“The difficult day”. That’s how they sold it to us!
We woke at 5am – I had slept pretty well, despite my single birthed tent. I was dubious about how cold it might get in a single man tent versus the others, who were all sharing tents. When it was time to wake up, the porters woke us by knocking the tents and offering us coca tea. A nice warm tea to start the day is pretty ideal, especially when faced with the highest altitude of the trek!
Quickly after the coca tea disappeared a bowl of warm water replaced it, allowing me to shave and give myself a baby wipe shower. I was very glad of this, since the prospect of not shaving for 4 days was bad, and the concept of not washing… worse!
By 5:45 we assembled for breakfast – another feast prepared by the chef! Quinoa porridge (which tasted of cinnamon), followed by a pancake with caramel, and more tea! Honestly, i’ve eaten worse in 5* hotels! We were also given snack packs, and plenty of fresh water – today would be challenging! The snack pack was an orange and a granola bar, but we had been warned to pack some snacks for day 2 ourselves so I added a couple of cliff bars which I had brought from Sweden.
Before setting off, I took one more look at the view from the campsite – incredible! The scenery in this place is really stunning.
What a view to wake up to
Once we set out, the first 400m elevation climb was reasonably gentle with some occasional steps – a nice introduction to the day. After that, the steps started, and boy did they start… as I wrote in my notes “it started with steps, then hardcore steps!”
Overall we climbed upto an elevation of 4215m above sea level, but we did take two “official” breaks plus plenty of smaller rest stops. The trek itself was made more bearable by a game of “Who am i?” played by the group I was walking with, which consisted of Mark, Katie, Ruth, Simone and Javier. We seemed to have quite a good pace going, and at times I was even able to lead the pack – an amazing feeling from my relative unfitness 18 months ago. Playing a game whilst walking was a great tactic (thanks to Mark who suggested it) – it kept our minds focussed on silly things and forgetting the challenge ahead of us.
At the second official break-point, we gathered with everyone and we could see in the distance, the peak we would be climbing. It was hard to stay motivated there, but the top looked so close… just 20 minutes of stairs to go!
The pass – from the second break point
The concept of the final climb was too much for Steffi
We took an extra long break at the second break point to really give ourselves a boost before those 20 minutes of stairs – and they were definitely a challenge! As we got nearer and nearer the top, people were taking more and more frequent breaks – and we saw someone being encouraged on with “only 25 steps to go”. Picking up on this queue, Ruth and I started counting down, backwards, from 25…. the counting got ridiculous and kept our spirits high even to the end, even if we did reach -10 before we actually got to the top!
Ruth and I, at the top
Steffi made it too
She slept EVERYWHERE on this trip!
Stunning views from the top
The feeling of reaching that height was incredible. I can say i’ve only had that feeling once before – the moment when I finished the Gothenburg half marathon. Really, it was the same incredible feeling. Huge emotional elation.
We had reached the top before 11am, which was an incredible feat – the scheduled time for us to get there was around 12:30, which means our pace was significantly faster than expected. Hard to believe, considering the challenge of getting up there, but we all felt great knowing that we had done it!
We rested again at the top for around 30 minutes before snapping piles of photos and inevitably beginning the decent.
I’m going to stop here and mention something which my friend Simon had told me before the trail. He did it a few years ago, and his main piece of advice to me was – “Day two was physically the hardest thing i’ve ever done in my life”.
You see, after climbing stairs up from 6am till 11am, we now were faced with 2 hours continuous down stairs. It’s supposed to be the worst part of the whole trail. So with some trepidation, we set off.
The stairs were honestly really hard going. I started off fast, following Steffi (who does a lot of practice hikes in the Austrian mountains) but slightly twisted an ankle early on and ended up slowing up considerably. By the end of two hours downhill, my two big toes hard turned into what felt like two huge blisters, and almost every step was painful.
We finally arrived at the camp site at around 13:00 – the plan today was to get all of the hike done before lunch, so that we could relax all afternoon and let our bodies recover. As soon as we arrived at the camp site (with another round of applause from the porters), the porters seemed quite shocked. Israel explained that our planned arrival time was 14:30, so they were quite unprepared for our arrival so early! In the downtime, Steffi, Ruth and I headed down the hill slightly to a nearby stream where we gave our feet a relaxing soak! The water was ice cold, so we could only manage a few seconds of exposure at a time, but each time we soaked them it felt amazing! I also grabbed some blister plasters from my first aid kit… a welcome addition!
Ruth and Steffi soaking their feet
After a bit of scrabbling around in the kitchen tent, lunch was served at 13:30 – complete with Condor shaped napkins!
For lunch, we ate Semolina soup, a tortilla filled with courgette, rich and guacamole, roast potatoes, and a lemon pie for pudding. I also drank camomile tea afterwards, since we would plan to relax all afternoon.
I headed to the tent for a brief 20 minute nap, followed by chilling out in the dining tent and a few games of Shithead. We kept adding rules to the game, which made it more interesting, and drinking copious amounts of teas. Midway through the afternoon, Javier suggested we play a game he had been taught called Mafia. The game was hilarious, and maybe not for the actual gameplay but rather for Javiers descriptions of horrible murders happening on the Inca Trail as part of the game dialogue. A lot of blank faces around the group as he described how my walking sticks had exploded and killed me. After an awkward 45 minutes of trying to play the game, we all secretly vowed never to play again.
Time passed quickly as we were all relaxed and in good spirits, and before long it was dinner time – angel hair soup, followed by rice and potatoes with some sort of pesto. We were all practically falling asleep around the dinner table after a day of huge exertion, and there was a collective sigh when dinner finished and it was time for bed. Israel warned us that the altitude would make tonight a very cold night so we wrapped up warm and headed to bed, satisfied that the worst was definitely over!