The Inca Trail – Several thousand feet of awe
Four thousand two hundred and 15 metres above sea level, it is named ‘Dead’s Woman’s Pass’ because it is said to resemble a supine woman.
But half way along the hike to the highest point on the Inca Trail I took to wondering if Warmiwañusca – as it is otherwise known – earned its named by claiming the life of some previous, poor traveller.
My breath is short, I have a nagging headache in the corner of my skull and a persistent, intense ache fills my thighs, calves and shoulders.
The Inca Trail, for all its brash beauty, is not for the faint hearted or faint legged – and ‘Dead’s Woman’s Pass’ sees the hike at its lung-busting hardest.
For me, the climb consisted of five minutes heaving my sorry carcass upwards, two minutes panting as I regained my breath from both the exertion and the spectacular scenery that had taken it away in equal measure, and 30 seconds taking another pull at my oh so precious water. Repeat, seemingly ad infinitum.
Even the otherwise tireless porters who accompany tour groups, bearing 20kgs worth of clothes, tents, food and even stoves on their backs, stopped to chew altitude sickness defeating coca leaves.
But Warmiwañusca does have a top, and after two hours of uphill slog that lifts trekkers 900 metres further towards the heavens, I made the summit.
It is these moments that make the Inca Trail so special. The feeling of achievement is incredible, the views you are greeted with equally fulfilling.
Of course, the daddy of all of these views comes at the end of the trip.
Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas, is certainly an awe-inspiring sight.
The picture postcard view from the Sun Gate is stunning, but for me the most incredible view came at Intipata, several miles before Peru’s most famous site.
The ‘place of the sun’ was used as an agricultural base with endless ‘steps,’ each varying in temperature by one degree from the previous to allow different crops to be grown on them, carved into the side of the mountain.
Looking down from this incredible farm, the valley spreads before you like a film set. The deep green of the forest fills one side and the more craggy cliff faces and lighter bush dominate the opposite view, the winding path we have walked that morning spreading along it. Below the valley rolls out like the work of some great artist, the river arching its way along the floor.
It makes the walking, all the sleepless nights as rain batters the outside of your tent and the soaking boots, trousers and ponchos more than worth it.
Not that trekking the Inca Trail is a back to basics hell.
While you carry a light bag with essentials such as water, sweaters and bars of chocolate stashed inside, those Andean mountain goats that are your porters do the real hard work.
Never has a tip been so well earned as by these men.
Not only do they carry your tents and food for you, they do so at such a pace that each campsite is set up ready for you as you arrive.
And not just that, the food the accompanying cooks produce in the middle of nowhere would surely rival the best work of Heston Blumenthal or Gordon Ramsay.
Grilled chicken or fish, plates full of rice and vegetables, sweet potato, the most mouth-watering soups and delightful quiches.
These three course culinary delights supply you with all the nourishment you need to survive the hikes that follow.
Wish travellers would do well to avoid skipping a meal, tired as they may be after a days hiking.
You’ll need that energy when you’re 4,215m into the heavens.