After a restless night adjusting to sleeping on the ground we were awoken at 5.30 by Luis, one of the Chaskis, with tentside coffee and tea service. There certainly are worse ways to wakeup. We packed our things, struggling again to still fit it all into our tiny bags, and then joined the others for breakfast. A full meal of pancakes, toast, and quinua porridge helped us carbo load for the big day ahead. Today we would be taking on Dead Woman’s Pass (called that because it looks like a woman lying down, not because a woman died climbing it) and going from 10,800 feet to 13,800 feet.
We ended up leaving 45 minutes after our scheduled departure of 6.30 am because Matt and Joe are lazy and late for everything which would become a common theme. The next four hours was the start of an all day uphill climb. The Incas, it seems, were not fans of switchbacks and the altitude made breathing difficult. We all took that as a sign to be extra careful about the altitude and made sure we stayed incredibly well hydrated which resulted in a lot of pull offs along the trail for bathroom breaks.
We stopped for lunch just as we passed the tree line and the trail opened up into the valley leading to the pass. We made it to lunch a lot faster than Aldo had expected and he tried to get us to slow down for the second half of the day just to make sure we were staying safe. Lunch was again ridiculously good and we siestad once more while the Chaskis packed up.
After lunch the real test began as we climbed a near endless amount of stairs to the peak. Lynn developed what she called the inch worm method to trick her body into thinking the ground was flat by taking tiny 6 inch steps. I used Chaskis to find the easiest way up the trail, preferring sloping ground to the side of the trail rather than the awkward stone stairs. As we went we kept leap frogging a group from National Geographic who seemed very well taken care of. One of them even asked their guide why our group was carrying so much stuff which made us feel more than a little proud.
We both made it to the top about 30 minutes apart and celebrated by hugging the pole marking the summit. In the direction we had come from, the clouds had cleared and we were rewarded with an amazing view of the valley and mountains beyond, including the llamas grazing on the valley floor below. To the other side of the pass, a cold wind whipped fog and clouds up towards us. It was more than a little ominous of what was to come.
With a little mist starting to fall Aldo suggested we start making our way down before the trail got too wet. Michael and I ran most of the way down, deciding it was easier on our legs to do more of a controlled fall than a slow walk. We quickly made it out of the clouds and soaked in the scenery as we descended back down into a valley surrounded by steep cliffs and waterfalls on all sides.
Lynn’s journey down was a bit more wet and with some help from Aldo she managed to throw over a heavy poncho that kept her and her pack dry. The stones got quite wet and she was glad she had trekking poles to keep her footing, especially because she kept stepping on her poncho.
By 4.00 pm everyone had made it down to camp and we all changed into warm, dry clothes and enjoyed some hot tea in our mess tent. Almost all of us were suffering headaches, likely from the altitude, so took some Aleve and drank a ton of water. It was much colder on this side of the range as well and the hot tea was quite welcome. Liz, Jennie, Lynn, and I played Rummy huddled around a Coleman gas lamp for warmth while Jon napped off his headache.
After another delicious dinner Aldo told a ghost story and then told real stories about people who have been med-evaced off the mountain and even some who have died on his tour from altitude sickness or heart attacks. We all went to bed a little paranoid about altitude sickness and the headaches we had earlier.
Daily Walking Mileage : 12 kilometers
Vertical Climb: 3000 feet
- We saw llamas in the wild! They aren’t just photoshopped onto postcards. We learned they prefer to live above 4000 meters.
- Most of the sandals that the locals and Chaskis wear are made out of old tires. Alternatively they wear skater shoes which we theorized provide a good grip.
- Yesterday Aldo and Ronnie had sandwiched our group with one at the front and one at the back. Today they both brought up the rear and kept chatting people up to make sure no one was suffering from altitude sickness.