Glacier and Roped Travel for Mountaineering

All Historical


PHOTOS: 3V.11-26 are pictures of the great peak and the way of the Indians to its summit.

Pedro: Thank you for meeting with us. We are eager to hear the story of your daunting undertaking. As a first question, I'm curious if there is significance in your name of Apani.
Apani: It is not my given name but the name they bestowed upon me on the great mountain. Apani means, "I carry."1 They called me this because on the mountain, when others could not lift their loads, I offered to carry their burdens for them.
Anco: How is it you found yourself a part of the undertaking to build religious structures on the top of Llullaillaco?
Apani: In Peru, they made me join the military and put me in the army here in central Chile as a replacement. When I reported to the general in Angastu, he assigned me to a special project; its nature he did not say. A month later, a large caravan of llamas and Indians drew near our base. Our general dressed himself in his finest uniform to welcome them. These men came from Cusco, dispatched to Angastu to carry out important work. Inca Yupanqui, an illustrious ruler of Peru for many years, had died the year before.2 The new arrivals came regarding his death. The lead man of the entourage, an important official sent by the new Inca, Huayna Capac,3 carried the title of the Inca's "master builder"; he planned and coordinated the construction of worship sites on high mountains in honor of the Inca and our Lord, the Inti. His caravan of men and llamas took the entire day to arrive at our camp.
Anco: Your age at this time?
Apani: I had eighteen summers. Today, I have sixty.
Anco: Why did they send this man to Angastu?
Apani: Inca Huayna Capac wanted a worship site built on a high mountain. We addressed this master builder by his full name, Vitahuati, as we respected and admired him while we worked on this project and his demeanor and position demanded esteem.
Anco: How did it come about that he chose Llullaillaco as the site?
Apani: This man, Vita, as I may call him now at a distance of years, heard of the large mountain east of Angastu and decided it a most worthy location as a worship site.
Pedro: Did the master builder manage the entire effort from start to finish?
Apani: Yes, as the chosen man to do this he had complete control, on orders of the High Inca. Moreover, as he told us, he had done this on four other mountains, so we trusted his knowledge and leadership. Our army general appointed Vita our "general" until the work's completion and told us we must obey his orders as though they came from him. We had no battles to fight, as the people of northern Chile were most congenial, and so serving the master builder did not threaten the security or safety of the army. In truth, we thought it a welcome change from the boredom of military life. It offered us an adventure new and exciting. In addition, my mother once said she had had a dream in which she visited the top of a high mountain so she could reside closer to the Sun god, Inti. When she died, my father saved a lock of her hair I have kept always. Now I thought that I, when on the top of this huge peak, might leave the lock of hair there so her spirit could realize her earthly dream.
Anco: And what of your duties?
Apani: At first, Vita told me to work with stone masons on the two huts destined for the top of the mountain. He chose eight of us to perform this work, four assigned to each building. We all had worked with stone at home in Peru. Our goal was to construct the huts in Angastu and, when completed, mark the rocks to indicate their positions in the structures, either the lower or the upper parts. It went in this manner. We daubed with a stroke of green paint the rocks comprising the lower half of my building; the stones of the upper half with blue. We painted the lower part of the other hut's stones with a red mark, the higher half with white. I think you recognize the genius of this scheme, and I shall tell more of it later in our discussion. We disassembled the huts and transported the rocks to the mountain, where our men carried them to the top for us to reassemble. Vita chose me to participate in the construction of the buildings, and this gave me pause, as I had never been on a high peak before. By the way, Vita made sure of an accurate count of the number of rocks composing each hut. The end walls we made of forty rocks of various sizes. With the four end walls of the two buildings, the total equaled 160 stones. The sidewalls comprised ninety rocks, so the amount of the four sidewalls was 360, giving a sum of 520 stones.
Pedro: And what was the importance of this number?
Apani: As I said, these men knew their business. With the rocks counted, they calculated the number of individual loads we needed to transport them up the mountain and hence how many carriers we required to complete the task. As an example, Vita believed if all the men hauled three rocks, approximately eighty-five men could carry 255 stones to the higher camp the first day and the remainder the second. The effort required two days, therefore, to move the majority of stones from one campsite to the new location. Depending upon the number of sites we put on the mountain, he could tell the total days required to complete the entire effort.
Anco: That is very ingenious.
Apani: Vita wished to avoid men high on the mountain having to chip and cut the rocks. It is too cold there, breathing is difficult, and it is persistently windy. The stones, their position in the structure marked, would allow us builders to erect the huts quickly as soon as the rock-bearers hauled them to the top.
Anco: This seems a sensible plan.
Apani: Yes, we thought so too, especially when we arrived at the mountain and experienced the hardships there. In addition, a larger design revealed itself. Vita told us the foundation stones would precede us up the mountain, followed by the second level's rocks, all marked, and piled in separate heaps on the summit. When we arrived, we could make short work of assembly. In addition, it helped that we, the builders of the huts, would be the ones to reassemble them. As I said, this man deserved the title of "master" and we trusted and admired him.
