Above the clouds in Huayna Picchu

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August 18th 2008
Published: August 19th 2008
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Machu Picchu in the cloudsMachu Picchu in the cloudsMachu Picchu in the clouds

You couldn't even see Huayna Picchu in the background.
Today we got up the earliest we have yet to hike the great Huayna Picchu (or sometimes spelled Waynapicchu like on the sign there). I woke up to the sound of fighting alley cats right outside my window. After a quick breakfast of runny scrambled eggs and some interesting concoction I threw together from granola cereal, prunes, blueberry sauce, some kind of honey, and either milk or yogurt (I'm still not sure, which is a little gross), we were out of the hotel by 4:45, and even that proved too late. I can't believe how many people get up so ridiculously early to go up to the top. By the time we got to the line for the bus, it was already a block long, with about 200 people in front of us. We were getting a little discouraged, and tempted to back out, but we stuck it out. We waited until 5:30 for the first bus to go up. We got to the top around 6, then waited in line again (the same queue, just at the entrance to Machu Picchu now instead of for the bus). Again, we were getting a little discouraged. I should mention that we were
Clouds in Machu PicchuClouds in Machu PicchuClouds in Machu Picchu

The llamas were everywhere. It was especially fun to watch them climb up the stairs.
there so ridiculously early because they only let 400 people hike Huayna Picchu a day: 1 group at 7am and the next at 10am. We made it through the gate and booked it across Machu Picchu (along with the crowd) to the other side where the entrance to Huayna Picchu is. Lucky for us, many of the people in line were just there that early to see the sunrise over Machu Picchu. I must say that I had been disappointed that we didn´t get to do that the day before....until I was there today during sunrise. What a letdown. It´s supposed to be so great because of all of the Inca building that was focused around the sun, so at sunrise it looks amazing. However, it was so misty (I guess it´s just clouds when you´re up that high) that you couldn't even tell when the sun was up. In the meantime, we had made it to the gate to Huayna Picchu and now stood in another line. It was 6:30. They walked around and gave us numbers a whle later -- Edwin and I were 161 and 162, so we got to go in the first group (thank god
The mistThe mistThe mist

It was so thick I felt like we were in a Stephen King movie.
because after all that standing around and waiting we were getting antsy. It was hard enough to drag ourselves up there to do it, except that everyone kept saying how amazing it was.) So we stood in line some more. Finally, after a grand total of 3 hours of standing in 3 different lines in the cold, we started our journey up the mountain at 8am on the dot. We had no idea what we were in for...

If I thought the walk up to the Sun Gate was tough yesterday, I was sorely mistaken. At times it felt more like rock climbing than hiking. You snake around this mountain that you had only an hour ago been staring straight up at. They break you in easily, because it starts with this nice gradual up then down a little then up a little. Then the fun begins. You start going up steeper and steeper trails. It's all rock lined, which is either a blessing or curse, I haven't decided. Many of the steps are at your knee, so you have to hoist yourself up. It gets even worse at the top. About 30 minutes in, we had had about
The throngThe throngThe throng

Hordes of people waiting in line for Huayna Pichu
enough fun. We started passing people coming BACK down from the front of the line (which feels like when you're running around a track and the faster people are already done and watching you run your last few laps). They were kind though, and spared us the truth about what lay ahead, and instead just told us it was only another 20min or so (which was about right). It was so cloudy that you could only see Machu Picchu (now way in the distance, as I saw it from the Sun Gate) when the clouds broke. Clouds move really fast when you're in them, surprisingly. Our last climb up to the top was painful. If you thought about it and looked down, it's easy to get intimidated. We were soooo high and essentially scaling the side of a mountain. We climbed up the narrowest steepest steps I can imagine. We went up like babies crawling up the stairs, with hands grabbing the next step for balance and safety. When we got the VERY top, there was no more trail. Now it was mostly rock climbing where you find a purchase and hold on for dear life. It wasn't as bad
So full of energy at the beginningSo full of energy at the beginningSo full of energy at the beginning

Standing in line for the gate to Huayna Picchu. I think the sun was actually up by this point, you just couldn't tell.
as I make it sound though because it was a bit flatter at that point. There was actually a little Incan building up there. I couldn't believe it. You look straight out into the clouds. Like looking out from an airplane window, but you're in someone's house. I can't even imagine living there. The whole time I was again struck with awe at the fact that people actually used to do this on a regular basis.

The view from the top wasn't all that great, actually. Perhaps it would have been better if we were in the 10am group, but the weather was pretty overcast all day. At one point it started sprinkling up there, which had me a little nervous since we were IN the cloud. Our guide yesterday told us about the 2 deaths on the mountain: one was a Peruvian whose body was never found and is rumored to have faked his death to release himself from social obligations; and the other was a German tourist who was taking a picture during a little rainstorm and was struck by lightening. I was grateful we weren't German at that point. Although I could already hear the next
Me and my numberMe and my numberMe and my number

All that hard work paid off -- we made it into the first group. But man was I tired, and I look it! That's Huayna Picchu in the background, shrouded in clouds.
guide giving the speech, "the third death was this American tourist who slipped on a rock and fell all the way down." I don't have a fear of heights, but when i was up there on that relatively small peak and looking down into the valley FAR below, or straight across at the peaks of other giants, I had an instinctual jab of fear in the pit of my stomach. It was still pretty amazing.

