Wake up time was early, though we were awake even earlier thanks to the local roosters. We were served a nice hot coca tea in our tents before getting up for breakfast. The valley was so beautiful and peaceful in the early morning but there was a flurry of activity with everyone packing up and preparing to set off.
We had only about 10 minutes of relatively flat trail to get the knees warmed up before we started our 1,200 metre ascent. Today we would all walk at our own pace instead of as a group so we could keep our own rhythm and comfort level, though we would meet up at designated rest stops and for lunch.
The first section of the climb was 300 vertical metres and it was tough! We were feeling the burn very quickly in both the lungs and the legs, but the scenery around us was spectacular. We were in a deep valley with high peaks on either side, and occasional glimpses of snow capped peaks.
When we reached our rest stop, we wondered how we would manage the remaining 900m ascent. Juan gave us a little lesson in chewing the coca leaves at that point, and thank goodness. Before then we had just been shoving the in our mouths and chewing away, but Juan showed us how to roll them and told us to keep them between our teeth and gums which helped not to end up with them all through our teeth!
With coca leaves ready we set off on the next 400m of the ascent. The trail was stunning, made in some sections of endless steep stone steps. Just when you thought they might end, you would turn a corner and on they would go.
The next rest stop was for lunch. We spotted Papa, the best sight we had seen all day. Papa was one of our Chaskis, the oldest of the bunch at 73 years! Papa trekked in sandals (he preferred this) with 25 kilos on his back, packed up our camp after we had left, ran past and ahead of us, set up lunch then sat on the trail with a flag so we would know where to stop when we reached the lunch spot. 73!
From here we still had another 500 vertical metres to climb to reach the famous Dead Woman's Pass. The trail made its way up the face of one of the mountain sides. After a little while we could see our target ahead. Having it in sight was both a blessing and a curse, as it appeared so much closer than it was. The last part of the climb was a killer!
A few of our group arrived before us and were waiting with high fives ready. Dead Woman's Pass, the highest point of the Inca Trail, sits at 4,215 metres above sea level, so it's not just the stairs that make this challenging climb so notorious. The altitude is an added obstacle, but fortunately we weren't too affected other than the usual breathlessness felt by all.
We waited here as our other group members arrived offering high fives as everyone reached the top. The camaraderie amongst previously complete strangers was really lovely. We enjoyed the achievement and the rest for a while before setting off on the descent as we still had a 600 metre descent down steep rocky steps to reach camp. After such a big climb the jelly legs made this almost as challenging as the climb!
The campsite was constructed on terraces on the hillside with a freezing cold stream running through it. Despite the freezing temperature we still threw on our swimmers and splashed the water over our faces and bodies. Very invigorating!
In celebration of completing a marathon day, we got stuck into some Pisco that Shayne had carried with him until now, as well as some tea with rum, over a game of cards and some snacks. We had all chipped in for the rum earlier in the day which the Chaskis carried so they could make us the tea, useful to assist in digestion which is important at altitude. Or perhaps they just told us that so they could have some rum at our expense!
With a few drinks in us we were keen to continue playing cards, but as the Chaskis were to sleep in the dining tent we were asked to leave so they could get some shut eye. That left us all heading to bed, which was probably the better option.