“The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for.” Louis L’Amour 1908 – 1988
A procession of hikers winding their way up to Dead Woman’s Pass
I took this photograph when I was almost at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass (Warmiwanusqa), which is the highest point on the Inca Trail (at 4215 metres above sea level). You can see the procession of hikers winding their way slowly up the mountain. The air is thin, it’s difficult to breathe, it’s fairly steep, and you feel like you’re never going to make it.
But for me, this was such a memorable moment, because I’d contemplated quitting at 3000 metres above sea level. I had been struggling with the altitude, to the point where our porter gave me oxygen. So, those last hundred or so steps to the top of the pass gave me a great sense of satisfaction and it was one of the happiest moments of my life; standing with my sister at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass.
Reaching the highest point of the Inca Trail in Peru
If you’d like to read the full story on my Inca Trail trek, click on the links below:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Machu Picchu
“I wonder if anyone will believe what I’ve found?” Hiram Bingham
Sue and Karen at Machu Picchu.
Hiram Bingham was searching for the lost city of Vilcabamba – the old capital of the descendants of the Inca ruling class – when he stumbled upon Machu Picchu in 1911. Here was a ‘lost city’ – a maze of terraces, walls and buildings – buried beneath the thick Peruvian jungle. He later wrote: “It seemed like an unbelievable dream. What place could this be?”
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” T.S Eliot
Sue and Karen on the Inca Trail
When I set out to hike the Inca Trail I knew it would be difficult, but this was part of the appeal. I enjoy challenging myself – whether it’s hiking, cycling or volunteering. But it never occurred to me that I might not be able to finish it, that is, until I was sitting on the edge of the trail with an oxygen mask. To read about my first day on the Inca Trail, click here.
The Inca Trail – Day 2
Doubt is my unseen companion as Sue and I begin hiking. We face a 900m climb to Warmiwanusqa, the highest point of the trail at 4215m, which is also known as Dead Woman’s Pass. From my understanding, this is an apt description of how most people feel when they finally reach the top of the first pass. From here, there is a steep 700m descent to the lunch spot, followed by another climb over the second pass, Runkuracay at 3850m, and, finally, down to our next campsite at 3650m.
“In the mountains there are only two grades: You can either do it, or you can’t.” Rusty Baille
Sue and Karen on Day 1 of the Inca Trail trek
I remember reading an article about the Inca Trail. The opening paragraph described a group of hikers sprawled on the ground, totally exhausted, after they’d reached the highest point of the trail, the aptly-named Dead Woman’s Pass. I’d also spoken to a few friends who’d made the journey. For the most part, they were reluctant to talk about the difficulty of the trek but, when pressed, said Day 2 was the hardest.
I must admit, Day 2 was making me anxious, especially after my less than ideal start in Cuzco. Dead Woman’s Pass is 4215 metres above sea level and, years ago, when I hiked Mt Kilimanjaro, I’d been affected by altitude from about 3800m. But the danger of thinking too far ahead is underestimating what comes before it. And that’s exactly what I did.
Hiking the Inca Trail has been on my bucket list for a long time.
I remember, when I was quite young, setting myself a goal of travelling to South America by the time I turned 30, but then, when that date came and went, I changed it to 35, and then 40. It was one of those destinations that, over the years, became a bit elusive for me. There was no doubt I wanted to go, but other great travel opportunities kept getting in the way. Eventually though, at age 46, my chance came.
The trip was an overwhelming experience and it’s taken me a while to sit down and write about it. I guess I just needed more time than usual to reflect on this particular journey, where I saw my dream of hiking the Inca Trail come to fruition. The trek was physically and mentally challenging; in fact there were times where it was so hard that I thought I would give up. I also shared the experience with my older sister, Sue, which made the trip even more special.
Sue has a quiet and calm manner (which is pretty much opposite to me). She is also the mother of four adult daughters, so she knows how to nurture and look after people. But here, the roles were somewhat reversed; as I was the one with all the travel experience. Her daughters even farewelled us with the parting words: “Look after our Mum”. The pressure was on…
I’ve decided to break this blog into three parts, because there is simply too much to put into one post. I hope you enjoy reading it… and if you’ve had a similar experience, please share it with me in the comments section below.