The trail grew rapidly worse, the pack-mule fell down four or five times, and finally became so frightened that he refused to attempt a place in the trail where it was necessary for him to jump up about four feet on a slippery rock. It was consequently necessary to unload him and distribute the cargo among the Indian carriers, and get all hands to help pull and push the mules over the bad spots in the mountain foot trail. This went on at intervals during the remainder of the day.
As a result we found ourselves at nightfall on a grassy slope on the side of the mountain about 15,000 feet above sea level. A little shelter here and the presence of a small spring made the Indians prefer to pass the night at this point. The next morning we crossed a high pass and descended rapidly into a steep-walled valley, containing one of the upper tributaries of the Aobamba. The lower slopes were covered with a dense forest, which gradually gave way to scrub and grass up to the snow-line. About 2 o'clock in the afternoon we reached the valley bottom at a point where several smaller tributaries unite to form the principal west branch of the Aobamba. The place was called Palcay.
Here we found two or three modern Indian huts, one of them located in a very interesting ruined stronghold called Llacta. As the location of the stronghold in the bottom of a valley was not easily defensible, a wall about 12 feet in height surrounded the quadrangular ruin.
The stronghold was about 145 feet square and divided by two narrow cross streets into four equal quarters. Two of these quarters had been completed, and consisted of five houses arranged around a courtyard in a symmetrical fashion. The third quarter was almost complete, while the fourth quarter had only the beginnings of two or three houses. Each one of the four quarters had a single entrance gate on its north side. This will be more readily understood by consulting the plan on page 559.
The characteristics of the buildings are distinctly Inca and resemble in many ways those found at Choqquequirau in 1909. The stronghold was made of blocks of stone laid in mud, the buildings of symmetrical pattern, with doors narrower at the top than at the bottom; no windows, but interior ornaments of niches and projecting cylinders alternating between the niches. Whenever the wind did not blow, the gnats were very bad, which made the work of measuring and mapping the ruins extremely annoying.
Deserted by the Indian Guides
I should like to have continued the journey the next day, but the Indians objected, saying that it was Sunday and that they needed the rest. This "rest" gave them an opportunity for concocting a plan of escape, and on Monday morning, when I was ready to start for the third group of ruins, there were no guides or carriers in sight.
Neither Luis nor I had ever been in the region before. We could of course have gone back on foot over the trail on which we had come, but it was very doubtful whether we could have succeeded in getting our mules over that trail, even though we had abandoned our outfit, and we knew that a loaded mule could not possibly go over the trail without constant assistance and a number of helping hands.
To aid us in our dilemma there came a little Indian who inhabited one of the huts near the ruins. He offered for a consideration to guide us out of the valley by another road, and said that it went near the other ruins. He also said that it might not be possible to use this road "if the pass had much snow in it."
We talked to him with difficulty, for, like most mountain Indians, he had no knowledge of Spanish, and our own knowledge of Quichua was somewhat limited. However, there was nothing for it but to follow our new guide, and by distributing the cargo on the three mules make it as easy as possible for the poor beasts to use the foot-path, or goat trail, which was indicated as our "road."
We had not gone more than half a mile before an abrupt ascent in the trail and a huge sloping rock barred the way for the mules for over half an hour. This difficulty being surmounted, we went on for another mile, only to find our way crossed by a huge avalanche of gigantic granite boulders and glacial drift, which had come down from the slopes of Mount Salcantay during the past year. A couple of hours were spent in negotiating the trail across this landslide.
We then found ourselves near the ruins of a village. Judging by the primitive appearance of the ruins, it could not have been a place of much importance and it is impossible to say whether it had been occupied since the Spanish conquest or not.
The Discovery of Ten Magnificent Glaciers
Climbing up the valley beyond this ruined village and turning a corner, we came into full view of 10 magnificent glaciers—eight of them in a cirque in front of us and two on the slopes of Salcantay behind us. As the guide was very well informed as to the names of different parts of the valley and could give names for most of the peaks but none for any for the glaciers, I have named these as follows:
- Hadley Glacier, in honor of the President of Yale University.
- Gannett Glacier, in honor of the President of the National Geographic Society.
