DAY 2: 10 hr/13 km to 3rd Pass (elev. 3650 m)
NOTE: The highest point today was at the 2nd pass – Dead Woman´s Pass – at 4200 m. You can see me leaning against the sign looking relieved to be breathing well :)**
Today was the longest day ever! We hiked from 545am to 645 pm. The idea was to make up for a lost hour yesterday, AND to make up for the fact that we were doing the hike in 2.5 days rather than 3.5 days. By the time lunch came around, we had hiked for upwards of 6 hours and were totally beat (but felt unbelievable) 🙂 We arrived at the lunch spot and there were several other groups setting up camp for the evening .. surprised that we were continuing on to the 3rd pass! Lunch was, of course, gourmet. Beef in tomatoe sauce, rice, potatoes au gratin, pumpkin soup, broccoli tortilla (Spanish style). We wanted a siesta but it was time to move on just shortly after we got comfortable. I was impressed with how much we had gotten done before lunch … but knew we still had at least 4 hours of hiking left!
The next 2 hours were downhill, which worked out well for the other muscle groups (i.e they had a rest!) but it was definitely harder on the joints. I felt pretty good about our pace and the front guide, Wilbur, stopped every so often to show us things (or catchup to us :).
So … the day continued and the sun began to set… It was just four of us ladies as the group began to split up. Someone had pretty bad blisters so the front guide stayed back with them, and there were a few people in the back having trouble with the altitude etc. Essentially, with no guide alongside .. we wandered at a robotic pace (i.e second wind!) and talked continuously … until we got a little worried about the ensuing darkness, the lack of campsites, and the 50 metre cliff drop on the right of the trail. Thank goodness we packed our flashlights in our day bags, because we had to go through a steep and damp cave, and then it was totally pitch black for the last 45 minutes to camp! I had some idea we should be arriving around 620pm but I have to admit .. there was about a 9 minute period where we all thought – where the hell are we and why is there no sign of civilization (i.e lights, tents, voices, etc). It was definitely an adventure and we all felt the endorphin rush .. i could have hiked for several more hours as my body was on overdrive, but when we got to camp we realized how long we´d been going for! A few of the porters from our group caught up to us and we screamed in glee that we were indeed on the right path!
When we arrived, they made popped corn and hot chocolate and we relished in the accomplishments of the day. This was, according to our guides and other tourists we´d met en route, not a typical itinerary on the Inca trail in terms of length of time hiking in one day´s time. The rest of the group trickled in over the next hour .. and at one point, some misunderstanding(s) led to a very frantic group. Basically, our guide Wilbur was on the walky talky with the last guide, who was accompanying two lovely ladies from our group. There was question as to whether they would be making it to our campsite in time … and then he said to us, over quinoa soup, that we ¨lost one¨. We all froze. Then he clarified calmly that he was referring to the ¨last one¨.. It wasn´t completely irrational to have fears about losing a hiker given the narrow trail, pitch black evening, wet and slippery rocks, and major fatigue!
Thank goodness we all celebrated by 830pm and had a great last dinner together. They made us chicken medallions stuffed with basil and cranberries (super easy to pull together in the middle of nowhere, obviously), canneloni (again, easy as pie), spaghetti, potatoes and cheese .. mulled wine and chocolate pudding. Honestly, the chef Jefferson deserves to win the Iron Chef.
I finally went to sleep, after having some laughs with fellow travellers and the guides.. I was avoiding my tent given the temperature drop tonight, and the fact that I knew I´d probably have to go pee 10 minutes after zipping myself in and wrapping myself up like a Christmas parcel in all the warm clothes I could find.
It rained in the night for a few hours … and that was the ONLY rain we got on the whole trail!
The next day was shorter and would lead us to Machu Picchu for a nice afternoon tour.
p.s I have to say that my dad has taken me on some pretty challenging, bush-wacking type trips, but we never hike more than 6 hours in a day .. and never get to camp in the dark. I think having great hiking boots, and a major hunger for hiking (it has been too long since our last trek Papa – this summer!) made today a great experience. I think I was prepared, somehow, despite weeks of only walking on the flat and drinking far too many beer. Mentally and emotionally, however, this was an incredibly unique and rewarding 13 hours. I felt like we all really bonded, in the midst of pushing ourselves to new levels. You really learn what your body and mind are capable of in such situations! 🙂