Hiram Bingham's "First" Ascent
Hiram Bingham's "First" Ascent
Page Type: Trip Report
Arequipa, Peru, South America
15.5457°S / 72.6607°W
Hiram Bingham's "First" Ascent
Oct 1, 1921
Created/Edited: Oct 22, 2005 / Jun 11, 2009
Object ID: 170573
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SORRY, THE DATE OF THE CLIMB IS WRONG, THE PROGRAM WON'T GO BACK THAT FAR!!
The climb was made in October, 1911.
The First in "First Ascent" is in quotes because some believe that the famous American mountain climber Anne Smith Peck actually made the first ascent on July 16, 1911, three months earlier than Bingham. NOTE: According to Jill Neate, "Mountaineering in the Andes" 2nd edition, May 1994, "Bingham’s party was preceeded by the redoubtable Annie Peck. She climbed two of the lower cones visible from the town of Viraco, accompanied by six Peruvians and on one of the summits hoisted a ‘Votes For Women’ banner."
This report is taken from Bingham's book, "Inca Land", which is available free on the web at the following link:
THE desert plateau above Chuquibamba is nearly 2500 feet higher than the town, and it was nine o’clock on the morning of October 10th before we got out of the valley. Thereafter Coropuna was always in sight, and as we slowly approached it we studied it with care. The plateau has an elevation of over 15,000 feet, yet the mountain stood out conspicuously above it. Coropuna is really a range about twenty miles long. Its gigantic massif was covered with snow fields from one end to the other. So deep did the fresh snow lie that it was generally impossible to see where snow fields ended and glaciers began. We could see that of the five well-defined peaks the middle one was probably the lowest. The two next highest are at the right, or eastern, end of the massif. The culminating truncated dome at the western end, with its smooth, uneroded sides, apparently belonged to a later volcanic period than the rest of the mountain. It seemed to be the highest peak of all. To reach it did not appear to be difficult. Rock-covered slopes ran directly up to the snow. Snow fields, without many rock-falls, appeared to culminate in a saddle at the base of the great snowy dome. The eastern slope of the dome itself offered an unbroken, if steep, path to the top. If we could once reach the snow line, it looked as though, with the aid of ice-creepers or snowshoes, we could climb the mountain without serious trouble. Between us and the first snow-covered slopes, however, lay more than twenty miles of volcanic desert intersected by deep canyons, steep quebradas, and very rough lava. Directed by our “guide,” we left the Cotahuasi road and struck across country, dodging the lava flows and slowly ascending the gentle slope of the plateau. As it became steeper our mules showed signs of suffering. While waiting for them to get their wind we went ahead on foot, climbed a short rise, and to our surprise and chagrin found ourselves on the rim of a steep-walled canyon, 1500 feet deep, which cut right across in front of the mountain and lay between us and its higher slopes. After the mules had rested, the guide now decided to turn to the left instead of going straight toward the mountain, A dispute ensued as to how much he knew, even about the foot of Coropuna. He denied that there were any huts whatever in the canyon. “Abandonado; despoblado; desierto.” “A waste; a solitude; a wilderness.” So he described it. Had he been there? “No, Señor.” Luckily we had been able to make out from the rim of the canyon two or three huts near a little stream. As there was no question that we ought to get to the snow line as soon as possible, we decided to dispense with the services of so well-informed a “guide,” and make such way as we could alone. The altitude of the rim of the canyon was 16,000 feet; the mules showed signs of acute distress from mountain sickness. The arrieros began to complain loudly, but did what they could to relieve the mules by punching holes in their ears; the theory being that bloodletting is a good thing for soroche. As soon as the timid arrieros reached a point where they could see down into the canyon, they spotted sonic patches of green pasture, cheered up a bit, and even smiled over the dismal ignorance of the ‘‘guide.” Soon we found a trail which led to the huts.
Coropuna From the South
Near the huts was a taciturn Indian woman, who refused to furnish us with either fuel or forage, although we tried to pay in advance and offered her silver. Nevertheless, we proceeded to pitch our tents and took advantage of the sheltering stone wall of her corral for our camp fire. After peace had settled down and it became perfectly evident that we were harmless, the door of one of the huts opened and an Indian man appeared. Doubtless the cause of his disappearance before our arrival had been the easily discernible presence in our midst of the brass buttons of Corporal Gamarra. Possibly he who had selected this remote corner of the wilderness for his abode had a guilty conscience and at the sight of a gendarme decided that he had better hide at once. More probably, however, he feared the visit of a recruiting party, since it is quite likely that he had not served his legal term of military service. At all events, when his wife discovered that we were not looking for her man, she allowed his curiosity to overcome his fears. We found that the Indians kept a few llamas. They also made crude pottery, firing it with straw and llama dung. They lived almost entirely on gruel made from chuño, frozen bitter potatoes. Little else than potatoes will grow at 14,000 feet above the sea. For neighbors the Indians had a solitary old man, who lived half a mile up nearer the glaciers, and a small family, a mile and a half down the valley.