Anco: You had other reasons to respect the master builder?
Apani: Well, yes. Despite his rank of royalty, he acted with and towards us without any airs or pretension. Here is an example. As a man close to the Inca, he deserved a litter carried by bearers as his conveyance. Yet, when he arrived at our Angastu campground, he walked, as did the others in his entourage. This remained his habit throughout, to walk as a common Indian, though lameness in his right leg caused a noticeable limp. Nevertheless, he did not make his health an excuse to indulge in soft living, but rather his constant activity a cure for his health, as by long journeys, simple diet, sleeping in the open air (except when we resided near or on the mountain), and enduring hardships with the rest of us common soldiers, he fought off his physical troubles and kept his body strong against his infirmity.
A further example. He took his meals with the rest of us, out in the open, if the weather allowed, or with us in large tents in times of cold. On these occasions, he talked with whomever sat close, as though he were that man's friend or neighbor. He cared about us in other ways too. On the journey I traveled in his caravan, and one day he walked behind a man herding loaded llamas. All of a sudden, two of the animals, frightened by a small grey fox, jerked wildly sideways and knocked the man to the ground, where he hit his head against a sharp boulder. Vita ran to him, held him in his arms and tried to stop the bleeding with his tunic. The man died within a short period of time. Vita never left him. Others witnessed this and I told my friends about it at our evening meal. Never had we heard of a man of such eminence acting in this manner. By the next day, all knew what had happened and we held him in the highest regard as a result.
Pedro: I am beginning to admire him myself. Let's return to the buildings and discuss their size and dimensions.
Apani: Ten feet long, four feet wide, three feet high and fitted with a roof of woven reeds pulled tight over small wooden beams.4
Pedro: What other preparations did you make there in Angastu?
Apani: Well, we all remained busy. Some said later they found the preparations more demanding than climbing the mountain. Vita handled everything and directed the efforts with four aides he had brought with him from Peru. The responsibility of one of these lieutenants was transport, to make certain we had the proper number of llamas to move all our equipment. Additionally, he saw to it that the groups carried the correct number of water gourds for their storage north of the mountain. The responsibility of a different man included ensuring the availability of charqui, dried fruits, nuts, maize cakes, and hot chilies. An added job of his was assuring that enough food reached the base of the mountain to feed those carrying the stones to the top. The third lieutenant saw to it that all other equipment, such as clothes and the special implements necessary to climb the big peak, stayed on hand while we worked. Fortunately, this man brought with him from Cusco pants, jackets, gloves, and head scarves made from alpaca and vicuña wool. I remember it as the warmest clothing I had ever worn, and very comfortable. A further duty included seeing that we all had warm sandals on the mountain. The fourth man served to assist the other three, if they needed help. He knew the job requirements of the other officers and operated as Vita's "right hand man," as they say. He instructed us as well in the construction of the buildings and planned the transportation of the rocks to the mountain.
Anco: Did Vita bring others with him?
Apani: Yes, and they proved important. He had with him four specialists who knew how to climb high mountains. Their name, cuntur runas, or "condor men," was given them because they go higher in the sky than the huge bird of the mountains. The cunturs, as they told us to call them, found the best path on the mountain, located camps along the route, guided those hauling rocks to the top, and led the builders so they might complete the work.
Pedro: And how did they find the necessary number of workers to man the project? I think you said the Inca army provided most of them.
Apani: Yes, Inca Yupanqui sent three armies to Chile, each one 10,000 strong, during his reign of twenty years. In 1494, the first contingent billeted itself in the south near the border of the Mapuche Indians.5 The second army resided in Limari.6 The third divided itself between Angastu and Copayapu. Vita had orders from Huayna Capac to use the men as he saw fit, so we provided most of the labor. In addition, numerous Angastu natives offered to join our force, particularly those who knew the way to the peak and the location of the water sources, things such as that. Others coordinated the gathering of local foods. Some chose to kill llamas and prepare vast amounts of charqui, one of our staples on the mountain. Other locals prepared dried fruits and cooked maize cakes from crops grown there and at other towns nearby. Still others prepared dried fish, another important part of our diet.
Pedro: What course did you follow to the mountain from Angastu?
Apani: Actually, there is a road from here that connects with Saltiza, on the other side of the mountains. Traders used this road between our two towns for a number of years. It goes through an area called Monturaqui, which contains large stone structures built years before, one a water cistern.7 From Monturaqui, Llullaillaco is visible in the south, if one knows where to look. It is nearly eighteen miles distant.
Pedro: So, traders here in town knew the path?
Apani: Yes. In fact, Vita chose a few as our guides. They knew the locations of the water sources and the pastures of ichu grass.
Anco: So this location, Monturaqui, became a supply storage area?
Apani: Yes. When Vita heard of it, he sent stonemasons and a lieutenant there to fit out buildings as storage depots. This worked well. Caravans from Angastu with food and provisions left every few days or when needed for the journey to Monturaqui. A trip there and back was near to three hundred miles. The round trip took thirty-three days, more or less.8 When the caravans started on a regular basis from Angastu, they arrived at Monturaqui often. Furthermore, along with the dispatch of the stonecutters there, he ordered a pack train out with our warm clothes and the first load of food. As I said, Vita had the ability to plan, organize, and move matters forward expertly.
