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Salkantay Trek: Back Door to Machu Picchu | Day 2

June 9, 2017





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

generallythe 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












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