Before dark the neighbors came to call, and we tried our best to persuade the men to accompany us up the mountain and help to carry the loads from the point where the mules would have to stop; but they declined absolutely and positively. I think one of the men might have gone, but as soon as his quiet, well-behaved wife saw him wavering she broke out in a torrent of violent denunciation, telling him the mountain would “eat him up” and that unless he wanted to go to heaven before his time he had better let well enough alone and stay where he was. Cieza de Leon, one of the most careful of the early chroniclers (1550), says that at Coropuna “the devil” talks “more freely” than usual. “For some secret reason known to God, it is said that devils walk visibly about in that place, and that the Indians see them and are much terrified. I have also heard that these devils have appeared to Christians in the form of Indians.” Perhaps the voluble housewife was herself one of the famous Coropuna devils. She certainly talked “more freely” than usual. Or possibly she thought that the Coropuna “devils” were now appearing to Indians “in the form of” Christians! Anyhow the Indians said that on top of Coropuna there was a delightful, warm paradise containing beautiful flowers, luscious fruits, parrots of brilliant plumage, macaws, and even monkeys, those faithful denizens of hot climates. The souls of the departed stop to rest and enjoy themselves in this charming spot on their upward flight. Like most primitive people who live near snow-capped mountains, they had an abject terror of the forbidding summits and the snowstorms that seem to come down from them. Probably the Indians hope to propitiate the demons who dwell on the mountain tops by inventing charming stories relating to their abode. It is interesting to learn that in the neighboring hamlet of Pampacolca, the great explorer Raimondi, in 1865, found the natives “exiled from the civilized world, still preserving their primitive customs ... carrying idols to the slopes of the great snow mountain Coropuna, and there offering them as a sacrifice.” Apparently the mountain still inspires fear in the hearts of all those who live near it.
The fact that we agreed to pay in advance unheard-of wages, ten times the usual amount earned by laborers in this vicinity, that we added offers of the precious coca leaves, the greatly-to-be-desired “fire-water,” the rarely seen tobacco, and other good things usually coveted by Peruvian highlanders, had no effect in the face of the terrors of the mountain. They knew only too well that snow-blindness was one of the least of ills to be encountered; while the advantages of dark-colored glasses, warm clothes, kerosene stoves, and plenty of good food, which we freely offered, were far too remote from the realm of credible possibilities. Professor Coello understood all these matters perfectly and, being able to speak Quichua, the language of our prospective carriers, did his best in the way of argument, not only out of loyalty to the Expedition, but because Peruvian gentlemen always regard the carrying of a load as extremely undignified and improper. I have known one of the most energetic and efficient business men in Peru, a highly respected gentleman in a mountain city, so to dislike being obliged to carry a rolled and unmounted photograph, little larger than a lead pencil, that he sent for a cargador, an Indian porter, to bear it for him!
As a matter of fact, Professor Coello was perfectly willing to do his share and more; but neither he nor we were anxious to climb with heavy packs on our backs, in the rarefied air of elevations several thousand feet higher than Mont Blanc. The argument with the Indians was long and verbose and the offerings of money and goods were made more and more generous. All was in vain. We finally came to realize that whatever supplies and provisions were carried up Coropuna would have to be borne on our own shoulders. That evening the top of the truncated dome, which was just visible from the valley near our camp, was bathed in a roseate Alpine glow, unspeakably beautiful. The air, however, was very bitter and the neighboring brook froze solid. During the night the gendarme’s mule became homesick and disappeared with Coello’s horse. Gamarra was sent to look for the strays, with orders to follow us as soon as possible.