We stayed up there for 15min or so, then started the long hike back down. I should mention that by this point, after a day of hiking yesterday, it was hard enough to drag ourselves up there today. We almost talked ourselves out of it. In the end I think it was worth it, but at the top, all I could think was, "just make it back to the bottom and we're done." We had no real activities planned for the day, so we could rest and relax a bit. For the climb down, we were dreading going back down those stairs we had to climb up like babies, so we found another way around. Up there there are little paths and tracks everywhere,

It was so thick and misty that we didn't even notice when the sun was up. Sucks for all those people who got up so early just to see Machu Picchu at sunrise...
so you could really go exploring, if you had the energy and were crazy enough. Neither applied to us, so we scaled the other side of the peak to go back down, and ended up finding a much more interesting way down. We had to jump down a few times, but it was still more fun, and I'm pretty sure less dangerous. We passed a girl on the way who was hugging the wall at one of the corners and crying, with her boyfriend nearby. She had vertigo and was having trouble. There are police all over the place up there, so 2 of them were nearby keeping an eye on her. I'm sure it's not the first person that's happened to. Wish I could have done something for her, but since I didn't have a pharmacy in my backpocket (and I suspect it was just that same fear of heights that had gripped me briefly), we just passed with a "lo siento". We had to climb through this little tunnel that was cut through the peak to get to the other side of the peak (kinda fun) and ended up with a much shorter version of those scary stairs.
In the beginningIn the beginningIn the beginning

It got so much worse...
And we were on our way back down. It was nice to be the person passing people on the way up and be glad we didn't have to do that again. In fact, I think we even vowed never to do that again. haha We clocked out at 10:05am, almost exactly 2 hours for the whole thing. And believe it or not, we had skipped the long route. There are a few more ruins to see up there, but it's a 2 hour hike to them, and after our trip to the top, we could barely even laugh at the thought as we panted our way back down. In the end, it was a great hike and I'm glad we did it. I would recommend it to anyone in good shape with good footwear.

The rest of the day was pretty sedate. We were supposed to take a 7pm train, but the thought of spending 9 hours in Aguas Calientes was miserable, so we took an earlier train. Unless there's this whole other part of the town that we never made it to, it was really nothing impressive, and filled with tourists. We didn't go to the hot springs,
The beginningThe beginningThe beginning

So fresh at the beginning...
but since they're rumored to smell awful and be filled with piss from tons of Peruvians in there all day, I was ok with missing it.

The hotel (or someone, we're still not exactly sure who) was kind enough to change our train ticket, but instead of the agreed on 1:30 train, they changed it to the 12:26 train (and that 26 would become important...) Lunch was included with our tour, as it was on most days. It was at this great little restaurant called Toto's fairly close to the train station, fortunately. The buffet didn't start until noon though. They love their buffets down here. They actually seem to eat large lunches here and often either skip dinner or just do something very light for dinner. I was antsy standing at the line for the buffet waiting for them to bring stuff out and open it. They recommend getting to the train station 20min early, and we were cutting it really close. We piled up our plates with a little of this and a little of that, and ate pretty quickly. We had just enough time for dessert (which looked amazing, and one even tasted amazing). For Peruvian
The climbThe climbThe climb

In some places it was so steep or narrow that there were guard ropes to hold onto.
buffet (which I have so far been less than impressed with), the food was actually pretty good. Much better than the one yesterday at the top of the mountain. However, I had to taste quickly since we were running out the door. Too bad because I think it would have been a nice place to just sit and enjoy -- we were by the big panaromic view window which sits right on the river and looks out into the mountains. Very nice. It's very daunting to be at the bottom of one of those big mountains though. Way more so than the fjords in Norway for some reason. There were people camping at the bottom (a little campground, not just squatters, I think), and at first I was thinking it was such a good idea and how fun. Then I thought about it and was struck with the same feeling of overwhelming insignificance as I had the day before being high in the mountains by myself. A little disturbing.

