The rest of the group had been together from earlier in the week where they’d travelled from Lima. Sometimes when joining a group you can feel a bit of an outsider with all sorts of cliques having been established but everyone here was really welcoming and accommodating to me. However being the black sheep of the group also had the bonus of me getting my own tent. It was fairly cold during the night, down to somewhere around 5C, which is what you’d expect at this altitude. I was in the minority of people who slept through until daylight at around 6am. Apparently there were cockerels cock-a-doodle-dooing and donkeys ee-oooring at some ungodly hour which awoke most people. I was oblivious to any of this.

It’s a bit of a cliche but football is very much universal language. The porters were listening to a radio broadcast of Peru v Argentina last night. The final score was 2-2, which sounds like a respectable result for Peru but it effectively almost ended their realistic chances of qualifying for the World Cup in 2018. Despite them not speaking any English and my Spanish skills being of a similar standard, we managed to effectively communicate all of this information.

The literature made no qualms about today being the hardest day of walking and speaking to most people who’s done the trek, they said that it’s challenging to say the least. At the start of the day’s walking I saw someone heading back along the trail in the opposite direction. From talking to members of his group apparently he struggled with the walking yesterday and either decided or was persuaded to stop here. Some people weren’t too happy about the situation as it meant that with a guide escorting him back to the start of the trail their group was effectively down to one guide. As he was well into the 20-stone weight bracket some were suggesting that it was obvious that he wouldn’t complete the walk and shouldn’t have been allowed to begin. I actually felt sorry for the bloke. He’d have likely been looking forward to the walk for ages and he’d travelled a long way to get here. Imagine having to tell your family and friends that you’d given up on the Inca Trail after just one day. He must have been gutted.

The vast majority of today involved walking uphill. I wish that I’d never looked at the altitude diagram as it didn’t offer much encouragement. The walking itself would’ve been challenging without the altitude also thrown in. The easiest way to describe the trek would be kind of like walking up uneven steps for six hours. Obviously you had plenty of breaks and stops to get your breath back, especially towards the end of the ascent. At the top you were on Dead Woman’s Pass, 4215m above sea level. From last night’s campsite this represented a gain of 1200m which doesn’t sound that much but imagine walking up the equivalent of 5000 cobbled steps, starting at 3000m after sleeping in a cold tent. Anyway I’ll stop trumping up the walk, which although a bit more than a stroll in the park is probably something that most people in reasonable shape could do! Back to Dead Woman’s Pass, its name is not derived from anything to do with a casualty on the trail but because from a particular angle the rock formation appears to mirror the shape of a dead woman. I couldn’t really see it myself and thought that the resemblance was tenuous at best. While reaching the highest summit of the walk was not a race I suspect that there was definitely some sort of unspoken competition going on. I finished a respectable seventh out of twelve, in among the middle pack. The front peloton were a bit of a way in front. Jo, who does some sort of super triathlons, completed the walk with seeming ease and even kept walking back down the stairs to talk to people who were still making their way up. Also at the front were Mark and Tom, a father and son pairing from Australia. Mark’s 63 years old and is in amazing shape. He’s done these types of walks all around the world so the Inca Trail posed no problem for a man of his capabilities. I’d like to give a special mention to Cheryl, who’ll probably be the first to admit that she’s not a supreme athlete. Fair play to her though as she just walked at a slow pace and kept going and going. I didn’t want to tell her in person that she did great as it would’ve probably sounded patronising but if you ever read this Cheryl, good on ya for getting up that hill, as they say in Australia!

After walking uphill for most of the day, an hour or so downhill sounded like just what the doctor ordered. However doing this on a steep, uneven stones wasn’t great. Some people even preferred the uphill and it’s less wear and tear on the calves and hips. On the positive side  though if you walked up and down steps all day you’d have calves like Denise Lewis and the backside of Beyonce. Apologies for the out of date references! You also have to watch our step when travelling downhill as you’re only one loose or slippery rock away from a sprained ankle or tumbling down the stairs. We eventually made it to the campsite in one piece though.

Researching the trip I’d heard that the food was far better than could be reasonably expected. For breakfast you’d get bread and jam, tea and coffee, as well as something cooked such as an omelette or pancakes. Most of the group had been brought up on Vegemite and insist on adding this putrid smelling monstrosity to anything possible. We were also served quinoa porridge, a dish more akin to Waitrose than the middle of nowhere in Peru. Lunch (to give use it’s international name rather than the dinnertime label used in parts of Britain) involved soup, some sort of sandwich or equivalent stodge and a dessert. Upon completing each day’s walking we were served more tea and coffee with cheese and biscuits or popcorn. Dinner (or tea) is usually the main event and again involved three courses. The chef excelled himself tonight with the traditional Peruvian favourite, lomo saltado. It even came with chips. For pudding we had creme brouillet, or at least I think we did as I sometimes get the names of the European-sounding deserts mixed up. At one point it was even (deliberately) on fire. How the chef and his assistant manage to rustle up this sort of stuff on a mountain in the middle of nowhere is amazing. You certainly don’t go hungry on this trip. However it was some poor bugger’s job to lug a stove and gas canister as well as refrigerated food around.

This morning’s alarm clock
Hills to walk up
Not far from the top
Made it!
The view from the top of the pass
Walking in the clouds
Walking back downhill
Lomo saltado