William Martin Conway.

The Bolivian Andes; a record of climbing & exploration in the Cordillera Real in the years 1898 and 1900 online

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Online LibraryWilliam Martin ConwayThe Bolivian Andes; a record of climbing & exploration in the Cordillera Real in the years 1898 and 1900 → online text (page 20 of 27)
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The firing party did their work without delay, and the
culprit was killed instantaneously, among the lamen-
tations of the people of his race. The body was left
T 289


for many hours where it fell, and the Indians were
encouraged to go forward and inspect it, the object of
the whole ghastly performance being to strike terror
into them. Thereupon the other two men were removed
back into the prison, one of them to be brought forth
and shot a month later I was told, the other, a young
man, to spend his life in penal servitude. According to
a report which reached me, whether weU grounded or
not I cannot say, there were at that time within the
prison walls over two hundred convicted Indian mur-
derers, but capital punishment is seldom enforced except
in the case of parricides and murderers of a particular-
ly atrocious kind.


BEFORE starting to visit the volcanic ranges to the
west and south, I made yet one more expedition
to the Pima and towards the Cordillera, my ob-
ject being to inspect a great vein of tin which had re-
cently begun to be worked. It is situated on the very
flanks of that fine Mount Cacaaca* whose glorious
pyramid had so often attracted our gaze while trav-
ersing the plateau or standing on the simimits of the
Puna hills. Bolivia is one of the few countries in the
world that are rich in tin. No tin-mines are known to
exist in the Western or Coast Cordillera, and I believe
no tin has been discovered either in Peru or Chile. It
is only along the flank of the Cordillera Real and its
prolongation to the south that tin -mines have been
opened. Stream tin has been found by gold pros-
pectors in one or two of the eastern valleys, Tipuani
for instance; but known veins are aU along the west-
em side of the range, near the junction of the Silurian
formation with the intruded igneous rocks. Some of
the best tin lodes are said to occur in the porphyry

*The name Caca-aca means "by broken rocks." The altitude of
this peak, according to my measurement, is 20,560 feet. Other meas-
urements are : Minchin, 20,170 feet ; Reck, 20,292 feet ; Pentland,
20,650 feet ; Finis, 19,961 feet ; mean, 20,250 feet.



or altered andesite, but in a few places lodes run
through slate and trachyte. According to Mr. C. C.
Pasley,* the veins in the porphyry are generally the
richest and of better quaUty, the other being mixed with
antimony, iron, and copper pyrites, zinc blende, and
sometimes with bismuth and wolfram. The tin usually
contains traces of silver, and the lodes frequently have
a capping of iron. The chief tin-producing districts
are four: Oruro in the centre. La Paz in the north,
Chorolque in the south, and Potosi farther to the east-
ward. The most important of these districts is Oruro.
Tin is also found in the Quimsa Cruz Mountain.

My visit to the mines was made in company with
my friend Mr. M. Martindale, an English engineer
who had lived for many years in South America, and
was familiar with the mines of many of its countries.
Leaving La Paz early one morning, we rode straight
up the main valley, instead of turning sharply to the
left and climbing to the Alto of Lima, as I had always
hitherto done on my Puna expeditions. We noticed
that the La Paz River was much fuller of water than it
had been, for the frequent snow-storms upon the moun-
tains and the thunder-storms lower down, f orerimners of
the rainy season, were beginning to produce an effect.
There were blossoming apple-trees in the cottage gar-
dens, and many cactuses bearing bright flowers by the
side of the mule-path. In fact, the spring, which we had
found two months before at Cotana, had now climbed
even beyond La Paz. In two or three hours we had
passed round the bend of the valley, and lost sight of

* "The Tin-Mines of Bolivia," a paper read before the Institution
of Mining and Metallurgy, December 21, 1898.



the town and almost all traces of habitation. A steep
rise, which took us near two or three pools of water,
finally landed us on the Puna, perhaps five miles to
the north of the point where we usually struck it. Our
position might be better described as on the lowest
slopes of the Cordillera rather than on the Puna at all,
though the slopes here sink down to the plain with so
gradual a slope that the transition from slope to plain
can scarcely be marked.

