It was a restless night as I had had to force myself to get up a couple of times to visit a rock and, at -10 C, it was extremely cold. However, I had brought enough clothing layers with me so that, together with my blanket, I wasn’t too cold whilst in my sleeping bag. Getting out of it was another matter, of course, but, a small compensation was that I was able to view the spectacularly clear, starry night outside. The others in the group, though, all commented that they had been cold during the night.
Our wake up call came at 6am and was accompanied by a cup of coca tea. It is quite some time since somebody brought me early morning tea in bed so it was much appreciated! Breakfast was at 6.30am but I still did not feel like eating much so just had some porridge. The porters were already taking down the tents and starting to pack up whilst we ate.
Once on the track, along with several other trekking groups, it was upwards and upwards and upwards to the top of the Pass. It was approximately a two hour walk to the summit, which a number of people had reached before us, so there was a lot of milling around and photo taking. I chatted with the three Americans I had met on the walking tour the other day. On arrival, Javier greeted us with a cup of coca tea, which is supposed to be good for altitude but does not help me much, and a sandwich, if we wanted it.
Once everyone was at the top, had refreshed themselves and admired the view, Javier and Ben built a stone stack, which Erik then used for a ceremony to give offerings to the four important mountains on the compass points, which included Salkantay and Ausangate. We all offered three coca leaves, representing the worlds the Incas believed in, these being the upper world of the gods, the land we live in (earth) and the underworld. (The three worlds are, traditionally, symbolically represented by the condor, puma and snake, respectively.) We anchored our coca leaves to the base of the stone stack using a rock and made a wish. The mountains are considered to be very spiritual and the Incas believed that they were very important as, when they were on them, they were closer to the land of the gods, which is where they aspired to be, themselves, one day.
After the ceremony, we set off down the other side of the Pass and, for the rest of the day, it was downhill, all the way, on a loose gravel and rock track. This was killing for the knees and thighs, particularly as I was being cautious and didn’t want to slip. However, as per usual, we were spoilt by the scenery, which was a beautiful valley with mountains, sometimes cloud covered, towering over us on either side. Everyone walked at their own pace with one of the guides in the front and one at the back. I, of course, was towards the back.
After about 3 hours, we stopped for lunch, which, apparently, was again very good but I still couldn’t eat very much. Rebecca, who was having trouble with her knees, and the American family, who were unable to cope with the track, rode horses for the rest of the way and Erik had to hire three horses from other groups, as a result.
After lunch, the terrain changed dramatically as we descended into the cloud forest. Rain threatened for a while but never actually eventuated and the steep track seemed to go on for ever. It got to a point where I was almost in tears with the pain in my knees and thighs and, when we reached a meeting place, where the early young arrivals had found some beer, Erik suggested I use a horse, which, naturally, I refused. There was quite a lot of pressure, at this point, to reach the campsite before dark. I was one of the slower ones, with only Lisa and Russell behind, as they had spent so much time taking pictures of themselves. However, I am glad I refused as the campsite wasn’t too far and the gradient became a lot easier after this.
We had descended down to 2,600 metres, which is a lot more comfortable and, after a shower, I felt able to join the others in a beer and eat a little. It was very good to have a campsite with some facilities tonight and not just be camping in the open at high altitude. We had been walking for a good 9 hours by the time we arrived, just before dark, and everyone was exhausted.