Friday, July 27, 2012

Inca Trail Day 2: Dead Woman's Pass

On Day 2, G-Money woke up still not feeling well.  When we reached camp for the first night, she got pretty sick.  Day 2, she felt shaky and still a little nauseous.   Definitely not a good start to our most arduous day of hiking.  But what else do you do, but start up the trail? 

Day 2 was the day of Dead Woman’s Pass, a 1200 meter climb to the highest point on our trek.  (The pass, by the way, is named for the rock formation at the top—though I am sure more than one trekker would believe it has claimed the life of at least a woman or two).  Right out from the campsite, we started climbing uphill. 

The pass as seen from the other side.  The woman is lying on her back,
her face pointing to the right.  She has a large forehead, nose, then
her chest and belly follow.  

After a solid hour or trekking up the hill, we came to our first resting point, and waited for everyone in our group to catch up.  I was by no means the fastest person in our group (one of the slowest, as far as uphill trekking goes), but I still had a nice 10-15 minute wait as the few people behind me—G-Money included—made their way to us.  After others in our group asked me where my friend was, I explained she was with the guide at the back of the pack because she wasn’t feeling well.   When G-Money made it to the clearing, the 2 couples from the UK went over and basically told her there were four of them, all healthy and feeling good, and they would be distributing her things among them and carrying her pack—as long as she didn’t mind them re-packing things a bit.  She acquiesced to that, and her sleeping mat, sleeping bag, and pack were divided amongst the four of them.  Christine, who had previously been carrying a very small daypack, actually strapped her bag into G-Money’s larger pack and conquered the hike. 
What amazing people!!

Carrying 2 packs instead of one.

After that, G-Money had it a bit easier.  It still wasn’t a walk in the park, but she began calling herself our tortoise and adopted the mindset of “slow, but steady,” which got her through to the end of the day.

The next two hours were spent climbing uphill…again.  I spent these hours getting to know Rose, an Australian woman who was on the trail with her daughter.  Rose was the oldest person in our group, but you wouldn’t know it by the way she hiked.  She’s friendly and interesting, and I really enjoyed my time hiking with her. 

The next stopping point was the lunch spot.  We had about an hour to wait before lunch was ready, and we spent this time stalking the llamas in the field, playing cards, or taking naps.  Then lunch was served—a delicious 4 course meal, as per usual—and we were given 20 minutes “for digestions” before starting off on the last, hardest, leg of the climb to the top of the pass.  We had 500 meters left to go.

During my last hour and a half of the climb, I was on my own, as everyone picked their own pace.  For a while, I tailed Alli (Rose’s daughter) like a mirage.  Alli would stop on the trail to catch her breath, and I would see her and think, “I’ll stop when I get to her.”  But as soon as I got close, she would start moving again.  I still took a break, and never did actually catch up for more than 15 seconds, but bridging the gap was good motivation.

That's the path on the left...Dead Woman's Pass is in sight.

Looking back down the trail

I found that completing the hike was much like completely the San Blas Half Marathon (read about that here) in February.  I focused my efforts on not stopping, and the task became feasible.  Speed was not the goal; finishing was.

The last leg to the top.

After one hour and 20 minutes, I dragged myself to the top of the pass.  I just had time to catch my breath, take a few pictures, and marvel in the jaw-dropping view of the way we’d come, before I ran back to the path to cheer G-Money on as she completed the final steep steps up to the top. 

Once we were all together again, we took a few group pictures, and then we crossed the path and began walking downhill for the last 2 hours until camp for the night. 

You would think walking downhill would be a welcome relief, after nearly 5 hours of hiking up.  And it was…at first.  But very shortly, the uneven, often large Inca steps took their toll on my knees.  If we stopped for even a fraction of a second, my knees began shaking.  On the way down, G-Money and I walked together—both of us tortoises, bringing up the rear and making it to camp last. 

Going slowly has one great advantage—you get plenty of time to enjoy the view.  And the views that day were absolutely breathtaking.  I leave you with a piece of what I saw.  

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