Day 2: Breakfast & Trepidation
Having survived our first night in the tent, we awoke after a first night under canvas to a very welcome delivery of coca tea and a basin of hot water to freshen up. We knew this was the day that everyone describes as the hardest so it was with some trepidation that we woke ourselves up and made ourselves down to the dining tent for breakfast.
The day was going to be tough – a whole load of inca steps, an ascent to the highest point we would reach and, critically, no lunch until we reached the finish! The day was broken down into four legs – three sections up to Dead Woman’s Pass (the highest point on the Inca Trail) and then a final section down to the second campsite.
With such a tough day ahead, it was a welcome relief to discover that breakfast was pretty incredible considering we were half way up a mountain in the Andes. A particular highlight was quinoa porridge – which was definitely a surprise to me. After a nice substantial meal, it was time to set off up towards Dead Woman’s Pass.
It’s quite incredible how much the altitude affects you and even just walking up from the dining tent to the path seemed to take more energy than expected. We got going all the same – the advice of some of our previous groups ringing in our ears: ‘don’t rush, take it at your own pace, don’t be worried about being at the back’.
The start of day two is quite daunting as looking up from the first campsite you can see the top of Dead Woman’s Pass and it looks a long, long way up. The only saving grace was that the weather had turned a little and rather than the blazing sun of day one we now had a cloudy day.
Every evening, Rudy (our guide) would run us through what to expect for the next day and it turned out that his descriptions were unerringly accurate! He would always tell us something like: ‘it’s a little bit up, some steps, bit more up, a zig zag section, a little bit down then some steps’. I found that this was quite helpful as it really helped you judge a bit how far along you were and what you needed to conserve energy for.
We were all a bit lethargic going up the first section of the day through the trees and up a number of Inca steps. You’d think that the steps would make life easy to go up (or down in some cases) but unfortunately no-one was measuring a standard depth, width or height for the steps and so they’re pretty uneven. We all reached the first rest point where Rudy decided to introduce us to coca leaves.
The locals swear by coca leaves as a way to avoid altitude sickness. Waiting at the airport in Lima to fly up to Cusco, I’d noticed a weird and frankly quite unpleasant smell which eventually I’d worked out was locals chewing the coca leaves. Despite this I decided anything that might help was worth a shot and so I’d give them a try. You bundle up a good few of the leaves and tuck them in the back of your mouth gently crushing them between your teeth. Turns out they’re alright…until you get a bit fed up of them and try to spit them out at which point nearly all of us ended up nearly throwing up!
Dead Woman’s Pass
The ascent to Dead Woman’s Pass actually ended up passing relatively quickly – both Sue and I got our head’s down and just took a lot of regular breaks which seemed to do the trick. We reached the second break point of the day well ahead of Rudy’s suggested time. This is the last point on the Trail where there is the opportunity to buy any supplies and so as well as the very necessary water we purchased, we treated ourselves to some ludicrously overpriced chocolate bars!
The last leg of the ascent takes you up through the pass on seemingly endless Inca steps. You head up through 4000m and hit the top of the pass (Warmiwanuska) at 4215m. We felt like we were flying as we felt the top getting closer and closer until it felt like we were almost in touching distance. At this point it suddenly felt like we were never going to get there and the regular breaks we were taking seemingly went from every 10 mins or so to seemingly ever 10 steps!
We did finally reach the top where a few of the faster members of our group were waiting and after the obligatory photos we quickly whacked on our down jackets as it was absolutely freezing! It really was an incredible feeling to reach the top as I think no matter how confident you are, everyone has their doubts as to whether they can make it to the top and to overcome these was really special.
As it was so cold and lunch was waiting at the end of the day’s walking, we didn’t hang around too long once the whole group was up and started our descent towards our second campsite.
As the weather was starting to take a turn for the worst, it became a race against the rain to make it to the campsite. The descent is pretty steep coming down and feels great as every bit of altitude you lose makes the walking easier. Having said that, stone steps don’t give the greatest grip and whilst the euphoria of reaching the high point of the pass carried us down these steps – the next day was going to prove more difficult. Sue and I reached the campsite to the applause of the porters (it felt a little more deserved on this day!) and after a brief drink collapsed into our tent just before the rain really started! We were absolutely shattered and despite only getting in the tent to shelter from the rain, we quickly both fell asleep before we thankfully were woken up for lunch and then we could hit the ‘official’ siesta!
I always love the camaraderie that comes from camping with a group and this evening was a fantastic example of that. It all started with a chance to get to know our porters (our Inca Warriors as Rudy liked to call them) and some of their stories – Rudy introducing each one by one and translating their Quechuan into English for us. It was amazing to hear the stories and heartening to hear how some of the younger porters were using the money for portering to support them while they studied.
After this, we all got together in the dining tent and spent the evening playing a game of spoons with cups (basically you all are passing cards around and then when one person grabs a cup everyone has to grab one and anyone without one is out). I may have got slightly competitive and ended up diving across the table to get one!
Everyone’s spirits were high as we retired to our tents after passing what we thought would be the biggest test of the trek.
A Soggy Day 3
After the euphoria of the day before, we all got up the climb at the start of day three at some pace. It was weird, even though we were still going to a significant altitude – psychologically it just seemed a lot easier as we knew it wasn’t as high as we’d been previously. This euphoria definitely was about to wear off though as the rain came in and it dawned on us that it wasn’t so much the altitude that was the challenge today but the descent on wet stones combined with the longest distance of any day on the trek.
Sue had slipped whilst we were on a walk on Ihla Grande so was particularly cautious on the wet steps – in hindsight, we definitely would have been better hiring a couple of walking poles to help give Sue a bit more stability on the way down. Thankfully Rudy and Antonio came to the rescue to lend Sue some poles!
The path on day three feels like it will never end and I’m sure it has some beautiful views but with the mist we couldn’t see any! The path itself is pretty interesting with some massive drops off to the side (I just about managed to not fall off!) and tunnels through the rocks.
Cake, Rainbows & Ruins
Day 3 wasn’t all bad and it had two real highlights for us – the first was at our lunch stop. Strangely as well as us there was another couple on our trip who were celebrating their honeymoon by travelling for a few months and doing the Inca Trail (even more coincidentally, they were called Rich and Jess). The cooks got wind of this and managed somehow at over 3000m in a camp kitchen to cook each of us a cake. It really was quite a special moment for us both and one that I know will stay with us for a very long time.
The weather actually picked up a bit at the end of the day and this meant that when we reached the final Inca site, Winayhuayna, of the day the skies had cleared a bit and we could enjoy the view. The Inca site was beautiful and it was great to really have it to ourselves. The view off the site down into the valley was even more spectacular with a stunning rainbow across the mountains.
After this Inca site there was a short walk to our final campsite where after a freezing cold (but very refreshing) shower and a short ceremony to thank the porters, we retired to bed ready for our final day and Machu Picchu.