As I write this we await the arrival in camp of Marco, Kevin and Efrén. The news over the radio is ambiguous. It has been a frustrating day, with the clouds and gusts of snow drifting over the mountains, broken occasionally by brief spells of sunshine. The summit team was stuck in their tent all morning, waiting for weather good enough to allow them to proceed.
I climbed to the ridgeline about halfway to their camp, hoping to photograph them from afar as they climbed, and to get a good view of the mountains and canyons to the west – but to no avail; the mist barely parted.
The team, however, set off late morning and made the summit. However, last radio contact with Kevin bore the news that they were stuck in thick mist, and could neither reach nor see the points where we expect to find traces of the Inca occupation. They only have about 1½ hours of daylight left now, and I fervently hope they are well into their descent. I am not calling them on the radio, because they need both hands and all their concentration for the task in hand…
… at 4.30pm I climbed to a high point above our camp where I could see the ridgeline and the draw where the climbers would have to descend to our valley camp. There was no sign of them, and no response to my radio calls. The weather had cleared up beautifully (or annoyingly, one could say) at the end of the day; too late to help us achieve our goal, but very useful for the climber’s descent. Because it was now clear that they would not make it to camp before dark. However, they have calm, clear skies and a nearly full moon to light their way down. Combined with their headlights it’s enough to take the edge off my anxiety. When I finally heard from Kevin on the radio he sent out an urgent plea from the party for Too Much Food at dinner. I announced that the menu tonight is lomo saltado – the beef, rice, fries, tomatoes and onion dish that every Peruvian restaurant serves and every Peruvian loves. The team cheered. We await what news they bring.
…by 7pm my anxiety has revived. They are not back. No sign of headlights on the mountain. No sound of men descending, no response to my radio calls or my yells. Finally at 8.15 we spot their headlights and they arrive at 8.40. They had changed their plans and retraced their steps to bring down some gear they had planned to recover tomorrow. A late lomo saltado for all.
They had waited for more than an hour in zero visibility, trying to spot the Inca ceremonial platform which we believe is there on the mountain. Then for a few moments the mist lifted and Kevin spotted it. It was there – a built stone rectangle, exactly where we believed it would be found. They could not reach it. The weather was too treacherous and the hour too late. And Kevin’s eyes were better than his camera; back in camp we could barely make out the feature he has spotted. But it is there.
Vilcabamba is always like this. It does not give up its secrets easily. We expend great time and effort to advance the knowledge, seemingly a few inches at a time. But we have advanced it. We now know for sure what we only suspected a week ago. Now we have to prove it to others.