Over nine days, in the south of Peru, we did a lot of trekking – Rainbow Mountain (1100 meter climb), the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu (about 65 kilometers, and a top height of 4630 meters in Salkantay Pass), and finally Huayna Picchu (another 360 meters up), the familiar peak that overlooks the ruins of Machu Picchu. Other parts of Peru were seeing record rains, but our weather was mostly cloudy with some light rain. The trek was soggy at times, but fortunately clear most of the time when we reached vistas. The trekking was hard work, but well worth the effort.
Rainbow Mountain – A full day’s climbing to rainbow’s end
We awoke at 3:30am, drove three hours, scarfed down some breakfast and then we climbed. Really climbed. Slogging through mud, horse dung, and rocky terrain for four hours – through alternating sun, rain, hail and wind.
Climbing up 1100 meters (3600 feet) to a saddle at Rainbow Mountain and then up a bit more to an overlook at 5100 meters (16,700 feet) in physiologically breath-taking altitude – all for an incomparable view of that Rainbow Mountain and its Andean environs. The mountain itself, even in cloudy weather, features a remarkable series of striations.
Hues of purple and green and yellow had formed from different minerals in the rock, and stretched down from its steep ridge into the far valley.
At the overlook, the reward was a 360 degree view of the snow capped peaks and far valley, as well as a better vista over the rainbow colors.
Plus the whole valley we had passed through revealed its own spectacular colors of green and other hues.
Whipping winds and more hail made that summit less than pleasurable, but the accomplishment all the more satisfying.
Then we reversed it – through mud, horse dung and rocky terrain – back down for three hours…and finally lunch at 4pm. And a return drive back to Cuzco by 8pm.
Salkantay Trek – 7 days through the Andes to Machu Picchu
The first half was demanding physically as well, but visually spectacular, with vistas of the Salkantay Mountain and its sister peaks, the dazzling Lake Humantay, and the valleys trailing away from the Salkantay Pass.
The lake hike was a side trip, not a great distance, but very steep up 400 meters, so frequent stops to catch our breath helped. The lake was a gorgeous turquoise, a splendid mirror of the shapely mountains ringing the lake, a blend of grey shale, snow and glacier white. Condors floated near the peaks, and the weather cooperated with a bit of sun.
The climb to Salkantay Pass, (4630 meters, or 15,200 feet), rose 800 meters, a mix of gradual and steep. Along the way and at the top, we could enjoy splendid views of the adjacent mountains and valleys.
And we built a modest cairn in the pass to pay respects to Pachamama, the Inca earth mother – as well as to the natural beauty she showed us in return.
The second half was mainly downhill, with the first 1000 meters of rocky descent through pygmy forest of small trees and shrubs amid tumultuous boulder fields, pampas valleys, and then cloud forest of large-leafed plants, orchids and splendid many-colored flowers. We spotted many birds, and listened to frogs, over the noise of a raging river with dozens of feeder waterfalls. The descent continued down valley through farms and coffee plantations.
The last day was the soggiest, an ascent of 800 meters along the same valley to a thickly forested crest. At a clearing partly down, the site of a cabin with a fully equipped kitchen, we had lunch while the mountains around Machu Picchu played hide and seek – mostly hide – with the clouds.
Then it was a steep, slippery and muddy, tightly switch-backing trail in the rain for three hours to catch the train to Aguas Calientes, or Machu Picchu Pueblo.
Finally, on the 7th day, we ceased from trekking and reached the old Inca town of Machu Picchu (“The Old Mountain”). But Huayna Picchu (“The Young Mountain”, the missile-like mountain that backs the city) beckoned us upward another 360 meters and rewarded us with a wondrous vista for lunch, before the stepped descent back to town.
(Also, for more pictures from Peru, CLICK HERE to view the slideshow at the end of the itinerary page.)