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Inca Trail Day 2
Written by Tina Sibley in August 2019

The second day on the Inca Trail had been fixed in my mind as the hardest and most scary!

It involved the massive climb up Dead Woman's Pass - an elevation gain of 1200m to a point at 4,215 metres above sea level. 

Sunday 25th August

We were woken up as promised at 05.30 with a cheery call of ‘Coca Tea!’ Can you actually believe we were brought tea in bed?! Then we were brought another bowl of hot water so we could wash and freshen up. 

We had a hearty breakfast while the campsite was dismantled by the porters and we were briefed on the day ahead. Because were to hike up to Dead Woman’s Pass which was a difficult climb of 1200 metres and because of the high altitude, reaching 4,125m, this would mean that the air was thin and we were told the importance of proper hydration and to go as slowly as we needed to.  

We set off and it was a misty morning and quite cold, so layers of clothing were in order. We started off with the same kind of undulating path as the day before and it was really pretty, with a narrow path through forest type of terrain next to a babbling stream and mini waterfalls. Where the path was open, the sun began to rise, throwing a golden glow on the tops of the mountains. We even saw a small scorpion sitting on the path – it was the same colour as the path, so we nearly trod on it!

Then the path began to start going upwards, with steps on the trail. We were now a group of 13 (one of our group of 15 couldn't start at all and one had to turn back) and the group began to split into three sections. 

There were four young, fit twenty somethings who strode out and left the rest of us behind. Then there were two lagging behind at the back and another two lagging behind a little bit in front of them. I was in the middle group of five – Kath leading the mid section, with two guys both called Chris next and Ben and I switching places for 4th and 5th place. This was pretty much the order of walking for the rest of the way up the climb. 

We stopped for lunch at Llulluchapampa and once again were fed a hearty two course meal that was very welcome as the effort had made us very hungry. Then after lunch, we set off again and the climb became much steeper. Once again, we were being overtaken by porters who were zooming past us with their heavy packs and we got used to giving way to them and cheering them on. 

It was tough going as not only was it all very steep, but the increasing altitude began making it more difficult to breathe. Any exertion left you literally gasping for breath and with your heart racing. It was necessary to stop frequently for rests. One advantage was that we no longer had the bugs to annoy us as it was too high for them. 

I was really surprised that I kept up with the middle section as I had expected that I would struggle and be at the back of the pack, especially as we got to the really hard part. But my training on the Med Steps in Gibraltar paid off and I just told myself that this was exactly the same and I knew I could do it. 

I also developed a system that seemed to work pretty well for me. Rather than keep walking until I could walk no more and having a long rest, as some were, I took 50 paces then stopped for a short break to get my breathing under control – then another 50 paces with a short stop. Occasionally, I took a longer break to give my heart rate a chance to recover and to take photos of the amazing mountains all around us. 

By now, we were deep into the heart of the Andes and there were rugged peaks every way you turned. I was totally in awe of the majesty of the mountains and, unlike the more rounded, softer peaks of the mountains in Europe these were much more jagged and sharp looking. According to our guide, this is because the Andes are a young mountain range by comparison, so they haven’t had the same time for erosion to smooth them off.  

Half-way through the afternoon, we got to see the pass that meant the top of our hike for the day – we were assured that afterwards, it was all downhill to the camp. Although we kept walking, it never seemed to get any closer! Of our group of 5, Ben had lagged behind and Chris (who was also in the Galapagos Islands with us) and I kept leap-frogging each other. We started to hike more together and kept each other going. 

By now the climb was even steeper and my system had gradually dropped to 40 paces and a breather, then 30 paces and a breather, 20 paces and a breather and finally 10 paces and a breather. As we got close to the top of the pass, we could hear those that got there before us cheering us on, but even though we were so close, we still had to stop after each set of 10 paces. Chris and I decided we would stick together and arrive at the pass at the same time, so we took our final breather then our final 10 paces and reached the top where high fives and hugs all round were in order.

The view was spectacular and took your breath away almost as effectively as the thin air. We took the necessary photos, next to the sign and with arms out poses in front of the drops and I gazed around me at the valleys on both sides of the pass. 

The official name of the pass is Warmiwanuska but it’s called Dead Woman’s Pass, not because any women had died there, but because the formation of the rocks looked like a woman lying on her back. 

As I gazed at mountain peaks after mountain peaks and down at the path we had just climbed, and saw how far we had travelled, I realised the enormous achievement. I had done it! I had successfully climbed Dead Woman’s Pass and I was suddenly overcome with emotion and burst into tears. I sobbed happy tears. Proud tears. And I just took in the monumental moment. 

Then it was my turn to cheer on the others who were behind as they each caught up with us so we could have a group photo taken at the top.  

After all our celebrations, it was time to make our way down – a 600 metre drop down very steep, rough steps and this was where I struggled big time! I actually found it harder going down than going up!! It also began to rain, which made the rocks slippery, so we needed to watch our step. Now it was my turn to lag behind at the back, but I didn’t care! I had made it up to the top of the pass without disgracing myself and so I took my time going down and lagged behind with one of the other girls and the rear-guard guide, the lovely Javier.  

It was really nice walking with Javier as he told us more about the birds and plants that we were seeing and reassured us that other groups he’d taken were much, much slower. At first, I thought he was just being nice but he told us that one group had not got back to camp until well after dark at around 7pm whereas we made it by 5pm. 

Once again, we were clapped into camp, Paqaymayo Alto at 3,600 m, given juice and a bowl of hot water to wash and freshen up before dinner. Dinner was a bit of a sorry affair – some of the group didn’t make it at all and others left early because of sheer exhaustion or the effects of the altitude. 

I was so happy that I had survived what’s known as the toughest day of the trek and we had now reached the point where it would be harder to go back than it would to keep going forwards. I was going to do this – I was going all the way!
We went to bed and this time, it was cold – very cold. It was necessary to wear a lot of clothes to keep warm and once again, even though I decided to ditch my own air mattress in favour of the one provided, I still couldn’t get comfortable and lay awake literally all night long, until at 5am I could hear the morning calls of the porters: “Coca Tea”!

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