Friday, April 8, 2011

Day 2 of the Trail - Huayllabamba to Pacaymayo

Roosters start their day early and if I didn't know any better, I'd say the one in Huayllabamba was trained to wake hikers at 5:30am. My tent was on the end of the clearing and so I was the first on the list and as this rooster came closer I could swear he was gonna walk right into my tent!
Then he proceeded to go to every tent in our group crowing right on down the line! We all had a good laugh as we slowly got moving to face the beautiful morning.
Now the glacial stream was really roaring with all the rain that had come in the night but it was sunny and beautiful in this the last inhabited village of the Inka Trail.
Not surprisingly, the porters were already up and at work and soon our first cups of coca tea were arriving to our tents. The elevation is approx. 9,780 ft. at this campsite and the hot tea is very welcome upon waking.

This morning after tea we are served toast and jam, Quiñoa in an oatmeal like form for starters and potato fritatta, wow! Fortified for miles!
It was warm and rainy last night and a few of us are groggy having not gotten a complete nights' sleep. We started out at 8:30 and hiked an incline of 1,200 ft in an hour. Stopping along the way to take pictures, we then arrive at Ayapata at 10:30 for a rest. A riot of bright red bromeliads covers the trees here. There is a local toilet here for pit stops by the way.

We continue and climb through the dense Polylepis forest and along the glacial stream on the stone steps. It's getting really steep as we switchback up the mountain and you find yourself thinking how in the world did they do this, especially inside this thick, dense forest? The Inka Trail, or the Qhapaq Ñan as it is known is actually an immense road system spanning thousands of miles. Please see the Qhapaq Ñan link above the Archives for more information on this ancient road system of the Andes. The Inka Trail to Machu Picchu is only a small portion of it.
There are mosses, lichens and all manner of incredible looking things growing all over the the tree trunks and you keep walking, looking and taking a break every 8 or 10 steps or so, taking it all in. If you like plants, this trail is amazing and ever changing! The Polylepis themselves are amazing and foreign looking and it's all fantastic! The trees grow at or above the natural tree line in the Andes. An endangered species, they are quickly disappearing as they are often cut for firewood or building materials.

By 11:30 we arrive to Llulluchapampa and break for lunch. We are here for an hour but need to be fast. Our major climb is coming up and we've got to stay on schedule. The elevation here is approx. 12,390 ft. We are now entering the puna, the treeless grassland of the high Andes. 
We are now ready to ready to start our accent towards the highest pass, Warmiwañuska or Reclining Woman's Pass at 13,850 ft (4,221 m).
Eddie, our guide, gives us 2 hours to reach the pass. "Walk 8 or 10 steps and stop for a quick rest but don't stop too long". I keep reminding myself of this fact as I huff and puff but keep going, keep drinking, keep looking up towards the pass. We continue each at our own speed of walking, resting, walking, drinking. This section really requires concentration and perseverance and the view delivers when you reach the top!
Approaching the pass we can see small dots that look like people in between the fast moving clouds and it looks so far away!

I am near last as I keep on trudging, almost there and I can hear the cheers and shouts of encouragement. Most of the group have been waiting for me but not too long. As a group we made this section of the hike in about one hour and 45 minutes, not too bad! We made it over the big one!!! We just covered about 3,900 ft of increase in elevation in approximately 4 1/2 hours.

One of the porters, Lucio, stays back and hikes with us as he climbs, full pack and all, with ease. We are, in fact, slowing him down. He smiles constantly and you can tell, he loves his job! That smile is contagious and we all appreciated him for it. We are all freezing up here on the pass as the wind is blowing like crazy and the temps are in the 40's. But Lucio is not even shivering in his short sleeve soccer jersey. Later, at our third nights' campsite he tells us this his 200th time on the trail. 

After a few pictures and a well deserved short rest, we begin our descent and the clouds continue to move rapidly in and out of the peaks. The other side of the pass reveals a wide stone path and it is wild looking and beautiful. Frogs sing in the light rain but you cannot see them in the tall swaying grasses.
And now, a new strategy, as we deal with the tall steps Eddie suggests stepping sideways down them to transfer the pressure more onto our hips instead of our knees. OK, we''ll do it and thank goodness for the walking sticks. What a blessing!

As we descend we see a Huemul, an northern Andean deer (Hippocamelus Bisulcus) on the side of the trail. Also known as the Taruka, these barrel chested, short legged deer are a treat to see in the Andes. It doesn't seem to be bothered by us watching before slowly trotting off up the side of the hill.

As we hike around the last bend and over the peak we are treated to a beautiful waterfall along the path. We have been hiking for about an hour and a half and we can see the campground in the distance.  


We arrive to Pacamayo a bit after 5:00pm. The elevation here is approx. 11,900 ft. Of course, everything is set up when we arrive and we are served tea and brownies, yum! I settle in and start to feel the climb of the day and realize that I haven't been drinking enough water and I'm a little dehydrated. I can't stress this enough, especially about this day! You are expending a lot of energy and sweating profusely but when the cool wind is blowing and the scenery is a fantastic as this, you are a little distracted, to say the least. Keep drinking! I skipped the wonderful dinner of minestrone and chicken with salad and went to the tent. After a few notes I was fast asleep.


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