Inca Trail – Clear and Copious

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.

Starting to head down from the summit into another valley.
Starting to head down from the summit into another valley.
Heading down the valley led to more ridiculous scenery.
Heading down the valley led to more ridiculous scenery.
Stopping for a brief rest after the first steep climb of the day.
Stopping for a brief rest after the first steep climb of the day.
The clouds started the day with a ridiculously eerie vibe.
The clouds started the day with a ridiculously eerie vibe.
I had taken an earlier picture of Ronnie without his shirt and he insisted I also take one with the shirt. Apparently he gets fined if he's not wearing it and didn't want any evidence.
I had taken an earlier picture of Ronnie without his shirt and he insisted I also take one with the shirt. Apparently he gets fined if he’s not wearing it and didn’t want any evidence.
The beautiful scenery never ends.
The beautiful scenery never ends.
Doug modeling some coca leaves before giving it a chew. We're convinced its all placebo.
Doug modeling some coca leaves before giving it a chew. We’re convinced its all placebo.
The morning was off and on cloudy which led to some pretty cool views.
The morning was off and on cloudy which led to some pretty cool views.
At some point we moved into more of a rain forest. You can tell from all of the moss everywhere.
At some point we moved into more of a rain forest. You can tell from all of the moss everywhere.
These pretty flowers were growing alongside the trail. We have named them lipstick flowers.
These pretty flowers were growing alongside the trail. We have named them lipstick flowers.
A nice waterfall right before the lunch spot.
A nice waterfall right before the lunch spot.

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.

This was our view from lunch, looking up into the valley that we still had to climb.
This was our view from lunch, looking up into the valley that we still had to climb.
Geneva girls getting some air.
Geneva girls getting some air.
And of course the obligatory hand stand contest. Lynn wins again.
And of course the obligatory hand stand contest. Lynn wins again.
Refilling our waters with boiled stream water after lunch. We each went through 4 liters throughout the day.
Refilling our waters with boiled stream water after lunch. We each went through 4 liters throughout the day.
Showing our day packs, fully loaded with sleeping bags and foam pads awkwardly tied on.
Showing our day packs, fully loaded with sleeping bags and foam pads awkwardly tied on.

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.

More gorgeous valley.
More gorgeous valley.
As we climbed up after lunch we were treated to our first wild llama sighting as they grazed in the fields below us.
As we climbed up after lunch we were treated to our first wild llama sighting as they grazed in the fields below us.
Lupins! They're following us!
Lupins! They’re following us!
A panoramic of the valley from halfway up the mountain.
A panoramic of the valley from halfway up the mountain.
Super adorbs.
Super adorbs.
Getting higher up...almost there.
Getting higher up…almost there.

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.

And finally the summit. 4200 meters above sea level.
And finally the summit. 4200 meters above sea level.
We're quite excited (and very out of breath).
We’re quite excited (and very out of breath).

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.

Starting to head down from the summit into another valley.
Starting to head down from the summit into another valley.
Heading down the valley led to more ridiculous scenery.
Heading down the valley led to more ridiculous scenery.
Descending down the backside. Jon is disappearing into the rain and fog.
Descending down the backside. Jon is disappearing into the rain and fog.

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.

A 360 degree view of the hills all around our camp where we spent the night.
A 360 degree view of the hills all around our camp where we spent the night. (I’m still learning how to take good panorama shots.)
A very artsy shot meant to show that it was indeed starting to rain on us.
A very artsy shot meant to show that it was indeed starting to rain on us.
The rain did allow the waterfalls to come out in full bloom.
The rain did allow the waterfalls to come out in full bloom.

Daily Walking Mileage : 12 kilometers

Vertical Climb: 3000 feet

Fun Facts:

  • 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.

One thought on “Inca Trail – Clear and Copious

  1. Based on our experience with 4 x 17 year old Peruvian soccer boys, being late is a way of life in Peru. I think Michael and Joe are just fitting in with the culture. Can’t wait for the next installment of the Inca trail. I hope you all avoid the altitude sickness.

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