Before the trek even started there were a few things to do; pose for a picture under the offical trek sign, wait in line to get the official go ahead and get our passports stamped. We shouldered our extremely light packs (thanks to the porters who carried the rest), crossed the bridge over the river and set off on a lightly sloped path. The path follows the river deeper into the valley oppositr the train tracks on the other side of the river. Its a relatively flat stretch with various ancient Inca structures visible at certain corners and a high likelihood of meeting locals who live within a days walk of the park entrance.
We walked for a few hours, taking a short break at a small site where locals were moving giant rocks with tree trunks (fascinating to watch) and continuing with slight inclines and declines down to a another smaller river valley where the porters (having raced past us on the way) had set up a tent for our lunch (which was literally a five star three course affair every meal).
From there it was a shorter walk (but no less beautiful) up to our campsite where we visited some ruins nearby, inhaled a platter of fresh popcorn and downed another delicious meal before resting our heads for the night.
Up early the next morning we set off to a second checkpoint and a day of climbing up up up to the highest point on the trail, 4100m. The weather wasn’t great, but the constant drizzls and grey clouds didn’t make the way any less beautiful. The path/steps led through some sort of cloud rainforest and every now and then the clouds cleared to give you a glimpse of what lay behind in the valley and the number of steps yet to come ahead of us.
At the top of the pass we built our little offering of rocks and coca leaves, took a few breaths and snapped several photos once we realised the larger Wayki tourist group had a rainbow of jackets with us.
As good as the jackets were, the icy wind and drizzle got annoying so we began the descent to our campsite (plus lunch) down more stairs and surrounded by steep mountains and fast streams on either side.
The afternoon was for relaxing (a must) and the clouds finally cleared enough at one point to make the view of the glaciers more spectacular. At night the view of the stars in the sky was nothing short of incredible but below zero temperatures kept most tucked into their toasty sleeping bags.
Despite the promise our guide had given us that the climb from yesterday was the toughest, the next morning began with a short hours climb up more steps (past another Inca site) and more steps and more steps up to the top of another pass. With clouds behind us and blue skies opening up in the next valley the scenery was just amazing!
From there we descended down past old ruins at Sayaqmarca (with a little climb up, but this was one of my favourite sites on the trek), further down past another ruin and then started to ascend slowly, winding our way up on the right hand side of the valley past a lunchsite and onto my favourite stretch of the whole trek. The path was shrouded in vines and the rock walls were dripping in orange and red mosses, the way opening out with steep drops to the left, passing through rock tunnels and looking out over the valley ringed by mountains. After another hours walk of so we came to our lunch site at the top of another pass. While waiting for lunch to be prepared we scrambled up to the flat top of the mountain, across a grassy ridge and crawled up onto another flat top mountain ringed by a stone wall with a spectacular view over the valley we had just crossed, the mountains to the right and the peak of Machu Picchu mountain in front of us.
After a quick lunch we began to walk down passing through more ruins, Phuyupatamarka, and walked along the mountain to the incredible sprawl of Intipata, a large terraced area looking out over the river and the town of Aguas Calientes. After meeting some llamas along the last stretch before the final campsite we dumped our bags by our tents and walked for a few short minutes to winayawayna, another set of INCREDIBLE terraced ruins. In the setting sun this was just one more spectacular show of Incan architecture as we huffed and puffed our way up and down the sets of stairs, admiring the view from the windows of the rooms.
Back at the campsite we sat down for one last meal together, heartily thanked the amazing porters and staff who came with us on the trek, peered at the countless stars in the clear sky and lay down to dreams of what tomorrow would bring…..Machu Picchu.