Edition 51

Dead Woman’s Pass: Inca Trail

I’ve taken five wobbly steps but once again I’ve been forced to stop as my body screams for respite. My lungs feel like they’ve been squeezed out like a wet sponge, my legs are burning with lactic acid and my heart is beating faster than I can ever remember it.

I’m having the time of my life.

I’m about halfway up the Inca Trail’s infamous Dead Woman’s Pass (Warmiwañusca in the Quechua language), a peak that soars 4,215 metres high. It’s the toughest section on this legendary trail, which has become one of the world’s great bucket list experiences.

As I slowly trudge up the rocky path that looks like it’s going to reach the sky, I need to take regular – as in, every five steps or so – pit stops to help my body recharge. The combination of a 12 kilometre uphill trek, plus the lung-busting altitude, makes it a challenge for even the fittest of hikers – of which, I am not.

I’m also at the mercy of the elements – one minute harsh sun pierces the thin air, the next moment torrential downpours and biting winds descend. But there’s no way I’m giving up, so I place one foot after the other and slowly make my way up the rocky path.

Surrounding me and the many other hikers on the trail – some appearing like ants, way in the distance either above or below me – are soaring peaks, picture-postcard valleys, local villages and farms and Incan ruins in various shapes, sizes and forms.

Dead Woman’s Pass is so named because, when seen from the valley below, its crests resemble the form of a woman’s body. It’s something I can’t really appreciate as I try to conquer the trail stretching seemingly endlessly upwards.

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