- Grosvenor Glacier, in honor of the Editor and Director of the National Geographic Society.
- Bryce Glacier, in honor of His Excellency James Bryce, the British Ambassador, whose interest and enthusiastic support has greatly stimulated our work.
- Harkness Glacier, in honor of Edward S. Harkness, Esq., of New York, whose generous assistance was largely responsible for making possible the expeditions of 1911 and 1912.
- Alfreda Mitchell Glacier, in honor of my wife, without whose cooperation none of this work could have been done.
- Taft Glacier, in recognition of the courteous assistance we received from the United States government.
- Leguia Glacier, in recognition of the courteous assistance we received from the Peruvian government.
- Morkill Glacier, in recognition of the courteous assistance we received from the Peruvian corporation.
- Yale Glacier—for obvious reasons.
While we were enjoying the wonderful spectacle and wondering whether any civilized being had ever seen the glaciers before, a magnificent gray deer with eight prongs to his horns sprang out of the grass near us, gave us a long look of interested interrogation, and then dashed off to find his friends.
Our little guide was more interested in the looks of the pass than in the deer, and although he shook his head as it came into view, it seemed to us that we were most fortunate, for there appeared to be no snow whatever on the trail all the way to the top of the pass. But we neglected to take into account the fact that we were approaching the pass from the north or sunny side, and that there might be snow on the trail on the other side of the pass, on the south or shady slope.
The Grandeur of the Scenery
All thoughts of this, however, were temporarily swept aside by the magnificent view of Salcantay, which we now had on our right hand. The picture on page 563 gives but a faint idea of the grandeur of this mountain. In many ways it is an ideally beautiful peak, rising as it does to a sharp point, with its sides covered with snow and ice, and lifting its head so magnificently thousands of feet higher than anything else in the vicinity.
Our own elevation at the time was a little over 16,000 feet, and a conservative estimate would place the top of the mountain at least 5,000 feet above us. It was a very great disappointment that we were unable, owing to the bad weather, to get the mountain triangulated, so that its height still remains an unknown quantity.
The American mining engineers at Ferrobamba believe it to be the highest peak in the Andes, and Mr. Stevens, the superintendent of the mine, which is nearly 100 miles away from the mountain, told me that he had seen it from so many distant points of the Andes that he felt confident it must be the highest mountain in South America.
Just before getting to the top of the pass we turned aside for a few moments to see the remains of a hole in the ground where it is said that there was once an ancient gold mine.
A few specimens of rock brought from the tailings appear to contain small quantities of silver and copper, but the altitude is so great and the surroundings so difficult that it is not likely that this mine will ever be a profitable working proposition.
The Mules Stampede on a Snow Slope
Our joy in the scarcity of snow on the north side of the pass was instantly reduced to despair when we reached the summit and looked down a precipitous slope covered with snow for a distance of at least 1,000 feet below us.
The sandal-shod mountain Indians, whose occasional huts are the only signs of human habitation hereabouts, had made a zig-zag path in the snow by means of tramping down the upper crust with roughly cut stumps of stunted mountain trees. The path was about eight inches wide.
Our mules had never been in the snow before. At first our Indian guide declared he would not go down with us, as he was afraid of snow blindness, but he was persuaded to accompany us.
Our mules took a few steps on the little path, then decided that the white snow field looked more inviting and left the path, fell into the soft snow up to their ears, floundered around and attempted to stampede, and rolled down the side of the mountain. It was nearly half an hour before we got them safely back on the trail again, where they stood trembling and unwilling to attempt the descent. Coaxing and curses were equally of no avail. Pulling, hauling, and beating were alternately resorted to.
Somehow or other, chiefly because our trail lay down hill, so that when they fell and floundered off the path they always landed a little nearer to their goal than when they had started, we eventually got the mules to the foot of the declivity, but only after several narrow escapes and three hours of hard work. As we looked back up the trail it seemed that perhaps 1,500 feet would be a more exact estimate of the height of the snow-covered slope.
Just at dusk we reached the first hut in the valley, and found that we were in one of the upper branches of the Chamaná River, a tributary of the Urubamba, which Mr. Tucker, of the 1911 expedition, had reconnoitered the preceding year.