Not exactly music to my ears knowing that the morning’s hike upwards was now going to be done in the wet.
Nancy, our guide on the trail, somewhat assured us during a surprisingly hearty breakfast that we’d leave the wet weather behind us as soon as we climbed out of the forested region, reaching more exposed alpine country at a higher altitude.
Speaking of altitude, it was the hot topic of conversation around the brekky table in the tent this morning as we all fuelled up for the day. A few people, Ali and Sara for example, were already feeling the effects of how high we were while for others, like me, we were just eager to tackle today’s hike to see if slogging our way up to the highest point on the trail was going to have any major effect on us.
Having spent the best part of the last week at altitude already, I was feeling pretty acclimatised (not that I had any point of reference), and it was with a spring in my step that I set off with the group, full of enthusiasm.
As we huffed and puffed our way towards the sky, our band of ever-amazing porters who broke down camp in seemingly record time began to pass us along the trail with relative ease, pushing onto our next rest stop. I don’t think any pictures I take of these little blokes do any justice to the “height/weight to load” ratio that is put on display as they breeze by. Truly amazing.
With around an hour of hiking behind us, Nancy pulled us all together into a clearing off the trail to take us through a traditional offering ceremony made to “Pachamama” or “Mother Earth”. The brief ceremony involved making an offering of coca leaves to the goddess in the hope that she will protect us in our journey down into Machu Picchu. Happy to oblige if it meant she was going to keep the rain away from us for the rest of the day.
I guess I’d better explain the image above, eh? During our brief rest/snack time in the clearing, Rob decided it was the perfect time to break out a rather unique balaclava he picked up in the markets in Cuzco. I think he believed it elevated him to God-like status up there with “Pachamama”… or something… Haha!
The next section of the trail, while pretty steep, took us through some of the most beautiful country we had the pleasure to journey through today. A rocky path ran parallel with a fast flowing stream for quite a distance leading us into another section of dense forest, which eventually spat us out into a large alpine valley.
This dramatic change in vegetation signalled the start of the final tough climb up to “Warmiwañusca”, more commonly known as “Dead Woman’s Pass” at 4,198m or (13,769 ft). Remember, Australia’s highest peak, Mount Kosciusko, is at 2,228m (7,310 ft), so it should come as no surprise that it was about now that the altitude started to chew away at my lungs…
My “Footprint” guide to Peru, Bolivia and Equador isn’t kidding when it suggests that, “The feeling of relief on reaching the top is immense.” I have to be honest, it was a REAL good feeling as the cool cloud vapour raced through the pass cooling us down.
As we waited for the rest of our group to complete the killer final climb, we had the opportunity to sit down alongside some of our porters who were quite rightly taking a well-deserved breather of their own.
Plenty of photos were taken alongside the post marker giving evidence to our achievement, and Sam and the younger girls also found excuse to reach for their oxygen canisters, sucking down a few good sized breaths of pure O2.
With everyone topside (big congrats to Ali and Sara (the back markers) for making it to the top of the pass in really good time), we got the mandatory group shot out of the way before turning our attention to the tricky downward trek over damp ground into the incredibly picturesque “Pacamayo Valley” where we found our campsite for the night.
Unbelievably, our camp was perfectly set up all ready for our arrival, yet again. Our well-drilled and obviously super experienced porters sure don’t miss a beat. Dishes of warm water, presumably taken from the nearby alpine stream and heated, were delivered to our tents for a rough bathing, before we had a little time pre-dinner to explore the camp.
Coming together once everyone had freshened up and rested a little, we had the awesome opportunity to learn a little more about our porters and chefs, with Nancy introducing them one-by-one. The smiles on these super-human Peruvians were infectious and helped alleviate some of the aches and pains that were creeping into limbs after a tough day’s climbing.
With dinner being served, I seized the chance to don Rob’s balaclava for a photo opportunity. I mean, you gotta do it, right?
A yummy dinner followed which was wolfed down by one and all while we all shared stories about our individual struggles throughout the day making it up to Dead Woman’s Pass and beyond.
With the dinner plates all but licked clean and removed from the tent, Rob, who celebrated his birthday today, was presented with one hell of a birthday cake! How the heck our chefs managed to whip a professionally dressed cake together, just like my buddy Chad did in the remote wilds of the Yukon a couple of years back, is beyond me. I wasn’t about to stand around and ponder the achievement, however.
As soon as Rob’s face had been ceremonially pushed into the icing, we all received a decent-sized slice which was subsequently consumed with much greedy gratitude. To close out the night of fun, the ever trusty deck of cards was produced once again and a number of rowdy card games broke out and were enjoyed by a group of us – Johnny, Anna, Simon, Atholl, Helen, Rob, Lou, Ali, Sara, Leonie and Florian.
All cake and carded out, it was back on with the head lamps for a quick last trip to the loos for the night before heading back to our tents and snuggling in for a good night’s sleep!
Posted in: Travel