Thus far the weather had been cloudy, and the view
restricted, but now the sun burst forth and the sky
was blue among dissolving clouds. The distant plain
was smoking with dust whirlpools like the smoke of
bonfires. We soon came on the traces of old moraines.
Continuing our northward way, over a rovmded hog's-
back, and circling somewhat about the end of a great
outlier of the main Cordillera, we entered a surprisingly
large vaUey that penetrates to the crest of the Cordillera
and gives access to an important mule-pass leading
over to Zongo. Mount Cacaaca, glorious with its wide-
spreading base and bladed icy tower, was revealed in
all its splendor standing north of the pass, while to
our right hand were cliffs and ridges of purple rock
forming part of the next snow-moimtain to the south.
Following the left bank of the valley and gradually
descending towards the stream and lake at the head of
it, we came presently on the buildings and workings
of the Millimi Mine, situated 15,100 feet above sea-

At present the mine is only being worked on a small
scale, and the buildings are of a simple character.
The engineer's house had been placed at our disposal



by Senor Farf an, the owner, who Hved in La Paz ; but,
agreeable as it was to have a roof over our heads when
the bleak night came on, we could have wished that the
room had been less draughty, or the gale of wind that
arose at sunset less severe. The people told us that
such a gale springs up daily, and is one of the chief
annoyances to their life in this dreary solitude. Clouds
were trying to pour over the pass from Zongo, but
they faded away on the col. For a brief moment the
sunset coloring played upon Mount Cacaaca so that
it shone like a spear-tip newly withdrawn from the
furnace, but the ice-slopes grew steel-gray as the pallid
night came swiftly on.

Some hours of the next morning were devoted to
an inspection of the mine, which is tentatively worked
at several different levels by tunnels running into the
mountain. I am informed that, since my visit in 1898,
great developments have been accompUshed, and that
I should hardly recognize the works in their present
condition. The property has passed into the hands
of a wealthy French syndicate. Standing at the foot
of one of the tunnels and gazing abroad over the
valley, it was plain to see how great a glacial exten-
sion there had formerly been in this place. Now the
actual crest of the range can be reached at the col
without touching glaciers at all; only a few snow-
beds have to be crossed. Of course, Cacaaca, and
the peak opposite to it, are draped with beautiful
glaciers, but the ice does not descend to the bottom
of the principal valley. Once it filled that valley
and stretched down towards the Puna, a distance of
several miles. On its retreat it left exposed a series



of lake basins, since filled up, with the exception of
the two highest. The tin lode, averaging about five
yards in thickness, comes to the surface, and can be
traced right up the hiU-side, running approximately
in a northwest-southeast direction, and at a very high
angle of dip. It almost looks as though some mighty
power, wielding a gigantic sword, had cloven the hill
and filled the gap it left with this great lode. There
are also several other parallel lodes. The ore is in
some places very rich indeed, while in other places the
tin contains a large admixture of antimony.

Later on in the day we rode off to cross the main
southwestward buttress ridge of Mount Cacaaca by a
pass 17,100 feet in height. Descending to the bottom
of Milluni Valley, and traversing a wide swamp, we
gained the foot of the opposite slope, and moimted it
by a faintly marked track, which leads over shales
and grits to a desolate rounded region of debris, among
which the pass is situated. The ridge rising thence
towards Mount Cacaaca, soon becomes sharp and bold
in form, breaking into needles of rock and ice aretes
of exceeding narrowness. It leads to a minor summit,
beyond which comes a deep-lying saddle of ice, and
then a long and most difficult ar^te, with a precipice on
either hand rising to the simimit of the peak. By
this route it was plain that no ascent could be made,
nor, I think, will the mountain be climbed from the
east or directly from the Zongo Pass. On all sides
that I saw. Mount Cacaaca presents quite unusual
difficulties to a climber, but I am told that on the other
side of the range there is a slope by which the moun-
tain might be attacked with some chance of success.



When standing on the col, and facing towards the snowy-
peak, there was behind us a radiating group of rounded
hills spreading widely and sloping steadily towards
the Puna. To this mass properly belongs the name
Huaina Potosi, by which Cacaaca is now popularly
known. Silver having been found hereabouts, hope
arose in the minds of the finders that great wealth
would ensue. They therefore named the hill (but not
the snowy peak) after the famous Potosi, calling it
Huaina, which means "younger." As far as silver is
concerned, the hill has not justified its name.