As no bearers or carriers were to be secured, it was essential to persuade the Tejadas to take their pack mules up as far as the snow, a feat they declined to do. The mules, Don Pablo said, had already gone as far as and farther than mules had any business to go. Soon after reaching camp Tucker had gone off on a reconnaissance. He reported that there was a path leading out of the canyon up to the llama pastures on the lower slopes of the mountains. The arrieros denied the accuracy of his observations. However, after a long argument, they agreed to go as far as there was a good path, and no farther. There was no question of our riding. It was simply a case of getting the loads as high up as possible before we had to begin to carry them ourselves. It may be imagined that the arrieros packed very grudgingly, although the loads were now considerably reduced. Finally, leaving behind our saddles, ordinary supplies, and everything not considered absolutely necessary for a two weeks’ stay on the mountain, we set off.
We could easily walk faster than the loaded mules, and thought it best to avoid trouble by keeping far enough ahead so as not to hear the arrieros’ constant complaints. After an hour of not very hard climbing over a fairly good llama trail, the Tejadas stopped at the edge of the pastures and shouted to us to come back. We replied equally vociferously, calling them to come ahead, which they did for half an hour more, slowly zigzagging up a slope of coarse, black volcanic sand. Then they not only stopped but commenced to unload the mules. It was necessary to rush back and commence a violent and acrimonious dispute as to whether the letter of the contract had been fulfilled and the mules had gone “as far as they could reasonably be expected to go.” The truth was, the Tejadas were terrified at approaching mysterious Coropuna. They were sure it would take revenge on them by destroying their mules, who would “certainly die the following day of soroche.” We offered a bonus of thirty soles — fifteen dollars — if they would go on for another hour, and threatened them with all sorts of things if they would not. At last they readjusted the loads and started climbing again.
The altitude was now about 16,000 feet, but at the foot of a steep little rise the arrieros stopped again. This time they succeeded in unloading two mules before we could scramble down over the sand and boulders to stop them. Threats and prayers were now of no avail. The only thing that would satisfy was a legal document! They demanded an agreement “in writing” that in case any mule or mules died as a result of this foolish attempt to get up to the snow line, I should pay in gold two hundred soles for each and every mule that died. Further, I must agree to pay a bonus of fifty soles if they would keep climbing until noon or until stopped by snow. This document, having been duly drawn up by Professor Coello, seated on a lava rock amidst the clinkerlike cinders of the old volcano, was duly signed and sealed. In order that there might be no dispute as to the time, my best chronometer was handed over to Pablo Tejada to carry until noon. The mules were reloaded and again the ascent began. Presently the mules encountered some pretty bad going, on a steep slope covered with huge lava boulders and scoriaceous sand. We expected more trouble every minute. However, the arrieros, having made an advantageous bargain, did their best to carry it out. Fortunately the mules reached the snow line just fifteen minutes before twelve o’clock. The Tejadas lost no time in unloading, claimed their bonus, promised to return in ten days, and almost before we knew it had disappeared down the side of the mountain.
We spent the afternoon establishing our Base Camp. We had three tents, the “Mummery,” a very light and diminutive wall tent about four feet high, made by Edgington of London; an ordinary wall tent, 7 by 7, of fairly heavy material, with floor sewed in; and an improved pyramidal tent, made by David Abercrombie, but designed by Mr. Tucker after one used on Mt. McKinley by Professor Parker. Tucker’s tent had two openings — a small vent in the top of the pyramid, capable of being closed by an adjustable cap in case of storm, and an oval entrance through which one had to crawl. This opening could be closed to any desired extent with a pucker string. A fairly heavy, waterproof floor, measuring 7 by 7, was sewed to the base of the pyramid so that a single pole, without guy ropes, was all that was necessary to keep the tent upright after the floor had been securely pegged to the ground, or snow. Tucker’s tent offered the advantages of being carried without difficulty, easily erected by one man, readily ventilated and yet giving shelter to four men in any weather. We proposed to leave the wall tent at the Base, but to take the pyramidal tent with us on the climb. We determined to carry the “Mummery” to the top of the mountain to use while taking observations.
Base Camp, Coropuna, at 17,300 Feet
Camping at 18,450 Feet on the Slopes of Coropuna
The elevation of the Base Camp was 17,300 feet. We were surprised and pleased to find that at first we had good appetites and no soroche. Less than a hundred yards from the wall tent was a small diurnal stream, fed by melting snow. Whenever I went to get water for cooking or washing purposes I noticed a startling and rapid rise in pulse and increasing shortness of breath. My normal pulse is 70. After I walked slowly a hundred feet on a level at this altitude it rose to 120. After I had been seated awhile it dropped down to 100. Gradually our sense of well-being departed and was followed by a feeling of malaise and general disability. There was a splendid sunset, but we were too sick and cold to enjoy it. That night all slept badly and had some headache. A high wind swept around the mountain and threatened to carry away both of our tents. As we lay awake, wondering at what moment we should find ourselves deserted by the frail canvas shelters, we could not help thinking that Coropuna was giving us a fair warning of what might happen higher up.
