British climber discovers high altitude Inca ruins

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 21/10/2013
Alto Toroni. The peak was climbed from the left. John Biggar
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British mountaineer and Andes specialist, John Biggar, has recently made an interesting ascent of a remote, isolated peak on the Chile-Bolivia border.

Biggar's curiosity had been aroused by the fact that Alto Toroni (aka Cerro Sillajguay or occasionally Candelaria) was a 'borderline' 6,000m peak, which apparently had no conclusive recorded ascent.

The Bolivia IGM quotes a height of 5,995m, while the equivalent Chilean map gives 5,982m.

In common with most of the volcanic mountains in the southern Cordillera Occidental, Alto Toroni has a high snowline, and the ascent is long but straightforward, largely over scree and boulders.

Biggar approached from Chaviri on the west side of the mountain, camped at 4,800m, and the next day climbed a western subsidiary ridge to the summit.

Here, he was surprised to find the remains of a large platform construction, with firewood and pieces of animal bone. On top the platform was a cairn, which appeared to be of rather more recent origin.

Handheld GPS readings on the summit gave 5,998m, 6,002m, and 6,004m, suggesting that the Bolivian IGM height is probably correct: the slightly lower Chilean height could well be that of the (rather shallow) crater bottom.

On return Biggar researched online and in print but found no record of an Inca construction on this summit, so he contacted National Geographic explorer and renowned authority on Andean high altitude archaeology, Johan Reinhard.

American Reinhard has made over 200 Andean ascents and discovered more than 50 high altitude Inca sites. The highest in the world is to be found just below the summit of 6,739m Llullaillaco (seventh highest peak in the Andes) in the Puna de Atacama.

Reinhard was also unaware of Inca ruins on Alto Toroni.

Studying Biggar's photos Reinhard commented that "the site does look to be an important one, and it appears there has not been any looting. You are probably right about the cairn being of recent construction".

While there is a described ascent route of Alto Toroni, with photographs, on the AndesHandbook website, there is no summit picture, no mention of Inca ruins, and the final photo, taken below the top, shows bad weather approaching.

Biggar is pleased to have made what may well prove to be a significant discovery, but notes that the ascent would have been even more exciting if he'd stumbled across a big pot of Inca gold.



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