Published: October 30th 2009October 29th 2009
Inca Trail Map
Inca Trail laid out
The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu
Oct 21 - 24, 2009 Castmembers
The Hikers: Kristy, Kirstin, Alan, Rainuka, Byron, Helen, Susan, Asif, Kelvin, Janet, Lisa, Cathy, David, Alona and Dave (me!) The Guides
: Raul and Rolando The Porters
: Too many to name
Oct 21, 2009 - Day 1
After individual briefings on Oct 20, our intrepid group of South American explorers were picked up by bus in Cusco starting at 6:00am. By 6:30 we were loaded and ready to go. From Cusco we headed Northwest for our first destination, Ollantayambo. On the way we passed through a wide open country with incredible views. The Andes jutted up all around us. Arriving in Ollantayambo, the group departed the bus and mingled. New friends from new countries ready to share in a new experience. Here we stocked up on general supplies... water, walking sticks, and food.
Because the road was under construction we walked a half mile to pick up our next bus. Our next destination was Piskacucho, better known as KM 82.... the start of the Inca Trail. We took individual photos and some group photos. The porters scurried around, packing up our items... tents, food,
Close up from bus
Leaving Cusco. View of the Andes from the bus.
backpacks, chairs, propane... everything went on their backs. Very hard core to say the least. After pictures and smiles all around we left for the sign-in booth. From here you could see the famous bridge which is considered the official start of the Inca Trail. No going back after this point. We got our passport stamps and took our first steps onto the trail.
The first day was characterized by moderate hiking. Still, within the first hour we confronted our first test. A real harbinger of things to come. The hill was short but steep. Most of us were at least moderately out of breath. Our reward for conquering this hill was a fine view overlooking the trail, some cacti and an overly aggressive donkey with quite the sty growing on his eye. After a few uncomfortably close eye encounters we headed out again.
On the way we saw our first ruins, Qoriwayrachina. This was a way station back in Inca times. A place where weary travelers could stay for the night and refuel. Food and supplies were free of charge here, sponsored by the Cusco nobility. After leaving Qoriwayrachina we came to our first truly impressive set
Gathering supplies in Ollantayambo.
of ruins, Llactapata. Llactapata is a terraced structure, built into the side of the hill. It was constructed in such a way so that the crops occupied locations with the richest soil while the buildings were built on the rockier surface. This way the Incans maximized crop yield. Leaving Llactapata we passed Willcarakay, at least I think that's what it is called. Whatever the name is was a couple hundred years old and fun to see.
After Willcarakay we headed back down into the valley. We passed many vividly covered rocks... blues and yellows mostly. One such rock structure had a small cave at the bottom, the entrance framed by rocks. After passing this point we were getting hungry and looking forward to lunch. Luckily our first stop, Miskay, was close. Our chefs made a great lunch, and I, knowing of the calorie burning day ahead of us, gorged.
The rest of the day was characterized by moderate hiking, with slight elevation gain. After 7 miles / 11KM's and about 1300 ft in elevation gain we made it to our day two camp, Wayllabamba. Before dinner and as soon as it got dark I tried by hand at
Dog ignoring me
Guess he didn't like his picture taken. Helen is getting a kick out of this.
long exposure pictures of the stars. Unfortunately the results were less than spectacular. A few good shots of the moon came out though. Luckily I had Byron to teach me a bit about SLR cameras. Without him I'm sure none would have come out. Before dinner we did some star gazing and observed several satellites flying quickly through the nights sky. After this, a hearty dinner was enjoyed and we were off to bed.
Oct 22, 2009 - Day 2
Ah yes, day 2 of the Inca Trail. We all had heard the stories. Or should I say nightmares. Day 2 was only a 5.5 mile hike. Within those 5 miles however we had to climb 4,000 ft in elevation and then go back down another 2,000. A challenging trek for even the most seasoned hiker.
After a 5:30 wake up call and breakfast I took a few pictures. The clouds that enveloped the mountains the night before had given way and I got off a few good shots. We packed up and prepared for the days hike. Raul told us that today we would be hiking at our own pace. He predicted that the quicker groups
Piskacucho, KM 82
L to R
(Kristy, Rain, Byron, Janet, Kelvin, Lisa, Kirstin, Cathy, Alan, Dave, David, Asif, Alona, Helen, Susan)
would finish around 1pm and the slower groups around 4. Little did we know, the person (that means you, Asif) that we all thought would finish first actually finished last. And when I say last I mean by about 7 hours. We'll get to that interesting bit later. It should also be said that during the night our new friend Byron became ill. He was was just the first of many of the men that came down with something.