For breakfast we had pemmican, hard-tack, pea soup and tea. We all wanted plenty of sugar in our tea and drank large quantities of it. Experience on Mt. McKinley had led Tucker to believe heartily in the advantages of pemmican, a food especially prepared for Arctic explorers. Neither Coello nor Gamarra nor I had ever tasted it before. We decided that it is not very palatable on first acquaintance. Although doubtless of great value when one has to spend long periods of time in the Arctic, where even seal’s blubber is a delicacy “as good as cow’s cream,” I presume we could have done just as well without it.
It was decided to carry with us from the Base enough fuel and supplies to last through any possible misadventure, even of a week’s duration. Accounts of climbs in the high Andes are full of failures due to the necessity of the explorers’ being obliged to return to food, warmth, and shelter before having effected the conquest of a new peak. One remembers the frequent disappointments that came to such intrepid climbers as Whymper in Ecuador, Martin Conway in Bolivia and Fitzgerald in Chile and Argentina, due to high winds, the sudden advent of terrific snowstorms and the weakness caused by soroche. At the cost of carrying extra-heavy loads we determined to try to avoid being obliged to turn back. We could only hope that no unforeseen event would finally defeat our efforts.
Tucker decided to establish a cache of food and fuel as far up the mountain side as he and Coello could carry fifty pounds in a single clay’s climb. Leaving me to reset the demoralized tents and do other chores, they started off, packing loads of about twenty-five pounds each. To me their progress up the mountain side seemed extraordinarily slow. Were they never going to get anywhere? Their frequent stops seemed ludicrous. I was to learn later that it is as difficult at a high elevation for one who is not climbing to have any sympathy for those suffering from soroche as it is for a sailor to appreciate the sensations of one who is seasick.
During the morning I set up the barometers and took a series of observations. It was pleasant to note that the two new mountain aneroids registered exactly alike. All the different units of the cargo that was to be taken up the mountain then had to be weighed, so that they might be equitably distributed in our loads the following day. We had two small kerosene stoves with Primus burners. Our grub, ordered months before, specially for this climb, consisted of pemmican in 8 1/4-pound tins, Kola chocolate in half-pound tins, seeded raisins in 1-pound tins, cube sugar in 4-pound tins, hard-tack in 6 1/2-pound tins, jam, sticks of dried pea soup, Plasmon biscuit, tea, and a few of Silver’s self-heating “mess-tins” containing Irish stew, beef a la mode, et al. Corporal Gamarra appeared during the day, having found his mule, which had strayed twelve miles down the canyon. He did not relish the prospect of climbing Coropuna, but when he saw the warm clothes which we had provided for him and learned that he would get a bonus of five gold sovereigns on top of the mountain, he decided to accept his duties philosophically.
Tucker and Coello returned in the middle of the afternoon, reported that there seemed to be no serious difficulties in the first part of the climb and that a cache had been established about 2000 feet above the Base Camp, on a snow field. Tucker now assigned our packs for the morrow and skillfully prepared the tump-lines and harness with which we were to carry them.
Notwithstanding an unusual headache which lasted all day long, I still had some appetite. Our supper consisted of pemmican pudding with raisins, hard-tack and pea soup, which every one was able to eat, if not to enjoy. That night we slept better one reason being that the wind did not blow as hard as it had the night before. The weather continued fine. Watkins was due to arrive from Arequipa in a day or two, but we decided not to wait for him or run any further risk of encountering an early summer storm. The next morning, after adjusting our fifty-pound loads to our unaccustomed backs, we left camp about nine o’clock. We wore Appalachian Mountain Club snow-creepers, or crampons, heavy Scotch mittens, knit woolen helmets, dark blue snow-glasses, and very heavy clothing. It will be remembered by visitors to the Zermatt Museum that the Swiss guides who once climbed Huascaran, in the northern Peruvian Andes, had been maimed for life by their experiences in the deep snows of those great altitudes. We determined to take no chances, and in order to prevent the possibility of frost-bite each man was ordered to put on four pairs of heavy woolen socks and two or three pairs of heavy underdrawers.
