If you missed it: Day 1 of our Salkantay Trek!
After a fitful night of sleep, going crazy scratching the bites on my feet, we were awakened at 5 AM to the blissful sound of “coca tea!” Our chef was making the rounds among the tents, handing us all cups to warm us, wake us, and steal us against the effects of altitude. We happily sipped from warm mugs as we packed up our bags. Feeling as if I had cheated a bit the previous day, this time I packed my sleeping bag in with my other things and carried my whole backpack myself, which was nice.
Our guide Leo had warned us that this would be the toughest day, and several people were really nervous, having slept quite badly the night before thinking about the altitude and how hard the trek could be. Pam was pretty nervous too, but Alina and I kept reassuring her.
In the end, the group communally rented an emergency horse for someone to ride if they had a problem. We named him our “Just in Case” horse. The owner was supposed to walk him up the mountain with us, but was quite grumpy that we only wanted one for the group and refused! Luckily, Leo was able to bring him along in the rear, and delegated one of our hardy Swedes to lead the way that morning.
We got a bit late start due to the horse issues, but headed out at a fast pace, climbing up the valley between Umantay (5459 m) and Salkantay (6264 m). At this point the weather was excellent, and we got great views of both snow-capped mountains to either side as we walked.
It felt like we were moving quite slowly, and our breathing was certainly hard, but somehow we kept reaching each rest area well ahead of Leo’s estimates. We really were Super Hikers! (remember to use your heaviest accent).
In fact, this morning was not turning out to be nearly as difficult as we had been warned, and by our halfway point up to the pass, we were all feeling pretty good. Then it started to rain…
At first it was pretty light, and I made the mistake of not putting on my shell pants. As we continued up towards the pass, the rain worsened, and I was quickly getting wet. The worst, of course, was that with rain were clouds and fog and the mountains were obscured.
Things got slightly better as we neared the pass and the cold turned the rain to snow. I’ll always take snow if given the chance. But my hands were getting quite cold. Fleece gloves don’t cut it when they get wet. By the time we reached the pass, everyone was pretty chilled, and we stopped only long enough to take a few pictures. Salkantay Pass (4630 m, 15,190 ft) is a new high point for us!
People started heading down the valley as Leo, in his Andean woolen poncho, encouraged us to keep moving.
Happily, everyone had made it on their own, and “Just in Case” was never needed, though he did carry several peoples’ daypacks to ease their climb. We sent him back towards Camp 1, and descended through the snow, glad to have finished the hard work for the day.
The next hour or so was quite pretty, dropping steeply down the valley, with gray and orange rock formations surrounding us on all sides. We hurried along, eager to warm up and get to lunch. In fact, the Swedes who’d been ahead had run ahead, not waiting on at the pass, since they were wearing shorts and were freezing. When we finally reached our lunch spot Leo was a little grumpy at them for splitting the group, but understanding.
We had shown up about an hour earlier than expected, and thus ended up sitting around for quite a while waiting for our chef to prepare lunch, and generally drying out. Everyone was pleased that there were no problems with the altitude, and the general consensus was that the morning had actually been easier than Day 1. While we waited, Leo explained some geographic and spiritual details of the mountains, and we learned about some Inca symbology (more on this when we get to Machu Picchu).
The rain kept up, sometimes hard, and sometimes not, and I developed quite a headache. I’m not sure if it was due to the climb that morning, or just not drinking enough water, but it went away pretty easily with drugs, so no worries. Eventually lunch was prepared, and we eagerly ate as much as we could, though Alina said afterwards that she would have liked twice as much.
We had a few laughs as a sow with piglets kept trying to steal food from the next group over. Leo told us that the slice in her ear was from the previous day when she had stolen lunch and the chef had punished her with his knife. Well, apparently, lesson not learned. As we were packing up, a sudden commotion turned our heads. The pig had darted under the tarp wall of our dining hut, and made off with a sack of bread! Our chef and his assistant raised a huge shout and chased after her with rocks and big spoons. Crafty piggy!
Feeling refreshed, we headed down the river valley, quickly entering a completely new climate and vegetation zone. The alpine environment gave way to humid cloud forest, lush and green, with waterfalls peeking through the jungle. Steam or fog was rising off the trees on the distant mountains, creating a very typical scene.
At one point on the long hike towards camp, our Swedes took what they thought was a shortcut to avoid walking on the rough road our trail had become. Oops! Turns out it was a path leading a few hours off in another direction towards another high mountain. Oh yeah, and there were pumas up that way. Well, we retrieved them safely, and continued the long, long walk to Camp 2.
We finally arrived to a nice family compound with fenced in yards for the various trekking agencies, and the usual facilities. We all relaxed, rinsed in the nearby stream, and played with an adorable curious puppy who was frolicking about. Sadly, he got in a fight with one of the little girls in the family, and was limping with a leg wound the next morning. We hope he’s ok.
That night we had a massive pasta dinner, and our chef prepared Inka Tequila for us, basically tequila in tea. It was certainly warming.
We sat around as the evening wore on, having some nice conversations with various members of the group, before scurrying to bed as it started to rain. Let’s hope the tents are waterproof!
See what happens on Day 3!
Day 2 Logistics:
Trekking Distance: 21 km
Trekking Time: ~9 hrs (we went very quickly)
Starting Location: Soraypampa (3900 m)
Climb to Salkantay Pass (4630 m)
Descend to lunch at Huayracpampa (4000 m)
Descend to Camp 2 at Chaullay (2900 m)
Total Ascent: 730 m
Total Descent: 1730 m