Today was our 5th day in Peru and it would be a practice hike for our upcoming four day Salkantay Trek. Luis, from Peru Days 1 and 2 would be our guide for the grueling all day hike up and over Hatun Luychu “big deer” mountain pass at over 14,500 feet and back down into the Sacred Valley with a stop at the Inca ruins of Huchuy Qosqo.
We started out with a very early pick up and were on the trail by 7:30 am. Scott and Luis were back at it with their chattering and discussing, but when I sweetly asked them to shut up so I could listen to the birds singing, they quickly complied and we were treated to Andean Flickers singing and going about their morning rituals.
We climbed slowly up out of the valley with the morning fog. This photo is behind us.
The Andean Flickers landed on the rocks around us and kept our minds off of the steady uphill grade of the trail. Luis stressed the importance of starting slowly and walking steadily on these long hikes in the Andes. He said the goal is to have energy left at the end of the day. This technique would serve us well on our trek to Aguas Calientes he told us. Ashley spotted a deer darting across a distant ridge line and Luis was impressed. We told him that she is often our spotter and can find nearly invisible animals. He said that the Andean people believe that there are certain “old souls” on earth that call the animals to them with their energy. I would believe it. We have always called Ashley an old soul and she has always had an otherworldly connection with animals.
We stopped here to take a water and snack break and admire the rock formations above…
…and the valley receding in the distance below.
Surprisingly, Luis and Scott were talking again. This time about hiking in bad weather. Scott said he liked weather on hikes because it’s all part of nature. Luis talked about his father (I believe, could have been his grandfather) and how he said there was no such thing as good or bad weather. The trick is you do what you need to in order to get through it and then take something from that experience with you in life. Luis said he liked to take his kids camping when he knows that there is a storm coming. “They get wet and it’s exciting, a little scary and uncomfortable, and they learn that the storm is only temporary. The next day it is just a story to talk about.” He went on talking about how his belief is that many kids today don’t have the skill to “ride out a storm” so to speak. Things get tough and instead of looking for the other side, often times they give up. I suppose it’s much like Winston Churchill’s advice, “If you’re going through hell, just keep going.”
After our rest stop we began the steepest part of the hike towards the lofty pass. We would gain a lot of elevation in a short distance and here Luis made sure we walked very slowly and steadily. The only two hikers we would see all day had passed us, hiking briskly, while we were resting and we had just passed them again. Luis glanced back at them a few times while we slowly progressed up the mountain and commented, “They are hiking too fast and have already stopped twice to catch their breath.” We didn’t stop all the way up to the pass and the other hikers never caught us again.
The rock formations on our left as we climb towards Hatun Luychu pass.
It flattened out a bit as we neared the pass.
Three hours into the hike and we made it to Hatun Luychu pass at about 14,500 feet. We were feeling great and the views were stunning in all directions. We would now begin hours of decent into the valley far far below.
Wait a minute, there was a higher ridge line off to the right of the trail, maybe, Ashley suggested, we could hike a little higher? Ah yes, bushwhacking. Even an all day hike is not really complete without the added mileage of bushwhacking! So off along the ridge line we hiked. The view to the left of the ridge.
We hiked for a while along the ridge enjoying views in all directions…
…and then stopped for a picnic lunch. The valley below (far below) is where our ride would be waiting and right over Grant’s knee is the faint line that is the trail we were supposed to be hiking on, although, the bushwhacking was definitely worth this picnic spot.
Scott and I chose a different view for our picnic and watched a herd of alpaca in the distance.
A little farther after lunch…
…pause for the hiker pose…
…and a family photo.
We saw some beautiful wildflowers along the way.
Down we go looking to meet up with the trail…somewhere. It was very steep and I was happy to have the hiking sticks.
This very steep rocky part was the last little bit of bushwhacking. We could see the trail.
This side of the mountain range looked entirely different from our morning hike. Instead of short grass and scattered wildflowers the flora consisted of more shrubs, small trees and a lot of wildflowers. My knees sighed at the steady downhill grade of the slippery trail. Right about here Ashley asked Luis, how much farther? Two to three hours…if we made good time. Our lunches settled heavily in our stomachs as we moved down the mountain.
An interesting plant near the trail.
A view of our goal, sadly out of sight.
More plants, the type a spectacle bear like Paddington Bear (remember he was from darkest Peru) might enjoy eating and so we were on the lookout for one.
Just when I was getting very tired and a tiny bit grumpy, these ancient terraces covered in purple flowers came into view. It was truly a beautiful sight.
Ashley was tired too but she had waited for me in the flowers.
More trail and more flowers
Finally we see Huchuy Qosqo, the Inca ruins, hugging the side of the mountain.
We rested in this field, enjoyed sitting in the soft grass and just soaking it all in.
There was actually a restroom that was usable at the site, although this was not it.
Inca stonework and a nice place to lean.
Then it was a little over an hour down very steep switchbacks.
The Sacred Valley
One more picture and not far to go. The afternoon sun was very intense. We applied extra sunscreen and drank water.
Luis had one last surprise especially for Ashley. She had asked about the giant white statue of Jesus on our first day in Cusco and so Luis thought she should get to visit it up close and personal.
We took one last photo in front of the statue and overlooking Cusco . We had spent three with our passionate and wonderful guide, Luis, who taught us so much about the Andean people, their contributions, culture and beliefs, both past and present. How did the test hike go? Were we ready to hike the Salkantay Trail? Well, we were definitely tired but we had made it over a fairly high pass with no problem and Luis was certain that we would be just fine and after three days of listening I was confident that he knew what he was talking about.