The Peak of Sorata and Tiquiripaga, Part 2
There are two paths over the mountains, one by a pass of 16,000ft., and the other by one of 17,000ft. I chose the latter, for the reason that it was quite close to the Peak of Sorata; in fact, not many yards from the top of this pass. To the left, on the way up, was a rough, natural kind of shelter, where Sir Martin Conway had made his last camp on his expedition to try to reach the summit of Sorata.
In his report, Sir Martin said that he could not manage to get to the top, and he did not think anybody ever had, and thought it doubtful if anybody ever would. He estimated the height of the mountain at 23,500ft., and based his opinion on the fact that he was carrying the same instruments as he had used in his successful climb to the top of Aconcagua, when he found the height to be 22,500ft. Going up Sorata, his instruments ceased to mark, and he calculated there was still another 1,000ft. to go.
Yet another reason for my taking this pass and climbing the extra 1,000ft. was that, not far from the top at 16,200ft. by the aneroid, a little way off to the right in a hollow, lies a small lake where tradition says, and the Indians firmly believe, that some of the great Inca treasure was thrown when Pizarro had Atahualpa murdered.
We passed this small lake at about 11 a.m. I had been told that about two years previously a Company had proposed to drain this lake, which could easily be done with the labour of Aymara Indians and the necessary provisions. The head of the Company offered the Government a deposit of £20,000 as a guarantee that they meant business, which the Government was to return after they had let out the water, whether there was anything there or not; whatever they discovered at the bottom was to be divided between themselves and the Government. The authorities thought the proposition a very good one, but the reason it was never undertaken before was that they feared a rising of the vast Indian population would take place; indeed, it might have caused a general rising of the Indians throughout America, from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, and the biggest massacre the world has ever seen, and this was why they refused consent. Evidently, many people think there is truth in the legend that some of the lost Inca treasure is still in existence. It is also a well authenticated fact that some few years ago an American Company had the idea of looking for the immense Inca chain, formed of links of gold, of 1 kilo each, which was to have been part of Atahualpa’s ransom. It is believed by many that the chain was cast into the Lake Titicaca, near the sacred Island of Tia Guanaco. They eventually came to the conclusion that the water was far too deep, and no proposition was ever made. Up to now this chain and nearly all the treasure of the Inca still remains hidden.
On the top of the pass is a cairn of stones, placed there by the Indians to mark the spot. On the way up we passed, at different places, a lonely grave of stones and a wooden cross, showing where some poor chap had passed away. Nearly all the morning the weather was a constant succession of bitterly cold wind and hail, and then a spell of hot sunshine. Often I found it too steep in places for my mule to carry me, and then I removed my thick poncho and walked. I noticed that during the constant blizzards my Aymaras, to prevent frostbite, put on their vicuña face protectors, which just left holes for eyes, nostrils and mouth. I always made my man put on his, and I did the same.
On the top and for a thousand feet before getting there, nothing was to be seen but snow. There was no vegetation of any sort, and not a single bush or bird. About half an hour after leaving the shepherds’ hut in the morning, I shot a female condor eagle with my large Winchester rifle, but, although it was a fine, large specimen, I was forced to leave it behind, because there was really no room on the cargo mules to carry it. I wanted to wait an hour or more to skin it, but the Indians said the delay of nearly two hours might be dangerous at this height and at this season of the year, and we might yet be caught in a blinding snowstorm and get benighted; if we had been returning now, and going downhill to the shepherds’ hut, they said they would have been able to carry it down between them. It was a great pity.