On the morning of Day 2, someone scratched on our tent at around five in the morning and said "buenos dias" before handing in a couple of cups of hot coca tea. Not bad service, huh?! We were brought warm water and a towel, and told that a breakfast of crepes was almost ready. If it wasn't for the disgusting bathrooms, I would have thought we really were the kings and queens we were being treated as. I know now why everyone was being extra nice that morning - they knew exactly what we were about to hike - Dead Woman's Pass.
See the tall peak on the diagram, called Dead Woman's Pass, and the smaller to the right of it? Well, we hiked over both of those passes on the same day! This means that we hiked to an altitude of over thirteen thousand feet! Oh my. Just thinking about it makes me start gasping again.
We were ascending into different vegetation as we approached the cloud forest. There were places with tall trees, and most were covered with so many other plants, it was hard to see what was tree.
The mountains were spectacular. Watching the sun rise over the peaks was like seeing a curtain of light being lifted to reveal the awesome topography.
Excuse me, llama.
Brandon and I considered taking the wooden sticks we had been using to explore local ruins prior to the big hike, but after talking to our guide, we decided to each rent a couple of adjustable hiking sticks. We were very glad we did. I hate having my hands tied up with hiking poles, but as soon as I realized the entire trail was paved with uneven stone, I was glad for the extra stability the sticks provided.
Especially when going up and down stone steps for miles and miles. Oh, my poor knees! You can see dead woman's pass in the picture above. I took this photo on one of my many panting breaks. The air was so thin that I started to count my breaths and time my steps to my breath, like this - Stop. Take five deep breaths so that my heart wouldn't explode and my vision would clear. Take steps for five breaths until my heart was going to explode. Stop. Repeat. For what seemed like miles!
But the views during those panting breaks were spectacular, and it was a good time to consider my position in the word. Wow...I'm in Peru...deep in the Andes mountains hiking on an ancient stone road laid down by a vanished civilization..! Look how how far we've come!
When the porters applauded me as I climbed the last few steps to the top of the pass, I didn't poke them with my hiking sticks because I deserved some applause. Thank you! Thank you! I think that climb was the hardest thing I'd ever done. I knew it was going to be hard, but I did not anticipate just how difficult it is to climb approximately three hundred flights of stairs with no oxygen. On the way up I apologized to my body for ever thinking a critical thought about it, because it got me up that mountain without failing, and I was amazed that it could.
Oh. Sigh. Now we have to go down the other side! More steps. My knees!
So many steps.
Back up again! Oh, it was nearly more that we could stand, to eat lunch and realize that we were only half way there. Could we really keep climbing steps?
The vegetation on the slopes adjacent to the trail provided plenty to see while I was catching my breath. These pretty orchids were growing everywhere. And funny paddle shaped ferns, with spores on the undersides of their leaves.
Precarious wooden bridges over steep drops are exciting.
The trail passes through several short caves. Just like Indiana Jones, right? I looked closely for roosting bats, but didn't see any.
Can you see the circular Inca ruin in the shadow of the clouds?
There were dissenting opinions about which was harder, up or down. My opinion changed with each change in direction.
There were small lakes and wetlands on some of the mountain sides.
I do not know how we would have hiked this trail if it had been raining.
The clouds were always moving and changing the sun light and shadows on the mountain. Every minute the scene would change as the clouds re-arranged themselves.
That night we got to camp just before dark. We were carrying flashlights, just in case we didn't make it before dark. I am immensely proud that I made it to camp each night without having to use my flashlight. Of course, the porters had been there for hours and had everything set up, and the chef (who actually wore a chef hat and jacket!) prepared a lovely meal, I'm sure. I think I was too tired to notice, because I didn't take any pictures. I think it was "condor" legs, which are chicken drumsticks.
The dinner and cook tent doubled as the porters tent at night. I wish I had sneaked a peak to see how fourteen men fit in one tent! Fourteen men who have lugged an entire expeditions worth of gear up a stone mountain, and haven't taken a shower in two days. Sounds cozy, doesn't it?