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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Peru: Huayna Picchu

Our original Peru trip included one day at Machu Picchu according to the travel agent's itinerary, but David and I extended that to include a second day. For one thing, I didn't think we could do the entire site in one day, and I was right: We thought we'd seen everything on day one, but on the second day we discovered so many more amazing corners and structures.
And for another thing, we wanted to climb Huayna Picchu. That's the mountain above Machu Picchu, like you can see here:

Two groups of climbers are let up each day in shifts of 200 people each, and it fills up, so you have to buy your tickets in advance. We secured tickets months ahead of time, and after enjoying a beautiful sunny morning in the ruins, lined up to climb.

I might as well tell you now that there aren't a lot of pictures from this climb. The mountain is a little over 1,000 feet higher than Machu Picchu, and the climb is steep. In true Peruvian fashion, there's just one path, both up and down, and you're kind of on the edge of a narrow path, ready to fall to your doom, at all times. It wasn't exactly the kind of environment in which I felt comfortable shifting a heavy backpack around and fishing for a camera. So very few pics until we reached the summit!
Ruins on the way up
The climb is not at all technical, because it follows a path the Incas created, including (super slippery, steep, and narrow) stone stairs. I think there are actually something like 1,800 steps on this mountain, but don't quote me. A guide told me that, and as I said before, half of them were contradicting the other half. You do need to be kind of hands-and-feet at some places, and you should definitely come prepared - some sort of suitable boot or shoe, no purse or things to carry, only a small pack, absolutely sunscreen and a hat for the summit. Anyone is allowed up, but we saw many not-so-fit tourists turn back early on. In front of us was a family including two small children, and they were cheerfully waved in (I worried about the kids briefly, but then I saw their Swiss passports and assumed they'd be just fine). You should probably not do this climb if you're afraid of heights. There are way too many unprotected paths and stairs, the top would terrify you, and the way down would take a year off your life.
Think these terraces are steep enough?!
Our climb started relatively easily - a mild grade, really. We immediately began passing a lot of winded people, overcome by the strenuous hiking and the altitude. I was feeling great! I had our backpack on with our camera and water, and the hiking was fine except for the constant stop-and-go. We were the second group to ascend, so some hikers were still climbing down at first, and we had to scoot way over to let them pass. Luckily this was mostly early on, while we weren't too high. At this point, if I fell, I'd break two arms and a leg, but probably survive. Later I'd be condor food if I fell.
Close to the top
So. Up we went. Several times I turned and David was ashen-faced and out of breath, but he made it up (he did not acclimate to the altitude as well as I did). When you get to the ruins and terraces, you start up a very narrow staircase (which, like all the stone, was quite slippery thanks to earlier rains) that you kind of have to clamber up on hands and knees. Then you reach the ruins, do some more climbing, and end up at a beautiful look out! The views are simply astonishing as you look down on Machu Picchu.

That's as close to the edge as I'm getting.

Looking down at Machu Picchu. The zig-zag to the left of the ruins is the bus road. 

But you aren't quite at the summit yet. To get to the summit, you squeeze through some gaps in the rock (a passageway, cave-like) and clamber all the way to the tip of the mountain - which is heaps of huge jagged rock. With lots of people and not a lot of room to maneuver.
Up at the top sits a stoic guard, who does nothing but presumably blow his whistle if someone falls off. He climbs up and down every day!
Me at the tippy top of the mountain - with clouds at eye-level
After scrambling over rocks, dangerously near the edge (I mean, it was all near the edge, it's just heaps of rock at the top of a mountain), we took a break on a wide ledge to have some water and a granola bar. David was seriously beat at this point and said if he didn't eat something, his legs would give way on the way down. So we took a nice long break, since I didn't want to watch my husband fall to his death.

Having a break on the way down. Behind us is the Swiss family! I started calling them the Swiss Family Robinson.
Oh yeah, I thought. I have to go back down. Descending was much easier physically, but man - don't look down! Slippery stones steps are bad enough without seeing buses the size of ants crawling far below, just a few inches error away. But we made it. It took us an hour and a half, break included. German speed!
"I climbed up to here."


  1. So, so cool and I am so, so jealous of this! I can't blame you for not wanting to perch precariously and snap pictures!! But the ones you did take are amazing.

  2. I am terrified of heights.. I love sky scrappers and skylines, but those jagged cliffs look dangerous. Gorgeous pictures. You are braver than I am.

  3. That's beautiful, but I'm not sure my fear of heights would let me make the hike.

  4. You're such a good wife to allow your husband the break he needed so he didn't die on the descent. I don't know if I'd have been that kind.

  5. Wow that sounds like a crazy experience, great views, though not sure I could have stomached that kind of heights and being that close the edge throughout!