National Geographic : 1964 Aug
the shelf above, the valley was semibog; nothing short of a major engineering feat could drain it. The first cargo drop included a walkie talkie, and on August 9, in a message relayed from Luisiana to our expedition agent in Lima, we requested a helicopter. On the same day Peter Lake and Jack Joerns parachuted in to join us. The first ex ploring team was now united in the Vilca bamba. Its initial job was to carry 500 pounds of gear to 13,000-foot-high Lake Parodi, nes tled in a basin, where we planned to rendez vous with the helicopter. Starting higher than 10,000 feet, we chopped through dense cloud forests with machetes, struggling hip-high in the "deep snow" of grass and moss (page 269), and fought insects, rain, and cold, always climb ing with packs that weighed up to 90 pounds. For three days the radio brought encourag ing news about our helicopter, and Dick man aged to drop us some mail. And then the bad news came. The Peruvian Air Force could not let us have a helicopter. Thus it appeared that there was no possibil ity of landings in the Vilcabamba for our two biologists, Dr. Hans W. Koepcke of the Uni versity of San Marcos in Lima and Dr. Carl B. Koford of the National Institutes of Health near Washington, D. C. Stygian Gorge Defies Penetration Eventually we learned that Koepcke and Nicholas Asheshov, a young English jungle expert and newspaper correspondent, were attempting to reach our drop zone on foot via the Pichari River-a climb of some 8,000 feet. With two guides, one of them a Campa Indi an, they had already been under way for three days. The Pichari! Our hearts went out to them. We, who had just returned from three ago nizing days in the upper Pichari gorge, had cut our way down into it through a bamboo forest, vainly searching its northern wall for a valley that we knew led up to Lake Parodi. Harrowed by rushing icy waters, constant rain, and the gorge's Stygian darkness, we had been forced to retreat. Later we referred to it as the Valley of the Shadow of Death, for in the Pichari gorge we were constantly aware of the consequences of an injury. A man with a broken leg could never have been brought out. On we climbed, often in the clouds. Daily the air grew thinner. We lost weight from ex posure and exertion. Only at night, when hud 288 died in our sleeping bags and dry woolens, could we ever escape the permanent wetting cold. As we approached the basin containing Lake Parodi, our camps became perches. We joked at night about falling out of bed with out a parachute. Jack always wore his shoulder holster and a .38 automatic, even to bed. One black night he woke us up with an urgent whisper. "I smell an animal. It's very close." The animal turned out to be Peter Lake's sneak ers-very close to Jack's nose. At these altitudes we were astonished to see hummingbirds; one of them was large-six inches from beak to tail. Now and then we came upon areas where a bear had pawed up the ground in search of hibernating liz ards, roots, and perhaps small rodents. Thirteen days after leaving our drop zone, we reached Lake Parodi. There Dick Tomkins and the second pilot, Frank Hay, dropped us food and tents-a welcome luxury. From the pilots we learned that Asheshov and Koepcke had failed to reach the drop zone on their first attempt. Now a new effortby Asheshov, accompanied only by two guides, was under way. It suc ceeded; he reached our drop zone in the second week of September. Next Asheshov made a forced march to Lake Parodi - following trails we had cut a month before-explored to the east, then returned to the drop zone with the intention of descending the Mantalo River to the Urubamba. Fate, however, was prepar ing a checkmate. The rainy season had come. Mounting cloud cover now made it im possible for our planes to find Asheshov and his two freez ing companions. They had already discovered that they could not live off the country. Their radio had gone bad; it was doubtful that, once they started down the Mantalo gorges, Dick and Frank could ever find them again. Indeed, at this time, Dick had no idea where Asheshov was.