Anco: And what about the movement of these supplies from this spot to the mountain?
Apani: The arrieros and llamas moved the goods to the peak but they stayed separate from those making the journey between Angastu and Monturaqui. They remained dedicated strictly to the passage from the warehouses at Monturaqui to the storage depot on the peak and back.
Pedro: Why was that?
Apani: Vita, when he was on the mountain, wanted to deal with arrieros he and his lieutenant in charge of the stores at Monturaqui knew and trusted. This arrangement had worked well for him in the past, so he used it here also.
Pedro: And the equipment depot's location on the peak?
Apani: We had two of them, in the beginning. The first one Vita positioned on the western side of Llullaillaco. When that route turned out too strenuous, we built a new depot on the eastern side.
Pedro: How long did it take to prepare before the final movement from Angastu?
Apani: It took weeks of building, coordinating, and staging until all appeared ready. One day, Vita seemed satisfied with our progress and ordered us to strike off from Angastu in the middle of August.9
Pedro: Is there significance to the date?
Apani: Yes, very much so. Vita and the cunturs had talked with those who traded goods with Saltiza in order to learn about storm activity on the mountain this time of year. It turns out the worst month is February, while the best months occur in spring and fall.10 Vita, therefore, decided to devote the entire month of November to placing the huts on the mountain. Leaving when we did gave us enough time to arrive at the peak, deliver all the necessary equipment, and afterwards concentrate on putting the buildings on top.
Anco: Please tell us what took place on the way to Monturaqui and on the western side of the mountain.
Apani: Yes, of course. But first, I must tell you how they organized all this. Vita did not permit all eighty-five of us to go at the same time. There is little water from Angastu to Monturaqui, so the caravans had a set number of men in every one. Army officers took charge of all the particulars. In fact, an officer assigned to each caravan made sure the men followed the proper itinerary, adhered to strict water drinking rules (two to three quarts a day allotted to man and llama), and matters such as those. In addition, this man saw to it that there were enough water-carrying llamas11 in the caravan to supply the needs of the men and llamas between water sources.
As to your question about the journey, the passage to Monturaqui seemed uninteresting to a number of men, yet exciting to many of us as it offered grand adventure. We began to sleep as though on the mountain, four of us in a tent sewn of llama hides. Occasionally it was uncomfortable at night; nevertheless, later on the peak we stayed warm. In the evenings at our encampments, the cunturs talked to the men about conditions on the mountain.
Anco: And what did they say?
Apani: They talked of the coming venture as preparation for what we might encounter. As an example, they said that the higher we went the more difficult our breathing would become. They told us also how to prevent our fingers and toes from freezing. We must avoid this from happening at all costs, they said, as the most common result, frozen fingers and toes, might require cutting them off. The lead cuntur spoke from experience. He had lost two fingers and a toe because of their freezing a number of years before. What to eat, how to light fires, how to prevent water from freezing in our poros, above all at night, how to protect our eyes from the bright daylight coming from the snow, all these matters they discussed and explained again and again until we understood and had memorized them. What's more, they made plain that Vita exercised control at the bottom of the mountain. Yet, when we found ourselves above and apart from him, the cunturs would be in command. If they told us to do something, we must obey immediately and without question. Failure to do so might endanger all of us.
Pedro: What occurred once you reached Monturaqui?
Apani: It was a bustling location, when the caravans had arrived at the end of September, in the spring. Builders had constructed two warehouses and fitted them out with reed roofs. The older structures there our men enlarged to accommodate our needs. Food, eating utensils, clothing, climbing packs, all lay on the ground as men busied themselves placing provisions in the storehouses, stacking other items outside, whatever the lieutenant there had ordered. A large section contained tents to house the site workers and to provide the arrieros from Angastu a place to stay until they returned to that town. What's more, it housed the arrieros who traveled to and from the peak. A cistern held water, replenished by caravans hauling water from a small laguna to the east.12 Monturaqui resembled a small village, there in that remote part of the desert. It remained a cheery place, with all of us working hard and with purpose. A week later, when all the men had arrived, Vita made a speech, congratulating us on our efforts, and reminding us we still had much to do. The spirit of Inca Yupanqui smiled down upon us, he said, and our Lord the Inti also would be pleased when our work ended.
Anco: Please describe the western side of the mountain and why it became unsuitable as a path to the top.
