The group met in the lobby pretty early on Day 3 for a little extra instruction on our climb to the top of the Salkantay Pass.
Before we start, a little bit about the Salkantay trail. Salkantay (meaning “Savage Mountain” in Quechua) is the highest peak of the Cordillera Vilcabamba part of the Peruvian Andes. It lies directly to the South of Machu Picchu and is one of three main trails that lead from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. The Salkantay trail is less traveled than the Inca trail and, with higher passes, is known for being a more challenging route.
Salkantay and Humantay (the glacier responsible for the glacial lake the day before) lie next to each other, and the Rio Blanco valley (through which we were about to hike on Day 3) wraps around Humantay Peak and along the West side of Salkantay, through the pass.
So everyone was a little nervous, we’d be hiking about 2,600 feet in the first 2 or 3 miles to the pass it up over 15,000 feet in altitude (the highest I’ve ever been). After that, we’d be heading back down hill towards lodge #2, which was at approximately the same altitude as the first lodge.
So we set out…
…into the mountains.
As mentioned above, we started our hike up through the Rio Blanco valley. The first hour or so was similar to the previous day, gradual uphill on some grassy slopes. We passed a few signs letting us know that we were headed the right direction.
About an hour and a half into the hike we hit the Seven Snakes, a particularly grueling set of switchbacks up the side of the mountain.
It was no joke. The group took a break about halfway up.
Upon arriving at the top of the Seven Snakes we found ourselves in a really cool open, grassy plateau with a small, green, glacial lake.
It was here that Leo (our leader) told us the hardest part was coming up, that from here on out it was probably a good idea to shut up and save your breath for breathing (not that anyone needed that reminder) and just focus on getting up to the top.
So as we climbed into increasingly rocky terrain, that’s exactly what we did.
And before we knew it, we were there.
…and took it all in.
We actually didn’t get to hang out at the top for too long, the leaders wanted to make sure no one stayed at that altitude for more than about 20-30 minutes. So we snapped a group shot…
…and began our descent…
…down into the Scottish Highlands.
OK no not really, but that’s what it looked like. Complete with the stone walls and fog.
After another 30 minutes or so heading downhill, we arrived at a yellow tent set up in the middle of nowhere.
We were served an amazing meal of pasta, hot tea, and a horror story from Leo about a woman on one of his trips who suffered severe altitude sickness at the second lodge…where we were heading…and how he and a few staff from the lodge had had to literally run her down the mountain on a stretcher, in the rain, in the dark, with an oxygen tank, giving her shots of epinephrine so that she didn’t go into cardiac arrest. It was horrifying and did a wonderful job of freaking everybody out.
Stuffed and hyper-sensitive to any sort of headache we might feel coming on, we continued heading downhill into a wide, flat, green valley.
After crossing a few rivers…
…we arrived at the lodge.
Wayraqmachay. Gate of the Wind.
The lodge sat on a ravine…
…through which a river ran…
…and over which Salkantay loomed.
Next up: Day 4–The Downhill Begins