Day two was the most difficult by design. 16km (10 miles) over two passes (13,779ft. and 13,123ft. respectively), with a gross elevation gain of 4,373ft. and gross elevation loss of 3,402ft. (which was by far the more difficult part, especially on the knees) by nightfall — 11 hours total.
Location: Ayapata to Chaquicocha Date: 10 July 2010 Elevation Start/End: 10,829 ft. to 11,800 ft. Max Elevation: 13,779 ft. (Dead Woman's Pass) Day Distance: 16km (11 hours)
It was certainly a challenging hiking day, but in a good way. We also made the (very wise, in hindsight) decision to hire a porter for the day to carry our camping packs which made for a heck of a better time.When we signed up for our trek months prior we had to decide if we wanted to pay an extra $55 to have a porter take our gear. Being reasonably experienced and cheap backpackers, we decided on carrying our packs. However, after viewing the elevation map and wandering around Cusco (nearly 12,000 feet), we decided that we wanted a porter after all…at least for the strenuous 2nd day. But, it was too late 🙁 We were a bit nervous until the trek leader said we could arrange a porter for just the 2nd day…the best $20 we ever spent!!!
Wake-up was at 6am, just before sunrise. Porters came around with mate de coca, warm water and wash cloths. It was a bitterly cold night and we were each given a water bottle filled with hot water for our sleeping bags which in theory works really well if it doesn’t make you feel like you frequently need to use the restroom (as was my case)… But we made it through, had an incredibly tasty and power-packed breakfast, and headed out on the trail.
Here’s what the Llama Path website says regarding Day 2:
“After waking up at 6am and having breakfast, we will start a steep ascent towards the highest pass (Abra de Warrmihuañusca/’Dead Woman’s Pass’ – 4200m/13779ft). On this day a real sense of achievement is felt on reaching the top! After a rest here, we begin the descent to the lunch stop which is located at Pacaymayu (3550m/11646ft).
On the way up to the pass we will be able to see lots of hummingbirds and other birds. Also we will have the time to appreciate an incredible variety of native plants and trees such as the ´Polylepis´ or Q’ueuña trees which grow in the astonishing cloud forest located at 3650m/11972ft!!
After lunch begins the second 2 hours steep climbing to Runkuraqay pass (almost 4000 meters), we arrive in our campsite by 5pm-ish.
Temperature at this campsite around 4ºC during the nights.”
Day 2 in particular we came across a number of other people hiking the trail, but it was never overwhelming and certainly much better than we had expected. There were areas of solitude (above) and areas of congestion (below).
Salkantay was of great importance to the Inca and shares a special relationship with the Machupicchu site. Directly to the north of Salkantay lies Machupicchu, which is at the end of a ridge that extends down from this mountain.
So check this out: Near the beginning of each year, if you were to stand at Machupicchu’s main sundial, you would see the Southern Cross constellation mark its highest point in the sky for the year from that vantage point. At that same point in the sky, you would also notice that the Southern Cross is directly above the summit of Salkantay. Not only was this a cool feature of the natural world for the Inca, but it also held real-world meaning, as this alignment also signals each year that the rainy season has arrived.For this reason, the Incas associated this particular alignment with concepts of rain and fertility, and considered Salkantay to be one of the principal deities controlling weather and fertility in the region west of Cusco.
To understand Machupicchu, you really have to understand the location. The site of Machupicchu is a point where dozens of celestial, astrological, geographical, geological and meteorological lines of significance intersect, and such a visually dramatic point of intersection at that. Salkantay is but one example of this.Wouldn’t it be something if we cared as much to engage the mysteries of our own environments today? Wouldn’t it be cool if we too built great cities and structures to complement and engage our natural world rather than with the aim to tame or destroy it? Just a thought…
Our mid-morning pit stop happened on a small plateau teaming with llama and alpaca. It was a cool little mountain farm, very manicured with a spring running through the land and leading to what appeared to be a little mill or farmhouse.
Onward! Continuing the long slog on up the mountain to Warmiwanusca (Dead Woman’s Pass), the highest elevation of the day and the entire 4-day trek.
Slog…slog…slog. The red dots in the distance are our Llama Path porters single file making their way up to the pass (above).
Almost there! (looking up towards the pass – above). Intermittent cloud cover made for interesting hiking conditions as we alternated every 15 minutes taking off layers and putting them back on again.
Looking back down the valley over the morning’s 3,000-foot elevation gain (above).Our Llamapath trekking group Jai and Kylie, the Aussies, Lori and I, and the crazy Romanians at the top of Warmiwanusca (Dead Woman’s Pass) at 13,779 feet (below).
…into the clouds and down the other side!
It was actually quite strange as we couldn’t initially see the path and the stairs down the other side due to the thick cloud cover right below the summit on the other side. We basically had to trust that the trail continued and descend down into the thick fog, which dissipated in a matter of minutes as the photos illustrate.
Our party of trekkers following the Inca Trail to Machupicchu (above).If you look closely (below) you can see the trail wind down into the valley (Pacamayo – 10,991 ft.) before climbing back up toward the second pass, Runkuracay (13,035 ft.). Lucky for us, there’s lunch waiting first in that-thar valley.
40% of the Machupicchu trail segment has been restored from Inca times (example above). Perhaps even more interesting, that means that some 60% of the trail is vintage Inca, dating from the 15th Century.
The steep trail ascending to our second high pass of the day can be seen on the left edge of the photo (above); but first, lunch! (below)
After a hard morning workout, we paused in this valley for a hearty and delicious meal. Many of the dishes we were served over the four days were pretty incredible (eggplant cut to look like a condor, local meats and cheeses) and the head chef was only 24 years old (we met him on the last day and were surprised how young he was). We had avocado drizzled in vinaigrette, fresh grilled trout, and many other excellent dishes. Lunch and dinner always came with a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, pastas, breads, and tea and dessert. We really did not expect the treatment we received, and still not sure how they managed to haul and store fresh meats for more than a day or so, but they managed it somehow — always fresh, tender, juicy and delicious!