We made the train with about 2 minutes to spare (and had gotten there at 12:23, so there goes their 20min early rule). The ride was uneventful except for a
Above the cloudsAbove the cloudsAbove the clouds

They say that at noon on good days, the mist suddenly clears and the city appears. How mysterious. Was still cool with clouds all over. Edwin has way more pics but we can't upload them yet because he has no wire for his camera. :(
nice little nap. We got to Ollantaytambo, unsure how we would get to the hotel 35min outside of town, since we had changed our ticket and didn't think anyone knew where we were. However, there was the guy from the hotel with our names on a sign, ready to take us to the hotel. And now I sit, after a 3hr nap in our hotel in Yucay. It's actually pretty nice. Similar to the hotel in Cusco, but a little more rustic and with bigger rooms. It's a farming community, and feels like it. I didn't have time to explore before the sun went down, but I get the feeling that it's just one road that goes through the sacred valley, and the town is on it. Not much out here on either side. Tonight will be a very calm and relaxing night (too bad there's no hot tub!). They have massages here pretty cheap, so that might be my evening. Tomorrow we're off again to see the Sacred Valley, eventually winding our way back to Cusco (Ollantaytambo is on one end, and Cusco is on the other). I'll try to upload some pics now, but my internet connections have been really slow lately, so when I try, it doesn't go through. Sorry for the delay, you might have to wait until I get back to the developed world!

Additional photos below
Photos: 21, Displayed: 21


House at the topHouse at the top
House at the top

Someone lived here! Wow...
The worst of itThe worst of it
The worst of it

It doesn't look that bad in this photo, but don't be fooled by the angle... It looked much steeper when you looked down. You can see Edwin crawling up.
The scariestThe scariest
The scariest

By far, this was the scariest part of the whole climb. It was the little narrow and steep stairway that we went up on hands and knees.

Dang I can't believe I climbed that. I'm glad I did because I don't think I would do it again! A definite must though for anyone going!
The climbThe climb
The climb

And that was the easy way up...
Fear of heights?Fear of heights?
Fear of heights?

If you look down and really think about it, I think anyone would have a fear of heights up there. It's a little unnerving to look down and just see clouds...
at the topat the top
at the top

See that little crack at the top of the picture? That's what we were climbing on. This was the only part of the climb without stairs, but man, at the top is not the place you want to be without stairs!
At the topAt the top
At the top

On the highest point on Huayna Picchu.

That was the girl who got stuck at the top because she either had vertigo, or developed a righteous case of fear of heights.

19th August 2008

The top of the world
Dad has been talking about going to Machu Picchu forever. I'm glad you went for us because we never would have been able to make that climb. lol. Not then and certainly not now. Well done little grasshopper. I think that feeling of utter smallness and insignificance usually opens up to an epiphany of God. The God who made all that loves you. (and so do I). Keep on trekking. Mom
19th August 2008

the hike
Just to clarify, Machu Picchu is not that difficult to do. Huayna Picchu is the one that is a very tough climb. You can still go mom ;)
4th October 2008

great blog post
just back from Macchu Picchu-did the Huayna Picchu climb and will refer those with ?'s about the process to your page. Fortunately for us, we climbed on a clear weather day.
15th March 2009

Congrats on your hike up Huayna Picchu! I am abot to go to Peru and do the INca trail(4 days one) and then spend 2-3 days at M.P. Given my fear of "dangerous heights" which Huayna picchu seems to be, I may not do it.. but ive' been doing a few hikes here in Ireland lately and have got "good" glimpses in to what it'll be like.. Anyways, thanks for your blog. It has helped me some what to prepare for (or decide not to do) this hike. The Inca trail and time on spent Mp's ruins is my main focus. THanks. Din
29th June 2009

Machu Picchu is beautiful.
For people planning a trip to MP, you should do your homework. Study the guidebooks and the Internet. Know where to find the principle structures before going. This will save a lot of valuable time. I went to MP during last week of May, 2009. The rainy season had just stopped. Be aware that the paths and steps are irregular, therefore one should have good hiking boots. When I was there, they had about 1,000 visitors per day. But in June, July, August, one can expect the visitor count to increase to 2,500 a day. I wanted to climbed Huayana Picchu, but I had an inflamed large toe from new hiking boots. However, I took photos of just about all the principal structures of MP, and they turned out real good! The classical view of the MP Complex taken from the Caretaker's Hut was out of this world. I talked to people who climbed Huayana Picchu, and I was told that it not a particular hard climb. The things that one must be aware of is that there are two tunnels that must be crawled through. One person said that it caused them some claustrophobia. The other thing that one must realize that at the summit one must negotiate the irregular boulders that leave very little flat surfaces. However, the photos are spectacular. The MP Complex was sensational, and I plan to go back. B.G.
4th July 2009

Want to thank Dr. Nic for the great advice on MP.
Just want to thank you for the great insight that you gave on visiting MP and climbing Huayna Picchu. I want to add to the folks who are planning a trip to MP that the best time to go is late May. I went May 28, 2009, and the day I went was the end of the rainy season. It has not rained a drop since. By going at the end of the rainy season, your photos are guaranteed to include a lot of lush green grass from the terrances at MP and from the surrounding trees that are on the mountain. You can check the five day weather forecast at MP by clicking the following website: http://machupicchu.orient-express.com/web/omac/omac_c8a_weather_report.jsp It was websites like Dr. Nic's that helped me plan a very successful trip to Machu Picchu.

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