Instead of descending at once to the valley, I wandered
roimd along the crest of the hill outwards to a stone
man, which commanded a very magnificent view alike
over the plain and towards the moimtain. Hence
one could look into the next deep valley that leads to
the southwestern foot of Cacaaca, where a beautiful
glacier, broken into blue ice-falls and backed by splendid
ice -slopes and precipices, empties its waters into an
emerald green tarn. And now we could see, nearer
at hand than I had yet beheld them, the continuation
of the main ridge to the north, where the mountains
are for a certain distance more splintered and needle-
like than at any other part of the Cordillera. The fine
peak, named Condoriri (19,950 feet, according to my
measurement), marks the neighborhood of another im-
portant pass that likewise leads to Zongo. From this
peak several lofty and broken buttress ranges stretch-
ing towards the Puna hid the further view along
the range in the direction of Mount Sorata. Farther
around came the distant Lake Titicaca glittering in the
sunshine, and then the broad plateau, always impres-



sive as a contrast with the rugged peaks. On the very-
crest of the Huaina Potosi Hill was a huge block of
granite, which must have been brought there by ice
from Mount Cacaaca, a great part of whose mass con-
sists of granite. At that time the deep valley which now
lies between the point where the bowlder stands and
the mountain itself must have been entirely filled with
ice, an acctmiulation which would have involved a flow
of many miles in length before it could have melted
away, for the bowlder stands at least 17,500 feet above
the sea, while the intervening valley bottom is less
than 15,000 feet. There are plenty of similar bowlders
to be found on the southwestern slope of Huaina Potosi,
but lower down most of them are water-worn; those
that have maintained themselves on the crest or upper
part of the slope alone retain the sharpness of their
original angles.

The tin-mine is situated on the northern slope of the
hill, while the Ingenio, where the ores are sorted and
some of them reduced, was planted close to the glacier-
lake, which supplied the water-power for the work.
The valley from this point down to the Puna is of very-
gentle slope, so that carts can be drawn right up to the
workings. The lode is the same as that of the Milluni
Mine, continued in this direction, and is from two to ten
metres wide, and very rich in tin. There is almost
an exhaustless quantity of it, so that when the ma-
chinery, which we were informed was on its way, is
installed, no doubt very good results will be yielded.*
The same engineer manages both this and the Milluni

* I hear that this was accomplished in 1900, and that work on a
large scale has begun.



Mine. He rides over the intervening 17,000-foot pass
twice a week or of tener, and thinks nothing of it. He
had been down to La Paz, and now arrived in company
with a Belgian friend, so that we formed a pleasant
party in a far more comfortable house than that we
had occupied the previous night. Its situation at
the foot of the splendid cliffs of Cacaaca, and near the
lake in whose waters that mountain is reflected, is
one of the most wildly beautiful that we saw in Bolivia.

We sat on late after the evening meal, talking of
the mine and its prospects, of the mineral wealth of
this side of the Cordillera all along, of the need for
prospecting, and the comparatively little good work
of that kind that had been done. The mules in the
court-yard, just outside the door, were champing
their fodder with great content; they seemed more
inclined to eat than to sleep. Maquignaz, speaking
from experience, asserted that properly fed mules
never sleep for more than two minutes at a time. In
his own farm at home, he said, the mule-stable was
in close proximity to his bed. Wake at what hour of
the night he might, he never failed to hear his mules
feeding; they might stop for a minute or two, but
that was all; yet when the morning came they were
ready for a long day's work.

"How much food do you give them?" I asked.

"The rule with us," he said, "is to give them all
they can eat. They work at it from the moment they
come into the stable in the evening till the moment
they start again the following morning. So it goes
on day after day and week after week, with only
Sundays off."



