on August 29, 2006
Day Two was always going to be the killer. Huayllabamba campsite is at 2950m above sea-level. That evening’s campsite at Pacamayu would be at 3600m. But first there was the small matter of Warmiwanusca, the 4200m-tall ‘Dead Woman Pass’, to negotiate first. This is an excruciating uphill slog. The trick is to take it at your own pace.The pace-setters went off first – Grant (triathlete, frighteningly fit, a proper ‘adult’), Gary (footballer, extreme-sports enthusiast),and my mate Ed (recovering from knee surgery and food poisoning, had been advised by a doctor just two days previously not to attempt the Trail). I looked at my watch. 7.30. I had a 1250m climb ahead (the equivalent of climbing to the top on Ben Nevis from sea-level). I set myself a personal target of four hours.The climb hurts. Walking staffs proved their worth here. With every twist of the path new and impressive vistas opened up. I soaked a handkerchief in a stream and held it in place over my brow with my hat band. I kept getting my ‘wind’ in fits and starts – one minute I would be dead on my feet, the next I’d be powering up through the next meadow. Periodically a cry of “Porters!” would go up and a peloton of men in shorts and sandals would sprint past, a gas canister, a 20kg sack of rice, and two camp chairs balanced on their backs, mocking our efforts. After dismantling our camp they had to reach Pacamayu first and prepare our tents and dinner.About 11.00 we breached the tree-line, and could see the pass up above. Up here the sun was scorching, bleaching the earth fawn. At this point all I and Jules, who I was walking with, could do was set ourselves targets – when we reach that rock we’ll rest for a minute, at that turn we’ll have a drink. I was aware of my target time creeping nearer. Twenty minutes, fifteen. In the end I realised I had to take drastic action. With a growl I forced myself into a sprint, pulling myself up with my staff more than my feet. To peoples’ amazement I made it to the top with a scream of “11.26! Beat that!” I then collapsed.I spent half-an-hour at the top of the pass, getting my breath back, chewing on a cereal bar and cheering those who made it up. Kylie, our guide from Tucan Tours offered around a flask of rum, which was gratefully accepted.Once over the pass the descent was pretty straightforward. The only problem was the glare of the sun directly overhead that reduced me to a walking puddle of sweat. Pacamayu campsite was situated into a bowl beneath the cliffs, looking dramatically out over a cloud-dotted valley. They had a toilet block with rudimentary cold showers, and a tinkling brook for hikers to cool their weary feet in. I just lay out on the grass in the sun, satisfied I had surpassed my expectations.
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