Peru – The Inca Trail Day Two: “Hell Day”

It's all uphill from here

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:

Hell Day:

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)

Another hour and forty minutes to the summit

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.

Big mistake.

Follow the trail down-- we started in the valley

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. 

Dead Woman's Pass

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”


Author: Nathan Bush Wedding Photography

My name is Nathan Bush and I am a loving husband, an avid world traveler, an adventurer, and an off-road and Jeep enthusiast. I began my serious journey into photography in the mountains of Patagonia Argentina where I fell in love with the wilderness world. My passion has taken me to Iceland, Alaska, Peru, Argentina, Belgium, the Netherlands, and countless National Parks.  A good friend once told me I should combine my knack for beautiful landscape photography with capturing the details of their wedding, so I decided to dive right into the challenge. It has been quite a ride from there, and thus today, my passion for photography has evolved to capturing the raw candid emotion and intimate moments involved in wedding photography.

21 thoughts on “Peru – The Inca Trail Day Two: “Hell Day””

    1. Thanks, Adrian! It was such an exhausting day. Probably the hardest day hike I’ve ever done. Hope you enjoyed the story! More coming soon…
      Thanks for continuing to read my blog 😀

    1. You hit it right on the spot! Glorious, it was. I passed out by 8:00 at night, as did everyone else. The last two hiking days were easy compared to Day Two.
      Thanks for reading and commenting,

  1. I remember this day too…how can you forget it? I thought the stone steps down on the descent were the toughest part too. My knees ached and I still had running injuries from a marathon a few months back. Our weather was not hot though. It was quite cool so I didn’t have the problems you did with water consumption. I always use trekking poles no matter how short the hike. Not only do they save the knees they really come in handy for balance and dealing with wet, muddy conditions. I think you need to try Nepal next….!!!!!!! Great post and I’m enjoying reliving my Inca Trail hike from 2001 through you.

    1. What time of year did you go? Apparently right now (when I went) is considered the low-season as far as tourists go. Also the rainy season even though it only rained on us at night. Trekking poles are very helpful, I just find them to be a pain to pack and carry 😛

      I want to go to Nepal sooo bad! Some day soon for sure.

    1. Hahah definitely! I think when you’re going it might be significantly cooler in the mountains, which will help for sure. I’m so excited for you, it is going to be a great trip.

  2. I’m so far behind — awesome pictures, once again (I should probably just stop saying that because I think you can safely assume that I already think they are all awesome). That hike sounds pretty awful — especially without the water. No one had any extra to spare when you were getting that dehydrated?? And just out of curiosity, did you look up what Bear would’ve done? I’m curious… It seems like a clear mountain stream would be safe — I thought it was stagnant water you had to worry about! 😉

    1. Thanks, Katie! I thought about asking someone. Many people passed me by with full bottles sticking out of their bags, but I don’t know, I already got E.Coli while I was down there, I didn’t need anything else (if you know what I mean) hah. As far as Bear Grylls, it just so happens that I have all of his Man Vs. Wild DVDs (yes, total nerd here) and the joke was that I didn’t really feel like drinking my own urine, because Bear does that in just about every episode. This being said, there are many ways to slightly filter the water, but they should really only be used in life or death situations because they certainly aren’t 100%. Stagnant water is bad, but you never know what that crystal clear mountain stream has in it. I have a good story from when I was young and my boyscout group encountered a crystal clear waterfall on a mountain hike that everyone drank from. Once they hiked to the top of the waterfall they found a dead deer bleeding and rotting away right in the middle of the stream. Everyone got very sick. Not good, but that’s certainly why I stay away from drinking even those crystal clear streams.

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