The first two days of our trek were all in preparation for the third, the Big Day: crossing the Salkantay Pass, at more than 15,000 feet above sea level. Rob and I definitely could feel the effects of the past two days; after all, this was the most physically challenging thing we’d ever done. But the adrenaline was flowing and we, along with the rest of the group, were eager to get started.
October 7, 2017. After a 5AM wakeup, we had an early breakfast and finished packing up our bags. As we all gathered in front of Salkantay Lodge, you could sense the excitement and anticipation of what the day held. We began hiking promptly at 7AM. Leo said it would take about four hours to reach the pass.
In those four hours, Leo and Jimmy stopped us for a couple of breaks, to refill water bottles, have a power snack, and if needed, use the “rest room”. Given that this was a popular trail route to Machu Picchu (though not nearly as popular or crowded as the Inca trail) there were a few obvious areas that were well used by previous trekkers. From what the guides said, there had been a recent push to clean up the trails more as well.
The last bit up to the pass would be a series of mountain switchbacks, steep and rocky. It was also getting colder, and throughout the morning you could see each person adding layers, hats, gloves.
As we all made the final push up the narrowing trail, we fell naturally into single file. Leo was at the lead, and Jimmy stopped on the side near the top to cheer each of us on. It was a really special moment, as he gave each person a high-five as we came to the clearing that marked the pass. There were a few tears of happiness and lots of hugs and photos. Our group were the only trekkers up there, which made it all the more amazing.
After a short rest (it was pretty cold, after all), we began making our way down the other side. It would be another 90 minutes or so to our lunch stop, which was a welcome sight. A large tent had been set up, and we had a hot meal of a delicious corn soup, and a ham and rice dish similar to tacu tacu. There were also, happily, portable toilet-tents.
On the final leg to the next lodge, it started to rain. Thankfully, we had brought rain covers for our backpacks, as well as rain jackets. Some in the group used ponchos, or had rain pants as well, but luckily it was not raining that hard–more like a drizzle. Still, we were all happy to see Wayra Lodge come into view.
With the pass conquered, everyone changed into dry clothes and gathered in the main room of the lodge for before-dinner drinks and some travel talk. The day caught up to everyone though, and nobody stayed up past dinner. Even though the pass was behind us, we had three more days of hiking before we would reach Aguas Calientes, aka Machu Picchu town.
But for today, an amazing sense of accomplishment: we did it!