volcán Licancabur 48 x 68" 1995
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.
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.
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.