Posted by: Rob Viens | June 10, 2013

Ascending the “Hill of Souls”

By May 19, Darwin had moved south of Minas and was approaching the Rio de la Plata. From here, the trip back to Maldonado would be a simple matter of following the coastline to the east.  But today, Darwin was engaged in one of his favorite pastimes – climbing to the highest point he could find and taking in the view:

“I got up early to ascend the Sierra de las Animas. — This & Pan de Azucar are well known land-marks in navigating the Plata; I should guess their height to be about 8 or 900 feet. — The scenery, by the aid of the rising sun almost looked pretty. — From the top there was a very extensive view. — to the West over a very flat country to the Mount at M. Video, & to the East over the mamillated plains of Maldonado.” (May 19)

Cerro de las Animas (posted by ismael machado to Panoramo)

The Sierra de las Animas is a range of hills that run north from the coast towards Minas.  At the southern tip of the range, with a height of 501 m (1644 ft) is Uruguay’s second highest peak – the Cerro de las Animas (the “Hill of the Souls”). (The country’s highest peak – Cathedral Hill (Cerro Catedral) – is about 50 feet higher – a mere 513 m (1685 ft).) To the southeast of Cerro de las Animas is the smaller isolated hill that Darwin also mentions called Cerro de la Pan de Azucar (Sugar Loaf Hill).

For a general sense of what Darwin experienced on his climb, take a look at this short YouTube video taken by a modern-day hiker who climbed these two peaks. I believe this footage is from Pan de Azucar, but I’m not positive:

I always love how Darwin is able to take exotic locations and relate them to home. In a sense he does this with the species he meets, too – naming them based on familiar species of Europe.  In this case he compares the cairns on the mountains of Uruguay to those found throughout the mountainous regions of Wales.  (Recall that right before leaving for South American Darwin had just completed a geology tour in Wales.)

“On the summit there were several small heaps of stones; which evidently had been there for many years. — my companion, an inhabitant of the place, declared it was work of the Indians in the old times. — They were like, although on a smaller scale, the heaps so common in the Welsh Mountains: How universal is the desire of Man to show he has ascended the highest points in every country.” (May 19)

You can’t help but appreciate that last line about the universal “desire of Man” to climb all the peaks.  Come on Charlie, let’s face it , you loved to “bag peaks”.  Almost everywhere he went, Darwin found himself trying to ascend to the highest point – from Brazil to Tierra del Fuego (for a few examples see Ascending Corcovado, Ascending the “Mount” and “I Can See for Miles”). So maybe this line should read, “How universal is the desire of Charles Darwin to show he has ascended the highest points in every country.” 🙂

After a day of climbing Darwin returned to the home of Don Fran Pimiento and his senoritas for one last night on the road:

“In the evening I again partook & suffered from the overpowering hospitality in the house of Don Fran Pimiento: & the next morning started for Maldonado.” (May 19)



  1. […] da Gávea in Brazil, the Mount of Montevideo, an unnamed peak in Tierra del Fuego, and the the Cerro de las Animas in Uruguay (links will take you to earlier posts on these […]

  2. […] something of a peak bagger, writing in South America in 1833: “How universal is the desire of man to show he has ascended […]

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