We were awoken at 5:30am to the sound of heavy rain drumming on the roof of our tent. Uh oh. But to mitigate this, our porters were also sure to bring us hot coca tea to our tents as well, which they also did the next day, and it came as a very welcome way to start the day! It certainly helped pep us up for breakfast, and by the time we were ready to resume the trail the rain had stopped…a good omen?
It wasn’t to last. It resumed again, shortly before I arrived at the first checkpoint of this section of the route at Yunachimpa. This being the day where you are ascending for the most part, right up to the highest point of the trail at 4200 metres, the group – which had by and large stuck together the previous day, naturally splintered in to groups who walked at different speeds.
I found myself somewhere in the middle of the pack, whilst my friend who was travelling around Peru with me naturally dropped to the back.
It was at the Yunachimpa checkpoint, unbeknownst to me until I rocked up at the campsite later, that Romel opted to drop out of the trek. I had got the sense both the evening before and at breakfast that he wasn’t really feeling it: he was very quiet and withdrawn, and doubts appeared to be entering his mind. He had forewarned me before the trek that he might not complete it, having also dropped out of what sounded like a tougher one in Chile a few weeks prior, and had also previously asked our head guide Diego if quitting would be a possibility for him.
He later explained to me his reasons for dropping out, which I won’t share here, but the bottom line was he clearly felt this wasn’t for him, and indeed it’s not something for everyone.
A little further along I saw a girl who had to be given oxygen, and I later heard she had to be whisked away by ambulance to hospital – at least my friend didn’t allow himself to get to that point! It’s a sign that the Inca Trail is far from being easy, and should be taken seriously. Also, as I’d learned at Kilimanjaro, altitude sickness is no respecter of fitness either.
With everyone now firmly established in to their sub-groups in accordance with their trekking ability, I found myself with an English lady and a Swedish mother-son combo, who proved to be great, stoical company as we compared our respective heavy breathing, soaked clothing, freezing hands, and various other ailments. But we maintained our humour too, and goes to show that conversing with others is a surefire way to help each other through challenges.
We certainly needed to do this with conditions meaning that the sumptuous views we enjoyed the previous day were now scrubbed from view by a sheer blanket of grey cloud. We managed to pass the first two checkpoints ahead of the schedule Diego had forecast for us, and so pushed on to the summit. This section was undoubtedly the hardest…
No matter how seasoned a hiker you are, the sheer altitude and steepness of the slopes here will test you, and we found the gaps between our ‘mini-stops’ were now shortening! The cloud forest that we’d been told would provide us with some welcome distraction was conspicuous by its absence, and the rocky path was slick from the rain and slippery. So when we reached ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’, which marks the summit and with it the highest point of the trek, there was nothing to see, including what we hoped would be the next magnificent ruin.
Check out that amazing view! Ah, right…
It was also freezing cold at the summit, so we didn’t linger for too long, although did take the chance to refuel with food and drink – albeit shivering while doing so – before beginning the descent to the campsite. Still ahead of the rough schedule Diego had mapped out for us, this took longer than expected because of the slippery terrain, not to mention the jolt it gave to our knees! But we stuck together, albeit losing the mother half of the Swedish duo, as she insisted we push on while she slowed up considerably in negotiating the bumpy path.
We made it to the campsite at Paq’amayo for some much needed lunch, clothes changes and sleep – and then even more food in the evening – a nice and lengthy rest period with the gruelling second day behind us.
Soaked hiker solidarity!
Some of the group had arrived in the camp two hours before us, and some an hour or so after, but there was no competitiveness at all, with everyone instead showing support and exchanging high fives for completing the most demanding section of the trail.