We did it. We completed Training Day. At this point, we knew that Day One was harder than expected, but we were just so happy to be here, hiking the famous Inca Trail, that nothing else mattered. After completing Day One, and little sleep the first night due to roosters cockledoodledoing as early as 3:00am, we actually didn’t feel that tired. But that was about to change.
We woke up at 5:30am feeling ready for anything. The tent unzipped to reveal the monstrous peaks of the Andes mountains looming over our heads. That’s where we’re going?! is the only thought we could manage that crisp alpine morning. Yes, Hell Day is ahead of us…
They call Day Two “Hell Day.” Why? We asked the same question and our guides responded: “It will be a very tough day, the hardest on the Inca Trail, hard even for us. Everyone will be very tired when we reach camp.”
I know what you’re wondering: What could Hell Day possibly entail that would make even the Peruvian guides not look forward to hiking it? Here it is:
Distance: 6.21 Miles (10km)
Estimated Time to Campsite: 6-7 hours (5 hours up, 2 hours down)
Highest Elevation: 13,828ft (4,215m)
Campsite Elevation: 11,811ft (3,600m)
During the Day Two trek there are two check-points worth taking an extended rest at. Here, you’ll find the ladies selling candies, water, and even alcohol if you’re crazy enough to consider drinking such a thing during a hike as intense as this. However, after the second checkpoint, there will not be any ladies selling water from that point on for the duration of the trek. It is wise to buy a liter or two to stock up. I bought one.
Notice the brush along the trail in the above photograph. There’s practically no shade to escape the constant baking heat of the sun all day during this long, exhausting hike. Water consumption is a necessity, not only because of the heat, but also because of the altitude and how thin the air is (compared to what I’m used to where I live in Connecticut– 30% less oxygen on the trail). It seemed like a break was necessary to sip water and catch my breath every 15 – 20 climbed stairs. I made every attempt to conserve the liter of water that I bought, but it was impossible. As I stepped onto the summit and celebrated that the ascending part of Hell Day was completed, the last drop of that clear, odorless, tasteless, and absolutely heavenly liquid slid down my throat.
Unfortunately for me, I still had to hike another two-hours back down the other side of the mountain, to another valley where our campsite was located. It’s hard to decide what is easier when it comes to a choice between ascending or descending a mountain. Ascending is tough because there is so much strain on your legs to lift you, especially if you’ve added an additional 30 or more pounds to your bodyweight because you’re carrying your own pack. But on the other hand, descending is tough because your bodyweight wants to go with gravity, and therefore you have to use your legs (especially your knees) to hold your bodyweight back from going too fast. If you don’t you’ll almost certainly twist an ankle, especially on this trail. Trekking poles go a long way in making this easier on your knees.
For me, the descent was the toughest. Not entirely because I think it was harder on my legs, but because I didn’t have any water. I’ve never felt so dehydrated. I know a human can survive three days without water, so this is going to sound ridiculous, but I could already feel my lips drying out and beginning to crack like the dirt in a riverbed during draught. The saliva in my mouth literally disappeared, and my tongue felt like no more than a dead piece of bark that I couldn’t spit from my mouth no matter how hard I tried. My body continued to pour sweat so I knew that I was loosing precious liquids, and when my head began to pound, I knew I had to get to the campsite as quickly as possible. I opened my long-legged stride and started to let gravity take me more than safety would have liked, but the faster I went, the more thirsty I became. At one point I was so utterly exhausted that I had to take a rest (I was lucky enough to find a small corner of shade) and I sat down and closed my eyes. I began to drift, but forced myself awake and to my feet because I knew that falling asleep in this condition was the last thing that I wanted to do. I started moving again, and soon came to a free-flowing stream of crystal-clear water. My god, it was beautiful, and it was so tempting to allow myself to just fall, face first into the crisp alpine water and drink until I physically couldn’t drink anymore. I stared at the water, envisioning myself doing this (it felt so glorious), and yet again I had to mentally force myself to turn and stumble on down the trail. The thought came to me: What would Bear Grylls do? But I couldn’t bring myself to drop trou and drink my own urine; in a survival situation, sure, but not when I knew the campsite was so close. I kept moving, and eventually I stumbled into camp and was met by an amazing group of porters and a pitcher of pineapple juice. It was the best tasting pineapple juice that I’ve ever had. Arriving at the Day Two campsite was one of the best feelings that I’ve ever experienced. Hell Day was over.
We arrived at camp, ate a very late lunch followed by tea time, and ate dinner no more than two hours later. Even though there was little time between lunch and dinner, there was no problem with anybody not being hungry. There was also no problem with falling asleep by 7:30. We would wake the next morning at 6:00am and set out on Day Three which is the longest day on the Inca Trail. We knew it’d be easy after the uphill hike we just completed.
The above photograph was taken ten minutes after beginning the descent. Looking back, you can see the outline of the ridge known as Dead Woman’s Pass. Do you see the forehead, nose, mouth, breast, and stomach, of the dead woman as you follow the ridgeline from left to right?
Coming soon: Peru- The Inca Trail Day Three: “The Most Beautiful Day”