The First Documented Traverse of the Cordillera Blanca Ice Cap

At The Huaraz Telegraph we are more than delighted to announce that archaeologist Steven Wegner has finally found time to share a beautiful story with our readers. It’s about Charles Reginald Enock and the first documented traverse of the Cordillera Blanca ice cap.

Mr. Wegner was born in the United States and studied archaeology at the University of Wisconsin in the city of Madison. Afterwards he moved to Berkeley to continue his studies at the University of California. A citizen of Huaraz, he arrived back in 1977, and over the past 37 years has made important contributions to many archaeological explorations and research programs in the Ancash region.

The story he would like to share will be divided in two parts, the second part will be published in our July edition. Charles Reginald Enock (1869–1970) was an English civil engineer. He came to Peru in 1908 to investigate some mining interests and to do some traveling and exploring. Enock was born in Edgbaston, Birmingham, England, on Monday, November 23, 1868, and was baptized in Birmingham on Monday June 21, 1869. His father was Arthur Henry Enock (1839–1917) and his mother was Lavinia Georgina Enock (nee Hollis) (1841–1899). He was the third child in a large family of six boys and three girls. Charles was definitely an avid explorer. It was during a visit to Mexico that he met Concha Lavin (1885–1984), a young girl living in abject conditions. It is said that he took pity on her and rescued her. They got married on Friday, June 23, 1899 in Santil, Mexico, and later remarried on Sunday, July 14, 1901, in Newton Abbot, Devon, England. Within a few years, they had two daughters: Enid Guadalupe Enock (1902–1989) and Consuelo Lavinia Enock (1907–2004). Subsequently, all four lived very long lives.

Charles wrote a number of books about his travels, many of which were published between 1908 and 1922 including:
1908 – The Andes and the Amazon: life and travel in Peru.
1909 – Mexico: its ancient and modern civilisation, history and political conditions, topography and natural resources, industries and general development.
1910 – Farthest West, life and travel in the United States.
1910 – Pioneering & Map Making for Boy Scouts.
1912 – Peru: its former and present civilisation, history and existing conditions, topography and natural resources, commerce and general development.
1912 – The secret of the Pacific; a discussion of the origin of the early civilisations of America, the Toltecs, Aztecs, Mayas, Incas, and their predecessors; and of the possibilities of Asiatic influence thereon.
1913 – The great Pacific coast, twelve thousand miles in the golden West, being an account of life and travel in the western states of North and South America, from California, British Columbia, and Alaska: to Mexico, Panama, Peru and Chile; and a study of their physical and political conditions.
1914 – Ecuador; its ancient and modern history, topography and natural resources, industries and social development.
1914 – The Panama Canal: its past, present, and future.
1920 – Spanish America: its romance, reality and future.
1921 – America and England: a study of the United States; its relations with Britain: its part in the Great War; and its future influence.
1922 – The republics of Central and South America, their resources, industries, sociology and future.

While in Huaraz, he explored the Quillcayhuanca Valley and made the first documented traverse of the Cordillera Blanca ice cap in October of 1903. Much more can be said, but I will leave the reader to ponder the several themes of exploration, climate change (extensive snow and ice coverage then; now just rock), giving due credit to the first person to achieve the crossing (a humble, nameless cholo), the practicality of making a “mule road” over snow and ice at 5000 m, and the equipment Enock used for mountain climbing (only a rope, blue-tinted glasses and little else; three local men had no footwear at all). Interestingly, this civil engineer made no mention of seeing evidence of an ancient road in the Cayesh Valley, though some people believe there is one. Let’s read Enock’s account in his own words.

Ascents of Snow-capped Summits and Peaks

“During my stay in Huaraz, I was asked by the authorities of the place to explore a pass upon the Cordillera Blanca, or Eastern range of the Andes, which, as elsewhere described, bounds the valley of Huaylas on the east.

“The object of this exploration was to determine the practicability of making a mule road from Huaraz to the towns on the other side of the Cordillera, eastward, such as Huantar and Huari, as to open up a nearer route to the tropical Montaña, for this proposed road would shorten the distance to the latter place by several days’ journey from Huaraz, and its construction was of decided importance to those communities.

“No white man had ever crossed this portachuelo, as the snowy passes of the Peruvian Andes are termed, notwithstanding that various persons had set out from Huaraz or Huari at different times to undertake it; and indeed it had only been traversed by two or three Cholo Indians, who, under the stimulus of reward, had ventured across the icecap which covered it. The authorities were now desirous of taking advantage of the fact of an English engineer being among them, as they informed me, in order to have the pass examined, and I accepted the commission; not so much in a professional sense, but in a spirit of exploration and a desire to do something which might benefit the community, whose hospitality I had enjoyed a good deal. However, the municipality afterwards insisted on presenting a fee.