Professor Coello and Corporal Gamarra wore large, heavy boots. I had woolen puttees and “Arctic” overshoes. Tucker improvised what he regarded as highly satisfactory sandals out of felt slippers and pieces of a rubber poncho. Since there seemed to be no rock-climbing ahead of us, we decided to depend on crampons rather than on the heavy hob-nailed climbing boots with which Alpinists are familiar.
The snow was very hard until about one o’clock. By three o’clock it was so soft as to make further progress impossible. We found that, loaded as we were, we could not climb a gentle rise faster than twenty steps at a time. On the more level snow fields we took twenty-five or thirty steps before stopping to rest. At the end of each stint it seemed as though they would be the last steps we should ever take. Panting violently, fatigued beyond belief, and overcome with mountain-sickness, we would stop and lean on our ice axes until able to take twenty-five steps more.
It did not take very long to recover one’s wind. Finally we reached a glacier marked by a network of crevasses, none very wide, and nearly all covered with snow-bridges. We were roped together, and although there was an occasional fall no great strain was put on the rope. Then came great snow fields with not a single crevasse. For the most part our day was simply an unending succession of stints — twenty-five steps and a rest, repeated four or five times and followed by thirty-five steps and a longer rest, taken lying down in the snow. We pegged along until about half-past two, when the rapidly melting snow stopped all progress. At an altitude of about 18,450 feet, the Tucker tent was pitched on a fairly level snow field. We now noticed with dismay that the two big aneroids had begun to differ. As the sun declined the temperature fell rapidly. At half-past five the thermometer stood at 22ºF. During the night the minimum thermometer registered 9ºF. We noticed a considerable number of lightning flashes in the northeast. They were not accompanied by any thunder, but alarmed us considerably. We feared the expected November storms might be ahead of time. We closed the tent door on account of a biting wind. Owing to the ventilating device at the top of the tent, we managed to breathe fairly well. Mountain climbers at high altitudes have occasionally observed that one of the symptoms of acute soroche is a very annoying racking cough, as violent as whooping cough and frequently accompanied by nausea. We had not experienced this at 17,000 feet, but now it began to be painfully noticeable, and continued during the ensuing days and nights, particularly nights, until we got back to the Indians’ huts again. We slept very poorly and continually awakened one another by coughing.
The next morning we had very little appetite, no ambition, and a miserable sense of malaise and great fatigue. There was nothing for it but to shoulder our packs, arrange our tump-lines, and proceed with the same steady drudgery-now a little harder than the day before. We broke camp at half-past seven and by noon had reached an altitude of about 20,000 feet, on a snow field within a mile of the saddle between the great truncated peak- and the rest of the range. It looked possible to reach the summit in one more day’s climb from here. The aneroids now differed by over five hundred feet. Leaving me to pitch the tent, the others went back to the cache to bring up some of the supplies. Due to the fact that we were carrying loads twice as heavy as those which Tucker and Coello had first brought up, we had not passed their cache until to-day. By the time my companions appeared again I was so completely rested that I marveled at the snail-like pace they made over the nearly level snow field. It seemed incredible that they should find it necessary to rest four times after they were within one hundred yards of the camp.
We were none of us hungry that evening. We craved sweet tea. Before turning in for the night we took the trouble to melt snow and make a potful of tea which could be warmed up the first thing in the morning. We passed another very bad night. The thermometer registered 7° F., but we did not suffer from the cold. In fact, when you stow away four men on the floor of a 7 by 7 tent they are obliged to sleep so close together as to keep warm. Furthermore, each man had an eiderdown sleeping-bag, blankets, and plenty of heavy clothes and sweaters. We did, however, suffer from soroche. Violent whooping cough assailed us at frequent intervals. None of us slept much. I amused myself by counting my pulse occasionally, only to find that it persistently refused to go below 120, and if I moved would jump up to 135. I don’t know where it went on the actual climb. So far as I could determine, it did not go below 120 for four clays and nights. On the morning of October 15th we got up at three o’clock. Hot sweet tea was the one thing we all craved. The tea-pot was found to be frozen solid, although it had been hung up in the tent. It took an hour to thaw and the tea was just warm enough for practical purposes when I made an awkward move in the crowded tent and kicked over the tea-pot! Never did men keep their tempers better under more aggravating circumstances. Not a word of reproach or indignation greeted my clumsy accident, although poor Corporal Gamarra, who was lying on the down side of the tent, had to I make a hasty retreat into the colder (but somewhat drier) weather outside. My clumsiness necessitated a delay of nearly an hour in starting. While we were melting more frozen snow and re-making the tea, we warmed up some pea soup and Irish stew. Tucker and I managed to eat a little. Coello and Gamarra had no stomachs for anything but tea. We decided to leave the Tucker tent at the 20,000 foot level, together with most of our outfit and provisions. From here to the top we were to carry only such thing; as were absolutely necessary. They included the Mummery tent with pegs and poles, the mountain-mercurial barometer, the two Watkins aneroids, the hypsometer, a pair of Zeiss glasses, two 3A kodaks, six films, a sling psychrometer, a prismatic compass and clinometer, a Stanley pocket level, an eighty-foot red-strand mountain rope, three ice axes, a seven-foot flagpole, an American flag and a Yale flag. In order to avoid disaster in case of storm, we also carried four of Silver’s self-heating cans of Irish stew and mock-turtle soup, a cake of chocolate, and eight hard-tack, besides raisins and cult’s of sugar in our pockets. Our loads weighed about twenty pounds each.
