August 17 Soraypampa to Huaypacpampa (or Chaullay)

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January 5th 2016
Published: January 6th 2016
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We woke up at 4:45, sluggish in the cold and dark. From the other tents belonging to the guided treks came the call for a group breakfast of tea and eggs. Voices grumbled. We packed as fast as we could with numb fingers in the dark, and were the first ones to begin hiking.

The passage was surreal. Ahead and behind were mountains of dark rock, unsoftened by great age or erosion, covered in snow that was now lit pink by dawn. Below our small trail a stream cut through the valley. High above on both sides of the steep valley walls were grazing horses and cows. In the gray light a man on horseback guided horses across the stream. In the boulders along the trail was spied the rare yellow flower, and snow started to appear on the ground as we neared the end of the valley.

The first hour I was ecstatic. “This is the best day of my life!”, I kept crowing to the cold air. When the other groups caught up to us we bantered as we began to ascend. They had paid for a guided trek of an abbreviated Salkantay; their packs
were carried by mules. We felt proud to keep up with them in spite of our packs. Then came the switchbacks. Over an hour of them, at ~14,000 ft. The trail zigzagged up the mountain and we quickly fell behind. Everything went into the next step, the next breath; the air was so thin, my mind reeled.

After the switchbacks came the respite of a small valley between more astounding mountains. We rounded a bend and there in the snow was a herd of cows and a wooden outhouse. We rested with them while some nudged at the outhouse door and others lay in the snow, none of them interested in my offers to pet them. We began the final ascent to the 15,700 ft pass. I trudged. My pace devolved into a slow shuffle; Gabby had to sit and rest every five minutes from the altitude sickness. It felt like mile 3 of a cross country race on one of those 90 degree SoCal days. Only here it was 20 F and I was losing to the snails.

The pass was freezing, desolate, surreal. Dozens of rock cairns like apparitions of the thick white mist. A shrine and prayer flags consecrating the holy site. Sometimes the mist would swirl apart and you could see, as if through a portal, the face of great Salkantay Mountain. We stayed 15 minutes before freezing. Then­­descent! Thick mist, then delicate pellets of snow, then rain. The last few hours into camp were wet and freezing. My souvenir from my first snowfall was a serious sinus infection which I later gifted to Tyler. We spent the next two weeks going through an average of two rolls of TP a day on our spigots. We camped at either Huaypacpampa or Chaullay (everyone we asked had a different opinion on where we were). Half­-cooked beans and carrots with canned tuna for dinner, and mountain songs in the dark.

Additional photos below
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