Ok, I’m not on the AT this year but still wanted to chronical my adventures so I hope you don’t mind. This year’s adventure is coming to you from the high and mighty Peru!! It’s literally a dream come true actually, I have always wanted to go to Peru, I would say it’s a top 5 bucket list destination for me and luckily I have my top quality sidekick Willow Bean for company!
We arrived in Cusco from very separate origins on Monday 17th June. It had taken both of us over 24 hours to get there but our months of planning over WhatsApp and Willows Google Doc spreadsheets meant we arrived in the same place on the same day. Neither of us had very many words only beaming smiles to share and the look of, if I’m not horizontal in a dark room in the next hour bad things are going to happen!
Checked into hostel – amazing
Lay down on a bed – amazing
Slept for 2 hours in the middle of the day – amazing
So far Peru is excellent!
We spent the next 2 days exploring the city of Cusco acclimatising to the limited oxygen of being 11,152ft (3,399m) above sea level.
Out of pure coincidence we arrived during a huge festival and everyday has been parades, singing, music, dancing, weird gun shots every 15 mins and thousands of people everywhere. Over kill on your senses but the most colour and vibrancy I have ever seen.
We have eaten some incredible food, I could not be happier that Peru is home of the potato, I love me a potato based meal! We have also eaten delicacies such as guinea pig and alpaca, all delicious! And soup, soup everywhere, and I freakin love soup!
We have done a lot of walking the dusty city streets full of people trying to sell you anything Lama or Macchu Picchu based much like being hassled in the Medina’s in Morocco and we tested ourselves to hike to a big white Jesus statue that towers above the city. Out of breath most of the way it still boosted our confidence that we can move our bodies in the thin air.
Next up, our first trek in the Andes!
Mountains – big ones!
Challacancha – Soraypampa and Humantay Lake
Starting elevation – 11,979ft (3651m)
Highest elevation – 13,845ft (4221m)
Ok, so this trek is very different from our usual, we have a guide and we are in a group of 10 people, we have porters and horseman to carry our stuff, chefs to cook our food and no on the ground tents. We have levelled up in the trekking world, definitely glamping and I was feeling a bit apprehensive about it until 100 paces into our first days hike and I couldn’t breathe at all. Altitude renders you breathless in seconds and I wouldn’t have made it 1 mile if I had had to carry my normal pack. The first part of the trek was directly up. I’m always nervous about being able to keep up with people and not being the chubby red faced girl holding everyone up but I was ok, middle of the pack and apart from the not being able to breathe thing my body felt strong. Luckily just about everytime I was at the point where I didn’t think I would be able to take another step our guide Miguel stopped for a breather. It was slow going but we hit a sweet spot at the top where we followed a flat canal path for the rest of the morning which felt great.
At lunchtime we arrived at possibly the place I was looking forward to the mostest. Skydomes! Seriously cool glass domes in the middle of the mountains, heaven! What was not heaven was the weather, it was absolutely freezing, snowing and windy I was wearing all of my clothes. We had our first lunch prepared by our chef, which was amazing. Later it turned out all of our meals were amazing, always 3 or 4 courses, soups, vegetables, meat, it was perfect.
The afternoon had me worried. It was such hard work to get to this campsite and we were going on an afternoon hike to Humantay Lake another 1000ft directly up and the weather was very questionable. But we layered up, saddled our very small day packs onto our backs and started the ascent.
It was a huge struggle but as we crested the mountain we were rewarded beyond words. A sublime glacier fed lake that was sheer beauty.
After a huge dinner we retired to our skydomes feeling like the coldest but luckiest people on earth.
Soraypampa – Chaullay
Starting elevation – 12,690ft (3869m)
Highest elevation – 15,213ft (4638m)
Well to say I was nervous about today was an understatement beyond, I couldn’t really form words in the morning at breakfast except please excuse me while I sit in the toilet for a while. This would be the highest altitude of the trek and also the highest I have ever been.
The day started off with us hiking at very first light around 6am, it was freezing, I was hiking in thermals under my usual hiking clothes of a t-shirt and long sleeve plus a fleece and a down coat. We were looking directly at Salcantay Mountain, an oppressive 22,000ft mountain of which we were to pass over its shoulder.
