(On my last post, I wrote that we completed both passes on Day 2, but when I looked at our photos from 2 months ago, and consulted with Wiberth, our guide, I realized that we hadn’t! Oops! Wishful thinking?
Day 3: Walking the path of the Incas
With the trials and tribulations of Dead Woman’s Pass already a fading memory, I awoke feeling eager to conquer the challenges of Day 3. That is, until I heard the unwelcome tap tap of raindrops against the canvas of our tent.
We were hiking during rainy season, and thus far, had been extraordinarily lucky. Aside from the cruelty of Dead Woman’s Pass, we hadn’t had a single drop of rain. Only 24km of blissfully dry paths and vivid blue skies.
Unfortunately, this was all about to change.
As we finished our breakfast, the rain began to peter off and I thought that perhaps our luck would hold. But alas, as we made our way out of the campsite, the rain began again with a vengeance. Soon, it was a steady dribble and we were enveloped by a moist mist. I tucked my camera under my rainjacket and prayed that it was as waterproof as advertised.
Day 3 began with a massive upwards climb to the 2nd major pass of the trek – the Runcurakay Pass at 4000 metres above sea level. With camp made down at a chilly 3600 metres, we had a good 400 metres to ascend before we would reach the top, and complete the 2nd most challenging aspect of the trek.
As I made my way up a never ending set of stairs, I was surprised to discover that my legs were not sore at all, and that my breath was flowing easily. It was as though some magical switch had clicked between Day 2 and Day 3, and I was now climbing with almost as much ease as the Bear. Perhaps I was gaining strength from the energy of Incas past. Or maybe the psychological triumph of conquering the much feared Dead Woman’s Pass was giving me a physical lift.
Whatever it was, I was glad for it, because after climbing up a series of stone stairs for thirty minutes straight, we were only halfway to the top, with no end in sight. In an attempt to stay dry, I was forced to pull my hat tightly around my cheeks, cutting off my peripheral vision AND my view of the stunning natural landscape around me. My view of one wet stair after another into eternity was not the most encouraging one, and I despaired that the rain would never end. The sound of the raindrops against my hood actually began to drive me insane, and I now understand why Chinese Water Torture was so effective!
The rain was so much of a factor that we barely stopped to appreciate the ruins at the Runcuracay archeological site. A quick picture and we were on our way back up the mountain.
After another thirty minutes of agonizing steps in the most aggravating of rain, we finally reached the 4000 metre peak of the Runcuracay pass. Hallelujah! On the other side of the valley, we could see our next landmark – the dry lake, Chaquiqocha. I, for one, could not wait to reach it, because Chaquiqocha is where we would reach the “true” Inca Trail, and walk upon the very stones laid by the Quechua people during the Inca Empire.
But first we would have to pass by the Inca fortress, Sayacmarca. Accessible only by a single narrow stone staircase, historically, Sayacmarca effectively controlled the passage of people onto the trail beneath it.
When the rain finally began to wane somewhere along our walk down to the valley floor, we were able to remove our drenched hoods and really look around. And what a view! The Bear and I began to sound like broken records, as we oohed and ahhed over the carefully laid stone trails, sheer cliff faces and tunnels built by the Incas so long ago.
We were so enamoured with our surroundings, that we barely noticed the physical labour involved in summitting the Phuyupatamarca pass at 3850 metres above sea level. The stunning Cloud-level Town ruins on the other side of the pass made it even more worthwhile, and here we were able to see where the Inca performed rituals and prepared for human sacrifices!
After Phuyupatamarca, we had a long, steep and rocky descent downwards before we would reach the Winay Wayna campsite at 2700 metres above sea level.
Now, lest you think that the rest of the trail was a breeze because it was mostly downhill, let me correct you. This portion of the trail is known as the “Gringo Killer.” Where the Quechuas porters were able to step lightly, almost running, down the stairs with massive packs on their backs, we (the gringos), laboured downwards with aching knees. As I made my way gingerly down the slippery, uneven steps, I felt quite a bit of fear, and the going was slow. I would even venture to say that I found the downhill portion of this trek more taxing than the ascent.
It would be another 4 hours before we would reach our final campsite and the glorious Inca ruins of Winay Wayna. We arrived so late that we had to make a quick sprint to the ruins before they closed at 6:30, and are we ever glad we did. With llamas walking gracefully around layer upon layer of Inca terraces, the ruins were simply awe-inspiring.
Distance covered: 16 kilometres
Maximum Elevation: 4000 metres. Camp made at 2700 metres.
Duration: 10 hours
Day 3 Summary:
There were a lot of ups and downs on Day 3 (literally), but the beauty of the trek far outweighed any pain experienced. The feats of engineering performed by the Inca so long ago were truly astounding. I am not exaggerating when I say that this was one of the best days I’ve had traveling EVER. 🙂
Next post: Day 4