There wasn't a read a newspaper amount of light when Damas (a guide) and two porters shook my tent. They chirped out a friendly "Buenos Dias!" before dropping off warm wash water and soap. I pleaded and received a cup of hot water for one of my Starbucks instant coffee shots.
Later on I tried coca leaves, but I nearly got sick when I accidentally swallowed a soggy wad.
Sleep had avoided me like a too-busy bartender. It's not easy to nod at over 11,000 feet. Any attempts at taking a deep breath caused me to jolt awake. I might have scored three hours of dream time-maybe. Thank god for Starbucks and adrenaline.
After breakfast and packing we started our assault of 13,828' Dead Woman Pass. (The outline of the pass looks like a supine woman, complete with a nipple) Alex reassured the females in our tribe that "it's just a name! Don't worry! I shouldered my load and headed uphill to the group's first break area.
When I got there, locals had already set up a 7-11 convenience store. They were selling water, candy, sodas and beers. Alex informed us down below this would be our last call for alcohol until the town of Aguas Calientes. I chose to give my liver a break for a few days. Besides, I didn't want to carry the added weight.
I pulled off to the side and looked around. Ahh! From that point I was able to make out a distant glacier. On the rare moments when the clouds parted, one could see how wild and jagged the high Andes mountains are. They seemed to leap Michael Jordan like from the valleys below. There were very few similarities to the Colorado peaks I was used to.
One by one our group coalesced at the rest stop. Everyone seemed to be in pretty good spirits. Some looked up expectantly at the prominent saddle that marked the summit of the pass. When everyone was somewhat rested, Alex gave us the green light to proceed upward.
I inhaled a Cliff Bar for those precious 250 extra calories, and started up. After a kilometer or two I caught up with a peloton of porters. When they saw me they kicked it into that extra gear they possessed. That was the last I saw off them until the top. The ascent never seemed to want to end. Luckily it finally did.
I smiled grandly while panting like an overheated hound. I settled back on a soft rock and took in the surroundings. Wow!
One by one my teammates appeared. High fives and hugs were distributed in equal doses. Sincere grins was the prominent look. We couldn't get too cocky though, we still had another pass to climb. But first a descent and a much needed lunch break.
I knew the crew was beat when Damas announced three times that lunch was ready. Eventually he began to gently herd his flock into the dining room tent. It was a quiet meal with muted conversations. Everyone seemed to be in lost in their own thoughts.
After a short digestion period we psyched ourselves for the second major climb. Pass number two is a few stacked basketball players short of 13,000.' Damas assured us the hike would be "easy". Well, maybe for his 26 year old body.
We passed a few small ruins en route as we made our way into a fog bank. It all felt sort of surreal. At the top of the pass, there were no "ooh-ahh" views. Kind of disappointing for all the sweat labor that went into our hike. Oh well, it was all downhill to our campsite. Yay!
The only instructions we were given was to stop at a fork on the trail before proceeding on. At least our guide Niko didn't quote Yogi Berra by saying "when you come to a fork in the road, take it."
At the junction there was a good sized ruin to the left. Of course, it was uphill about 100 steps. On the right and at a lower altitude was our camp. We could see the familiar blue tents signifying "home."
When Niko arrived he asked me, "want to see the ruin? I'll tell you it's history when we gather there." My answer was as short as I am, "NO! I'm Done!" I turned right and skidaddled down to camp. A porter led me to a choice of tents. I pitched my pack inside one. Yes! After over a half of day of motion, I was finally in "west and wewazation" mode "at wast."
My companions drifted into camp to rounds of applause and back slaps. After a monumental effort we had put the toughest segment of the Inca Trail behind us. As a reward, we would get to sleep in before the next day's stroll through the cloud forest. Alex told us to chill until 6 am. Heavens!
At dinner the conversations were animated and back in full swing. I could feel a general sense of relief. We were 17 happy campers.