Monday, 11 October 2010

Inca Trail Day 2: Continued - Downhill Is No Picnic

So at the rest stop I made the mistake of eating the small chunky chocolate bar that was included in the day's snack pack and I'd not been walking for so much as 15 minutes when I was beset by crippling stomach cramps.


My body didn't know whether to send adrenaline to my muscles or to my stomach for digestion. It passed after a couple of hours, but it definitely wasn't my best move, especially not on the steepest part of the trail. I had to hike even slower and take even more frequent breaks on the trail up to Dead Woman's Pass.

Our guide, Efraim, kept Melissa and I company on our slow hike and assured us our pace was good, telling us he has more problems with the younger hikers who don't listen to the advice to keep their pace slow and steady, but instead take the trail too fast and over do it. He certainly didn't have that trouble with me.

When Melissa first suggested this trip - I hold her entirely responsible for all the pain and suffering I endured - I did some research into the trail and discovered frequent mentions of steps and stone paths. Steps didn't sound so bad to me, not that I thought it would be a piece of cake either, but never did I expect that the steps would often look like this.

Would you classify those as steps? Me either, it's more like a haphazard collection of rocks and steps like these are not so easy to negotiate, you really have to watch your footing, but look, the dead woman's nose was looming larger, we were getting closer to reaching the pass. Eeek!!

Looking back on how far we've come. That's our guide Efraim in the foreground.

Looking at these photos a mere month later I've really forgotten how difficult this was - rewarding, but definitely not a breeze, however this brief YouTube video of a guy hiking up to Dead Woman's Pass back in 2008 really transports me back a month to when I was doing this. Check out how heavily he's breathing, that's how I was too, I sounded like a steam train, but that's how everyone sounds.

Looking ahead to the summit.

Stunning!! Apparently the rain we had on the first day of the trail is responsible for the sprinkling of snow on the peaks.

Getting closer!!

Yay!!! We did it. Good God it was hard!!

While taking a well earned break with our fellow hikers we spotted a condor flying overhead.

Time to start walking the 3.1 miles down to the camp.

While you don't experience shortness of breath that comes with walking up hill walking down hill is not without its challenges. It's brutal on the ankles and knees for a start, since the 'steps' - rocks really - are uneven and quite high, although I think it would have been worse without the hiking poles which go someway towards alleviating the impact. It can also be slippery if the rocks are wet from various mountain streams that trickle down the side of the trail, so you almost have to focus more on your footing on the way down than you do on the way up. The stones are also really uneven and after a while I started to feel it on the balls of my feet. I was lucky on the blister front - not one blister on the entire trail, thank you lovely Fox River socks - but the balls of my feet felt a little tender, almost bruised from picking over the rough terrain for hours on end.

The porters run downhill since it's less pressure on the knees, but your average hiker would be asking to fall flat on her face were she to do the same. I say she, because apparently a lot more women than men hike the Inca Trail, clearly proving outright that we are the stronger sex ;-)

Owing to my extremely slow pace going up hill - my stomach cramps had all but disappeared by the time we reached the summit - and Melissa's slow pace coming down - she really hated the downs more than the ups - we were about 2 hours behind the rest of our group. Not wanting to hold up the others from eating lunch, and not being especially in the mood for food anyway, we had Efraim radio ahead and tell them not to wait. He was quite concerned about this and it nagged at him that we hadn't got to eat lunch. It didn't bother me in the least as I still had 6 protein bars in my day pack and a couple of pieces of fruit from my snack pack, there was no way I was going to starve, but he radioed ahead without our knowledge and had one of the porters, Peter, come from the camp and meet us on the trail with a cheese sandwich and a guava juice box. Bless!!

We finally arrived at the campsite at 3.30pm and despite the cheese sandwich Efraim was insistent that we have some lunch. "Just some soup," he said when I shook my head, "you haven't eaten much."

"I've had a sandwich and a protein bar not an hour ago," I responded.

"That's not enough."

Goodness gracious, I didn't realize I'd accidentally packed my mother in my duffel bag.

"Efraim I'm a petite person, that's more than enough, besides dinner is in 3 hours and we have 'happy hour' at 5pm, I think I can hold out for an hour and a half."

He laughed and let me be after that.

Melissa and I collapsed in a heap in our tents which were ready and waiting for us and the porters brought us each a bowl of water and biodegradable soap. I had a wash and then lay bag in the tent and soaked my poor toes in the refreshingly cool water.

At 5pm we headed to the dining tent to join the group for happy hour where we slurped tea and enjoyed fresh cheese wontons, followed by apple wontons. Afterwards myself, Melissa, Roisin, Sarah and Jamie played cards with Efraim who taught us how to play SPOON, traditionally a drinking game, but we didn't drink anything stronger than chamomile tea. By then it was time for dinner - who ate all the pies - and pretty soon we were tucking into potato soup, chicken and vegetable stir fry with rice and a slice of pizza.

This was followed by....

CAKE!!! It was delicious too!!


Amel said...

WOAHHHH...what a trip indeed!!! Tsk tsk tsk...I also dislike going down on uneven rocks like those. When we went to some tourist attractions in Rhodes, we had to go up some uneven rocky steps and I really hated going down 'coz I had flip-flops on, so it was very slippery!!! Ugh...

There are more women than men going up the Inca trail? WOW!!!

THANKS for sharing the video, too. Sounded so rough indeed...and THANKS for sharing your journey. :-D

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Amel, yes going down rocky steps is much harder than you would imagine, it's bad enough in proper shoes never mind flip flops, so I am glad you survived without injury in Rhodes :-)