As predicted it was hard going like hiking through syrup, we had to stop to catch our breath about every 10 mins but only for seconds else you would get cold. As we hiked up we started to shed layers as the sun came up. I had weird pins and needles in my hands and blue finger nails from the altitude but was feeling pretty good. I usually count my steps, it was a trick willow and I have used before on hard hikes, 100 paces at a time and then a break as a reward, but my befuddled altitude brain couldn’t count numbers in order, once I went from a break to step 14 and I was already so out of breath like I had sprinted and couldn’t count any more numbers so I resorted to a 1 – 2, 1 – 2, 1 – 2 count just to keep pace.
It was relentlessly up, up a section called the 7 snakes, which was 7 steep switchbacks to a viewpoint of the whole valley we had climbed up.
One more super steep ascent and push to the top and after over 3 hours of climbing we made it to Salcantay Pass.
After the elation of the summit had passed we were brought quickly out if our stupor with the realisation of what goes up must come down! 5000ft down actually, and another 7 hours of hiking! After saying a quick prayer to Pachamama (Incan mother earth) for the protection of our knees we were off. In comparison to our ascent we were off to a blistering pace, gravity pulling us down and oxygen filling our lungs.
It was rocky, steep, roasting hot and very stumbly but we made it, destination Andean Huts. Dinner and bed at hiker midnight aka 7:30pm!
Chaullay – Playa Sahuayacco
Starting elevation – 9414ft (2879m)
Today was a very different hike. We were at a much lower elevation and for most of the day we were downhill bound but instead of exposed mountain sides we were deep in the jungle. In Peru its called the cloud forest or high altitude jungle and it was richly biodiverse with fruits, vegetables and flowers. We crossed beautiful waterfalls, saw pumpkins on vines 20ft off the ground dangling above our heads and ate freshly picked passion fruits.
Thanks to our early start by lunchtime we had nailed our mileage for the day and were left to relax all afternoon, reading (thanks Kirsty for great book!!) in the sunshine surrounded by mountains and playing with the local puppy whom we named Lola, it was pretty perfect. Due to its proximity to the equator, Peru pretty much has equal daytime and nighttime so it’s dark by 6pm, but in the mountains as soon as the sun goes behind the high pass it’s dark and cold which is about 4pm. Tonight’s accommodation – jungle domes, which were amazing, and by far the warmest, I only slept in one pair of thermals and one pair of socks, half the attire I have been wearing at night!
Playa Sahuayacco – Aguas Calientes
Starting elevation – 6771ft (2064m)
Highest elevation – 8974ft (2736m)
Well today really felt like it kicked my ass actually. The day started with a killer uphill, over 2000ft gain, we had a couple of great stops along the way, one to a coffee plantation and one at the coolest swing set I’ve ever been on. I want to remember these things and not the suffering I was enduring on the climb.
The pace set by our group was probably just a bit too fast for Sophie short legs, but as always just as I was getting the feeling that I definitely couldn’t possibly take another step up we reached the top. Our reward this time was our first glance at Macchu Picchu in the distance.
The down was equally as punishing, although shorter. Willow and I managed to corrupt a couple of girls in our group from my side of the ocean into playing a trail game classic, which Harry Potter character am I thinking of which was a helpful distraction from the suffering.
Once down at the bottom I thought I would be relieved for our flat afternoon hike, but it turns out hiking 8 mike’s directly next to an active train track isn’t that fun and no amount of ranking Disney characters would be enough of a distraction. Luckily we were staying in a hostel over night, because it was really the first time I landed at camp for the evening feeling broken!
Starting elevation – 6232ft (1900m)
Highest elevation – 8835ft (2693m)
Ok today was the day we had pilgrimaged here for, hiked over mountain passes and through jungles to feel deserving to enjoy the wonder of the Incan ruins. And it did not disappoint.
Firstly we were lucky enough to get a ticket to climb Huayna Picchu. The iconic pointy mountain that overlooks the ruins. They only allow so many people to do this per day because of the treacherous path named the stairs of death. Basically it was a carved stone ladder ascending 300m directly up. To be honest we were totally fine, but we passed a lot of people who were definitely not fine, clutching onto vegetation for dear life and shouting a lot at the people around them for coming too close. The climb took about an hour and all of my available oxygen but the view from the very precarious rock at the top was spectacular, literally breath taking and unbelievable that I was even there!
After climbing down the death stairs also known as the gringo killer we were able to explore the ruins and hear about the Incan paradise. I still feel totally overwhelmed that I’ve seen it, been to it and experienced it.
Whilst this was an incredible trek, it’s actually a bit of a warm up. We have one rest day in Cusco before we head out on another trek. This time the Ausangate trail, 3 days with 4 near to or over 16,500ft (5000m) passes. You’ll hear from me in a few days! (Hopefully)