We survived the Salkantay trek, a wonderful and miserable adventure.
Day 1 – Salkantay Pass (May 22)
This was one of the toughest hikes I’ve ever done, thanks to the altitude and weather. I had anticipated taking photos of snow-capped peaks, instead the snow was falling on me during the “dry” season (climate change strikes again).
We were picked up from our hotel by IntiSunTrek at 5:00 a.m., then driven three hours to Soray Pampa. We started out, after tea and bread, under overcast skies. Soon it began to drizzle, then to rain. It became harder and harder to breathe and I soon fell behind. The rain turned to snow and the wind picked up. I struggled to catch my breath, and had more difficulty than I’ve ever had at high altitude. I took an extra Diamox and slogged on, at times wondering whether I’d need a horse to get over the pass. The weather worsened and I packed away my camera to protect it from the elements.
We stopped for lunch after a series of switchbacks known to tourists as the “Seven Snakes”. We shivered under the overhang of a small building while our crew set up a dining tent. The cook kept his cool and fixed us an amazing meal while the three us trekkers were getting changed into warmer clothes, modesty be damned, periodically grabbing onto poles to prevent the tent from blowing away.
Somehow we dragged ourselves back into the blizzard and made it to the pass. Our guide, Carlos, took our picture under the elevation sign at 15,200′ (4630 meters). I was ecstatic to start heading down, except for the icy wet snow stinging my face. Head down, I kept focused on the trail, one step at a time.
As we descended, the snow changed to rain. We reached what we thought was our campsite, and enjoyed a hot cup of of tea. Then we were informed that a big group was coming in and we needed to move to another camp, 25 minutes down the mountain. An hour later we arrived, in the rain and dark. I couldn’t find my headlamp, so I walked between Karen and Joanne, sharing their light.
We headed towards a light, thinking it was our camp, but reached the home of Costina, a local woman instead, We huddled around the fire in her small hut while Carlos found the crew and set up our tents. Costina held our cold hands in her warm ones and helped warm us up. We ate our dinner in there as well.
Though I had “waterproof” boots, pants, and jacket, everything I was wearing was wet, along with most of the items in my backpack, in spite of the rain cover. My small camera was swimming in a pool of water. I’ve packed it in rice, but fear I won’t be able to take underwater pictures in the Galapagos (it’s the one I purchased an underwater housing for) 😦
My feet were still cold a half hour after I climbed into my sleeping bag, so I fixed a hand warmer sandwich – sock, hand warmer, sock on each foot – that did the trick and I finally fell asleep.