We hiked up from the campsite and arrived at the final official checkpoint. Here we checked our gear and headed out. Asif took off like bat out of hell. The rest of the group started with a more moderate pace in mind. After an hour or so the various hiking groups got sorted out. It was myself, Kristy, Dave, Alona and Susan. Soon enough however Susan would would disappear. Only later did we learn that she had taken a wrong turn and ended up on a donkey trail. Luckily she used all of her detective skills to deduce that she was on the wrong trail and turn around. We caught up with her at the "second ladies" stop and she
gave us the story. We also briefly met up with Alan and Kirstin here.
Up until this point the hike had been difficult, but not exceedingly so. After the "second ladies" came the real test. For the next several miles we traveled straight up. I smartly followed Kristy's lead. She set a perfect pace and made the grueling hike bearable. 10 second break here, 30 second break there. Slow and steady. We passed a young twenty-something woman that was being cared for on the trail. Later we heard she had to be helped back down the trail. The physical aspect was obviously difficult but once you lost the mental confidence that you could complete Day 2, you lost. Game over. Luckily for our group we all finished.
We made great time and reached Warmiwanusca Pass, the highest point of the trail at 13,828 ft, around 11:30. The four of us, Dave, Alona, Kristy and myself had a 15 minute break and took a few pictures. The wind picked up a bit and before getting too cold we decided to descend. Going down these steps was not easy. In fact in many ways it was actually more difficult going
The Inca Trail Begins
The famous bridge that starts the trail. Signing in at the Gate House.
down than going up. The rocks were uneven and worn. And just to add a little more difficulty it started to rain lightly. Kristy and I eventually set off by ourselves. Step by step we descended into the valley below. After 30 minutes or so we could see the camp off in the distance. After passing several waterfalls cascading down the valley we made it to our camp at Pacaymayo at 12:10. Not that it matters because it was not a race, but for the record we were officially the first to arrive. The first to conquer the daunting and much feared Day 2 of the Inca Trail.
After unpacking our gear and settling in a bit the other hikers started to trickle in. Dave and Ilona were next. Followed by the surprising Susan, who called herself a "townie" but hiked like she had been to Everest. Speaking of... Alan, the Everest alum, arrived next with Kirstin. After this I snapped a couple photos, several of the valley and one of a hummingbird in mid flight, and took a nap. The rest of the group filed in while I slept. Well all except one. Asif.
As it turned
The Urubamba River
The Urubamba River view from the Gatehouse. We'll see her again near Machu Pichu in 26 miles / 42 kms.
out, Asif had long taken a wrong turn. In fact the same wrong turn that Susan had taken hours ago. This trail led Asif over several mountains and many many miles away from our destination. Luckily he remained calm and found his way back to the camp, arriving close to midnight. Needless to say everyone was concerned about his safety and was very relieved to know he ended up safe. David was also our second member to come down sick. And with that concludes Day 2 of the Inca Trail.
Oct 23, 2009 - Day 3
The hike on day 3 covers the most ground, about 10 miles or 16 km. There were two main groups on Day 3. Several people left with Rolando around 5 am to get a head start. The rest of us stayed with Raul. Raul's group left around 7am and we ascended to the second highest point on the trail (12,795 ft). This part was nowhere near as difficult as Day 2 however as we were already starting at a higher elevation. Our way up the trail we passed another ruin called Runkurakay. There are several theories as to the actual purpose of
The first set of ruins along the trail. Was used as a way station for travelers during the Inca times
Runkurakay. Raul's personal opinion was that it was used as a medical facility, a place where soldiers were moved to during battle to be operated on. The actual shape of Runkurakay provides a hint to this. Looking from above you can see that it is in the shape of an Incan scalpel. Whatever it was, it was an interesting ruin.
From this point we moved up to the Pass, briefly stopping at a mountain lake. Many animals stop here during the early morning hours when people aren't around. Bears, Deer, Porcupine, Puma's and more. They all call these highlands their home. There were also great harmonics on this trail. One of the other hiking group guides played a flute as he climbed the trail. We were serenaded as we climbed. Not bad at all.
