Day 3: Over The Pass

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.

We celebrated…

Gimp Arm

…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…

AT THE TOP! it was pretty chilly

…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.


Yes, seriously.

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

Day 2: The Glacial Lake

View out our window, morning of Day 2

Our stay at the first lodge was 2 nights, to allow the group a little more time to acclimate to the altitude before we hiked over the 15,000+ foot pass on Day 3.  So on the second day of the trek, anyone feeling up for it had the option of doing a shorter hike (4-5 hours) to a glacial lake not too far from the lodge.  I brought my bikini.

After the first day a few people in the group were a little bit nervous about exactly how strenuous the remainder of the trip would be. So as we set out, everyone was ready for a repeat of the near-hypoxic situation that had occurred the day before.

We had to cross a few rivers, but the majority of the hike up was a very gradual uphill on a kind of grassy/rocky terrain.

About an hour and a half in we took a break…

…and hiked a little more…

…and then…

…we arrived.

The water was crystal crystal clear and so blue, it looked like something out of a beer commercial.  So inviting.  …but it was also coming off a glacier and about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  And we were pretty high up.

But two of us decided to go in anyway.

And, after hyperventilating, we dominated.

We hiked around the lake a little bit, took few pics…

…then started heading back down…

…to the lodge…

…were the staff was playing a pickup game of soccer.

Day 2 was much easier than the first day for everyone, people were more apt to go their own pace, and I think it instilled a little more confidence in the group as a whole that we might actually make it over the pass the following day.

That night we had a delicious dinner, went to bed early, snuggled up with our hot water bottles, and got ready for an early morning.

Next up: Day 3–Over the Pass

Day 1: The Hiking Begins

The next morning we were picked up by Johann, our assistant leader, in the hotel lobby at 7am.

We had 13 people in our group:

  • A German couple from Dusseldorf.  Very German.
  • An international businessman / man of mystery and his British lady friend
  • 7 guys from Michigan on a Mancation
  • Me and Susie
The whole group, minus our leader, Leo
Because our group was so big we had two mini-buses to take us to the trailhead.  Susie and I rode with Johann, who picked us up along with the Europeans.  We drove about an hour and a half along some paved roads and through some mountains….
…and stopped in a small town for a bathroom break.

After about 15 minutes hanging out in town (the locals were thrilled to see us, if you can’t tell from the lady’s face in the above picture) we hopped back in the buses and headed up a narrow, windy, dirt, mountain road for another two hours to a town called Mollepata for lunch.  It was here in Mollepata that we saw our first guinea pigs being fattened up for slaughter.

After lunch we hopped back in the van for another half our or so, we pulled over where the trailhead hit the road.  We got out, covered ourselves in sunscreen…

…and finally, started hiking.

The first part of the hike was rolling green hills with cows and horses wandering around, surrounded by mountain ranges.  Much of the group (before they started keeling over from lack of oxygen) re-enacted numbers from the Sound of Music.

I would like to pause here and take a moment to note that at this point we were somewhere around 10,000 feet: lower than Cuzco, and significantly lower than the pass we were going to be crossing, and still you could feel the altitude (the lodge we were hiking to was at 12,690 feet).  Like, really feel the altitude.  Uphill was not easy.  Many a Michiganite was struggling.

Back to the hike.  After about an hour and a half of uphill hiking we stopped to take a break and got our first good view of Salkantay (the snow covered mountain in the background.)

As we continued we walked along some aqueducts originally built by the Incas…

…and parts of the trail were a little precarious (picture 6 inches of sometimes wet, loose, rocky trail and long vertical drops to the bottom of a ravine.  With more rocks.)

It cooled down, shadows started getting long…

…we had some amazing views…

…and finally, after about 4.5 hours, we arrived the lodge, cold and tired.

Everyone was excited to be there.

We were greeted at the front door with hot tea and warm towels, instructed to take our shoes off, and go relax by the fire.  We obliged.

The lodge also had a jacuzzi…

…and hot water bottles in the bed (which freaked me out the first night when I jumped into bed).


Next up: Day 2–The Glacial Lake

First Installment: Pre-Trek report


It took me a while to get this going, but I finally got around to it.  No promise it’ll be good, but it’s better than nothing.  So with that, here is the first installment.

Day T-3: We Depart…and Arrive

My flight went Cincinnati–>Miami, where I met up with Susie.  We flew down the Atlantic coast of Florida alongside a really awesome electrical storm that was happening just off the coast (even the stewardess got her camera out).

My attempt to capture it was a fail.  But you get the idea.

Landed in Miami, hung out with Susie at the Admirals Club (um, they have showers in those things…I had no idea) and caught our overnight flight to Lima.  I took an ambien and tried to stay awake while I ate dinner on the plane, which was fun (couldn’t tell you what I ate, or if the food made it into my mouth).  Landed in Lima at like 4 am and finally caught our flight to Cuzco around 9am.

Flight into Cuzco

After landing and a short nap we decided to go check out the city and get acclimated to the altitude (>11,000 feet).

