I felt like I’d barely gotten to sleep when we were woken up around 6am to get our day started. It helped that the chasquis had hot tea to offer to ward off the chilly morning air as we got our act together. I will say that travelling with a guided tour was nice, besides that they carried so much of our stuff, but also in that we didn’t have to worry about putting up or taking down our tents or cooking the food either, it left more time and energy to enjoy our surroundings and be in the moment. We were on the Inca Trail! On our way to Machu Picchu!
Our new “family” had a nice hot breakfast together with the beautiful view as a backdrop before we headed out. I think we all agreed that our group was pretty awesome, later even Papa Freddy and Jimmy thought so compared to other groups they’d led or even other groups on the trail with us.
Today was the day we were to climb “Dead Woman’s Pass”. The ominous name of the pass comes from one of the peaks that, well to put it bluntly, looks a bit like a breast and nipple pointing straight up…hence the “Dead Woman”. I guess ‘Sleeping Woman’ (or ‘Cold Woman’) didn’t have the same ring to it. Unfortunately, I did not take a photo of the mountain….I blame it on lack of oxygen that it didn’t occur to me.
I was told by Papa Freddy that the day people quit and go home it is usually today if they’re going to quit. The peak of the pass is at about 13,780 feet (4200m) and our elevation gain today will be almost 4,000 feet (1200m). Total distance will be about the same as yesterday, 7.5miles (12km). The air is already thin and will be thinner as we go so Jimmy is bringing up the rear and carrying an oxygen tank just in case. Yikes!
We all made it to our lunch stop thankfully and got a much needed break for lunch. The view was really great but the hardest part was yet to come since our total elevation gain today will be within the first 4 or 5 miles… Also we were getting out of the treeline and into the open terrain where the cold wind was blowing and the trail was still so steep. Our friend unfortunately had sprained her ankle last night in camp but was a trooper. I know she was hurting but she wasn’t complaining except that after stopping for lunch I think it got worse for her. However, our awesome group got together to help her out. Besides the 4 Nurses and the Doctor in the group, one guy was a Wilderness EMT and brought over his first aid kit (that put mine to shame) and between the several of us we got my friend taped, wrapped and medicated and ready to go. She was determined not to go back! The lady had grit, that’s for sure!
The great energy of our group continued with our three or four current or past military members (Army/Navy/Marines) encouraging us along with a call and response chant as we went. Eventually we spread out more but we were all keeping an eye out for each other as far as knowing who was getting behind and who was already ahead of Papa Freddy (yeah you know who you are!) It felt good to be around that kind of energy, everybody encouraging one another and ready to help. Since generally all the separate tours stop and start at roughly the same time and place we were starting to recognize other groups and found that our group definitely was getting along better and generally outpacing the other groups, we even had decided that some of the other guides were not nearly as nice or fun as Papa Freddy and Jimmy were….we were so lucky!
I won’t lie. This part was hard. I don’t know how much easier I would have had it if I’d taken the Diamox like my husband and friends did but I could literally feel the oxygen depletion in my muscles. The pace for most of us slowed up and I found myself having to work my way up in pushes. I would walk, slowly and steadily (like a Clydesdale) for about ten minutes until I felt like all of the oxygen was leaving my muscles and then stop in place for a minute to just breathe and feel the tingling of my muscles recovering for another push. It was grueling and monotonous and there was virtually no pleasant part to this I assure you however, getting close to the top and hearing our teammates cheering and seeing them waving gave me hope that it would soon be over. I’m not really that athletic..I was in decent shape but it is still a “fluffy” shape…but I made it! WE made it! There were high-fives, hugs and cheers and an amazing view of the path we had just come up.
We got to have a well-earned rest and took some pictures and then Papa Freddy pulled us to the side for a little ceremony. We had been encouraged to pick up a little stone or rock on our way up to use to use for the ceremony. We got out some coca leaves and Papa Freddy pulled out some rum and cups and I wish I had recorded what he said as we stood in a circle but it was very nice. Papa Freddy spoke and the jist of it was to celebrate and be thankful for being in this place, with these people and to ask for a blessing from Pachamama – the goddess of the earth – to continue bring water and life to mountains. We placed our rocks and coca leaves to make a small pile or marker, raised our rum and poured a little out for Pachamama and dank the rest. Then we said a little personal prayer of thanks to Pachamama for the gift of being able to enjoy the beauty of where we were and where we were headed. It really was nice although he probably does that with every group I imagine.
We then put our packs back on to continue on down the other side of the pass to our campsite at Pacamayo, a descent of about 2,000ft (600m). The poles were handy coming up the path but even handier coming down. The steps, in places, were steep or deeper than average steps and my legs were tired and shaky so it was good to have a few more points of contact. We made our way down so spread out that we couldn’t see many people ahead or behind us and it was nice to enjoy the quiet and the scenery as the four of us went along together. I have to say, seeing the camp come into view with our tents all set up and waiting was so great. SO GREAT! We were met again with hot tea and clean water to wash our hands and faces in and dinner was nearly ready. Before that happened though we got a chance to meet our chasquis!
Papa Freddy said a little about how the chasquis came to be chasquis and what that entails and then a little about each one individually. For the most part, they all spoke almost no English and some of them only spoke Quechua, their local language, so Papa Freddy had to translate everything for us. The eldest chasqui, the Chef Zachery, was 57 (or close to that) and the youngest chasqui was 18. These men were pretty shy but very helpful and we appreciated how many locals it look to get us gringo’s from point A to B in one piece. A note about Zachery – this guy was making some amazing food for us! We as a group felt that all the food was top notch, restaurant quality even and nobody went to bed hungry that’s for sure. This trip was a birthday celebration for one couple (Rose turned 58 I think) and Zachery BAKED A CAKE FOR HER! It was an honest to goodness, full sized cake. Baked in what must have been the dutch oven somebody had hauled all this way. Please take a moment to appreciate as we did how amazing that was. Frosted, candles and everything. Two days out. Another point of thankfulness for Zachery was that I was not willing to risk my dairy intolerance while on the hike so was being strict about it -something that Peru Treks had asked about in advance. Zachery took that absolutely literally. When any part of a meal had dairy in it I would get a little plate or bowl of something different from the rest, sometimes being served first before everyone else. Often enough that we all got used to pointing me out at the table to get the “special” plate first. I didn’t get cake. The frosting was made with milk products…so I got a baked apple with a sugary glaze. Still very good and so thoughtful for Zachery to make extra on top of THE CAKE HE BAKED IN THE WILDERNESS!
Our morning would start early again and after today…I couldn’t wait to get in the tent and fall asleep.