We have been traveling for four days together. Sharing our stories, getting to know one another. Up to this point there has been a lot of laughter, enthusiasm and excitement. The mood is different today. Excitement has been replaced with some self examination and internal dialog with questions like; “Did I train enough? At age 55, am I up for the ascent to Dead Woman’s Pass? I signed us up for this trip, will my family still be talking to me at the other end of the trail? Will I be cold at night? What was I thinking when I signed up for the trail?”
We left the hotel shortly after the sun came up to travel by bus for one hour deeper into the Andes and to the trail head. The trail head is a staging area for the the porters and trek groups to meet one another and load up provisions. Each trekker is limited to 7 kilos of gear on the mountain. This includes their sleeping bag and mat, clothes and toiletries, camera and water. Thirty-three porters, cooks and guides will support our group of eighteen trekkers. The porters will carry tents, cooking equipment, the trekkers personal gear and enough food and water to support the team totaling fifty-one.
It is humbling to meet the porters. They are poor rural farmers who supplement their income by porting on the trail. Its hard work, literally back breaking. Its easy to identify the porters in the villages as often times their spines have become permanently slumped over due to the weight of the packs they carry on the trail. While the trekkers have expensive hiking boots to protect their ankles and feet, the porters wear sandals made from tire rubber. These crude sandals provide no support as the porters run the trail with their loads. They run to get ahead of the trekkers to set up camp and prepare the next meal from scratch over and open fire that they will build in a field.
Rony briefs the group as to what they can expect today. They are starting the trail at an elevation of 8000 feet. Coming down from 12,000 feet in Cusco you feel like you can run a marathon at this lower elevation. That is until you make the first 100 meter ascent and you are contemplating what can come out of your day pack. Rony tells them they will hike for 6- 7 hours today, break for water every hour and the porters will meet them in the mess tent for lunch and dinner. They will sleep under the stars tonight at an elevation of 9000 feet.
At the trail head the trekkers present their passports and permits to the border like patrol officials who monitor the entrance on to the trail. The checkpoint feels a little militant. No permit, no access. Once the paperwork is checked and processed the trekkers clear the check point and step on to a bridge that hangs over the Urambamba River. It’s like a scene out of a Indiana Jones movie. Raging river, swinging rope bridge, sounds of the rushing water below hitting boulders in its path and the blowing wind. It is an exciting moment as each trekker crosses the bridge. There are thumbs up as they pass, a few tears and lots of hugs. We promise one another that we will see each other on the other side of the trail at the gate of the sun.