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It’s not every often that a dream of a lifetime comes along and I feel fortunate that I am healthy enough to take advantage when it does.
My youngest son chose to backpack in Peru with his family for his senior trip. It’s something we have all wanted to do so we were happy he wanted us to come. Plans were made over eight months ago as hiking the Inca Trail requires permits and planning.
|Our group at the start of Salkantay Trek|
We chose to go with Auqui Peru Mountain Spirit tour group and we were happy with our decision. It turned out our tour guide, Big Willy knew the area and hiking trails like the back of his hand. He also has a knack of choosing the most awesome people to work for him. Our two cooks fed us gourmet meals all week. For our hike to the glacier, Salkantay, we also had horses and horsemen to carry equipment. This made our hike much easier. While it’s possible to hike around Salkantay without a guide, it’s not possible to use the trail we used. Also, since we were also hiking to Machu Picchu, it is not possible to hike on the Inca Trail without a guide.
The first part of the trail of our Salkantay trek was a steady climb on dirt and rocks with the glacier visible much of the way.
Not many tourists do the trail to Salkantay so we had much of it to ourselves. This gave us a chance to stop in the valley where Salkantay briefly disappears, take photos and have a snack break. After stopping for lunch, the fury of Salkantay rumbled from above. I asked Big Willy about the noises. He explained that they were avalanches from the glacier. He also told us the in native language, Quechua, the word Salkantay means “savage mountain.” Definitely a fitting word.
|Salkantay avalanche face|
Once we got settled in our campsite, we got to witness an avalanche first hand from a safe distance. Right below the bowl, slabs of snow kept breaking off and tumbling down the rocks. The fog from the photo is actually snow crashing down. During the first night, we heard at least two more avalanches, a stark reminder of how unpredictable and scary mother nature can be.
The hike to our camp spot wasn’t particularly hard but I was unprepared for the altitude. My daughter had no problems and enjoyed her first night as did my son. However, my husband and I suffered from altitude sickness. I had a splitting headache and was glad I brought my migraine medicine. I also had a prescription drug I take for nausea I had to take to get me through the night. With an elevation of nearly 15,000 feet, our day before in Cusco wasn’t enough to acclimate to the altitude and I would suggest staying one more day in Cusco for those hiking Salkantay. Luckily we made it through the night. I do have to admit, I was grateful for the hired horsemen and cooks who set up our tents. I was glad I brought and extra packable down blanket and bought a sweater in Cusco. Not only did I get sick but our first night was cold.
The next morning, we had a short but steep hike to the saddle of Salkantay also known as the Salkantay Pass . We climbed just under two miles which doesn’t sound like much but with the high elevation, I can understand why this part of the trek rating is difficult. As we climbed, we could see a lake at the foot of Salkantay. We were over 15,000 feet at the top of the pass and I was relieved to finally get over the top and head down.
The views coming down the pass and looking back were just as spectacular as the way up. We even had less cloud cover the next morning.
|Big Willy and his horseman.|
We also had and easier day of hiking though our mileage the second day was the highest of our six day trek. My stomach and head felt better as we dropped elevation. I’m not going to lie, the first night was rough but the views were worth it. I’m glad we added the two extra days to our Inca Trail Trek it takes to see Salkantay. It was definitely worth it. I’m also glad we paid a little more for a good guide as it made a difference in the food we ate as well as the amount of equipment we had to carry.