The scientists were helped by local guides and porters, who live near the base of Illimani. Clearly visible from Bolivia's capital La Paz, Illimani's "eternal snows" are frequently referenced in the music, mythology and literature of the Aymara people.
But scientists say global warming is rapidly melting the glaciers of the Andes, removing an important source of fresh water for many communities and threatening others with deadly avalanches. Illimani itself has warmed by 0.7 degree Centigrade in the last 18 years, said Ice Memory glaciologist Patrick Ginot.
"As glaciologists, we want to keep this kind of glacier sample because for us it is an encyclopedia of the climate and environment," Ginot said.
"When you remove a glacier sample, you're perforating through into the world's history."
The French-led Ice Memory organization says its goal is to create a global ice archive sanctuary in Antarctica. It has also run a similar expedition on Mont Blanc in the Alps and plans further trips to Russia and Nepal.