from the mountain or vice versa is not clear, but in both cases likely means 'father' or perhaps 'ancestor'.

Coropuna - 6,425 metres (21,079 feet) - means 'shrine on the plateau', this is the site of an irrigation scheme by the Incas which remains the highest ever known anywhere in the world.

Cerro El Condor - 6,414 metres (21,043 feet) - is simply 'the mountain of the condor'.

Parinacota - 6,348 metres (20,827 feet) - an Aymara name meaning 'the flamingo lake'.

Ampato - 6,288 metres (20,630 feet) - another from the Aymara language, this meaning 'frog'.

Chimborazo - 6,267 metres (20,561 feet) - and although not officially the highest point on the Earth it is at its peak, by virtue of the Earth not being a perfect sphere but having an equatorial bulge, the furthest point from the centre of the Earth. However until the beginning of the 19th century this was considered the highest point on the planet and would still be so, if convention didn't measure land above sea level. Its etymology is disputed, perhaps Quechua chimba 'on the other side' joins razu 'ice, snow' to refer to the snowline. Another idea points to the Cayapa tongue giving 'women of the ice' and a third idea offers Jivaro for 'throne of the ice god'.

Pular - 6,233 metres (20,449 feet) - no question this is from the Kunza language and means 'the eyebrow'.

Cerro Solo - 6,190 metres (20,308 feet) - is fairly easy Spanish for 'one hill' (albeit a very high hill).

Aucanquilcha - 6,176 metres (20,262 feet) - another where I drew a blank at finding an origin but I did discover this was the location of the highest mine ever known and until at least the end of the last century was the highest permanently inhabited location in the world - population of the village being just four and unlikely to grow as they were all men.

San Pedro - 6,145 metres (20,161 feet) - simply Spanish for Saint Peter.

Sierra Nevada - 6,127 metres (20,102 feet) - another Spanish name, this coming from 'the snowy range'.

Solimana - 6,093 metres (19,990 feet) - probably derived from the Spanish soliman 'corrosive, poison' and a reasonable description of a volanco.

Aracar - 6,082 metres (19,954 feet) - no origins of this name have been suggested.

Guallatini - 6,071 metres (19,918 feet) - one suggestion gives this as 'the place of the Andean geese'.

Chachani - 6,057 metres (19,872 feet) - no origins of this name could be found.

Socompa - 6,051 metres (19,852 feet) - sadly nothing could be found here.

Acamarachi - 6,046 metres (19,836 feet) - is a name meaning 'black moon'.

Hualca Hualca - 6,025 metres (19,767 feet) - has been suggested as meaning 'a complex of collars', volcanic craters could certainly be seen as collar-like.

Uturunku - 6,008 metres (19,711 feet) - this is the Quecha word for 'jaguar' - presumably the large cat and not the car.

And just so we include some of the better known names

Cotopaxi - is often said to mean 'shining pile' but this has yet to be proved.

Etna - is held to be from the Phoenician attuna meaning 'furnace' or perhaps 'chimney'.

Fujiyama - having no early records makes it difficult to define but a text from the 10th century maintains this means 'immortal'. A similar story suggests the literal meaning of 'not exhaust', thus another suggestion of immortality. One further explanation gives this as 'not two', thus 'without equal'.

Mauna Loa - translates as 'long mountain'.

Popacatapetl - derived from the Nahuatl words popoca 'it smokes' and tepetl 'mountain', a fair description of a volcano.

Mt St Helens - was named after British diplomat Lord St Helens, a good friend of George Vancouver who first surveyed the area in the late 18th century. Traditional names, there are several depending upon the tribe concerned, describe this as 'the smoker', 'water coming out', and 'snow mountain'.

Stromboli - a name derived from Ancient Greek Strongule because of its rounded, rather swollen shape. Yes, say it out loud - it makes sense.

Tristan da Cunha - was named by the Portuguese explorer who first saw the islands in 1506, one Tristao da Cunha.

Vesuvius - an ancient name and one where the meaning depends very much on which language first coined the name. Greek would give us either 'unquenchable' or 'hurling violence'; while an earlier Indo-European root would offer up 'the one who lightens' or 'hearth'.

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