In my quads, in my calves, in my back…..
The second day was by far the most strenuous of the trip. Having woken up at 5AM to breakfast (starting with heavenly hot tea served outside our tent) we packed up and gathered around the group of shaggy mountain ponies to start our ride. Watching other groups head out determined to make it to the top on their own two feet was a bit demoralizing, but we soon realized we had made the right choice.
I actually enjoyed riding my little pony, Juana, up the mountain. The trails were so steep and narrow that the many times Juana balked, I felt certain he was trying to toss me over the sides of the cliff. The ride up took two hours and the haggard, miserable faces of the hikers we passed made it clear that we had definitely made the right choice. I really think the sustained oxygen deprivation is a serious health risk, and one I was not prepared to take!
Once we reached the top and dismounted, Santiago led us to the summit sign and explained the religious significance of Salkantay Mountain to the indigenous peoples who used to live in the valley.
After posing for some photos we took a detour to view an incredible lake framed by mountains and clouds. Glacial sediment caused this brilliant aquamarine color.
The Big Descent
The descent of Salkantay Peak was honestly one of the most technically challenging trails I’ve come across. Chock-full of rocks, gravel, and horse poo, there was very little sure footing for the next 5 hours. The trail slowly wound its way through the stark boulder-strewn mountain pass and into a mist-shrouded valley. The temperature immediately began rising, even with the rain. After stopping for lunch, the other members of the group who were suffering from altitude sickness, began to feel a little better. I felt some tightness in my forehead but fortunately it did not affect my appetite at any point!
The lower we got, the warmer it got, until finally the mist burned off completely, and we were in a lush rainforest. The view of the hills in the sunlight was incredible although I was mainly concerned with my bruised feet at that point. Would the campsite never appear?? We’d long since left the other group members behind and were setting a pretty good pace while visions of beer floated in our heads.
How Sweet It Is
I have rarely felt as happy anywhere as I did reaching camp that evening. Peeling off my boots and socks, and leaning my burning feet against a handrail felt wonderful!! Lara and I immediately purchased well-deserved lukewarm beers from the small shop in the camp and celebrated finishing the day.