Apani: I shall tell you first of our journey there and what happened in the following days. From Monturaqui the peak lies southward, and it took us two days to reach it. Water in streams that flowed from the mountain was plentiful. Vita situated the first camp on the shore of a large, warm laguna with flamingoes on it.13 Our unit numbered nearly 130, composed of Vita, the cunturs, those of us climbing with them, men to haul the rocks and stores, and our arrieros. A few of us found it hard to believe that in a few days we might stand on the mountain's summit. At sunrise, we left to search for a Main Camp location. We climbed higher and higher and stopped frequently to catch our breath. Eventually, we attained a point Vita found a suitable spot,14 where the ichu grass became scarce. This site sat to the left of a strange collection of rocks that appeared to have its source higher on the mountain,15 out of our sight. On our walk there I acquired my name, Apani, as I offered to carry the loads of those who found it too strenuous at the new heights. We erected the tents, opened the food stores, started the fires, and soon the cooks had prepared fresh llama meat with vegetables, a meal most welcome at the end of a hard day. We stayed here two days, until Vita decided to locate higher sites to support an eventual ascent.16 Just the cunturs took part in this. It required a few days to attain a broad, level snow table high on the mountain. Two small pools of deep blue water there remained unfrozen and would function as a ready source of our drinking water.17 Even with this available supply, the cunturs decided the route unsuitable, for the following reason. On the plateau, an immense spike of rock rose before them, shielding the main peak that sat behind it. To attain the primary high point, the course lay either right or left of the spire. On the left side, a steep ramp posed problems. At the crest of that slope, the ground fell off into a deep gully, beyond which a long, rising incline of various sized rocks and boulders led to the summit.18 As the ramp and ravine posed problems for those who hauled loads, an easier way needed to be found. Proceeding to the right of the spire also looked difficult. That route rose slightly as it left the snow table and eventually confronted a huge mound of rock debris from a long-ago eruption of the peak. Beyond this, a steep ravine rose towards the summit, choked by small rocks and sand. Going by that path might exhaust us and cause failure.19 Consequently, the cunturs chose to return to Main Camp, report to Vita, and let him decide. It required seven days to complete this scouting climb.
Pedro: And how did Vita react to this?
Apani: He trusted his cunturs because he and they had been together for many years, and he knew their judgments to be sound.
Anco: So what took place after that?
Apani: Well, Vita ordered us back down the mountain to our interim site at the laguna to spend the night. He decided we ought to try the northern side of the peak and locate a different path higher there. If we found nothing suitable, we would examine conditions on the eastern slopes. As a further mark of his planning skills, Vita ordered the hut rocks to remain at Monturaqui until the location of our major camp had been determined. This tactic was a good one as it saved the arrieros needless effort and time.
Pedro: It occurs to me to ask how you carried provisions from one site to a higher one?
Apani: Along with our fur clothing, Vita brought with him from Cusco different kinds of bags that suited our purpose, llama hides woven in two shapes. My favorite type we wore across both shoulders. It had two straps at either side and rested on the back below the neck. The other we wore over the shoulder. It had a long strap to rest around the neck, the bag falling to either the right or left side at the man's hip.20 On various days, principally lower down the mountain, a few men used an over the shoulder bag in addition to the one on the back. Higher on the mountain, when breathing became too strenuous, they carried simply a single back bag.
Anco: To return to a route to the top, did Vita find a path on the north side?
Apani: On that side, the cunturs saw some options, five as I recall, and Vita and they discussed them in front of us, so we might understand what they knew and what they thought. The possibilities looked, to my friends and me, too steep for hauling heavy loads. In addition, they appeared to end at the snow plateau the cunturs encountered on our western climb. In the end, the cunturs decided none of them suited our purpose.21
Pedro: And then what occurred?
Apani: We went to the northeastern side so Vita could evaluate conditions there. We climbed past the huge northern part of the mountain, and much of the eastern side came into view. And there, as if created for our needs, rose a ramp-like projection of the mountain that led from a height equal to our location to the top of the mountain, with a number of angled places along the route. Most of us, with little knowledge of these matters, nevertheless understood this as the path we should use. A friend, on seeing it, said in amazement, "That is the way! It must be. It looks perfect!"
Anco: And did it seem as good when seen close up?
Apani: Yes, it did. When we moved closer, we saw that the ramp was steep and uneven in a few spots. Yet, it looked better than the western and northern approaches as this path meant continually moving higher rather than descending into gullies and ascending the other side, as on the western slopes. Besides, there appeared to be a number of areas to locate camps.
Pedro: And Vita and the cunturs approved of it?
Apani: Yes. In fact, when we advanced closer, Vita ordered a halt. As we rested, he and the cunturs talked amongst themselves in an excited manner. Presently, he left the group and signaled us to gather near him. This is the route, he said, and told us why he and the cunturs thought so. It appeared a good ramp, better than anything we had yet seen; it afforded a number of spaces for our interim sites, and so on. He went on to say that we should use the rest of the day to find a spot to position our equipment depot, a place determined by how high the llamas could go. We had to attain this point before all else since we needed all the animals to carry as much as possible so as to take the burden from us.
Anco: And you found somewhere to accommodate your needs?
Apani: Yes. Following two more days of climbing higher and diagonally across the slopes, we arrived at a location beyond which the llamas refused to go. Almost all the animals among them stopped as though reacting to a spoken command. Fortunately, this happened at an ideal spot, a broad, flat part, with a watercourse that flowed nearby with melted water from the snows above.22 Vita, with his experience, said the stream would freeze at night and flow in the daytime if the sun warmed the snow above us. He said the arrieros would return to Monturaqui the next day with instructions that the hut rocks and all the other stores must begin their movement by using all available llamas. Furthermore, he sent a request to his lieutenant for twenty more men to serve as load-bearers on the mountain.