“Accompanied by four young Peruvians of Huaraz, an Indian guide, and eight Cholos, who carried the baggage and instruments, I set out on 3rd October (1903), and we ascended the canyon of Quillcay-huanca, down which flows the small river Quillcay, and formed camp at the foot of the glacier which gives birth to that river. The elevation of this point is 13,300 feet, the western edge of the perpetual snow-line.

“Sleep was continually disturbed by the thundering of the avalanches, and towards morning a heavy rainfall began, succeeded later by snow. The temperature, however, was quite mild, and at nine o’clock the party having ascended the rocky wall on the right-hand side of the canyon, previously crossing the lateral moraines and débris deposited by the glacier, entered upon the snow-cap.

“Here all secured themselves to the rope which had been brought for the purpose, for numerous crevasses in the ice-cap were encountered, in many cases invisible from the light covering of freshly-fallen snow which concealed them. The ascent was gradual, rising gently towards the summit; but before this was gained the snow was falling thickly, and in a few minutes entirely obscured the view. In the face of this the party was brought to a standstill, for, in the obscurity, a false step might have precipitated one or all into a crevasse.

“After the lapse of an hour, the storm showing little signs of abating, and the Cholos complaining that their feet were freezing – for they wore neither boots nor sandals, but marched with bare feet – it was decided to make a move, cautiously. But the guide, and Indian who had only once made the passage, and in fairer weather, had now become confused, and, after vacillating for some minutes, desired to set out in a direction which was very nearly that by which the party had arrived, or the reverse of which it was necessary to follow, trying to influence the Cholos to follow this course.

“But I had previously taken an approximate bearing, and in view of this was obliged to take a firm stand and to threaten with dire penalties any further insistence: and ostentatiously display the Colt’s revolver which I carried; for the route the guide desired to take led to a sheer descent of some hundreds of metres. At this moment the sky cleared slightly, and a landmark – a high peak – was recognized, when the course was followed in the direction indicated by my compass. The track behind was spotted with blood, which came from the bare feet of the Indians – who, however, accustomed to hardships, scarcely complained, but staggered on under their burdens, sustaining their energies with the coca leaves which they carry with them, and continually masticate.

“In a short space the summit was reached, and a view obtained of the eastern slope of the Cordillera. Here I fired three shots: the signal agreed upon with the party who should have ascended from that side to meet us.

“All waited, and scanned the white landscape eagerly, but in vain; there was no answering shot or shout. I was not altogether unprepared for this, for a good many years’ experience in Spanish America shows that one of the qualities of the Spanish American is “failure to make connections,” and to depend upon the efforts of the natives is often to lean upon a broken reed. This, of course, apart from the many good and useful qualities which they possess.” [1908, The Andes and the Amazon: life and travel in Peru, pp. 171–173. London, T. Fisher Unwin.]

In front of us stretched downward long slopes and sheer descents, the former crossed by yawning crevasses of unknown depth, among which there appeared to be no passage. Beneath our feet the snow, heavily fallen during the night upon that side of the mountains, lay d such a depth that at every step we were buried to the waist; and fear, amounting almost to panic, lest a crevasse filled with the soft material should swallow them up, possessed itself of some members of the party. Above our heads the sun, which for a few brief moments had appeared, again became obscured by the falling snow, which threatened to again blot out the landscape and leave us halting upon that debatable ground. The guide, moreover, had lost confidence in himself, and feared to take a single step in advance.

Vamos a regresar” (“Let us go back”), was the cry of my companions; and even the stolid Cholos echoed the suggestion among themselves – not in Spanish, but in their native Quechua. To this, however, I opposed a firm negative. It was not that professional pride was aroused, or that the character of intrepidity of the whole British nation, as represented by my unworthy self, was at stake; nor that bets had been freely placed by friends in Huaraz that the inglés would accomplish the passage; but simply a desire to fulfill what had been begun, believing it perfectly feasible with calmness and caution.

“Moreover, I thought I discovered a possible path among the crevasses, and across a natural bridge of ice and snow which spanned an abyss. So, seeing that the guide would not advance, and that further hesitation would lead, perhaps, to mutiny, I proposed that my companions should hold firm to one end of the rope, whilst I alone, tied to the other end, should explore the way in advance, in short stretches.

