American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Peru, Cordillera Occidental, High Altitude Archaeology and Various Ascents

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1998

Cordillera Occidental, High Altitude Archaeology and Various Ascents. High altitude archae- ology was again the focus of several expeditions on the volcanoes near Arequipa during the last three months of 1997. Team leaders Jose Antonio Chavez (Universidad Catolica) and Johan Reinhard (The Mountain Institute, Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society) were supported by Jim Underwood (The Mountain Institute’s Sacred Mountain Program), Peruvian archaeology students Jimmy Bouroncle and Orlando Jaen, and a climbing/excavation team of seven. Most of the team have been working together for several years.

Volcan Pichu Pichu (18,600') was climbed in October from the east for two weeks of excavation just below the summit from a high camp of 18,300 feet. Most of the work was an extension of the excavation that took place in late 1996 (and some preliminary work in 1989 and 1981) which produced extensive artifacts and remains (filmed by the Discovery Channel, broadcast in January, 1998). This year we worked the site to bedrock, found nothing more, and then performed backfill and recovery. Most noteworthy is that the entire main summit seems to have been a ceremonial platform, much of which collapsed long ago. The expedition was generously supported by Bell Sygma of Canada with extensive power supply and communications gear; a team of six engineers, managers, and family led by Doug Tipple and John Lochow came along for a week to get the gear working and climb the peak. As a result, the expedition was updated on the Web daily from the mountain by Yancy Hall of National Geographic. Pictures and details can be found at or www.rein-

Volcan Ubinas (c.l 8,602') was climbed in one day in late October during the return from Pichu Pichu for the purpose of briefly searching for archaeological sites (and just for fun). This peak is one of the sacred group listed in early documents of the sixteenth century, but no archaeological remains were found (there is a history of volcanic activity here, and current venting).

Huarancante (a.k.a. Chucura, c.17,800'), the site of significant finds of Inca figurines and a bronze club-head in 1981 and 1989, was climbed next and was found to have been heavily looted many years ago. Ampato (20,700'), site of the Ice Maiden find several years ago, was the last climb of this season. Two other mummies had been found in October, 1996, and another was found in December at 19,300 feet. The team spent 19 days on Ampato this year.

Climbs made in 1996 in addition to Ampato, but not reported previously in The American Alpine Journal, were on Sara Sara (18,061') (detailed on the website and Hualca Hualca (c .20,000').

None of the climbs are particularly difficult from a modem mountaineering perspective. Our real challenges lie in the logistics of being able to do careful work in frozen earth at altitude over long periods and to maintain electronic, communications, and energy systems. The Inca were doing heavy work at these sites five centuries ago with much less supportive climbing and camping gear. Hualca Hualca is particularly significant in light of the challenging steep rock sections that the Inca ascended by hauling logs up for aid. Wild grass (ichu) was used to help as climbing footholds.

All expedition finds remain the property of Peru in the possession of Universidad Catolica and its museum, established for this purpose.

Jim Underwood

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.