Pedro: How did Vita organize this camp?
Apani: He and the cunturs arranged it as they had on other mountains. A certain quarter they designated for the latrines, another for our tents, a further for cooking and eating, and an additional one for storing our clothes and food. Such was their design of the camp-grounds.
Anco: And so this site was made ready quickly?
Apani: Yes, but with some difficulty. With luck, we erected the tents in the afternoon before a terrific windstorm, in a completely clear sky, blew across the mountain. All our equipment and stores required tying down to prevent the wind from carrying them away. Vita and his men had prepared for this. They provided us with sturdy leather ropes made of dried llama hide. We attached one end to the corners of our tents and the other to nearby rocks. We used this technique at all the locations at which we stopped.
Pedro: So this served as your Main Camp?
Apani: No. It functioned as a staging depot to accommodate the llama trains that arrived from Monturaqui with supplies. Our Main Camp they set higher, located on a wide plateau, with a stream of running water close by, the same one that passed the staging depot.23 Here we erected a large cooking area at Vita's direction. We builders constructed a sturdy enclosure that protected the cooks from the wind and two more for their sleep and rest. We gave these men special treatment, always. Of course, we could exist on charqui, nuts, maize cakes, dried fruits, and vegetables. Here at our Main Camp, though, we desired warm food and our cooks pleased us the entire time of our stay. Vita ordered the cooking fires never extinguished so that the cooks might prepare food at any time of the day. Main Camp remained comfortable for us because of this.
Pedro: And on these days, how did you and the others spend your time?
Apani: When we had put up Main Camp, the work began to haul the rocks, food, llama dung, and other materials from the staging depot below up to this Main Camp. Now Vita conceived a project for us builders, in addition to building the cooks' quarters. He directed us to construct rock huts to store all the goods coming here in the ensuing weeks. The rest of the men stayed in constant motion carrying all the stores from the lower section to this site. The llama trains from Monturaqui arrived frequently at the lower depot, and the provisions were made ready for the move here to Main Camp. One day the winds blew so hard Vita stopped our work until the conditions became calmer. Still, we remained fortunate with the weather. Matters could have been much worse. Also, the days spent in stocking Main Camp helped all of us adjust to its high elevation.
Pedro: The construction of these structures seems to have been a demanding task.
Apani: Well, we had our tools with us and plenty of stones of all sizes. And staying busy kept us warm. Within a few days, we built ten small storage structures,24 which provided space to stockpile the equipment arriving from the supply depot, as well as to store religious items needed in the ceremonies honoring the Inca and our Sun god.
Pedro: Main Camp must have been crowded.
Apani: Well, it provided enough space and everything fit. I might add that a few men died here from the cold or in accidents. Vita designated a spot nearby as our cemetery, and he said comforting words at the burial ceremony for each man.25
Pedro: Vita was a true leader. About the higher camps, how did the cunturs select those places on the mountain?
Apani: Vita directed the cunturs to ascend the mountain and locate the next places that could accommodate a large number of men. If a water source lay nearby, all the better, although he doubted the existence of one above our Main Camp. He needed to know this so we had the proper number of water gourds available as we climbed higher.
Anco: And they located such areas, I assume.
Apani: Yes, and they had luck in doing so. It was as though the mountain gods had prepared the peak solely for us. They found the next site on a wide table with an unfrozen pond of water on it,26 a most fortunate discovery. The last encampment they put right below the top of the mountain,27 on a wide spot they found covered with snow. Of course, the cunturs felt tired when they came back eight days later. It had snowed lightly some nights at the sites, nevertheless they had continued going higher. They told all of this to the builders and Vita on their return.
Pedro: And all the men were ready to begin the climb?
Apani: Well, we delayed a while. One day it began snowing in the morning and lasted until late evening. Yet, at the supply storehouse and to a lesser extent at Main Camp, it never stayed on the ground long. It was a dry snow, with little water content. And the air was so dry it caused the snow to disappear quickly.
Anco: You wish to say more regarding this?
Apani: No, not of the snow. I want to tell you that we received a remarkable surprise here. Vita told us that the high priest in Angastu, Anta-Aclla, would stay with us for three days and arrive on the morrow. He planned to say a prayer that our efforts might please our god the Inti. This caused a good deal of commotion and excitement, as we knew this man and respected him. Befitting such a notable honor, at Vita's instructions, we set up a tent for him and his attendant. Then we builders erected a small rock platform so he might conduct a brief ceremony. We stayed excited the rest of the day and in much anticipation of his appearance.
Anco: And did he arrive as planned?
Apani: Yes, and he seemed not to be tired, as if the climb from the depot had been a pleasant walk on the ocean's shore! An amazing man. We crowded round him, preventing him from resting or taking refreshment after his exertions, and he minded not in the least. He touched the forehead of all those who crowded close and recited a brief prayer for their safety and well-being. When the high priest had finished the blessings, Vita escorted him to his quarters, there to eat, drink, and converse together in private.
