Salkantay + Machu Picchu trek / 7 days / April 29 to May 5, 2016 / Alpaca Expeditions
We’d booked a group trip but no one else signed up for the seven day trek so it ended up being a private trip!
Llulluchapampa – Dead Woman’s Pass – Runkurakay – Sayaqmarka – Phuyupatamarca

We were on the trail before the sun rose today, both hoping to make up for lost ground from yesterday as well as to conquer this next mountain before the heat of the day squished us flat. This meant, however, that we had to hike in the dark with our headlamps. It wasn’t a problem as it really was just a straight shot up the mountain. Our destination: Dead Woman’s Pass (4200m / 13779ft).

By the time I reached the pass, it was starting to get light. It was pretty neat to see the sunrise, the tops of the mountains lit up while the valleys remained shadowy. It was fairly cold up here so I was thankful for my layers as I waited for Danyèle and Juan Carlos. I, of course, occupied myself with some photography. But I think the mountain gods wanted an offering for allowing me up here because, next thing I knew, my phone was broken. I’ve normally been so careful with it but somehow, I missed my pocket as I was putting it away. The funny thing is, nothing broke or shattered – on the outside, that is. When I later tried to use the phone, all I got was a dark screen. Sigh.

Going down the other side of the pass was fairly easy once we hit our stride. The three of us went pretty speedily but to do so, it required full concentration because of the very uneven stone stairs that we were treading. We periodically took short rests – you kind of have to if you want to see the details of the scenery around you. We could see an Incan ruins in the distance, layers upon layers of mountains, waterfalls high up above, and Dead Woman’s Pass getting further away. I also felt like I was getting smaller and smaller, the further down into the quiet valley we went.

We passed through what would have been our camp site last night if we’d made it. It looked like it would have not been as quiet as Llulluchapampa, so I was not disappointed to have missed this place! But the downside was that we didn’t completely miss having to do an uphill in the hot sun. The climb to Runkurakay was fairly hard, but again, we just went at our own paces. One thing I did think about today was how happy I was that it hadn’t rained so far. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the supreme suckiness the Inca Trail would be in the rain.

When I reached Runkurakay, there was a group there, finishing up their explorations. Once they left, I had the place all to myself. My introverted soul delighted in standing at this watch post, imagining Incan life up here with views of Dead Woman’s Pass, mountains, valleys, forests, waterfalls, and the Trail stretching in every direction.

Uphill again. Of course. But the tall grasses, the deep blue ponds of water, and the ever present mountainous views made it worthwhile. Just before the last push to the next pass, I’d lost sight of the other two. So while I waited, I broke out the ipod for a little while. To my utter delight, Urban Symphony’s Rändajad randomly came on. I sang along in my non-existent Estonian with this song about nomads and wandering. This moment ended up being one of my top experiences along the Inca Trail.

When we finally staggered up to the next pass (4000m / 13123ft), I was actually a little sad as I knew this meant we were that much closer to the end. But I refocused and made myself stay in the moment. One thing that was different about this pass than the others we’ve crossed, were all the little cairns scattered around. People apparently make these things as offering to the mountain gods or spirits, called Apu.

So as they say, what goes up must come down. And we went downhill for the next couple of hours. We fairly flew down the mountain, making fantastic time. It was pretty scenery and a beautiful day – pure happiness. We did not see many people at all until we reached the ruins of Sayaqmarka, but I think this was because we started from behind Dead Woman’s Pass, and did a longer day than most others. We saw Sayaqmarka long before we reached it – the site had a commanding view of the valleys and visiting it was just as impressive as the other sites. What made this one unique was the steep narrow dangerous stone staircase one has to navigate to get to it. But it was worth it – I loved the views, the evidence of water channels still around, and decorative holes and niches that no one really knows what they were for.

The vegetation around here became tropical and lush again. We arrived at a campsite that was our late lunch stop. By then, we were really hungry so we needed the fuel for the final push of the day. Which, of course, was partially uphill. I kept up a fairly fast pace to stay ahead of people I passed. I wasn’t in the mood to share my surroundings – greedy, I know. The vistas here were amazing and the undulating paths curved around the mountains. Clouds started rolling in just as I reached our campsite – the whole area was quickly surrounded by cloud, making for a pretty cool atmosphere. I found a spot to sit and people watch as I had reached before our porters. For once!

Today was a long but phenomenal day. I was especially proud of Danyèle – she’s not a hiker like I am and this was essentially her first trek and camping experience. And we did 16km today so that meant we were back on track with the schedule! Yeah!

*Note that the link to the song Randajad is an affiliate link.