Expedition To The Tunari


By George Allan, (Australasian South American Mission).


Otago Witness

Issue Date

21 February 1906


William Cutten






(See illustrations elsewhere in this issue.)

In the beginning of August I was asked by a group of young men of this city to accompany them on an expedition to the summit of the great Tunari mountain range that overhangs the western limit of the plain of Cochabamba. Delighted with such an opportunity of getting better acquainted with some of the young men who are the support of the present Liberal Government, and the hope of the Republic, I readily accepted the invitation.

All arrangements were carefully made for a six days' campling out, and on August 3 we met in the house of one of the party, intending to set out at noon. Here a hitch occurred. Four of the party had State rifles — Mausers and Remingtons, — and through a woman servant of one of them, they were betrayed to the police, who swept down on the house and seized the weapons. Rumours of a revolution spread like wildfire, and the street was soon full of people. After much coming and going between the house and the central police station (from which, through the kindness of the police officer, I was exempt) the matter was arranged, and we go a start — but at 10 p.m., and minus four rifles.

We travelled along the plain of Cochabamba towards the south-west, passing through Quillacollo, and camped at 3 a.m. of the 4th August in Anocaraire, a small village inn at the very foot of the valley up which we were to ascend.

Here it might be well to mention the names of the expeditioners. Manuel Paz Lazarte is the sub-manager of a paper called “La Republic”; Jose Macedonio Urquidi, a poet and author, and on the staff of the same paper; Gustavo Guzman is a school teacher and student of law; Aurelio Balderrama, a student of law in his last year; Augusto Lemoine, soldier, “arriero,” gentleman, etc.; Luciano, the muleteer; and the writer. These formed the party that set out on the night of the 3rd of August. Julio Angulo Alba and his lad stayed until the 4th to try to get the loan of some rifles from the chief of police, which, owing to the intercession of Julio's uncle, Canon Alba, they were able to do, securing a Mauser and a Remington of those that had been confiscated. They joined us on the night of the 4th, well up the valley called “La Llave,” where we had camped in an Indian hut.

On the 5th we proceeded further up the Llave valley, and at the head of it turned abruptly to the right into a nice tussocky valley called Palcapampa, that runs in behind the main peak of the Tunari, placing that peak between us and Cochabamba. Here we fixed our camp beside a lagoon, and at the very foot of the highest peak.

On the morning of the 6th of August — anniversary of the independence of Bolivia, — we commenced the ascent proper. All agreed that a gulch a little to the left of our camp looked the most likely to afford us a safe path by which to reach the summit. But Lemoine, ever on the look-out for adventure, chose a deep and very steep cut that went right up into the precipitous front of the great mass, and commenced to climb up it. Balderrama, Alba, Guzman, and the writer met at the top of that cut — now familiarly known as Lemoine's — at 2.30 p.m., having been five hours and a-half in reaching that point. Lemoine still had half an hour's climb, and from where we were it looked as if he would hardly manage it, We got into the mouth of the cut where he could see us and encouraged him on, until we had the satisfaction of seeing him safe out of a dangerous situation. Another half hour's climb brought us on to the very topmost peak of the great Tunari.

The summit is a rounded off point covered with loose stones. On the north side (the one we came up, the last half hour's climb) the slope is pretty steep and covered with large loose stones. To the east is another peak almost as high. To the west the steep precipice with the two openings in it, up which we climbed from 9 a.m. until 2.30 p.m. To the south is a much deeper abyss than that on the west, and from the very summit it goes sheer down for a distance of several thousand feet. Black cattle grazing in the valley below, on this south side, looked like hens.

The view from the summit is immense. Looking towards the north we followed the succession of fine sharp peaks that rise out of the great massive body of what is known as the cordillera of the Tunari. Among these the most prominent is one known as Abuela Jihuata, which has a greater altitude than the Tunari itself, has more snow, and in the distance (it is eight leagues away) looks very handsome indeed. To the west is the valley of Palcapampa, with another range of peaks running up the far or western side of it, parallel with the Tunari. Away off to the north-west is very clearly seen the mightly cordillera of the Andes — Illimani, Sorata, and Huaina Potosi being clearly distinguishable. A little nearer and more towards the west the Tres Cruces, a fine mountain with three peaks, rising above the perpetual snow-line, stood out grandly. Toward the south low mountain ranges stretch away as far as the eye can see, while to east lie the fertile valleys of Cochabamba, Sacaba, Tarata, Cliza, etc.; and beyond them a long stretch of more or less mountainous country, hiding from our view the great selvas.