To our great satisfaction and relief, the weather continued fine and there was very little wind. On the preceding afternoon the snow had been so soft one frequently went in over one’s knees, but now everything was frozen hard. We left camp at five o’clock. It was still dark. The great dome of Coropuna loomed up on our left, cut off from direct attack by gigantic ice falls. To reach it we must first surmount the saddle on the main ridge. From there an apparently unbroken slope extended to the top. Our progress was distressingly slow, even with the light loads. When we reached the saddle there came a painful surprise. To the north of us loomed a great snowy cone, the peak which we had at first noticed from the Chuquibamba Calvario. Now it actually looked higher than the dome we were about to climb! From the Sihuas Desert, eighty miles away, the dome had certainly seemed to be the highest point. So we stuck to our task, although constantly facing the possibility that our painful labors might be in vain and that eventually, this north peak would prove to be higher. We began to doubt whether we should have strength enough for both. Loss of sleep, soroche, and lack of appetite were rapidly undermining our endurance.
The last slope had an inclination of thirty degrees. We should have had to cut steps with our ice axes all the way up had it not been for our snow-creepers, which worked splendidly. As it was, not more than a dozen or fifteen steps actually had to be cut even in the steepest part. Tucker first on the rope, I was second, Coello third, and Gamarra brought up the rear. We were not a very gay party. The high altitude was sapping all our ambition, we found that an occasional lump of sugar acted as the best rapid restorative to sagging spirits. It was astonishing how quickly the carbon in the sugar was absorbed by the system and came to the relief of smoldering bodily fires. A single cube gave new strength and vigor for several minutes. Of course, one could not eat sugar without limit, but it did help to tide over difficult places.
We zigzagged slowly up, hour after hour, alternately resting and climbing, until we were about to reach what seemed to be the top, obviously, alas, not as high as our enemy to the north. Just then Tucker gave a great shout. The rest of us were too much out of breath to ask him why he was wasting his strength shouting. When at last we painfully came to the edge of what looked like the summit we saw the cause of his joy. There, immediately ahead of us, lay another slope three hundred feet higher than where we were standing. It may seem strange that in our weakened condition we should have been glad to find that we had three hundred feet more to climb. Remember, however, that all the morning we had been gazing with dread at that aggravating north peak. Whenever we had had a moment to give to the consideration of anything but the immediate difficulties of our climb our hearts had sunk within us at the thought that possibly, after all, we might find the north peak higher. The fact that there lay before us another three hundred feet, which would undoubtedly take us above the highest point of that aggravating north peak, was so very much the less of two possible evils that we understood Tucker’s shout. Yet none of us was lusty enough to echo it.