After reaching the highest point, we started on our way down. This is where we met up with Helen, Kelvin, Janet and Ronaldo. I'm not so sure if they were that enthralled to see us as they were traveling at a nice pace throughout. Moving on the mountainsides became more and more interesting. One side were filled with trees, while the other had only
Just a taste...
...of what was to come on Day 2. Our first steep incline.
grass and scrub. The impetus for this phenomena were the clouds and mist. The clouds hugged one side of the mountain and provided enough moisture for the trees to grow. The other side did not get as much and could only support various types of grasses.
We then came to a truly impressive set of ruins called Sayaqmarka. The only was to access them was climbing an extremely steep path. Here we encountered some interesting aspects of Incan construction and saw our first alter. Sayaqmarka was stunning but the weather did not cooperate fully and the clouds rolled in. After about 45 minutes and an interesting tour narrated by Raul we left and started our descent. From here we encountered several different ecological zones, eventually getting into a cool, wet portion of the trail filled mostly with bamboo, mosses and deciduous trees. Soon enough we were ready for a break and we stopped for lunch at Chaquiqocha.
After lunch we headed for started our last climb to our third and last pass, Phuyupatamarka. On our way down my stomach started to rumble and I declared that I may have to "step aside" for a bit. Almost simultaneously Alan
Testing out the camera.
looked at me and declared the same thing. It was a very "moving" moment, American and English once again united by spontaneous sickness. Needless to say we held the group up for a bit and had to go out a slightly slower pace. I took off by myself and the rain started to come down. Knowing that our day was almost over, I was confronted with taking the short cut to camp or take the longer way down past the Winayhuayna ruins. I decided to suck it up and stay on the trail and check out the ruins.
To say the least the Winayhuayna agricultural complex was incredible. Over 100 terraces built into the side of the hill. Here Kisrtsin and Susan also met up and we spent some time exploring and taking pictures. As we made our way down the clouds started to part and a rainbow came out. I framed a picture of the rainbow with the backside of Machu Picchu mountain on the left. We left the ruins and headed to camp.
Here we met up for our final dinner. All of the meals to this point were in tents, this time we all met
Helen leading the way
Getting close to Llactapata (Patallaqta)
inside the lodge. We traded email addresses, ate dinner and took some group pictures. Rain gave a great speech in Spanish to the porters and thanked them for all of their hard work. They introduced themselves as did we. After dinner Raul asked us for the last time, "What time is it?" and we all answered in unison, "It's time for bed".
Oct 24, 2009 - Day 4
This was it. Machu Picchu was finally in our grasp. We got up early, before 5am if I remember correctly. We met up one last time for breakfast and to prepare for the days hike. Day 4 compared to the 3 previous days was moderate. We only had about 4 miles/6km's to go and we were scheduled to arrive at Machu Picchu between 7am and 7:30am. The sky was clear and we could make out the mountains and glaciers. I took a couple pictures and we headed out.
Spirits were up and everyone was anxious to get to our destination. As we climbed one last hill I didn't realize what awaited me at the top. It was here that we reached Intipunko (The Sun Door) and had our first
Elevation 8694. Forgotten for many years, was rediscovered in 2003. Most likely used for agriculture.
gaze of Machu Picchu. Knowing that it was one of my mothers dreams to visit here made it even more special. It was an especially special moment for all. We were all smiles and congratulations abounded. The view from Intipunko was spectacuar. Raul reminded us how very lucky we were. The weather was perfect with unlimited visibility. After group pictures we headed down to explore the ruins.
Raul led us through the main buildings, giving us an intelligent and interesting perspective on Machu Picchu. After several hours touring the grounds as a group, we split up. Some people decided to rest, some leave for Aguas Calientes and some explore a little more. Rain, Byron, Asif, Susan and myself decided to check out the Inca drawbridge located on the backside of the Machu Picchu mountain. The trail to get there was thin and located on the side of a several thousand foot cliff. We took some pictures and decided to head back to meet up with the rest of the group in Aguas Calientes. It was here that we parted with some fellow trekkers who were spending the night. The rest of us met up for a late lunch and
got ready to board the train back to Cusco.
All in all it was a great trip and I'm very grateful for the new friends I made. Please enjoy the pictures.
There are more photos below