It was our first day in the Condor Valley back-country (see Taruka Expedition timeline). After a four hour ride Gustavo and I were climbing the knife edge ridge that towers at the back of the Peusto to take in the land. The ridge had narrowed to a sheer band of rock that is about a meter wide and inclines steeply to the summit. I was concentrating on a bit of technical scrambling when Gustavo pointed upwards and whispered a warning, “Euell, cuidado”. Not five meters overhead circled two condors. With their dark heads tracking us even as they continued in their gyre, it was clear the condors were watching us intently. These were the first Andean condors I had seen in the wild; their size and unexpected proximity surprised me. As we continued up the ridge I kept a close eye on the huge birds and they continued to eye us closely. Hungry condors, Gustavo informed me, will occasionally dive bomb an unwary animal in an attempt to startle it off a ledge. Hungry condors have been known to try this on humans. Something about these condors made me think they were hungry. After a time the condors moved farther away, and as we descended the ridge I spotted them again, black in the distance and higher up, Mt Creston catching the evening light behind them. Over the next three weeks this became a common experience: watching condors watching us.
Condors have incredible site and smell; they can detect carrion from miles away, and will fly hundreds of kilometers a day to find food. If a condor finds large carrion it will eat the stomach contents first to help it digest the meat it is about to gorge on. They can be up to 10ft in wingspan and live to 100 years old. Condors are typically monogamous for life.
With its multiplicity of cliffs and crevasses, Mt Creston provides the perfect aviary for condors. On Creston we would see many condors every day. They were so ubiquitous that something seemed missing when they weren’t around. We saw ragged old condors, uninterested and solitary; eager young juveniles banded together; swarms of condors near the summit at dusk. Through our binoculars from less than 200 meters we watched a pair of condors perform courtship dances and mate on a high ledge. On warm clear days the condors would ride high on the thermals until they were tiny specks disappearing into the blue.