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Published: October 14th 2014
The day started early with a cup of coca leaf tea. The morning was very chilly and the thought of having to leave my sleeping bag sounded dreadful. To prepare us for our long day of hiking we had pancakes for breakfast and were given a bunch of snacks to munch on during the day. Today was our longest day of hiking; by the end of it we would walk approximately 20 miles and cross the summit at 15,213 feet above sea level.
While the climb to the summit was gradual, words cannot describe how hard this hike was…. Truly it was one of the most difficult things I have done in my whole life. The altitude forced you to take very small steps and I was still forced to rest frequently. As I got closer to the summit the lack of oxygen made me light headed and nauseous. Our guide gave us coca leaves to chew on which helped the altitude sickness a bit, but the leaves tasted disgusting and having to move them around in my mouth made it even harder to catch my breath. We hiked to a place called Pampas Salkantay, then go toward the left
side of the snowy peaks of Umantay located next to Salkantay Mountain. There were dozens of groups heading up the mountain at this time and the path was pretty narrow so it was very crowded.
The scenery of course is the only thing that made the hike worth it. We started in a dry valley and headed up towards the snowy peaks. Glaciers had formed at the base of the mountains and as we got closer you could make out their light blue color better and better. Supposedly there are many condors in the area but unfortunately we did not see any. After four long hours of climbing we finally made it to the summit which was sadly a bit uninspiring. Unlike the beautiful scenery we passed on the way up, on the top was just gravel and large rocks. At the summit we made an offering to the mountain (for safe passage) and together as a group we made one of those stone structures (that I mentioned in the previous journal). While most Peruvians are Catholic they also pay their respects to mother earth so as we passed through it was important for us to do the same.
Once we passed the summit we had to start the next challenge, the descent. The scenery that surrounded us on the descent was equally as breathtaking as the snowy peaks though the geography was very different. We made our descent into a beautiful canyon with huge rolling hills on our sides. There were huge rocks scattered around everywhere and I couldn’t help but wonder where this 2-3 ton rock would have come from. The climb down hurt our legs but in different ways than the ascent and soon our knees and butts could not take anymore. While the landscape around us got flatter and flatter we were still forced to climb down huge boulders and loose gravel.
We enjoyed an amazing lunch at the base of this beautiful canyon and enjoyed a much needed break. And I paid 1 sol to use a real bathroom! This family lives on this hill and they must make a killing charging tourists to use the bathroom, eat lunch, and buy drinks. Right when we started walking again after lunch it started hailing. We spent the next 10 minutes walking through the cold hail in our ponchos and right when we thought
things could not get worse, the hail switched to rain. So now we were forced to continue our descent down the steep mountain, covered in loose gravel and now mud, in the pouring rain. Luckily our group found a way to enjoy even this dreadful situation by playing all the “car games” we could think of. We started with “Would You Rather” and then moved on to the celebrity name game. Lastly we played Countries A-Z, which required us to name all the countries in A-Z order…. This one proved the most difficult but also the most fun. Even with 5 people, representing 3 different countries, we were only able to name about half of the countries in the world!
As we continued down the hill the scenery continued to change drastically. We left the rolling hills with the snowcapped mountains and entered the jungle. In the jungle we were immediately surrounded by thick green foliage, in addition to mosquitoes. Despite the rain letting up (finally!) I kept my poncho on just to keep the mosquitoes away and to protect my clothes from my inevitable fall that was bound to happen (yes it did).
By now we had
been walking for about 7 hours and Kelly and I were hitting a wall. Going downhill had become worse than uphill and my knees were killing me. Our group started breaking up as everyone began moving at their own paces.
Frequent sights on the narrow trail were horses and mules which were headed back to base camp from dropping off all of the hikers’ bags and supplies. Whenever they passed by we were forced to move off of the pathway, often onto the steep hillsides. At one point while we were hanging off the mountain side I found the perfect walking stick! I had debated getting on at the start of the hiking trip but decided against it but now as my knees hurt more I was regretting that decision. The stick made a huge difference as I maneuvered over and around rocks.
At about 5pm we finally made it to the campsite… after almost 11 hours of walking and climbing over the summit of 15,000 feet. I used my last bit of energy to buy a warm beer and then I just sat in the damp grass with the group. I took my smelly socks and shoes
off and just rolled my tired feet around in the grass... the feeling was magical. Given how long and hard the day was I decided to reward myself by paying $3 for a warm shower. A cold shower was free but since the temperature was still pretty cold I needed the warm water. Then for 5 glorious minutes I showered in the background of someone’s house, hidden only by a small torn shower curtain, but it was worth it 😊 Our campsite was located in someone’s front yard. Our tents were sat up right next to the lines which held up their laundry. I imagine the family charges some fee for letting us set up camp there; additionally, they get money from the little convenience shop that they ran. Our “dining table” was set up right next to their house, we could see right into their living room. The house had no windows or doors, it was just a concrete box.
As it started to rain again we had Happy Hour consisting of hot chocolate and popcorn. Dinner was a weird spaghetti that I picked at for a while before going to bed early…. I
wished I could say I slept like a baby that night after the 20 miles I hiked, but the rain and the mosquitoes kept me up.
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