Anco: This man seemed special to all of you.
Apani: Yes, absolutely. Late the following morning, with the sun shining, we gathered near the platform we had built for the occasion. At a signal from Vita, Anta-Aclla emerged from behind his tent, arrayed in his ceremonial garments. He presented a striking appearance in such a remote location. He conducted the ceremony, while flute players played solemn music, and said a prayer on behalf of our success. This moved and inspired us.
Pedro: I am sure he has remembered the occasion as well.
Apani: Well, I know he has never forgotten it. A single instance stands out. One of our companions had addressed all of us the previous day on Anta-Aclla's arrival, and suggested that we call him Anta-Aclla Picchu, High Priest of the High Mountains. All agreed this was fitting. At the conclusion of the prayer to the Sun at the close of the ceremony, Vita stood by his side and told him what we wished him to take as his full name. This touched him so much that he had difficulty in giving voice to his thanks. Later in the day, the cooks prepared for all of us fresh llama meat and a special soup with our favorite hot chili peppers. In addition, they made sweet cakes unique to the occasion. In mid-day he left, with all of us crowded close so he might touch our foreheads again. What an experience! Unforgettable.
Apani: And I recollect too the special prayer he said for us. Although divers years have passed, I can still recite it:

O Creator, Creator O. Have mercy upon the men whom thou hast made and gathered here, for they honor you as our Creator. Grant them continued good health as they labor on a task that is most pleasing to you. Make them and their children to walk in a straight road, without thinking any evil. Grant they may have a long life, and not die in their youth, as a reward for working on a lasting monument to your greatness. O Creator, Creator O.

Father Molina: That is a wonderful prayer at a special moment. We are thankful to hear it.
Anco: It now appears the time has come to move up the great mountain.
Apani: Yes, and this turned out to be a propitious day, a date in late October. Keep in mind that Vita and the cunturs wanted our efforts to take place in the month of November because of the favorable weather then.28 Well, they received their wish! Here, Vita called the builders together and told us that we would not participate in lifting the rocks to the top, since the success of the entire project depended on us and he wanted to lessen the risk of losing us to frostbite, injury, or sickness. Besides, he wanted the buildings at Main Camp erected before we left to assemble the huts.
Anco: And did you?
Apani: Yes. We finished our work before we departed.
Anco: And the number of men who hauled to the succeeding site?
Apani: Well, four cunturs, eighty-five rock-bearers, thirty carriers of food, dung, tents, and assorted other stores, and an extra twenty in reserve composed the entire unit. Every man carried, besides the weight of his load, a gourd of water, dried fruit, and charqui. They started before sunrise, directed by the cunturs, the first at the front, two at different positions within the file, and the fourth at the rear. They proceeded slowly, the cunturs keeping a steady pace and resting frequently. The course remained free of snow, but loose ground sometimes made progress difficult, as we builders found out several days later when it came our turn to advance upwards. Fortunately, the weather cooperated, with no storms and merely a slight breeze. The men stayed within our sight until the long line disappeared behind a huge outcropping of rocks. It remains in my mind a grand and majestic scene and I have remembered it ever since. In mid-afternoon, they reappeared from behind the rocks, in column, slowly wending their way back. A few appeared unsteady as they came towards us, a sure sign of breathing or headache problems.
Pedro: And what was their condition when they made it back?
Apani: Well, Vita went out to greet and congratulate them on their effort. They felt tired, no question about that, but also cheerful and happy. A few, though, were sick and went to their tents for sleep. A friend saw me wave and came to visit. He dropped to the ground and lay back to rest. "Well, how did it go?" I asked. He waited a while, smiled, and asked, "Is that all there is to it?" He made a joke, of course. Physically, it had been demanding although within his ability. This is how most others felt too at the close of this first day, from what I heard and observed.
Pedro: And the second loads went up the day following?
Apani: Yes. The carriers left a little later in the day and planned on spending the night at the higher camp. Let me tell you how this all happened. They spent the night of the second lift at, let's call it First Camp, as it resided above Main Camp. On the new day, they made their initial carry to Second Camp, which lay below the summit of the mountain, and returned to First Camp for sleep. On the next day, they made their second haul to Second Camp, there to stay the night. A day later, they carried half the stones to the summit and returned to Second Camp for the night. In the morning, they took the remaining rocks to the top and went back to Second Camp. The next day they returned to us at Main Camp.
Pedro: Thus, the total number of days to carry the stones to the summit and return to Main Camp turned out to be seven?
Apani: Yes. Now, when they exited Main Camp on the second day, and here is the genius of Vita coming forward again, the cooks sent freshly cooked llama meat, cooked vegetables, and maize cakes to them daily. This is how the extra men Vita requested when we first attained the depot site demonstrated their worth, since they helped carry the food. As a result, those above had enough to eat at their main meal instead of relying on charqui.
Anco: And you and the other builders still worked on the ten structures in their absence?
