I wake today around 5:30am after a wonderful night’s sleep. The heavy rains during the night helped lull me back to sleep whenever I awoke and by morning the air was crisper and cleaner because of the showers. We are also afforded a better view down the valley when the clouds lift with the sunrise, showing the way we came. Some peaks near us around the 13,000′ mark have been dusted with snow and I wonder out loud if we’ll see snow when we crest Warmiwañuska, or Dead Woman Pass, later today. It’s elevation is 13,781′ (4215m). Before the day is over we will have gained 4950′ and dropped 2190′ on the other side of the pass.
We are brought hot tea and washing water as we don warm clothes for the day ahead. I did mention this isn’t the hardest type of trekking, right? Starting the day with clean face, hands and feet (always wash in that order!) is a true luxury and one I’ve started incorporating in my other hiking and camping adventures. But as with a meal, it’s always better when someone else does all the work and I’m enjoying this aspect of the trek. Jeff and I scramble around the tent packing up. I’m glad to have a tentmate who has been camping before as we both know how to stay out of each other’s way, mostly.
After breakfast it’s time for the uphill. Nearly 5000′ of it. Up, up, up and then up some more. Rene sets a good pace but today I am feeling the weight of the 3 fulls bottles of wine and 8lbs of camera gear on my back. He stops us every 30 minutes or so to re gather the group. Heather drops back and takes a slower pace with Rolando, our assistant chef. She’s slow but very persistent and while you can see she’s winded and maybe not in the best shape, she keeps a smile and positive attitude which makes a world of difference. There weren’t any whiners on this trip and that’s amazing for a group of 14. Most of us had spent time on a trail before but then you had Anand, this being his first overnight trip. And not just one night, but four. Now that’s adventurous!
Lunch is served at 11,840′, just a bit before the pass. A light rain is starting to catch up to us and a tarp is laid out for our day packs while we duck into the dining tent. But not before I wander over and inhale deeply the delicious waves of ginger and garlic scents coming from kitchen tent. I was a little hungry when we made it to lunch but those smells woke up a monster in my stomach. As usual, I end up having a double lunch and then take some time to photograph a stream near by that I’ve set my boiling water bottle in to cool. We are provided water at breakfast, lunch and dinner and they use both iodine and boiling to make sure it is purified.
Then back to the uphill slogging. I alternate groups for a while, first hanging with Sarah, Devin and Tiffany, the Canadian friends. They provide comic relief by donning matching ponchos purchased in Cusco that you can park a Escalade under. But they stay dry, so more power to them. The Aussie boys, Michael, who I am still calling Marko at this point, his son Ben and friend Pat, all hang up front with Rene. Darren is usually near the front as well as Anand. Alice and Jeff linger near the rear as they stop and take a lot of photos. Penny drifts near the front and her Mom headed back to the trailhead today with our other guide Jesus. The strain was too much for her and she’ll spend the trek wandering around the town of Aqua Caliante until we arrive three days hence. And as previously mentioned, Heather is bringing up the rear, slow and steady and constant.
The fog closes in obscuring the pass from time to time, playing tricks on the eyes making things seem closer. I’ve been up enough mountains and over enough passes to know it ALWAYS looks closer than it seems so I concentrate on what I have in front of me. I’m feeling really good by this point with a lot of energy and no desire to push myself over the edge, just bouncing between groups on the trail. We stop at one point and watch some, uhhhh, amorous llamas off in a field. We supposed they were wild llamas but weren’t sure. With their long, white necks and horse like legs, the female sits on the ground, looking complacent while the male…..well, you get the picture I hope. Happy llama jokes ensue for the next hour.
Around noon we reach the Dead Woman Pass! We see no dead women. We don’t even see graves. Rene tells us it’s named Warmiwañuska because from the next pass (tomorrow) it looks like a dead woman. I think the Spaniards who named it must have been a little trail weary by the time they got to this area. There are some benches on the lee side of the pass with the prevailing winds bringing more fog and chill from the East. No sooner do we reach the pass than our porters catch up to us. They also take a break on the benches and I take the opportunity to communicate in the only way I know how, not speaking any Quechua, by offering Trader Joe’s Turkey Jerky (teriyaki) to all, with just barely enough to go around. We wait long enough for all to catch up for the obligatory group shot with the pass marker. While we wait, most break out the snack bags packed for us by our kitchen crew earlier in the morning, some of us not sure what to make of the strange, orange powder only Devin and Jeff are brave enough to mix with water. Jeff finds out it is best to follow the instructions properly as too much powder and not enough water makes a mix brighter than Devin’s poncho (shown here).
As we come down off the pass the trail turns to stone steps. Steep stone steps. Steep stone steps with the occasional stream running over them. It the one time on the trip I wish I had something other than my running shoes as it’s hard not to plod through puddles. I hang with Tiffany, Sarah and Devin for a while as I enjoy the slower pace. Sarah had suffered a fractured ankle just six months prior and is very cautious on the slippery rocks. We are now in a valley coming down from the top of the hill with an occasional lake. Rene explains work done by the local government to reforest the area but it will take time, hundreds of years for the trees to grow to maturity in this harsh, wind swept environment, if they survive at all. I am reminded of the vegetation at comparable altitudes in the Himalayas; spares, tall grasses, thick, prickly shrubs and occasional trees below 12,000′.
Our camp is part way down a mountain, on a fairly steep hillside, in a place called Pacamayu, meaning Hidden River. The camp is fairly popular and we amongst three or four other trekking groups again, but further up the hill so there isn’t much mingling. There are maybe 150 other trekkers around and their support groups of porters, cooks and guides. After washing up and changing into warm clothes, we hang out for a while chatting about the weather here, there, everywhere. We also have a lively discussion of the ludicrous laws in our various countries, each of us trying to outdo the other with more and more insane ways our governments exert control. I think Australia won, amazingly enough, although I can’t remember the particular law. (if you read this, Michael, please feel free to leave an example in the comments)
The day winds down as we are called to the dinning tent for tea time to help warm us against the damp winds blowing up the hanging valley where we camp. After tea Heather, Marko (I think tomorrow I learn his real name) and I stay in the dinning tent to play some cards. Later Pat joins us and then Ben. While I don’t remember who won, I do remember a lot of laughter that was a great release after a long day. This group was shaping up to be a lot of fun and not a stuffy one in the bunch. And I’m not just saying that because most of them will read this. I really enjoyed the ease with which we all got along.
Dinner is chicken, noodles and yams. Yes, I go back for seconds. And then we are introduced to a new phenomena; Jeff Stories (R). Jeff, as we come to find out, has a great memory and a ton of stories. Couple that with excellent delivery, sprinkle on a bit of hilarity, throw in some famous people like Oprah and the whole tent goes quite for jsut a bit while Jeff mesmorizes us all with tales from his life’s adventures. Ok, so maybe we are only quite for a little while before poking fun at him. He tells us of the time he and friends bought a van, called it Van Morrison and I honestly can’t remember much after that as I was laughing too hard. I wish he’d share more of his Jeff Stories (R) on his blog (hint, hint).
After dinner the crowd breaks up as we are all ready for some sleep. Jeff and I talk for a while in our tent about blogs and photography, boring those around us into slumber, except Tiffany who relates our stories back to us the next morning. She was that enthralled. 🙂 It turns out Jeff reads a blog I write for, Digital Photography School. It’s cool to meet someone face to face who has benefited from what I’ve written. In Peru of all places.
Coming Soon, Day 16!