Cuzco is pretty awesome, we wandered around the Plaza de Armas, where both Inca leaders Tupac Amaru I and Tupac Amarau II were executed (thank you Kim McQuarrie, Last Days of the Incas)…

Plaza de Armas

…and walked to Plaza San Blas, which is up some ridiculously narrow streets.

Up there we had some delish cous cous soup, and Susie first learned that Peruvians eat guinea pig.

Day T-2: The Sacred Valley

The next morning we woke up to gorgeous weather and were feeling pretty good, so we decided to make a trip into the town of Pisac in the Urubamba Valley.   Instead of taking the minibuses (which costs about $1.50) we went through the concierge at our hotel and got a car and driver for the whole day for about $60.   Traveling with Auntie Susie has its perks.

After a 45 minute drive down through the mountains and into the Sacred Valley, we arrived at the ruins at Pisac.

Our driver told us the Incas planted crops like this for three reasons: 1.) they could test how well different crops grew at different altitudes (apparently the variation in height from one level to the next makes a difference); 2.) it was easier to irrigate this way; and 3.) it looked nice.

We did a little hiking to prep ourselves for the upcoming trek…

…heard some good mountain flute music…

…and then made our way down to the open air market that happens every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.

That night Sue met a couple in the hotel bar that had just returned from the same Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP) trek that we would be embarking on in 2 days, and they invited us to come tour some of the local Cuzco ruins with them the next day.  So we did.

Day T-1: Sacsayhuaman, Tambo Machay, Puca Pucara, and Quenqo

The next morning we woke up to absolutely BEAUTIFUL weather again.  We met up with the couple and a friend of theirs, Maribel, who was a local. She agreed to be our guide for the day.

After a minor debacle of trying to get four gringo tourists onto a packed, public minibus, Maribel decided it wasn’t worth the trouble and the 5 of us squeezed into one taxi, whom we paid to take us around to all 4 ruins.

There are four “ecological sites” surrounding Cusco.  First up was Sacsayhuaman (aka “sexy woman”):

This place was awesome.

It has the biggest rocks in the area.  Apparently some of the rocks were actually moved to the site from across the river, but they don’t know how the Incas managed to get them across.  There are theories that maybe they dammed the river up, but no one is sure.

And of course, they had llamas.

Next up was Tambo Machay, the sacred bathing place of the Inca rulers.

This place was equally as cool, and apparently the water in these springs hasn’t dried up since the time of the Incas.

Next up was Puca Pucara, a smaller fortress that was probably used to defend Cuzco.

…and finally, Quenqo.

We heard two stories about what Quenqo was.  One said it was a temple where death rituals and sacrifice took place, another that it was a temple for fertility.  Who knows.

Inside the rock is a series of tunnels and waterways

On the way back down we got some nice views of Cusco.

That night we said goodbye to our new friends and went to the pre-trek meeting for Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP), where we met our second group of new friends who would be joining us on our trek.

Then we went home and packed.

Next up: Day 1–The Hiking Begins


You’d think after a year and a half of waiting to go on the Machu Picchu trip I won in the winter of 2009 and the amount of hiking I do that I’d be SUPER PREPPED with my packing and ready to go for what will in all likelihood be the most awesome hike I’ve ever done in my life.  Well, you’d be wrong.

I leave in 10 min for the airport and just finished packing.  Fingers crossed I didn’t forget anything important (I checked, my passport is not expired, so we won’t have John and Elisa wedding 2009 part deux.)  Because Paul is now in med school and can’t take the time off, he won’t be joining me.  Fortunately, Aunt Susie was more than willing to take his place and accompany me on the journey to Peru for our most massive hike yet.    We’ll be gone for about 2 weeks (the actual trek is 7 days), not sure if I’ll be able to update while we’re there, but I’ll do my best.

THANK YOU AGAIN to Zozi and CEO TJ Sassani for the trip, Tech Crunch for sponsoring the contest, and Mountain Lodges of Peru for all of their help with the  reschedule.  We are beyond excited.

Pretty steep

via steely bob and data pointed

I thought this was pretty awesome.

The purple dot on the map is where our apartment was, almost at the top of a relatively steep hill (though pretty mild by San Francisco standards).  Next project should be to include elevation changes in our urban hikes based on this map.

The Steepest Streets in San Francisco

1. (tie) Filbert between Leavenworth and Hyde (31.5% grade)
1. (tie) 22nd between Church and Vicksburg (31.5% grade)
3. Jones between Union and Filbert (29% grade)
4. Duboce between Buena Vista and Alpine (27.9% grade)
5. Jones between Green and Union (26% grade)
6. Webster between Vallejo and Broadway 26% grade)
7. Duboce between Alpine and Divisadero (25% grade)
8. Jones between Pine and California (24.8 grade)
9. Fillmore between Vallejo and Broadway (24% grade)

Source: San Francisco Bureau Of Engineering.

Tick tock

According to the vet, it is not tick season.  So it was weird that last night, as we were getting ready to go to bed, we found 5 on Spike.

I’ve never had to pull ticks off a dog (one of the perks of growing up in Southern California.)  The only tick I’d ever really seen was in my sister’s ear.  I thought it was a spider and the experience disturbed me deeply. 