Apani: Well, we finished all our work on them two days after the carriers left on their haul to First Camp. We builders discussed among ourselves whether to ask Vita if we might ascend to First Camp, see how we felt there, and return the same day. We asked and he assented, so the following day we made the climb. By this point, the men resided at Second Camp and First Camp was deserted. It seemed an ideal site, large in size, the pond with fresh water, yet strangely unfrozen at such a height.29 We builders had no problems making the climb and returned to Main Camp.
Anco: What of the condition of the main body of climbers when they finally returned?
Apani: We knew the problems they had, as two or three came back suffering from freezing of their fingers, toes, or feet. In a day or two their fingers and toes turned black and hardened, as the flesh had died. Matters became worse if the skin blisters burst and infection set in. This required their feet, fingers, or toes to be cut off. If they were not, the man might die within days. In addition, a few returned who experienced breathing problems or headaches. Those who descended were the lucky ones. Two died above Main Camp because of these illnesses.30
Pedro: And they brought the bodies back down?
Apani: No. The cunturs buried them on the mountain. To try and drag a dead body down the mountain would have been too difficult and treacherous.
Anco: And now the builders' time had arrived?
Apani: Yes. The cunturs rested a day and then we set out at daybreak. An icy breeze blew and made us uncomfortable. The cunturs had planned matters well. They left tents erected at First and Second Camp so we would not have to carry them. Also, they stored enough food at the sites for us, which lifted the burden of carrying provisions from our shoulders. And certainly, not hauling the heavy rock loads served in our favor as well. Our band included the four cunturs, eight builders, and ten who served our needs. Vita wanted to ensure that we builders remained focused on our principal task of reassembling the huts.
Anco: Did you have any problems going higher?
Apani: Yes. When we arrived at Second Camp, my friend Mayta became dizzy and could barely stand at all. He kept falling and complained of severe headaches. The head cuntur told an extra man to take him down lower as this usually corrected the problem.
Anco: And did it?
Apani: Once he had returned safely to Main Camp, yes, he did survive. As for our journey to the summit, all went according to plan. Of course, it helped that the weather stayed benign, although the wind blew stiffly various mornings and evenings. It took us four climbing days between Main Camp and Second Camp. The next day, we made the climb to the summit.
Pedro: And what were your feelings about reaching the top?
Apani: Well, arriving at the summit I remember as a large accomplishment. The cunturs hugged us, and this made us feel important. The views from there overwhelmed us with their beauty, and it was special to view the world from the top of a mountain. What is more, it was gratifying to see all our rocks there stacked in four piles and arranged by their color codes.
Pedro: And so you immediately began reassembly?
Apani: Yes. Mayta had been part of my builder team, so three of us now made up my party. Our hut was the one with the lower stones marked in green, the upper ones in blue. Before beginning our work, we all looked at the site, to determine the best positioning of the structures. In the end, we decided a north and south arrangement was the best, our hut's end wall separated by two feet from the other hut's end wall. When this had been resolved, we began our work, with the cunturs to help when called upon. We made quick business of it, with the lower half of each hut in position by the afternoon. The color-coding helped, of course. What is more, we had chipped and shaped those rocks ourselves back at Angastu and we remembered their positions in the completed building.
Anco: And you finished the next day?
Apani: Yes. When we positioned the last rocks of the upper halves, we stretched reed roof mats over the tops and paused to admire our work. The head cuntur recited a prayer Vita had spoken to him. Before we left, I took the small leather pouch that contained the lock of my mother's hair and put it under my hut's corner foundation stone. So, she received her wish. Her spirit now resides close to our Lord the Inti.31 It turned cold and gusts of wind pummeled us as we returned to Second Camp, yet I felt too happy with what we had done to notice. It turned cold at night, the coldest since we had arrived on the mountain.
Pedro: And did you all make it back to Main Camp?
Apani: We had problems on the return. When we woke at dawn, our friend Chipana complained he had no feeling in the fingers of his right hand or the toes of his right foot. Another builder and I massaged them, yet failed to restore their color. We had to leave, so I remained with him and carried his pack. We progressed slowly, made it back to First Camp, and rested there while we watched the remainder of our party move down the mountain below us. At a point where the path bears right, a man lost his balance and began to slide down the slope. As the angle of sight from our position prevented a clear view, he disappeared quickly. We saw the others looking down the slope and doing no more, simply looking, as they could do little else. After a few moments, they assembled once again and resumed their journey down, with no attempt at rescue. Chipana and I remembered that section as the most perilous part of the path. That evening, safely back at Main Camp, we continued to rub Chipana's fingers and toes. Unfortunately, he lost two toes and three fingers weeks later when we returned to Angastu.
Anco: That is too bad. What occurred next and when did you leave the mountain?
Apani: Vita and the cunturs planned to leave supplies in the structures we built at Main Camp. As an example, they left warm clothing we used to climb the mountain so Anta-Aclla might have these to clothe himself and his attendants when he conducted religious ceremonies in the future. What's more, they put dried fruits, nuts, and other foods in one of the storerooms. Vita had ordered extra llamas so materials returning to Angastu and Cusco might be transported from the mountain. Vita, the cunturs, we builders, and a number of others were the last to leave. When we gathered at sunrise on the new day, Vita said a prayer to our Lord the Sun and thanked him for the opportunity to serve him.
