October 1, 2016

Hiking in the Andes (Part II -- The Salkantay Trail)

First, our guide had to stop at this local market to buy some coca leaves.
Our first day involved a drive up a mountain with a few local stops, and then hopping on the trail to climb from 12,000 ft to 12,500 ft in a mile in the rain and then another 3ish miles of rolling along the water canal under clear skies until we arrived at our lodge.

Mollepata lunch stop - Traditional kitchen complete with guinea pigs.

Our first mile was under some serious rain.

But then it stopped and we had a rainbow for our coca leaves offering ceremony.

Even when it was flat, it was technical.

And here we are -- 12,650ish feet and home for 2 nights.
We were a hiking group of 5 with our own guide and we shared the lodges each night with an equestrian group of 5 with their own guide, plus a doctor, and a horse caretaker.  Our hiking group was very compatible and we all were in great shape.  Our guide was very pleased at our ability to keep up a solid pace without needing lots of breaks.

Taking a rest at Humantay Lake
Altitude sickness is worse for those who aren't cardiovascularly fit, but it can strike anyone (see the 25 year old in the group a day ahead of us who ran up the mountain on the second day, but was overtaken by puking and sickness that night).  Typically (according to our guides), if it's going to hit you, it'll be on your 2nd or 3rd night at altitude.   Almost everyone in our group had acclimatized above 8,000 ft for a few nights before starting the trail and we all felt great, so we were hopeful...
Looking down on the switchbacks and Humantay Lake from the summit.

Day 2 is an easy half day hike up to a local lake at around 14,000 ft.   There is an optional addition that takes you up to the Andean cross on a local peak just under 15,000 ft.  Apparently, this option is usually something the Germans and Swiss hikers (those with previous altitude experience) do, but not usually Americans and Australians (our group).

We all made it!
Hah!  We opted in and all made it to the top.  It was a gorgeous hike (7.24 miles with 2,819 ft of total elevation gain).  The last 200 ft of vertical climb were definitely huffing and puffing, but it was a great confidence booster to know that the pass the next day was merely another 200 ft higher (and the climb would be less steep).  The descent was a bit brutal due to the steepness, but it was useful in that it convinced the folks in our group without trekking poles that they would be better off if they used hiking sticks for the remainder of the trip (and we managed all of the steep and slippery descents for the rest of the trip without any major slips or falls).

Rewarding views from the hot-tub after our return to the lodge.
Day 3 was the big one.  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate.  But, crossing a 15,200 ft pass on my own feet in the snow is definitely one of the more bad-ass things I've ever done in my life, so at least I get some bragging rights out of it.

First rest stop, not yet too cold.

1 Km to the pass, and we are all bundled up.

Several quick photos at the top and then we headed down the backside.
It was all downhill from there, with a stop at a lunch tent mid-way to the second lodge and more hot-tub time once we arrived.  It was an 8.7 mile day with 2,774 ft of total climb and a descent of almost the same amount (the 2nd lodge is the highest, at approximately 12,800 ft).  While very occasionally some folks have problems sleeping in the second lodge, our group was almost certain we were in the clear, vis-a-vis altitude sickness, which was a great relief.

Traditional saddle room of an Andean ranger family near the 2nd lodge.
Day 4 was a big day of descending (6.5 miles with 153 ft of gain and 3,563 ft of loss).  We re-entered mosquito territory and I learned that South American mosquitoes are big fans of my blood (despite using 100% deet!).

We just kept going down from the cloud forest towards the jungle.

E doing the last descent on the zip-line. Whee!

Me, whizzing across the canyon.

After the zipline, we enjoyed a pachamanca (buried hot stones and coals oven) meal.

Day 5 was a doozy -- a big 3,200 ft+ descent over 4 hours (the mental concentration on footing was exhausting) with some rolling climbs/losses for 6.6 miles, followed by a bus to the base of an original Inca trail and a 1K climb gaining 334 feet to the lodge. It had rained the night before, so much of our descents were muddy and slippery -- many of the folks found this to be the hardest day despite the lack of climb and decreasing altitude. The bugs had also increased in number and severity.

One of many waterfalls.

One of many sketchy bridges.

Another sketchy bridge.

Entrance to one of the many original Inca trails.
Day 6 promised to be tough.  We were all fairly exhausted, and we started out with an ascent to recover much of the elevation we'd lost the day before (4.38 miles to Llactapata and the restaurant below with a total climb of 2,540 ft).  But man, it was worth it.

Entering the Llactapata ruins with our first sight of Macchu Pichu.

There it is!

We were here.  The next day, we'd be in Macchu Pichu.
Lunch was amazing.  Perhaps it was how hungry we all were, but it's hard to argue with soltero, local river trout, fried rice (large chinese influence in Peruvian cuisine), french fries, lentils, tomatoes and cucumbers, and rocoto (my new favorite condiment).  And the views for this hike-in-only restaurant were perhaps the best in the world.
Zoomed in photo of Macchu Pichu across the valley from the restaurant.

The descent from the restaurant to the hydroelectric plant and train station was brutal. 2,773 feet of elevation loss over 3.65 miles in the increasing heat and humidity of the jungle, and the last 0.65 was flat (meaning the descent was even steeper than it sounds).  Switchbacks, mud, and serious footing concentration for almost 2h30 minutes resulted in some very happy hikers when we reached the restaurante touristico at the train station.  We were done!


Jen said...

Wow, amazing stories and photos. Thanks for sharing!
Also - interesting tidbit about the Chinese influence on Peruvian cuisine. I've never heard of that!

bt said...

@Jen -- there are lots of "Chifa" restaurants in peru. Photos to come.

Arvay said...

How beautiful!

Cat said...

Lovely lovely lovely! Your photos!!