Dead Woman's Pass

Ollantaytambo Travel Blog

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Here we are in a more shaded and dense section of hte Inca Trail.
      Alfredo was at our tent to wake us up at 5:30 with our choice of tea or hot chocolate, although the crowing roosters woke us up well before. We had a half hour to meticulously repack our sleeping bags, mats, and backpacks before we met in the dining tent for another scrumptious meal of fruit salad, porridge, toast, and pancakes. After breakfast, we had a few minutes to use the bathrooms (Jason ran into a donkey when he went up there) and organize all of the necessary supplies for the day.
      The mood of our group before departure was quite uneasy because we knew we would be completing the most difficult and exhausting day on the Inca Trail. At our campsite of Wayllabamba, the altitude is 10,137 feet, and after approximately five long hours of walking only up the mountain, we should arrive at the first pass, which has an altitude of 13,776 feet.
Jason finds a great photo opportunity in the middle of a painful climb.
It is appropriately titled Dead Woman's Pass. From there, we should walk down the other side of the mountain for an hour and a half to our next campsite, Pacamayo, which is at an altitude of 11,480 feet. In all, today's trek should total a distance of 12 kilometers.
      As we headed out a bit before seven in the morning, with our tightly packed bags strapped on our backs and our water bottles filled to the brim, we followed the left bank of the Llulluchayoo River until we reached Tres Piedres an hour later. The terrain on this portion of the trek wasn't too difficult, although the dirt path had turned to a muddy concoction after last night's rains, so we were hopeful that the rest of today's journey would prove to be similar in difficulty.
We had a much needed snack at Llulluchapaimpa.
Boy, were we wrong!
      After a quick ten minute rest at Tres Piedres, our guide, Juan, let all of us continue at our own pace for the next section of the hike. We were told that the upcoming portion of the trek to Llulluchapaimpa would take about two hours to complete, we would climb approximately 1,700 feet, and that it would be a very difficult leg. Our guide suggested that we use a zig-zag pattern when climbing and that we take the time to enjoy the beautiful scenery around us as we climb, rather than focus on the pain! After leaving an impressive cloud forest and cascading waterfalls behind, we entered a steepening and shaded wooded area with knotted and twisting trees, babbling brooks, and layers of lush vegetation.
This is the view from the top of Dead Woman's Pass.
This portion of the trek was shaded, so we pulled on the gloves and hats as we climbed, hearts pounding at frightening rates, through twists and turns and seemingly endless stone steps. When we finally reached Llulluchapaimpa, a flat meadow just above the tree line, we cheered and collapsed onto the tarp our porters had set up for our bags.
      We were quite proud that it had taken us only an hour and fifteen minutes (although it was probably the most exhausting hour and fifteen minutes I had ever experienced) to reach this point, and that we were the first in our group to do so, but we were too physically exhausted to celebrate the milestone. Once the remainder of our group arrived, our porters set up a table, and a snack of popcorn and cheese sandwiches were served.
We posed at the top of the pass. We did it!
We were not yet served lunch because we had an even more difficult climb ahead of us, and it would be unwise to conquer the next portion on a full stomach. The setting was unbelievable, and I had a hard time believing that I was really sitting here, in Peru and in the middle of the Andes, stuffing my mouth with popcorn. We then took advantage of Llulluchapaimpa being the last part of the trail where water and candy is sold by stocking up with two candy bars and refilling our emptying nalgene water bottles.
      At about 10:30, we headed for the last uphill portion of today's torturous trek to the first pass, known as Dead Woman's Pass. Again, we were instructed to climb at our own pace and meet the group at the top.
We begin the descent!
Jason, unfortunately, began this portion of the trek with a stomache that would haunt him off and on for a few days, so he was absolutely miserable the entire way up. However, I can honestly say that without a stomachache, Karen and I were absolutely miserable the entire way up as well. It was on this part of the trail that we were completely exposed to the Andean elements, and in this case it was the scorching sun. Our hearts were pounding out of our chests, we were gasping for air, and we had to stop for quick breaks about every thirty feet on this punishing climb in the sun. Jason was having a particularly difficult time with the climb, so we swapped backpacks for the last half, which made my last half probably as painful as his. For some reason, this portion of the trail was more crowded than any other portion we had climbed previously.
Jason and Karen climb down the other side of the mountain.
Therefore, we shared our misery with others, and i witnessed many expressions of pain and exhaustion. I don think I caught on smile or laugh escaping anyone's mouth on that entire climb.
      When we finally reached the top of the pass, about an hour and a half after we left, we were absolutely exhausted. We slumped down on some rocks and awaited the arrival of some of our other group members. Unfortunately, while we awaited the additional forty minutes it took for everyone to reach the top of the pass, we were exposed to further painful Andean elements. In this case, we suffered due to the freezing winds and were forced to sit impatiently shivering, even though we had added layers, hats, and gloves. Once our entire group had reached the pass, one lady in tears, we posed for another group photo to celebrate the accomplishment.
After dinner, we all took a photo with our porters.

      One the descent from Dead Woman's Pass to our campsite, Pacamayo, the three of us went down incredibly quickly because we so badly wanted to get today's tiring trek behind us. We got so far ahead of any of our group members that we felt as though we were the only people in this open area of the Andes mountains. Although descending the mountain was significantly easier than ascending it was, our knees and ankles sure took a beating on the way down. Instead of a dirt road, we were carefully navigating our way down a rocky path with stone steps and rocks of various sizes. An hour after our descent began, at 1:40 in the afternoon, we arrived at our camp for lunch.
      We spent the remainder of the day relaxing in our tent, in an attempt to give our poor, aching bodies a much-needed moment of rest. Dinner will be served in about an hour, at 6:30, and it will be then that we will learn about tomorrow's hike. However, since we can clearly see a steep trail leading from our campsite to the next pass, we are not expecting to hear any good news.
mhiskett says:
My legs were hurting just reading the post! What fun that must have been, although exhausting too. The food sounds delicious I might add. I'm extremely proud of all three of you, what an accomplishment you have achieved. Congrats on living your dreams!! I hope Jason is feeling better, I felt so sorry for him reading about his stomachache. We love you all, Mom
Posted on: Aug 16, 2009
AliMcCann says:
Wow, this is absolutely incredible! My heart was racing reading your words! The photos are amazing too. I can not even imagine how you guys must have felt at this point. After reading the itinerary and hike details on the Peru Treks web site, I felt like I got it, I understood. After reading your account of the first couple days, I realize I didn't have a clue, at all. So happy to know you are back at your hostel...anxious to read more...
Posted on: Aug 16, 2009
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Here we are in a more shaded and d…
Here we are in a more shaded and …
Jason finds a great photo opportun…
Jason finds a great photo opportu…
We had a much needed snack at Llul…
We had a much needed snack at Llu…
This is the view from the top of D…
This is the view from the top of …
We posed at the top of the pass. W…
We posed at the top of the pass. …
We begin the descent!
We begin the descent!
Jason and Karen climb down the oth…
Jason and Karen climb down the ot…
After dinner, we all took a photo …
After dinner, we all took a photo…
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photo by: lrecht