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Inca Trail, Peru - 14th September 2009 - 14Between the upset stomach and the fifteen hours of travel and hiking yesterday, I slept pretty much solid through the night, waking briefly once at around 1:00am. The tents are fairly comfortable and the basic sleeping pad the tour supplies, does just about the minimal required to make the ground soft enough for rest. Getting enough sleep was important to ensure my stomach had settled, too. Last thing I wanted was to hit the hardest day with bathroom breaks every few minutes and zero fuel in my body.

After breakfast and freshening up, it was time to hit the biggest incline and make the way to Dead Woman’s Pass. Flavio is happy to let me head off on my own now and wait up at the various checkpoints. This made me much happier, as today of all days I really need to be getting my hiking tunnel vision.

I quickly passed the Norwegians who had taken off earlier and found myself passing another group that left the lower campsite an hour before. The hardest part of the hike for me here isn’t the incline, it’s the irregular steps that don’t allow for a steady stride. There’s a lot more leg work and semi-climbing involved at this point, although none of it is that strenuous at a steady pace. The first stop is Llulluchapampa, which is up at 12,460 and a gain of 1,600ft from last night’s campsite at Ayapata. This portion is averaged at two hours but I made it at a steady pace, in around 50 minutes. From here, you can see the goal of the pass in the high distance and reaching this point, made me realise that the training I had done this past summer, had rendered the hike a lot easier than it should be. Not that I’m complaining one bit – better this way, than to suffer the fate of the Norwegians in our group, who I think drastically underestimated the whole thing and came very underprepared.

After waiting for the rest of the group and taking a food break, I hit the second half of the morning hike with determination to beat the porters to the top of the pass. These people can really move, especially when you consider the incline, altitude and 15kg strapped to their backs. Well, I actually managed it, but only a short distance in front and flopped down at the highest point of 13,779ft after covering the two hour trip in just under an hour again. They say that the third day is the best but I think this second day is my personal favourite. The feeling I get as my body powers up the rocks and pushes me onward, is so empowering; the closer to the sky I get, the more I crave going further.

Warmiwañusca (Dead Woman’s Pass) has a really interesting ‘wall’ of weather at the top. The ascent is warm, breezeless and dry but then when you move towards the start of the descent side, there’s a chilly breeze and light moisture from clouds rolling off the mountains. I could have spent the day here but it was time to head on to the lunch stop and my least-enjoyed element of hiking – downhill. My knees are not built for any kind of downhill and the more rocks there are, the more crippling the descent ends up being. I had my trusty hiking poles with me and they certainly help countering the punishment. I used to laugh at people with poles but after hitting Si, Granite and Bandera without after effects, I couldn’t go back to relying on my body alone.

The drop to the lunch stop at Pacamayu is 2,000ft and I’m getting to be too far ahead of the group. I arrived a little over an hour before the next hiker and with the time spent for lunch and then waiting for the last of the party to arrive, my body had cooled significantly. The after-lunch hike would end up being laborious for the first hour, until I had convinced my body that it wasn’t time to rest for the day and that we were in need of warming up for more inclines.

There’s a big deal made about reaching the first pass, but there’s still one more pass to hit on this day and after the descent, it’s another 1400ft up to get over it. This is broken up with a brief tour of some smaller ruins, before finally hitting Runkuraqay after what seems like forever. This pass is smaller and somewhat less dramatic that Dead Woman’s; it’s also a lot cooler, as well.

After getting over the last pass of the day, it was all downhill to the campsite at Chaquicocha, just as the Sun was fading out. There are some really great ruins along the way and the browns of the first day and a half, make way for the dense greens of the cloud forest. I’m not sure why they call it ‘the astonishing cloud forest’ on the Llamapath website, as while it is very beautiful, it’s essentially dense tree-land and vine, with the clouds being well above the forest itself. Maybe there are days when the clouds are lower; no idea.

The day ended up being shorter than yesterday, although naturally, it was a fair bit harder. The remaining two days are both half-day semi-flat hikes now and getting to this point, has meant that I could get to Machu Picchu, even if I suddenly got sick. I’m really happy that it’s been so much easier than I thought it would be and I’ve certainly satisfied my own curiosity at how much I can push myself. There’s no doubt I need something more intense in the future and just maybe, I can come back here and push for a quicker speed hike.