It was still dark when they started to wake us up. Today is the big day, they keep telling us.
Because today was the day we go over the Salkantay Pass. I have admittedly lost sleep
over this day since I've never done a hut-to-hut before and I've never hiked to an
elevation higher than 10,000 feet before. And if our GPS was correct, by the time the
day ended, we would have hiked 14 miles in total. Yes, grueling. Yet here it is, the
day I have been anxious about the last couple of weeks, and I feel ready.
We stepped out of our humble lodging for the night and Salkantay Mountain, the second
highest mountain in the Cusco region, was the first thing I see. It was glowing pink as the
rising sun reflected on it. We ate a quick breakfast and then we were off.
It was a beautiful morning. The sun mingled with the clouds, and unlike the day before, it
doesn't look like we will get any rain (thank heavens!). The trail was muddy in some places, but
generally, the incline was gradual. There was water spilling from everywhere upstream and it
was so special to hike alongside these small rushing streams, peppered with wildflowers.
After about two hours of hiking, we stopped for pranayama before hitting the toughest part
of the climb up. It probably was at this point, too, where I was just utterly mesmerized by the
beauty of the Andes. It was so wild, remote, and rugged beyond my imagination. Other than
a few horsemen and horses taking provisions and carrying travelers' packs up the mountain,
we did not run into any other hikers the entire time. It felt like the mountain was all ours.
And if truth be told, a week into being back in the U.S., this part of our journey is the one that
is on replay in my head everytime someone asks about my trip. I remember walking in on
these horses, standing calm and still with their eyes closed, their tails moving gently with the
wind. I didn't realize until then that this is what I came to Peru for. Meditation. Stillness.
Pranayama. Being present. Being one with horses sleeping standing up while glaciers
tower from behind.
Hardly a word was said the next two hours of short switchbacks on rocky trails as we start the
serious ascend into Salkantay Pass. I've always prided myself on being a solid climber, but
this mountain kicked my ass. Mountain 2 - Trish 0. I folded my hiking poles (I never use them
hiking in the Sierras anyway) and I felt stronger thereafter since I wasn't wasting unnecessary
energy using my upper body as I was climbing.
And then, before we know it, we were at the summit.
From here, it's steep downhills and switchbacks on a rocky trail. Thank goodness
for hiking poles! This was the most trafficked part of the trail that we've
encountered so far since we caught up with large tour groups (large,
meaning 20 or so people, but that's about it), but even then, it still
felt remote, removed and far, far away.
A quick rest and another short round of pranayama (I love our little travel group of five!)
overlooking the Wayracmachay valley, and we were on the trail again. The landscapes
are so alive here and water gushing from down the mountain makes everything very
extraordinary. This place is just meant for hyperbole!
We made it Wayracmachay where we had a hot lunch waiting for us (thank you so much
Refugio Salkantay and team!). After collecting our heavy packs, we headed downhill
for six long miles to Chalway via a cloud forest which will be characterized by
steep downhills on a very rocky trail, waterfalls, wildflowers and clouds.
We would arrive just as it got dark.
Some Stats to Nerd On
Total Distance hiked that day | 14.2 miles
Distance to Wayracmachay | 8.2 miles, 2,603 elevation gain to summit
Total Descend to Chalway | 6 miles, 3,320 elevation loss