We woke early again and set off before 8am. This day was not to be the longest hike, but certainly it was to be the toughest. The weather was cloudy for the most part, but at least it was dry. We were gaining altitude rather quickly and the thinning air was taking its toll. After a few hours of walking we came across a rest area with proper toilets and several locals selling various snacks and drinks. There were also many other people from other groups that were hiking parallel to us, we’d seen a few of them the day before, but they’d camped in a different field to us.
After a rest, and to let some of the slower among our group catch up with us, we set off again. We’d purchased some of the snacks and drinks that were on sale for later consumption at the end of the day’s hike. We were only at 3,300m in altitude by this point. We had another 900 to climb, but had no idea how tough it would be.
Dead woman’s pass is a steep, relentless climb. From the rest area to the top, there are no more areas to stop or rest, only stairs which are narrow and steep, and sitting down makes you liable to be in someone else’s way. Our group thinned out even more at this point as some took it easier due to the lack of oxygen. I’d experienced this altitude before when I went to Aiguelle du Midi, in the french alps, but I’d not done this kind of exercise there, merely exited the cablecar. At this altitude, despite the days of becoming accustomed to the [lower] altitude, every step is a challenge. Taking smaller steps helps spread the work out a little, but only so much. Progress slowed as the we climbed higher and higher. We were passed by a few other, much fitter hikers, and we passed quite a few people too, even at our snail’s pace. It really felt like it would never end. There was always another corner, another crest, another set of stairs to climb. Stopping to catch our breaths was a futile exercise, so thin it was that they never really came back to us, so we just had to press on. Finally, just after midday, we reached the peak of the pass, at 4,200m asl.
For the most part we’d been sheltered from the wind as it howled through the mountains, but at this point it was funneled and we were blasted. After a 20 minute break, we were all still breathless and colder for having sat in the wind for it. Although we were all glad that we’d reached the highest point, we still had another few hours to go, of trudging downhill.
On the other side of the pass the clouds lingered low, clinging to the side of the valley. The view, as such, was almost taken away. Going uphill was hard work on my thighs and lungs, but going downhill was murder on my knees. The rest at the top had helped, but all of the groups had thinned out, I saw even fewer people than on the ascent.
As we’d started earlier, and the hike was more intensive, the hike ended around 3pm that day. For me at least… It took over an hour for the rest of the group to arrive at the campsite, I wasn’t one of the first to arrive either. Our tents had been set up so we were free to relax for the rest of the evening. The porters, miraculously, had carried all of our gear up the mountain, and back down again while we were puffing and panting carrying around a bag with water and snacks in it! Lunch was served and afterwards the clouds became more angry and eventually burst. The rain was rather heavy, and sitting in a gloomy tent on my own was not my idea of fun. We noticed that the porters had nowhere to go, and nothing to do; many were sitting outside underneath a plastic bag or piece of tarpaulin. So we invited them in to join us. None of us spoke a lot of Spanish, and they only spoke a little; the Andean people in Peru predominantly speak Quechua, a local tongue. However, we brought out a pack of cards and began playing. Despite the language barrier, we managed to show them how to play. Some were reluctant to play at first, and the elder porters were wary, but the young and impressionable porters were keen and soon we were all playing together.
Dinner came and went and it soon became too dark to play cards. The next day was to be the longest and furthest of all, walking through the cloud forest. Exhausted, and having finally caught our breath, we turned in for the night.