email a friend iconprinter friendly iconRediscovering Machu Picchu
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Escape From Fire in the Jungle

"There was nothing for us but to run, and we did that, tearing through the jungle down hill in an effort to get around the side of the fire. Suddenly on one of my jumps, I didn't stop when I expected to, but kept right on through the air. The brush hall masked a nice little 8-foot jump-off, and I got beautifully bumped. In a minute there came a thump, and Tomas landed beside me. It amused me so much to watch him that I forgot all about my own jolted bones. There was nothing broken, however, and we made our way without much more trouble around the fire and fell upon the peons, who were gathered in a bunch, speculating as to where we might be."

Three days later I reached Machu Picchu in company with Dr. Eaton, our osteologist, and Mr. Erdis, who, as archeological engineer, was to have charge of the general work of clearing and excavating the ruins.

Mr. Heald was at once relieved from further duty at Machu Picchu, where he had just begun the work of clearing, and was asked to see whether he could get to the top of the neighboring peak, called "Huayna Picchu," and investigate the story that there were magnificent ruins upon its summit. The same Indian who had originally told me about the ruins at Machu Picchu had repeatedly declared that those on Huayna Picchu were only slightly inferior. Mr. Heald's report of his work on Huayna Picchu runs in part as follows:

"Huayna Picchu, lying to the north of Machu Picchu, and connected with it by a narrow neck, rises some 2,500 feet above the Urubamba River, which runs around its base. On one side, the south, this elevation is reached by what is practically one complete precipice. On the other, while there are sheer ascents, there are also slopes, and, according to the account of one Arteaga, who claims to have explored the forests which cover a good deal of it, was once cultivated, the slopes being converted into level fields by low earth terraces.

Attempt at Scaling Huayna Picchu

"This mountain is, like Machu Picchu, cut from medium-grained gray to red granite, which accounts in part for its sharp, craggy outlines. The lower slopes, where there are any, are covered with forest growths of large trees. A peculiar thing in this connection is one solitary palm tree, which rises above the other vegetation. Near the top the large trees give place to cane and mesquite, while many slopes have nothing but grass. This last is due more to steepness and lack of soil than to any peculiarity of elevation or location, however …

"My first trip to reach the summit of Huayna Picchu and to ascertain what ruins, if any, were on it, ended in failure. The only man who had been up (Arteaga), who lives at Mandor Pampa, was drunk, and refused to go with me; so I decided to try to find a way without his help. I knew where his bridge crossed the Urubamba River and where he had started up when he went the year before. With these two things to help me, I thought that I could very likely find as much as he had. Accordingly, I started with four peons and Tomas Cobines, the soldier, to have a look.

"The river was passed easily on the rather shaky four-pole bridge, and we started up the slope, cutting steps as we went, for it was almost vertical. About 30 feet up it moderated, however, and, after that, while it was steep, we seldom had to cut steps for more than 20 to 30 feet on a stretch. The greatest hindrance was the cane and long grass, through which it was hard to cut a way with the machetes.

"Our progress, slow at first, got absolutely snail-like as the men got tired; so, getting impatient, I resolved to push on alone, telling them to follow the marks of my machete, and charging Tomas to see that they made a good trail and did not loaf.

"I pushed on up the hill, clearing my way with the machete, or down on all fours, following a bear trail (of which there were many), stopping occasionally to open my shirt at the throat and cool off, as it was terribly hot. The brush through which I made my way was in great part mesquite, terribly tough and with heavy, strong thorns. If a branch was not cut through at one blow, it was pretty sure to come whipping back and drive half a dozen spikes into hands, arms, and body. Luckily I had had enough practice to learn how to strike with a heavy shoulder blow, and for the most part made clean strokes, but I didn't get away untouched by any means.

A Narrow Escape

"Finally, about 3 p.m., I had almost gained the top of the lowest part of the ridge, which runs along like the backplates of some spined dinosaur. The trees had given way to grass or bare rock, the face of the rock being practically vertical. A cliff some 200 feet high stood in my way. By going out to the end of the ridge I thought I could look almost straight down to the river, which looked more like a trout-brook than a river at that distance, though its roar in the rapids came up distinctly.

"I was just climbing out on the top of the lowest 'back-plate' when the grass and soil under my feet let go, and I dropped. For about 20 feet there was a slope of about 70 degrees, and then a jump of about 200 feet, after which it would be bump and repeat down to the river.

"As I shot down the sloping surface I reached out and with my right hand grasped a mesquite bush that was growing in a crack about 5 feet above the jump-off. I was going so fast that it jerked my arm up, and, as my body was turning, pulled me from my side to my face; also, the jerk broke the ligaments holding the outer ends of the clavicle and scapula together. The strength left the arm with the tearing loose of the ligaments, but I had checked enough to give me a chance to get hold of a branch with my left hand.

"After hanging for a moment or two, so as to look everything over, and be sure that I did nothing wrong, I started to work back up. The hardest part was to get my feet on the trunk of the little tree to which I was holding on. The fact that I was wearing moccasins instead of boots helped a great deal here, as they would take hold of the rock. It was distressingly slow work, but after about half an hour I had gotten back to comparatively safe footing. As my right arm was almost useless, I at once made my way down, getting back to camp about 5:30, taking the workmen with me as I went.

"On this trip I saw no sign of Inca work except one small ruined wall …"

Success at the Third Attempt

Five days later Mr. Heald judged that his arm was in sufficiently good shape so that he could continue the work, and he very pluckily made another attempt to reach the top of Huayna Picchu. This likewise ended in failure; but on the following day he returned to the attack, followed his old trail up some 1,700 feet, and, guided by the same half-breed who had told us about the ruins, eventually reached the top. His men were obliged to cut steps in the steep slope for a part of the distance, until they came to some of stone stairs, which led them practically to the summit.

The top consisted of a jumbled mass of granite boulders about 2,500 feet above the river. There were no houses, though there were several flights of steps and three little caves. No family could have wished to live there. It might have been a signal station.

After Mr. Heald had left Machu Picchu we set ourselves to work to see whether excavation in the principal structures would lead to discovery of any sherds or artifacts. It did not take us long to discover that there were potsherds outside of and beneath the outer walls of several of the important structures, but our digging inside the walls of the principal temples was almost without any results whatsoever. We did find that the floor of the principal temple had been carefully made of a mixture of granite gravel, sand, and clay, laid on top of small stones, and these again on top of a mass of granite rocks and boulders. When the temple was in use this clean, white floor must have been an attractive feature.

Our workmen excavated with a will, for the tests made with a crowbar gave such resounding hollow sounds that they felt sure there was treasure to be found beneath the floor of the ancient temple. In places the excavation was carried to a depth of 8 or 9 feet, and practically the entire floor of the temple was excavated to a depth of 3 or 4 feet; but all this back-breaking work ended only in disappointment. There were many crevices and holes between the boulders under the floor, but nothing in them—not even a bone or potsherd.

Digging in the temple of the Three Windows had a similar negative result, but digging outside on the terrace below the three windows resulted in a large quantity of decorated potsherds. Most of them were 2 to 4 feet under the surface. It seemed as though it had been the custom for a long period of time to throw earthenware out of the windows of this edifice. At the end of a week of hard and continuous labor we had not succeeded in finding a single skull, a single burial cave, nor any pieces of bronze or pots worth mentioning. We did not like to resort to the giving of prizes at such an early stage. A day or two spent in hunting over the mountainside with the Indians for burial caves yielding no results, we finally offered a prize of one sol (50 cents gold) to any workman who would report the whereabouts of a cave containing a skull, and who would leave the cave exactly as he found it, allowing us to see the skull actually in position.

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