High above the archeological site atop Machu Picchu Montana
Day Three: We wake early and follow the trail high above the rushing river. The drop-offs are daunting. We move quietly and quickly in the mystical morning. Porter Leandro carries our large duffle with ease. Then we descend to the river and to a crude suspension bridge that shakes as we cross, and up a grade to the train station at Kilometer 82, Pisacacucho. From there, we take Peru Rail to Aguas Caliente, a small town at 6,690 feet originally established as a rail workers camp and wedged between high peaks and dominated by the now raging Urubamba River. The rail line runs on the town’s only thoroughfare, Pachacutec Avenue.
We leave Aguas Caliente and bus up the five-mile Hiram Bingham roadway of traverses to Machu Picchu, the “city in the clouds” at 7,970 feet. Rain is pouring down and ponchos are the order of the day. This is the mist-soaked, lost city. We flow with the masses and then past the masses and up Machu Picchu Montana (mountain). The rain is steady, the humidity high, and the trail steep. Steps come in all sizes. Many are really too high for comfort.
Tough hiking and we climb nearly 2,000 feet to the 9,800 foot summit. Drenched by the rain and sweat. After some lunch, the clouds begin to clear, revealing a majestic views of the archeological site. Our spirits rise as leggings dry. We’re lucky to get sunshine at the site and we do tour its upper areas.
Day Four: We rise early to climb Huayna Picchu. It’s less vertical gain but a steeper ascent to its 8,920 elevation. Some cabling provides welcome handholds. Toward the top, uneven steps without cables, much less railings, scare me. We take off our day packs to crawl under and through a series of boulders at the top, a summit only large enough for 5 – 6 people.
Taking good care atop Huayna Picchu Montana in the mist
Coming down one set of about 100 steps from the peak, our hearts beat fast. They were clearly not made for big feet, nor the faint. “You slip you die.” (Well, at least you break your neck.) It’s the most dangerous hike I’ve done since the Mountain Route on Mount Whitney in California. I surprised by an elderly Korean woman on the trail.