el volcán Licancabur 48 x 68" 1995
From 15,000’ to 19,000’ we climb; seven hours to the summit, crawling carefully over boulders loose and shifting, clanking like baked ceramic under our weight. I make it to the top only by promising “OK---just a little farther...” at each rest to catch my breath; the altitude exhausts me and to look up at the ever distant summit is overwhelmingly discouraging. Eduardo cajoles me through my altitude inertia and his sure grip on my arms works me through near-paralyzing fear when we negotiate thirty vertical feet of rock outcropping just below our goal. Greg and I slog the last grueling 150’ of slope, gentler now but seemingly impossible to conquer, our hearts pounding, lungs gasping the thin cold air.

From the crest of this cone in the southernmost corner of Bolivia, the view sweeps down the flanks to the lakes below and far out into the Atacama desert, with hundreds of volcanoes in every direction as far as one can see.

Eduardo has climbed Licancabur many times in his work as a guide; no big deal. So apparently had the pre-Colombian Inca. At the summit are traces of a ruin, an altar perhaps, frequented by those offering sacrifice to the gods. On nearby Julliallaco the mummified body of a young boy is found. Swathed in alpaca finery and scattered with trinkets of gold, his perfect Inca features peaceful as if in slumber, he is the ultimate offering. Similar remains are found throughout the high summits of the Western Cordillera, evidence of the Andean people's long and intimate relationship with their mountains.


in the Andes

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