The Camp on the Summit
One of the Frequent Rests in the Ascent of Coropuna
With faint smiles and renewed courage we pegged along, resting on our ice axes, as usual, every twenty-five steps until at last, at half-past eleven, after six hours and a half of climbing from the 20,000-foot camp, we reached the culminating point of Coropuna. As we approached it, Tucker, although naturally much elated at having successfully engineered the first ascent of this great mountain, stopped and with extraordinary courtesy and self-abnegation smilingly motioned me to go ahead in order that the director of the Expedition might be actually the first person to reach the culminating point. In order to appreciate how great a sacrifice he was willing to make, it should be stated that his willingness to come on the Expedition was due chiefly to a fondness for mountain climbing and his desire to add Coropuna to his sheaf of victories. Greatly as I appreciated his kindness in making way for me, I could only acquiesce in so far as to continue the climb by his side. We reached the top together, and sank down to rest and look about. The truncated summit is an oval-shaped snow field, almost flat, having an area of nearly half an acre, about 100 feet north and south and 175 feet east and west. If it once were, as we suppose, a volcanic crater, the pit had long since been filled up with snow and ice. There were no rocks to be seen on the rim — only the hard crust of the glistening white surface. The view from the top was desolate in the extreme. We were in the midst of a great volcanic desert clotted with isolated peaks covered with snow and occasional glaciers. Not an atom of green was to be seen anywhere. Apparently we stood on top of a dead world. Mountain climbers in the Andes have frequently spoken of seeing condors at great altitudes. We saw none. Northwest, twenty miles away across the Pampa Colorada, a reddish desert, rose snow-capped Solimana. In the other direction we looked along the range of Coropuna itself; several of the lesser peaks being only a few hundred feet below our elevation. Far to the southwest we imagined we could see the faint blue of the Pacific Ocean, but it was very dim.
My father was an ardent mountain climber, glorying not only in the difficulties of the ascent, but particularly in the satisfaction coming from the magnificent view to be obtained at the top. His zeal had led him once, in winter, to ascend the highest peak in the Pacific, Mauna Kea on Hawaii. He taught me as a boy to be fond of climbing the mountains of Oahu and Maui and to be appreciative of the views which could be obtained by such expenditure of effort. Yet now I could not take the least interest or pleasure in the view from the top of Coropuna, nor could my companions. No sense of satisfaction in having attained a difficult objective cheered us up. We all felt greatly depressed and said little, although Gamarra asked for his bonus and regarded the gold coins with grim complacency.
After we had rested awhile we began to take observations. Unslinging the aneroid which I had been carrying, I found to my surprise and dismay that the needle showed a height of only 21,525 feet above sea level. Tucker’s aneroid read more than a thousand feet higher, 22,550 feet, but even this fell short of Raimondi’s estimate of 22,775 feet, and considerably below Bandelier’s “23,000 feet.” This was a keen disappointment, for we had hoped that the aneroids would at least show a margin over the altitude of Mt. Aconcagua, 22,763 feet. This discovery served to dampen our spirits still further. We took what comfort we could from the fact that the aneroids, which had checked each other perfectly up to 17,000 feet, were now so obviously untrustworthy. We could only hope that both might prove to be inaccurate, as actually happened, and that both might now be reading- too low. Anyhow, the north peak did look lower than we were. To satisfy any doubts on this subject, Tucker took the wooden box in which we had brought the hypsometer, laid it on the snow, leveled it up carefully with the Stanley pocket level, and took a squint over it toward the north peak. He smiled and said nothing. So each of us in turn lay down in the snow and took a squint. It was all right. We were at least 250 feet higher than that aggravating peak.
We were also 450 feet higher than the east peak of Coropuna, and a thousand feet higher than any other mountain in sight. At any rate, we should not have to call upon our fast-ebbing strength for any more hard climbs in the immediate future. After arriving at this satisfactory conclusion we pitched the little Mummery tent, set up the tripod for the mercurial barometer, arranged the boiling point thermometer with its apparatus, and with the aid of kodaks and notebooks proceeded to take as many observations as possible in the next four hours. At two o’clock we read the mercurial, knowing that at the same hour readings were being made by Watkins at the Base Camp and by the Harvard astronomers in the Observatory at Arequipa. The barometer was suspended from a tripod set up in the shade of the tent. The mercury, which at sea level often stands at 31 inches, now stood at 13.838 inches. The temperature of the thermometer on the barometer was exactly +32° F. At the same time, inside the tent we got the water to boiling and took a reading with the hypsometer. Water boils at sea level at a temperature of 212° F. Here it boiled at 174° F. After taking the reading we greedily drank the water which had been heated for the hypsometer. We were thirsty enough to have drunk five times as much. We were not hungry, and made no use of our provisions except a few — some sugar, and chocolate.
After completing our observations, we fastened the little tent as securely as possible, banking the snow around it, and left it on top, first having placed in it one of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s brass record cylinders, in which we had sealed the Yale flag, a contemporary map of Peru, and two brief statements regarding the ascent. The American flag was left flying from a nine-foot pole, which we planted at the northwest rim of the dome, where it could be seen from the road to Cotahuasi. Here Mr. Casimir Watkins saw it a week later and Dr. Isaiah Bowman two weeks later. When Chief Topographer Hendriksen arrived three weeks later to make his survey, it had disappeared. Probably a severe storm had blown it over and buried it in the snow.
