Unfortunately the older members of our group, Chris and I included, had to wake up an hour before the rest to hit the trail. This was a 10.8 mile hike which started with another two hour hike straight up.
It had rained all night and continued into the morning with only a slight break that allowed us to get a drier start. As with the day before this pass was at over 12,000 feet and done at 5:30am with little to no breakfast, my altitude sick stomach, and cement legs. We arrived at the top, a 1500 foot gain, in just under the two hours allotted.
I was the first to summit and therefore the first to begin the ascent down the other side. This day was different. We started out before any of the porters so we had the trail to ourselves, the four of us the only ones on the trail for two hours. Soon I was passed by the first, second, tenth and and more porters… one finally stopped and told me I was the first gringo on this part of the mountain. I smiled.
The rain was relentless. It was steady and the mountain engulfed in clouds and mist. Every plant was saturated, the stone path wet and glistening. I watched each porter as they danced across the rocks to see which were safe to step on and which to avoid. A fall could mean a broken ankle, leg or even tailbone. Ouch.
I made it to the bottom of the mountain in good time, this was called the Gringo Killer. I came upon a ruin that I thought was a break area, waited over a half hour before the younger members of our group, and finally Alejandro showed up. I was sopping wet and beginning to feel a chill. No break here I was told, not for another twenty minutes.
Hiking the trail this day in the cloud forest high above the valley below was like hiking in an unfinished painting. The left side was brilliant greens speckled with fauna, the stone path in the middle and the right was trees and vines, to the far right was a blank white space, devoid of any color, shadow or shape. You could hear the birds and river running deep below but the sound came out of a void in space.
By lunch, almost 1pm, the relentless rain had stopped. We were all soaked through to the bone. We arrived and the porters were all moving around feverishly to assure we could warm up, dry out and get a well deserved meal. I of course was still feeling the nausea of early mornings and lack of a good night sleep and probably a bit of altitude sickness… so no food for me. The porters made us a cake that took a whole day to cook on the trail. It read “Congratulations YOHO!” It was so special to know that each of them was pulling for us.
After lunch the clouds parted and by the time we reached our next break, Winayaywayna, another step filled ruin. The view revealed where we had been hiking all day in the stark nothingness. Another history lesson, picture session, and off to our last night camp. P.S., this was a 13 hour hike for Chris and I, but it was by far the easiest day!