Day 2 of the Inca Trail was to be the hardest day of the trek as we would be climbing up from Wayllabamba village for about three hours through gorgeous wooded forests and spectacular terrain to the treeline and lovely meadow known as Llulluchapampa at 12,073 feet/3680m.
Then it takes another hour and a half of slow walking and short, heavy breathing to reach the highest point of the pass, known as Abra de Huarmihuanusca or “Dead Woman’s Pass” at 13,779 feet/4200m. At this point in my life, it was the highest elevation I have ever been and I felt it. My lungs struggled and each step upwards was grueling. Looking back now after having gained more experience at altitude, I realized this trip didn’t really give my body enough time to fully acclimatize. But I made it and didn’t get altitude sickness (some people do and if so, you need to descend back from where you came from and fast).
The day didn’t start off too well given our lack of sleep from the night before. A few hours after we were happily tucked into our tents after beers, popcorn and laughs, we were reminded about our crazy accommodations right next to the old farmhouse.
At about two am, for a reason unbeknown to us, the group of stray dogs living outside starting barking in sync. At first I was irritated and thought they’d stop after a few minutes, but then just when I thought we’d be going back to sleep in peace and quiet the good old donkey joined in the fun with his “hehaheha” right outside of our tent! Well, that of course got the dog gang barking again along with the “hehaheha” and it was complete chaos. Needless to say, we had to laugh but we certainly did get much if any sleep especially once the roosters started going off at 4:30 am when the sun began to rise. What a night!
By 7am after a light breakfast of toast with jelly, hot chocolate and tea we were packed up and off for our grueling day. Our campsite was at 8851 feet/2700m and would be climbing up to our highest point of the trek at 13,779 feet/4200m.
Leaving the campground, the scenery was spectacular.
The trees provided a nice shelter against the hot sun and began to change as we ascended higher up the trail. The foliage was extremely green and lush, loaded with beautiful flowers and we could see several waterfalls off in the distance rumbling down the hills.
I was sweaty, tired but had a huge smile across my face for I was in my element and doing what I love best.
We took at short break before making our one and a half hour ascent to the highest point of the trail “Dead Woman’s Pass”. I didn’t like the sound of the pass but by the sampling of the stunning scenery we were entering, I knew it would be heaven.
Our wonderful, hardworking porters took a rest for a moment. They each carried 62 pounds on their back and made only $4/day. I felt terrible about the low wages and heavy loads, yet this is a way of life for them and being a porter is actually a better job than farming. It pays more and guarantees three meals a day.
Climbing up, up, up on the real Inca stone-carved steps that were placed here hundreds of years ago. It was grueling work and slow going but exciting all the same. The scenery changed dramatically as we climbed higher as well as the temperature. I continually put back on layers moving from shorts, to a long-sleeve shirt and finally hiking pants near the top. The temperature also varied a bit depending on clouds, sun and wind. Thank goodness for convertible hiking pants!
Finally, we made it! My Dad and I are at the top! The views were incredible!
We took a short break and our fellow Swiss man, a young guy named Johnny of course had to celebrate the Swiss way….with a bottle of wine! He informed us that the Swiss always carry a bottle along for celebration at the top. Whether or not this is true, I have no way of knowing but I thought it was a great idea!
Our group at the top feeling cold, tired and exhilarated to be here.
Swiss pride: Not only do they carry a celebratory bottle of wine, they also bring their flag. I was so impressed!
Feeling part of the gang. It is amazing how quickly you develop friendships while hiking. I truly enjoyed the people we met and we had so much fun talking about our unique lives and the differences. Lots of laughs as well.
After a zillion pictures, a glass of wine and a rest, we were off again for the rest of our hike. The descent from the pass was very steep but not difficult except for the pain in my knees. We hiked down for about ten minutes until it was time for a much-deserved lunch.
Famished, we all thoroughly enjoyed another delicious lunch that was waiting our arrival. The porters and cooks had passed us on the trail in order to get to our lunch spot ahead and have everything ready. We ate hearty homemade corn soup and a veggie stir fry.
We only had an hour left of the hike until we reached our second night campsite is at Pacamayo at 3600m. It was only 2:30 pm yet we were all completely worn out and ready for a break. The campsite was beautiful with lush, tree-covered mountains surrounding us. It was much higher than our first campsite so we felt a little bit of the altitude still. I was extremely pleased because there was an actual toilet and shower at the campsite, a nice luxury after two days (much better than using the “toilet tent” with a hole in the ground….yuck!). The shower was ice cold since it was fed by a neigboring river yet the shower made me feel clean. The porters had even carried up a big surprise for us…..a few bottles of Argentine Red wine! What a treat!
Our Swiss friends never seemed to make us smile and laugh. They even put up their flag outside of their tent. What a riot!
Our wonderful guide Limas and I stood for a photo just after sunset. It was starting to get cold up here in the mountains but it was so incredibly lovely. There were waterfalls, birds singing and the air was as fresh as could be. This was heaven on earth in my book.
I sat down in my tent to write in my journal for awhile (these are the notes which I am now using, ten years later, to write this post!) and enjoyed the fantastic view. What a place and so incredibly peaceful. No wonder the Incas choose this trail to lead to their hidden, sacred temple.
As the sun set, I pondered on what an amazing country Peru is. I felt sad that the people are so poor, and live on less than $125 a month. It was hard for me to fathom how difficult these people’s lives are. They work so hard for so little. Yet they are so happy and so wonderful without all the material stuff we have.
Traveling like us for this kind of adventure or even leaving the country in itself is out of the question. I felt so privileged to be here and pinched myself several times while marveling at the rugged, raw beauty of the Andes. I told myself to remember what I’m seeing and what I’ve learned. For we are so fortunate and so spoiled. Never take anything for granted, that is for sure!