“AUGUST 16th 1834.—The mayor-domo of the Hacienda was good enough to give me a guide and fresh horses; and in the morning we set out to ascend the Campana, or Bell mountain, which is 6400 feet high. The paths were very bad, but both the geology and scenery amply repaid the trouble. We reached, by the evening, a spring called the Agua del Guanaco, which is situated at a great height. This must be an old name, for it is very many years since a guanaco has drunk its waters. During the ascent I noticed that nothing grew on the northern slope but bushes, whilst on the southern there was a sort of bamboo, about fifteen feet high. In a few places there were palms, and I was surprised to see one at an elevation of at least 4500 feet. These palms are, for their family, ugly trees. Their stem is very large, and of a curious form, being thicker in the middle than at the base or top. They are excessively numerous in some parts of Chile, and valuable on account of a sort of treacle made from the sap. On one estate near Petorca, they tried to count them, but failed, after having numbered several hundred thousand. Every year in August (early spring time) very many are cut down, and when the trunk is lying on the ground, the crown of leaves is lopped off. The sap then immediately begins to flow from the upper end, and continues so doing for some months: it is, however, necessary that a thin slice should be shaved off from that end every morning, so as to expose a fresh surface. A good tree will give ninety gallons, and all this must have been contained in the vessels of the apparently dry trunk. It is said that the sap flows much more quickly on those days when the sun is powerful; and likewise, that it is absolutely necessary to take care, in cutting down the tree, that it should fall with its head upwards on the side of the hill; for if it falls down the slope, scarcely any sap will flow; although in that case, one would have thought that the action would have been aided, instead of checked, by the force of gravity. The sap is concentrated by boiling, and is then called treacle, which it very much resembles in taste.
We unsaddled our horses near the spring, and prepared to pass the night. The evening was fine, and the atmosphere so clear, that the masts of the vessels at anchor in the bay of Valparaiso, although no less than twenty-six geographical miles distant, could be distinguished clearly, as little black streaks. A ship doubling the point under sail appeared as a bright white speck. Anson expresses much surprise, in his voyage, at the distance his vessels were discovered from the coast; but he did not sufficiently allow for the height of the land, and the great transparency of the air.
The setting of the sun was glorious; the valleys being black, whilst the snowy peaks of the Andes yet retained a ruby tint. When it was dark, we made a fire beneath a little arbour of bamboos, fried our charqui (or dried strips of beef), took our maté, and were quite comfortable. There is an inexpressible charm in thus living in the open air. The evening was calm and still;—the shrill noise of the mountain vizcacha, and the faint cry of the goatsucker, were only occasionally to be heard. Besides these, few birds, or even insects, frequent these dry, parched mountains.
AUGUST 17th 1834.—In the morning we climbed up the rough mass of greenstone which crowns the summit. This rock, as frequently happens, was much shattered and broken into huge angular fragments. I observed, however, one remarkable circumstance, namely, that many of the surfaces presented every degree of freshness—some appearing as if broken the day before, whilst on others lichens had either just become, or had long grown, attached. I so fully believed that this was owing to the frequent earthquakes, that I felt inclined to hurry from beneath every pile of the loose masses.
As this is an observation in which one would be very apt to be deceived, I doubted its accuracy, until ascending Mount Wellington, near Hobart Town. The summit of that mountain is similarly composed, and similarly shattered; but all the blocks appeared as if they had been hurled into their present position thousands of years ago.
We spent the day on the summit, and I never enjoyed one more thoroughly. Chile, bounded by the Andes and the Pacific, was seen as in a map. The pleasure from the scenery, in itself beautiful, was heightened by the many reflections which arose from the mere view of the grand range, with its lesser parallel ones, and of the broad valley of Quillota directly intersecting the latter. Who can avoid admiring the wonderful force which has up heaved these mountains, and even more so the countless ages which it must have required, to have broken through, removed, and levelled whole masses of them? It is well in this case to call to mind the vast shingle and sedimentary beds of Patagonia, which, if heaped on the Cordillera, would increase by so many thousand feet its height. When in that country, I wondered how any mountain-chain could have supplied such masses, and not have been utterly obliterated. We must not now reverse the wonder, and doubt whether all-powerful time can grind down mountains—even the gigantic Cordillera—into gravel and mud.
The appearance of the Andes was different from that which I had expected. The lower line of the snow was of course horizontal, and to this line the even summits of the range seemed quite parallel. Only at long intervals a mass of points, or a single cone, showed where a volcano had existed, or does now exist. Hence the range resembled a great solid wall, surmounted here and there by a tower, and thus made a most complete barrier to the country.
Almost every part of the hill has been drilled by attempts to open gold-mines. I was surprised to see, on the actual summit, which could only be reached by climbing, a small pit, where some yellowish crystals of hypersthene had induced somebody to throw away his labour. The rage for mining has left scarcely a spot in Chile unexamined.”