We are now at our first night on the Salkantay Trek, one of the 25 best hikes in the world (said the National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine).
The first day was rather exhausting, but just “a training for the second day, the hardest one of the trek”, according to Daniel, our guide.
So, during the second day, we will climb up to the highest point of the path, “El Paso” or Abra Salkantay, 15,321 ft, and then walk down to the valley. The third day will be a day of discovery of the plants and familiar animals of the jungle, and will end with a bath in the hot springs of Santa Teresa.
And here’s the map again! After the third day of the trek, you can see that we’re getting really close to the main goal of the journey: the Machu Picchu.
Salkantay Trek: climbing up to Abra Salkantay, walking down into the jungle
Walked distance : 13 miles
Differences in altitude of the day : 2,578 ft / 6,125 ft (quite a big descent)
Altitudes : 13,031 ft (at wake up) » 15,341 ft (summit) » 9,445 ft (night campsite)
Wake up at dawn. The night was terrible. 15/20ºF outside, and just 40ºF in the tent. So cold that Daniel told us to wait a few minutes outside our sleeping bag before going out, to get used to the temperature, if we had to go out during the night. Back in Montreal, before leaving, I had to make a decision between leaving with my photo equipment or hiking things. I chose to leave with a light and small sleeping bag, with a comfort zone limit at 40ºF. And I was at the comfort limit, for sure. A night to wake up every 20 minutes to try to warm my body up.
In a few words, the coldest night slept in a tent, almost the worst night of the journey (but another one has this title… I’ll tell you about it…).
I’m happy to hear the morning call of Geronimo, assistant chef, who knocks gently on our tents, “wake-up-wake-up-wake-up…” and offers us a hot mint tea as soon as he hears from us. Never been so happy to get a hot beverage just after waking up. It’s 4:30 a.m.
Packing up, emptying the tent, gathering our stuff, and the breakfast is ready on the table.
Everyone looks cold and groggy.
Thankfully, this morning, our chef has prepared us something special: pancakes! And there’s bread, butter, jam, tea, coffee, hot chocolate… too! It’s good for the mood .
We start walking before 6 a.m. Yay. It hurts a bit, but the sky is already clear and bright. It’s cold, but everybody is motivated by the ascension of the day: today, we’re gonna reach the highest point of the trek: 15, 341 ft.
Climbing up is really physical. The slope is steep, even sometime at 126% (~ 50°), steeper than the common stairs .
We arrive at our first break at 7o’c, Salkantaypampa, a small plateau down the glacier that lays at the bottom of the mountain.
3 hours after Salkantapampa, at 10 a.m., we arrive at the top: El Paso, Abra Salkantay, at the bottom of Salkantay mountain, 15,341 ft. high. The walk was quite difficult, but I was willing so much to arrive at the top that I walked fast and almost got there first. And from up there, the view is amazing: in the middle of two high peaks, we can see three valleys, the glacier, the jungle below, and the mountains covered in snow. Wow.
Picture with the group, little time to rest, and Daniel asks us to gather. He explains that this place, also part of the old Inca Trail (the old Inca road system, very large paths linking the cities of the Empire to transport goods and messages, and which goes today Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile… 25,000 miles of trails, it’s reaaaaly big…), is a particular spot on the trail. Whoever climbs up here, goes down as a better person. We’ll see that . Daniel also explains us how to thank the Salkantay for letting us come here. Almost like a war cry, we thank the summit in Quechua.
We then go back on our route, going down to the valley.
Lunch time at noon. Today, spaghetti! And pasta at 12,700 ft… is not “just” pasta .
It’s also time to get some rest. Little digestive nap for some, quick walk around for me. And looking up to the sky, I start to worry. Dark clouds are coming up. Let’s hope we won’t get wet.
No rain for us, it just falls not far from here, and we can start walking again. The path goes down… and down… and down… to the jungle. We remove hats and sweaters… here, tee-shirts and shorts are more comfortable, because the temperature goes up by 20° in a matter of minutes.
We walk down until our campsite, that we reach at 4:30 p.m. The day has been long, more than 10 hours walking.
Tonight, for the first time since we left Cusco, we can shower… with water from the river. In other words: COLD. Again. But we have to go over this, after two days walking, the shower is more than appreciated.
Dinner, little talk, and everyone’s in bed by 10. The night will be nicer than the last one, we’re now at 9,500 ft alt.
Salkantay Trek: discovering the jungle, La Playa, Santa Teresa
Walked distance: 21.4 miles
Differences in altitude of the day: 1,276 ft / 5,745 ft (quite a descent again)
Altitudes : 9,445 ft (at wake up) > 6,873 ft (La Playa) > 4,774 ft (Santa Teresa)
Wake up at 6 a.m. with a good tea, this kind of wake up will happen every day until the end of the trek. Early again, but the night has been better.
Breakfast with home-made oatmeal milk, omelette and other little delicious things.
We start walking around 7:30 a.m., after saying goodbye to our porters and donkeys, who will go back to Mollepata by foot and paw.
We go down to the river and enter the jungle. Today, the route will be almost flat, and we’ll spend the day discovery the wildlife and the plants of the valley.
Small break at 9:30 a.m., and new thing to discover: passion fruits, fresh, just picked from the trees. Delicious!
We keep walking and taking small breaks. We learn that the valley has a lot of mica (a mineral used everywhere today), and has more than 200 kinds of orchids, and more… A very rich day!
We walk until 11:30 a.m., and we take a van to reach La Playa. For Amie, Emily, Sandra, Oliver and me, the ride will be made on the roof! Very funny moment, trying to cling to something, and to bend down from time to time to avoid being hit by some branch over the road.
We arrive at La Playa after 30 minutes, and it’s lunch time!
After lunch, we have a little time to visit La Playa, and then we get into another vehicle to go to Santa Teresa, where we’ll spend the night.
Once the tent has been set up, Daniel offers to go discover the local and touristic attraction: the hot springs, 15 minutes away. Fabulous! Three pools in the grounds, by the cliff, where the water is heated naturally, and comes straight out of the mountain.
We stay in the water almost two hours. Aquatic delight.
Back to the camp, dinner, and then little time by the fire, to end this third day, closing the first half part of our trek.