Pedro: Now that your adventure on the great mountain had ended, what transpired when you returned to Angastu?
Apani: Well, Anta-Aclla and his priests conducted a ceremony to thank the Lord Inti, our Sun god, for our safe return. Our general arranged a party of welcome with much food and drink. Those in the town attended as well.
Anco: Did they bestow honors on you and the others?
Apani: Yes. To reward our work on this project bringing honor and glory to our Father the Inca and our Lord Inti, our General offered all those who performed duties on the mountain, in whatever capacity, a release from service in the Inca's army if they wished to remain in Chile. Those who stayed would have two hectares of land to cultivate.32
Anco: It seems a grand and fitting reward.
Apani: Well, most wished to remain in service and return home to Peru. They did not receive a gift of land but obtained extra wages the rest of their time in the Inca's service. I decided, along with twenty companions, to stay in Chile and, to this day, I have not regretted having done so.

Thus ended our interview with Apani. I present it, Sire, in the hope it may shed light on how the huts found their way to the top of the mighty Llullaillaco. Since the Inca never developed a form of writing, this incredible feat of human endeavor might have remained an enduring mystery without the forthrightness of the builder, Apani.

PAINTING: As to the usage of these huts in later years, please see the Glanzman painting 3.1 on the site. To see a photo of the huts today, please see photo 3V.25.

  1. The word Apani is Quechua.
  2. In 1493. He ruled from 1471 to 1493.
  3. Reigned as Inca from 1493 to 1527.
  4. This agrees with what the experts say. See Chapter Three of Johan Reinhard's Inca Rituals and Sacred Mountains.
  5. This area is some 240 miles south of today's city of Santiago.
  6. This is the present-day city of Ovalle.
  7. Today this site is known as Estacion Monturaqui, mentioned previously. The ruins of these ancient buildings lie near the Estacion.
  8. Llamas have a daily range of seven to nine miles.
  9. With the information presented in this part of the letter as to Apani's age, the move to the mountain probably occurred in 1494.
  10. This is still true today.
  11. As mentioned previously, they also used gourds, or poros, for water storage. The llama can carry seventy-five to one hundred pounds. If the loads weighed eighty pounds, one llama could have carried some forty quarts of water, enough to supply the needs of one man and one animal for six and a half days. The one way trip to Monturaqui required sixteen and a half days. There were several water sources along the way, but it required care to conserve water between those sources. This is one reason why Apani says that they kept the caravans small in size.
  12. This was no doubt Laguna Socompa, some eight miles to the east.
  13. Today's Laguna Aguas Calientes (Captain Almagro's Laguna of the White Sands) lies at 12,000 feet. It is approximately seventeen miles south from Monturaqui.
  14. This broad slope at around 14,500 feet has several possible campsites. Please see Ch. 3, 4, and 8 in Clawing for the Stars.
  15. This is the large lava flow that spills down onto the western slopes.
  16. Possible campsites they may have used lie at 16,700 feet and 18,300 feet.
  17. This plateau sits at 20,700 feet and is larger than the one on the eastern side at 19,200 feet (see below).
  18. This description is still true today.
  19. This is the route the author used to climb the mountain. See Ch. 8 in Clawing for the Stars.
  20. Examples of both types have been unearthed in Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru.
  21. In November 1998, the author attempted one of these steep routes and failed from sheer fatigue. Apani and his friends were correct!
  22. This area is located at over 15,000 feet on the northeastern slopes. This site and the subsequent camps up the mountain Johan Reinhard documents in his The Ice Maiden.
  23. This camp is at an elevation near 17,100 feet.
  24. Reinhard's teams found twelve such structures, as noted in The Ice Maiden.
  25. Ruins of the small buildings at the main camp and the cemetery are Incaic, according to Reinhard. This confirms this is the route Vita and his men used.
  26. This is still a good camp site, at 19,125 feet.
  27. This site lies at 21,950 feet.
  28. On his several solo trips to this mountain, the author always traveled in either November or late March or early April. The days were usually sunny, but cool, with ferocious winds stirring up often in the afternoon and lasting into the night. At his base camps, anywhere from 14,500 feet to 15,000 feet, the weather was often so balmy that he took self-photos sitting outside his tent in a tee shirt! On one trip in April, however, a terrific wind and snowstorm blocked the way to the summit, a story he tells in Chapter 4 of his book, Clawing for the Stars.
  29. The author noted this phenomenon on other high peaks and believes steam vents inside the mountains warm the water pools.
  30. Here Apani is referring to the symptoms of cerebral and pulmonary edema.
  31. See Johan Reinhard's The Ice Maiden as to how the summit of Llullaillaco served as a burial place for countless artifacts and three Indian sacrificial mummies. Of course, the author did not know of the existence of these artifacts when he reached the summit, as they had not yet been found by Reinhard.
  32. One hectare is roughly equivalent to 2 ½ acres.