By 7.30 p.m. were were all in camp again, save Lazarte and Urquidi, who had more difficulty than the rest in negotiating the last little pinch of the gulch, and who would not descend by it again. They remained on the mountain during the night, with little to eat, and not even a “poncho” to shelter them from the intense cold.

Early next morning we heard very faintly their whistle, and looking up saw their figures like pipe stems against the sky-line. We struck camp as quickly as possible, and travelling northwards about a league, turned up into a pass that led eastwards across the main range to the Valley of Cochabamba. By so doing we were able on the afternoon of the 7th to join our comrades, who were about famished with cold and hunger, in the head of the Liriuni Valley. Here were two large and very deep lagoons of most beautiful water. Here we camped for other two days, ascended the second peak — the ascent from this side being very easy — left tokens of our visit, and also took some game. Alba secured the much-coveted vicuna and a fox, besides some vizcachas or rabbits. Balderrame brought down two condors, and while Lemoine brought one of them into camp on his back, six huge fellows bore down on him, and came so close to him in their efforts to rescue their comrade that he struck one of them on the breast with a large stone, and shouted to me to come to his aid. One of these birds lived and was presented to the police, and no doubt helped those who had been caught with State rifles to escape the fine of 80 dollars to 100 dollars they had incurred, but which they were not called upon to pay. A few waterfowl called “chullumpas,” a wild goose, and some pigeons made up the bag of game.

On the morning of the 9th we thought of starting home, but woke up to find that our mules (two) were missing. The boys went down to the nearest Indian's hut, and pressed the owner of it into the service to find the mules. They were fully persuaded that he was the thief who had carried them off, so had no scruple about using threats to spur him on in the search. He was going straight for the place — a very deep ravine — where he, doubtless, had conveyed them during the night, when Alba's boy found them.

By 3.30 p.m. were were all back in camp and taking some food prior to starting out for home. I resolved to try and get home that night. Urquidi and Guzman made up their minds to accompany me. About 5 p.m. we got a start, and exactly at midnight — the clock in the Cathedral tower was striking the hour — I was knocking at the door of my house in Cochabamba. The distance is estimated at seven leagues, and the time occupied in travelling it, on foot, was seven hours. To this day my two comrades cannot get anyone in Cochabamba to believe that they, who are somewhat famed as lovers of ease, performed a feat considered generally as far beyond their powers; and the fact that the other expeditions with the mules did not get into the city until the 11th, early in the morning, makes the people more incredulous.

The height of Tunari, above sea level, is given by the Geographical Society of La Paz at 15,608 English feet. Lazarte professed to measure it, and put the height down at 16,960 feet. As the snowline on the western range of the Andes is put down at 18,500 feet, and our Tunari has patches of snow on it all the year round, I should think that the altitude as given by the Geographical Society of La Paz must be too low.

Strange to say, though the ascent of the Tunari is mere child's play, there are very few young men here have been on the summit. Indeed, I believe that apart from a German scientific expedition that made the ascent a few years ago, it has not been known by the present generation to have been made by any others until we did it.

The view from the summit well repays the climb, and game abounds in the valleys on the mountain side.

The relation of this great mountain range to the agricultural interests in the valleys before-mentioned is becoming more and more important every year. Its lagoons have supplied all the available water for irrigation purposes up to a year ago. Now it is known that its abundant supply of waters run underneath the valleys to the east of it, and that almost anywhere in the valley of Cochabamba artesian water may be obtained at a depth of from 35 to 50 metres. The last five years have been specially dry ones, probably owing to these plains having been denuded of their trees, so the attention of engineers have been turned to the Tunari, and artesian wells are being opened in many places on this plain.

The result of the expedition from a missionary's point of view has been good so far as it goes. I now count these young fellows among those who meet me with the utmost cordiality, and that in a city where there are very many, even among so-called intelligent young men, who have nothing but scowls for one whom they do not know, and suppose to be their enemy.




Date Known

6 August 1905

George Allan, Manuel Paz Lazarte, Jose Macedonio Urquidi, Gustavo Guzman, Aurelio Balderrama, Augusto Lemoine, Julio Angulo Alba and his lad reach the summit of Tunari, Bolivia. Sources: 1