We just got word from John Racanelli, the Trip Leader for OCSC’s Machu Picchu Adventure. Here’s his report…
Our trek got underway today with an invigorating 4.5-mile ´acclimation´ hike to a glacier lake at 14,000 feet. We hit the trail at the civilized hour of 9:00 am, all of us excited at the prospect of seeing condors, climbing higher than they´d ever gone, and seeing an Andean glacier close up. And we weren´t disappointed!
We left our palacial Soraypampa Lodge and started up the trail laden with gear: daypacks full of fleece and raingear, cameras, several GPS´s, trekking poles, boots, ponchos, water bottles, safari hats and about 1000 other items we considered necesary to survive the rigors of the Andes. Within 10 minutes we´d met a family walking merrily down the trail–all wearing variations of the hoodie-khakis-sandals theme. These folks are hardy up here!
Our incredibly talented guides Dalmiro and Guido kept us out of harm´s way as we ascended pampas (meadows), a rushing river, and several increasingly steep inclines. I could not have been more proud of our group–no complaints, lots of good cheer and a solid, steady pace. Huffing and puffing, we climbed over 1500 vertical feet in 2.25 miles, arriving around noon at a stunningly beautiful alpine lake fed by the glacier that reaches up towards the peak of Nevado Huamantay another mile above. We sat down to eat our well-earned snacks, and right on cue, two majestic condors soared out over the aquamarine lake, riding thermals high up the mountain´s side. Although they´re carrion eaters (ie, they eat dead things), these beautiful birds are the largest in the world with a wingspan exceeding 10 feet!
Continuing a long-standing tradition started on OCSC´s first trek by founder Anthony Sandberg, I was forced to take a 10-minute swim in the 47-degree lake (well, maybe I did enjoy it just a little…), arriving back at the beach in time to hear our trusty horse wranglers saying something about ¨those loco gringos.¨ Leaving our packs, we hiked on up to a higher, colder lake that´s often frozen over. Dalmiro explained that these days, unfortunately, it seldom freezes and is endlessly fed by meltwater from the glacier. We could hear the pistol-cracks of the ice coming apart as we sat there…another sad consequence of global climate change right here in the Andean wilderness.
Predictably, the hike down was a cake-walk, as we traded back our hard-earned altitude. Arriving at the lodge, we were greeted warmly by the very professional staff who awaited us with steaming mugs of coca tea–a most invigorating tonic for adjusting to high-altitude. Then came a sumptuous lunch, followed by time to chill, play games, read, have a Cusqueño beer and look at the outstanding pictures of condors and snow-capped Mount Salcantay captured by our group. At the stroke of 5:00 pm, most of us were headed for the hot tub, whose front-row view of the famous mountain had us all rubbing our eyes to be sure it was real. As the sun set, the white mountain turned a rosy pink, seeming to beckon us to come closer…
And that´s just what we´ll do tomorrow, on what will be our longest day´s hike of the trek at 8.5 miles. More importantly, we´ll ascend another 1000 feet higher than we did today (ie, a total of 2500 feetI), crossing the famous pass at 15,300 feet, just as the Inca and many Andean peoples before them have done for hundreds of years. With tomorrow´s endeavor very much on our minds, we were well-behaved this evening in spite of a fascinating tasting of Pisco Sours, Peru´s national drink. After a thorough briefing by our guides and another delicious dinner, we drifted off to our rooms to pack, psyche and sink into feather beds to contemplate tomorrow´s visit to mighty Mt. Salcantay.