Some facts about ticks:

  • Ticks are arachnids (so it wasn’t totally ridiculous that I thought the tick in my sister’s ear was a spider).
  • The most common ticks that your dog will pick up in North America is called the dermacentor variabilis, and does not carry Lyme disease.  It can, however, carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
  • The deer tick is the one you have to watch out for, that’s the one that carries Lyme disease and is found mostly in the Northeast.
  • Once ticks get in there they hold on pretty tight (their legs have teeth…so gross), so the best way to get them out is to kill them without squishing them, because then they will let go and fall off.   Certain chemicals will also make the tick loosen their grip.
  • I was talking to a guy this morning that grew up on a farm and apparently it’s ok, so long as you get most of the tick off, if there is a leg left in the dog.  

 Some suggestions from friends and the internet on the best way to kill ticks included:

  • Put a match to the tick and pop it
  • Suffocate the tick with rubbing alcohol
  • Suffocate the tick with clear nail polish

We figured a match to the dog’s head was probably not the best idea, we had no rubbing alcohol, and I couldn’t find my nail polish anywhere (probably still packed).  We tried every cleaning product in the house (most of which were eco-friendly…probably didn’t help our cause), toilet bowl cleaner, and Paul’s cologne.  Suckers WOULD NOT die.  So we did our best with a pair of tweezers, but every single one left their disgusting front clampers in poor Spike.  So gross. 

Time to invest in tick medicine and rubbing alcohol.

Update: my coworker, who grew up in Eastern Kentucky, just told me a story about how she had a tick attach itself to her EYE, above and below.  So when she opened her eye it would block her vision, she said her eyelashes would brush it.  They used mineral oil to get the tick to let go.

Kentucky Hike #2: Rockcastle–Cumberland Confluence

Location: Laurel County, Daniel Boone National Park

Distance: 4.5 miles

Entry Fee: $0

The trailhead for this hike is located about 90 minutes south of Lexington next to London, KY, home of the World Chicken Festival, which attracts 250,000 people annually.  This hike is actually supposed to be a 9 mile loop, but once we saw the conditions of the trail we figured a shorter out and back might be a safer alternative, so that’s what we did.

We left our apartment around 8am on a beautiful Saturday to get there with plenty of time to get back for Ben Sollee, who was playing at a bar downtown that evening.  On the drive there we saw a person run across the freeway–a guy in an orange hat and camo carrying a shotgun.  Things to know when you go into the Kentucky woods any time between September and March: bring your gun and your dying deer whistle…it’s hunting season.

Once we hit London and started in on the back roads.  First thing I noticed: there were quite a few pickups sporting that deer antler decal and guys wearing orange hats and camo with racks of guns….drinking.  At 9am.  At this point I started to get nervous and tried to get Paul to seriously consider whether it was safe to hike back in the woods with a bunch of gun-toting drunkards trying to shoot large animals (I wasn’t convinced.)

We pulled over to a convenience store on the side of the two-lane road to ask.  The lady inside the store, which was lined with animal heads, had this response:  “You’re going HIKING?  You’d best be wearing orange.”

Two florescent orange beanies later we were ready to go.  We also asked her if it would be safe to let our small dog off the leash.  Long pause.  “Should be OK.  It’s deer season.  Squirrel season doesn’t really begin until December.”

I was less than thrilled about the situation.  The only thing we had going for us is it is gun season, not crossbow.  I’d rather be hit with a bullet than an arrow.

The book said that at the trail head we’d find an “unpaved parking area.”  I envisioned a gravelly or dirt clearing.

We drove by it twice before we saw it.  We got out of the car to find that on the post at the trail head were these two signs:

At this point, I was so not feeling this hike.  While Paul was trying to convince me that bears don’t have babies until the spring, so the odds of one attacking us were slim, and I was going over the sign reviewing what we were supposed to do should we come across an aggressive bear (face the bear, but do not look him directly in the eyes, never turn your back) and how to avoid falling tree-tops, we heard a gunshot.  It took some serious coaxing and a promise that we would keep Spike on the leash for Paul to get me back out of the car and on the trail.

The book said this hike is best in spring and as soon as we entered the woods we saw at least one reason why.  With all the leaves that had recently fallen, the trail was completely gone.  So we forged our way through some nasty sharp nettles and vines and made our way down to Ned Branch Creek which, according to the map, we could follow for a few miles to a campsite.

The rock formations at Rockcastle are pretty amazing, and there were some awesome pools on the way.

We kept Spike on a leash for the first 45 min or so, but after getting tangled around one too many tree trunks, we figured he wouldn’t go that far, so we took him off and let him run free.

We made it to the campsite, ate, and after a few wrong turns made our way back to the car.  On the way home, we contemplated stopping at the local eatery:

…but we didn’t.  Overall, seeing as how we call came out alive and un-maimed, I considered the hike a raging success.  Someone crashed on the ride home.

Lessons learned: there is such a thing as bullfrog hunting season (May 21-Oct 31).  And you can hunt wild hog year round.

Flora and Fauna:  Hillbillies with guns.