“To this, however, they demurred, fearing for my safety; and at last, impatient of the delay, and seeing that every minute added to the obscurity due to the thickly-fallen snow, I took the guide’s place, and, animating the others, we slowly commenced the descent, sinking waist-deep at every step in the snow.

“After advancing some short distance, the guide, beginning to recognize the ground, again took the lead, and, fastened to a rope with one of my companions, explored the way in advance. Slow, laborious, and exceedingly fatiguing was the descent. The utmost caution was necessary in order to avoid the crevasses, which in many cases were covered with a light cap of snow, incapable of sustaining the weight of a man. In spite of all our caution some narrow escapes were experienced, for one of the young Peruvians fell suddenly into a crevasse. Fortunately, the rope in a measure sustained him, as well as the support he was able to obtain with his elbows in the walls of the opening, for although deep, the crevasses were generally of small width; and he was promptly released from the dangerous situation.
“Shortly afterwards, in descending a slope, I felt that the ground beneath my feet was fiving way. It was another crevasse, the “bridge” over which had broken through. I obtained a momentary glimpse of blue walls below, which extended downwards until lost in obscurity;; but with the quickness of thought I threw myself backwards at full length upon the snow, and slowly retreated, making signs to those who followed me to do likewise. The remnants of the “bridge” slowly slid into the abyss, and we sought another way whereby to avoid the spot.

“So fatiguing was the advance, due to the depth of soft snow, that it was necessary to pause at every few steps, and it seemed as if night would overtake us in that perilous spot. It was then that I remembered my experiences in “tobogganing,” both in England and in Canada; and, taking the large, stiff underpart of leather, which Peruvian saddles have, from the Cholo who carried it, I rolled up the front edge to form a sort of sledge, and, sitting on it, tobogganed down the slope with comparative ease. The Cholos and my companions followed suit with any other articles, including their blankets, which lent themselves to the purpose, and in that manner we descended for some distance.

“The afternoon sun again appeared, and calling a halt, I had some photographs taken – for we carried two cameras – both of the people and of the snow-covered slopes. It was just before this that the blue spectacles I wore – for these are necessary to avoid snow-blindness – had become broken, and had to be discarded; and, although I felt no inconvenience during the journey from the reflection from the snow, nevertheless on the following day I was almost blind from the consequent swelling and inflammation of the eyes. As for the guide, who had neglected to provide himself with spectacles – he was almost totally blind for several days afterwards.

“Wet, cold, and hungry, our privations were further added to by the carelessness of one of the Cholos, who carried the basket of provisions and the bundle of cooking utensils; for, on descending a slope, I was horrified at seeing these articles roll past me! The Cholo behind had loosened his hold of them, and away they went. I made a wild grab at the tea-kettle as it passed, but missed it, and, together with the provisions, it disappeared into a crevasse.

“Fortunately, none of the party suffered from the dreaded soroche, or mountain fever, which generally attacks persons accustomed to lower altitudes. This, as is well known, takes the form of violent headaches accompanied by vomiting; and I, having experienced a severe attack in the Andes at less altitude, had taken some precautions against it, and which proved efficacious. Included in these was the eating, from time to time, some of the raw, brown sugar which the Cholos carried in cakes, and pressed upon me.

“After some six or more hours of floundering, tobogganing, and struggling, the party reached the eastern edge of the perpetual snow-line, and regained again the solid rock. From this point the descent was easier, and at 7 P.M. we arrived in the valley below, and which, with the river which flows down it, bears the name of Pamparajo [the valley is currently known by the name of Carhuascancha].

“Here the night was passed in one of a series of caves which exist there, and such refreshment was partaken of as could be procured. I found the infusion of the leaves of the coca, taken as tea, agreeable and sustaining; and a native remedy, consisting of a starchy, tuberous root, applied to the eyes, speedily cured the effects of snow-blindness”. [1908, The Andes and the Amazon: life and travel in Peru, pp. 173–176. London, T.F. Unwin.]

Charles Reginald Enock died in Midhurst, Sussex, England in 1970, aged 101 years. The exact date has not been found. What happened in the last 50 years of his life? There is practically no information that can be found on the internet. His wife, Concha Lavin, died in 1984 at 99 years of age. His two daughters died relatively recently: Enid Guadalupe Enock (1902–1989) at 87 years of age, and Consuelo Lavinia Enock (1907–2004) at 97 years of age. Perhaps others can unravel the mystery of Enock’s later life.


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