Day 2! Salkantay Pass 17,060 ft.

September 12 – Happy Birthday Matt!

After a successful first day we were excited, but anxious to tackle the second day. Since we had already been to Humantay Lake, and had some bad feelings towards it, through no fault of its own. We decided to skip the lake and take on the Salkantay Pass, essentially cramming day two and three into one day. The pass rests at 17,060 feet. It would be the highest either of us had ever hiked, and we were only on day two. Our guide was confident that we could do it, and assured us that he had lots of oxygen. He also tested our oxygen levels and heart rate multiple times during the day.

To be perfectly frank, I was terrified. After the first Humanitay Lake experience, in which I ended up on the floor of our hotel room with a pounding headache, fighting tears, and too nauseous to stand. I had no idea how I was going to survive 17k feet, but at the end of the day the only option was to try.

The Pass was challenging to say the least. Thankfully it wasn’t scary steep, or technical hiking. It was just up. It was about half way up that I realized that I had to change everything about the way I was breathing. I shifted my body into it sloth mode. Taking one step for each breath. I also focused more on slowing my exhalations rather than my intake. At points I was huffing air trying to get enough, but the more I controlled the exhale the better I felt. The most frustrating part for both of us was that our legs were fine. The legs wanted to go, but the lungs said absolutely not!

Lots of photos on the pass, mostly because we were alive. And that was a big deal!

We didn’t take any photos on the way down because it was quite steep, and we had to move quickly. A storm was trying to roll in and we didn’t want to get caught in the rain.

Our chefs and horse man passed us, right as we crossed the pass, and were down the other side in no time. As we made our way down we could see them set up on the valley floor. We were about 30 minuets from the camp site when our head chef Selveleo radioed that they wanted to break camp and move further down the valley. It was very cold and windy due to the storm, and there was a large heard of cows already trying to trample the tents. They said they would move another 45 minuets down the trail, but we were so tired that it took us and extra hour and a half to get to camp making our total miles for the day 15.5. So tired, but also very proud of ourselves.

Our camp dog for the night. The dog lived at the house in the background with Juan’s brother. Juan was our horse man and the dog was so happy to see him. The dog followed Juan all night, and was so gentile when we gave him scraps. He was a good boy.

We slept like baby alpacas that night.

Well, That Was Fucking Terrible

It’s hard to complain sitting in a five star hotel wrapped in a bright white fuzzy hotel bathrobe, and wearing cute little hotel slippers, but I’m going to try my absolute best!

Saturday we arrived in Cusco, the hotel sent a car to pick us up from the airport which was very nice. The driver worked for a tour company and asked if we wanted to do any tours while we were in Cusco. He had a tour book in the car, and we had already decided we wanted to go to Rainbow Mountain. He took our name, and said he be back tomorrow at 5am to pick us up. He was very pushy and we both got a bit of a dodgy feeling about him, so we decided to visit the tour company office to make sure. Sure enough he was trying to overcharge us for the tour, $50 USD vs. $28 USD. He was clearly going to keep the extra for himself, but that’s between him and his company. We booked a tour to Rainbow Mountain for the next day.

As promised, at 4:30am a large 20 person Mercedes sprinter van showed up, the woman had our name on her list, and we loaded into the van like the cattle that we were.

This is clearly the 4:00am thing to do in Cusco. The vans go from hotel to hotel gathering their tourists before heading out of the city to the different locations. They do this at top speed racing through the cobbled streets without the day to day traffic to contend with. Being a passenger in one of these vans required full participation, it was a core work out trying to stay in one’s seat.

Once the van was full we began the journey to our destination. The journey was also driven at top speeds. Our driver had zero regard for his passenger’s comfort, as he was quite literally drifting the van around corners, tires squealing and all. He was also most comfortable on the wrong side of the road. Passing other cars, vans, even an ambulance (with lights flashing- on its way to the hospital) at one point. He owned the wrong side of the road, the oncoming traffic was merely a small inconvenience.

We stopped for breakfast at what can only be described as a tourist warehouse. Multiple vans stopped here at the same time. We were herded into a large room with long rickety tables and food was rapidly flung in front of us. Everyone had a single gelatinous pancake, and a bowl of old fruit. I ate as much fruit as I could stomach. The coca tea was good.

It was here that we learned that we were not going to Rainbow Mountain. We were in fact on our way to Humantay Lake….the exact same lake that we will hike to during our 7 day trek. Of course by this time we were two hours into a road trip and there was nothing to be done, but go to the lake.

It turns out that there is no tour to Rainbow Mountain on Sunday, but we wanted a tour on Sunday, so we got one! Peruvians are very helpful. They were a little confused as to why we were upset. A tour is a tour!

At the end of the day, despite the 6 hours of nauseating van ride, the hike was at least beautiful. And we got a very good taste of what our next seven days will be like.

The horses were for the tourists who couldn’t make the hike. The poor beasts looked miserable going up, but they seemed to enjoy running down hill.

By the way hiking at altitude is really hard! Our training paid off, but breathing was a bitch. From base to the lake was a 3,000 ft elevation gain. The lake rests at 13,800 ft. It took three breaths during the hike to get the same amount of oxygen as a breath at regular/ accustomed altitude. I could feel the lack of oxygen in my muscles as well. The pressure in my head was the oddest thing. It was in spots. It felt like I was wearing a too-tight hat. The cocoa candy helped, but I was definitely feeling a bit woozy. The tree hour speed-racer van ride home has really put me off of #vanlife, and I’ll be ok with never stepping foot in another van for many many moons. Matt has had almost no issues at all with the altitude, and hasn’t the entire trip. Which is total bull shit in my humble opinion.

Tomorrow we begin our seven day trek!

Thanks for reading my rantings,

Matt and Jill