Expedition 2013: The Story Day by Day

I’m going a few days back from the last blog post, and adding more detail, because  I simply couldn’t do this in real time with our field data transmission limitations.

June 22nd
Another grungy day with the weather.  It starts off nice enough, but soon gives way to clouds and light snow. We wait a long time for
Tiburcio to arrive with mules for our move to the Yanama river valley.  When he comes we learn we were very shorthanded – we have only three wranglers total. This is a very small crew to handle 12 pack and two saddle animals, not to mention with all the other things we need them to do.

At this point I still believe there are more men waiting for us in the valley below, preparing the new bridge and the trail. I will soon realize am having slight communication problems with Tiburcio.

Nevertheless, Mr. T is The Man here, no doubt about that.  We’ve worked together in Vilcabamba for a long time, and many of the things we’ve uncovered have been due to his knowledge of the terrain and his skill and enthusiasm at finding new (old) things under the forest.  And I really like him, he has a gentle and affectionate approach to our mutual work together that makes it hard to stay mad at him for long, no matter what misunderstandings we have.

(I later learn he has been having certain family problems that make it easy to understand why he is distracted.)

Due the poor visibility both Kevin/Bryce (who went ahead) and myself/Enrique, who came behind, lose our way on the descent to Yanama. Finding themselves further west than anticipated, K & B decide to take a different route and rejoin us further ahead – almost a fateful decision, it would turn out.

In Yanama we purchase a few items, marshal the mules and try to make up for lost time as proceed to Minas Victoria pass. This is a gentle trail at first, which grows more and more precipitous with cliffs above us and a dropoff below us as we climb. Partway up we learn that K & B are lost in the fog somewhere above us. We stay in radio contact and I try to direct them to the best route. At one point we can see them on the clifftop and K is yelling something unintelligible, but now for some reason his radio cannot transmit, only receive.

Soon we come to a place where rather shocking geological events are taking place before our eyes. The cliffs above us up ahead are intermittently unleashing hundreds of tons of earth and rocks. An ongoing landslide is in progress. Luckily the area of land below it is broad enough that we can skirt the area where all this mass of rubble is falling, but we are close enough that T. urges us to move forward quickly, in case a really big chunk of cliff comes down and erases the margin of safety. The noise of the landslide is deafening, while the spectacle is both terrifying and fascinating. I can’t take my eyes off it as my mule plods steadily up the mountain. I have radioed up to warn K & B to stay well back from the cliff’s edge, which is rapidly collapsing eastwards.

The drama ends at Minas Victoria pass, when we finally manage to meet up with K & B, and we all descend the last few hundred feet to a cramped and sloping campsite, which is the best accommodation available around here.  The weather is still cold and misty, but we at least have a place to sleep.

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