Next morning we were taken to see the shed where
the big machinery was to be installed when it came.
At present they had only a thirty horse-power water-
wheel, worked by the overflow of the glacier-lake,
and much of the ore was pounded up by human labor.
In this case the ore, broken small by hammering,
was spread out on a flat stone, and a big rounded
bowlder was rocked about upon it by means of a sta-
ging fastened across the top of the bowlder, on which a
man stood, with legs well apart, throwing his weight
alternately on one foot and the other. This, no doubt,
is the ancient native method of working. The ores are
of various degrees of richness, and the work-people
(mostly women) who break them into small fragments
attain great skill in sorting them into different heaps,
according to their fineness. Ores of low grade are
pounded up, rolled, and washed on the spot, while
the richer ores are packed in bags and conveyed to the
coast for reduction. The engineer said that the Ind-
ians are skilful in all mining operations, and can
easily be taught new processes. From the most an-
cient times mining traditions have been handed down
among them, so that they approach all mining proc-
esses with a ready intelligence. The work-people we
saw engaged came from the neighboring Puna. Some
merely stay for two or three weeks, then return to
their agricultural pursuits ; others remain for months,
and even years, in continual employment, making
good wages.


A BOUT the hour when we were ready to start away,
L\ half a dozen vicunas appeared, grazing high up
on the almost open hill-side opposite to us — a
slope of the strangely regular sugar-loaf outlier of
Cacaaca, whose symmetrical, rounded top forms so re-
markable a contrast with the bladed peak of its great
neighbor. Having no rifle with me, I was unable to
attempt a stalk, but our Belgian fellow-guest went off
in great haste, and began running up the hill. He
soon found that at this elevation such activity could
not long be maintained ; his trot became a walk, and
his walk a slow crawl, before any considerable frac-
tion of the distance had been covered. Without taking
advantage of the inequalities of the ground, he made
straight for the vicunas, whose attention he soon at-
tracted, whereupon they turned and fled. This was
the only group of vicunas I ever saw near the snow-
line in the Cordillera. On the Puna, and especially
the southern part of it, in the direction of Sicasica,
we encountered several close to the high-road. There
they allowed us to approach within a distance of three
or four hundred j^ards, while they hardly took any
notice of a carriage or wagon passing along the road.
Our day's march led straight down the valley along



the left bank of the stream. The direct trail to La
Paz lies right over the Huaina Potosi Hill ; by it we
sent away the muleteer with the baggage. My object
this day was to investigate the group of valleys which
descend from between Cacaaca and Condoriri, con-
verging one upon another, and finally issuing on to
the plain near the back of the Vilahaque Hill. The
existence of these valleys, and of others like them all
along the range, is scarcely suspected by the traveller
who has never been among them. The Cordillera, seen
from the Puna, appears to slope gradually down from
the foot of the snow to the plain by a series of undu-
lating inclines, seamed here and there by valleys of
inconsiderable dimensions, eroded by mountain tor-

It is only on a closer inspection that the mag-
nitude of these eroded valleys and the intricacy
of their upper extensions are discovered. They have
a tendency to throw off, just below the snow-level,
lateral valleys parallel with the main ridge. Such
was the Haukana Valley on Mount Sorata; such
also is this valley at the back of Huaina Potosi.
We were desirous, moreover, of finding out the direction
of another important pass, which crosses the range
south of Condoriri. I even hoped to identify the po-
sition of a considerable lake, marked on a rough pub-
lished map that professes to indicate a possible line
for a road leading from Penas by a pass over the
Cordillera to Challana. I was, however, unable
to see this lake; but there is little doubt that it is
a much smaller sheet of water than the road-plan
made it appear. The road, however, is doubtless



well designed, and should be made at an early date.
No important physical obstacles have to be overcome.
The Challana Valley is by nature very rich, and
would well repay settlement and development, but the
local Indians are troublesome. The road passing
through it would be the easiest and most direct route
from the Bolivian plateau to Puerto Ballivian, at the
junction of the Huanay and Coroico rivers, the Rio
Huanay being the stream that unites the waters of
the Mapiri, Tipuani, and Challana valleys. The
distance by this road from La Paz to Puerto Ballivian
would be three hundred and twenty-two kilometres.
The united river below Puerto Ballivian is named the
Rio Kaka. This, when united to the Rio de La Paz,
becomes the Rio Beni.