We left the summit at three o’clock and arrived at the 20,000 foot camp two hours and fifteen minutes later. The first part of the way down to the saddle we attempted a glissade. Then the slope grew steeper and we got up too much speed for comfort, so we finally had to be content with a slower method of locomotion. That night there was very little wind. Mountain climbers have more to fear from excessively high winds than almost any other cause. We were very lucky. Nothing occurred to interfere with the best progress we were physically capable of making. It turned out that we did not need to have brought so many supplies with us. In fact, it is an open question whether our acute mountain-sickness would have permitted us to outlast a long storm, or left us enough appetite to use the provisions. Although one does get accustomed to high altitudes, we felt very doubtful. No one in the Western Hemisphere had ever made night camps at 20,000 feet or pitched a tent as high as the summit of Coropuna. The severity of mountain-sickness differs greatly in different localities, apparently not depending entirely on the altitude. I do not know how long we could have stood it. It is difficult to believe that with strength enough to achieve the climb we should have felt as weak and ill as we did.
That night, although we were very weary, none of us slept much. The violent whooping cough continued and all of us were nauseated again in the morning. We felt so badly and were able to, take so little nourishment that it was determined to gut to a lower altitude as fast as possible. To lighten our loads we left behind some of our supplies. We broke camp at 9:20. Eighteen minutes later, without having to rest, the cache was reached and the few remnants were picked up. Although many things had been abandoned, our loads seemed heavier than ever. We had some difficulty in negotiating the crevasses, but Gamarra was the only one actually to fall in, and he was easily pulled out again. About noon we heard a faint halloo, and finally made out two animated specks far down the mountain side. The effect of again seeing somebody from the outside world was rather curious. I had a choking sensation. Tucker, who led the way, told me long afterward that he could not keep the tears from running down his cheeks, although we did not see it at the time. The “specks” turned out to be Watkins and an Indian boy, who came up as high as was safe without ropes or crampons, and relieved us of some weight. The Base Camp was reached at half-past twelve. One of the first things Tucker did on returning was to weigh all the packs. TO my surprise and disgust I learned that on the way down Tucker, afraid that some of us would collapse, had carried sixty-one pounds, and Gamarra sixty-four, while he had given me only thirty-one pounds, and the same to Coello. This, of course, does not include the weight of our ice-creepers, axes, or rope.
The next day all of us felt very tired and drowsy. In fact, I was almost overcome with inertia. It was a fearful task even to lift one’s hand. The sun had burned our faces terribly. Our lips were painfully swollen. We coughed and whooped. It seemed best to make every effort to get back to a still lower altitude for the mules. So we broke camp, got the loads ready without waiting, put our sleeping-bags and blankets on our backs, and went rapidly down to the Indians’ huts. Immediately our malaise left us. We felt physically stronger. We took deep breaths as though we had gotten hack to sea level. There was no sensation of oppression on the chest. Yet we were still actually higher than the top of Pike’s Peak. We could move rapidly about without getting out of breath; the aggravating “whooping cough” left us; and our appetites returned. To be sure, we still suffered from the effects of snow and sun. On the ascent I had been very thirsty and foolishly had allowed myself to eat a considerable amount of snow. As a result my tongue was now so extremely sensitive that pieces of soda biscuit tasted like broken glass. Corporal Gamarra, who had been unwilling to keep his snow-glasses always in place and thought to relieve his eyes by frequently dispensing with them, now suffered from partial snow-blindness. The rest of us were spared any inflammation of the eyes. There followed two days of resting and waiting. Then the smiling arrieros, surprised and delighted at seeing us alive again after our adventure with Coropuna, arrived with our mules. The Tejadas gave us hearty embraces and promptly went off up to the snow line to get the loads. The next day we returned to Chuquibamba.
In November Chief Topographer Hendriksen completed his survey and found the latitude of Coropuna to be 15° 31’ South, and the longitude to be 72° 42’ 40” West of Greenwich. He computed its altitude to be 21,703 feet above sea level. The result of comparing the readings of our mercurial barometer, taken at the summit, with the simultaneous readings taken at Arequipa gave practically the same figures. There was less than sixty feet difference between the two. Although Coropuna proves to be thirteen hundred feet lower than Bandelier’s estimate, and a thousand feet lower than the highest mountain in South America, still it is a thousand feet higher than the highest mountain in North America. While we were glad we were the first to reach the top, we all agreed we would never do it again!