Riding along the easy floor of the wide and almost
level valley below the mine, we followed the trail marked
out for the cart-track, and thus presently reached
another important side valley, likewise filled at its
head with one of the glaciers of the Cacaaca massif.
A couple of high lakes below the glacier occupy hol-
lows in the rock, once covered by ice, and form a beau-
tifully picturesque foreground for the mountains be-
hind. We presently approached yet a third side val-
ley, at whose mouth are situated the ruins of a once
important Spanish silver-mining establishment. Its
corrals are still found useful for the caravans of beasts
of burden that come up to the Huaina Potosi Mine.
Formerly the three side valleys — that, namely, in
which the mine is now placed ; the second, which has
lakes in it; and the third, opening on the mine ruins
— discharged themselves directly and independently



down the main slope of the Cordillera to the plain.
But the two former have been beheaded, and their
waters turned into the third by means of this side val-
ley, down which we had come, for it has eaten its way
back across them one after the other. The traces of
their older beds may still be observed on the lower
main slopes.

Thus far Condoriri had been a fine sight, with its
splendid precipices and bold summits. Indeed, seen
close at hand, it fully rivals Cacaaca in beauty, though
not quite equalling it in altitude. The southern face
is in part too precipitous for snow to rest upon, so that
the glaciers below are not now of great dimensions.
Formerly, however, they reached far down towards
the plain. The ice-worn valley, with its glacier-lake,
once the bed of this great ice-river, joins, below the
Indian village of Tuni, that down which we descend-
ed. At present these valleys are sparsely peopled;
once they must have supported a larger population,
for many ruined huts and signs of abandoned culti-
vation lie scattered about. Below Tuni the snow-
moimtains are gradually hidden from view by their
own shoulders, and the deep valley becomes barren
and desolate past description. It winds gently down
between bare slopes, with a stony and sometimes
boggy floor, including a wide stream-bed, which in
the rainy season is filled from side to side by a torrent,
but was now a mere waste of water-worn stones. For
eight or ten miles we rode down this depressing hollow,
with the clouds gathering heavier and heavier over-
head, till rain pattered about us.
I insisted upon continuing the direct descent, being



determined to discover which of the streams, known
to us on the Puna, was the one that derived itself from
this source. In the rainy season it might, no doubt,
be easy enough to identify from the Puna the places
where the various streams, whose beds are crossed by
the highway, issue from the mountains ; but when, as
during the time of my visit, these streams are almost
without exception dried up, it is impossible to trace
their beds far back. Even from commanding positions
like the summit of Penas and Vilahaque hills, it is diffi-
cult to be certain of the course followed by the streams
down the plain. Coming at last to where the valley
opened, the mystery was solved, and the Rio Sehuenca,
whose bed crosses the road just west of Machaca-
marca, proved to be the one derived from this valley.
This river empties into Lake Titicaca near Aigachi.
A remarkable feature now revealed to us was the
great artificial and ancient canal, which here taps
the stream and carries off almost the whole of the
dry season supply of water. This beautifully engi-
neered canal sweeps around the slope of the hill and
irrigates the fields between Vilahaque and Machaca-
marca, an admirable piece of native work.

Satisfied thus as to the main object of the day's
march, we mounted the great brown moorland close
hy, following a track till we lost it among the grass
tussocks of the hill. A snow-storm now burst upon
us, and blotted out all distant view, so that for a time
we wandered rather vaguely, not quite knowing the
direction which should be taken. In the interval
of a brief clearance the plane-table was set up and
the correct bearing of the Alto de Lima observed, so



that thenceforward we were able to steer by compass
in whatever fogs or storms might overtake us. A
wide prospect of apparently featureless slope stretched
ahead, and it seemed as though the route should prac-
tically be level. But appearances were deceptive;
the slope, far from being continuous, was seamed
by an almost countless number of ravines, separated
from one another by round-topped ridges, between
every pair of which was a deep and often, in its lower
part, very steep -sided gully. From gully to ridge
the ascent might be two hundred to three hundred feet.
The moment you reached the top of a ridge you com-
menced the descent into a new gully, the distance
from crest to crest being anything from a quarter of
a mile to nearly a mile. This undulating character
of the country is not visible to a person gazing across
the undiilations in the direction of his way ; he may see
signs of a depression ahead of him, but there appears
to be nothing beyond but an unbroken slope. This

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Online LibraryWilliam Martin ConwayThe Bolivian Andes; a record of climbing & exploration in the Cordillera Real in the years 1898 and 1900 → online text (page 20 of 27)