Sayacmarca: The Inaccessible Place - Day 2

Trip Start Aug 05, 2005
Trip End Aug 20, 2005

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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

0630: The second morning wakeup was a bit later, approximately 6.30. Our guide Eric pleasantly woke us by bringing a hot cuppa of coca tea, and breakfast was readily at the table. Again, the benefits of being a part of a guided tour were readily evident in having our food piping hot and ready and not having to break camp to begin the day's hike.


0700: The 1 1/2 hour ascent to the highest point on the Inca Trail started the day. We started up the trail toward the first pass Warmiwanusca, (Dead Woman's Pass, 4,200m/13,779ft). To not have any snow whatsoever was quite an experience at the altitude we were hiking. The only snow to be seen was in the high mountain ranges -- 2,133m (7,000ft) higher than we were!? Instead we were walking along a ridgeline surrounded by wind-blown puna (considered high Andean alpine grass and a specific ecological zone all on its own), with the high altitude sun making it hard to be appropriately dressed for the chilly morning weather and the sweaty climb (layers kept coming on and off).

The pass from campsite is deceptively far, as one can see the pass for the majority of time one is ascending. Our guide was smart enough to get the group going early, as we were all walking at a different pace and the faster of us could get to the pass at their own leisure. Of course, it's always a bit of an incentive to move quicker when one of the porters comes bounding past you. In addition, despite the long first day, we were very glad not be climbing yesterday's ascent and then this final push to the summit all in one day (as some trekking outfits were doing, a total ascent of ____m/_____ft).

There are steps/rock slabs along this section, but they are not original Inca-built steps. The Peruvian government built the steps in 1997 to prevent further erosion.

We got a good giggle from a Brit on the trail whom we had a quick chat as he was hoping to have "lost" his wife for bit. We were worried that he may have been married to Loud American April (ENTRY #8) and were relieved when we found out that his wife was a fellow Brit. Of course by the time our group had converged at the pass and took the requisite photos


approx 0930: we were eager to move down into the Pacamayo valley 3,300m (10,826ft) before our pleasant and quiet vista was spoiled by April evoking her right to shout at the top of her lungs about hitting the high point in the trail. This descent is also the first of three major descents on the Inca Trail over 1 1/4 miles down 800m (2,642ft).

About 100m (328ft) down the pass was an actual enclosed toilet area with proper seats! We handily made use of this facility and continued towards our lunch destination.

approx 1100: Pacaymayu campsite at 3,600m (11,811ft) is where many groups gather for lunch or set camp for the second night (if they stayed in the lower campsites at Wayllabamba on the first night). As there are heaps of people milling about, each outfitter holds out flags and/or posts lookouts for their hikers. Here's United Mice's flag:


1300: After lunch, we climbed 200m (656ft) to the first Inca ruins for the day, Runkuraqay ("Pile of Ruins"). It's considered to be a guard post on the road to Machu Picchu, but current scholarship considers it more likely to be a tambo (a food and shelter rest stop). With unobstructed views of the valley below, the tambo is very organized in its design: made in an overall oval shape with separate semi-circular shapes for individual "rooms."

IMAGE danbury

We had a leisurely tour around the structure with Eric discussing the various Inca roads to Machu Picchu. It made us realize that the Inca's had a highly advance (albeit circuitous) infrastructure of roads interconnecting villages and their major cities, which not only allowed for distribution of food and goods, as well as communications (via runners) from the various areas of Inca Empire. The longest road was the Camino Real from Argentina, through Cusco to Quito, Ecuador. More on Inca roads, can be found here.

From the ruins it was onward and upward to the second pass, sometimes referred to as Abra de Runkuraqay 3,950m (12,955ft). During the 1 to 1 1/2 hours climb, we passed a series of false summits, as well as two "lakes" (more just ponds in actuality). Supposedly camping was once allowed in this area which used to be abundant with deer, but neither campers (which are no longer allowed) nor the deer are to be found anymore.

At the summit, we had a short rest on interesting rock formations to admire the good views of Cordillera Vilcabamba. We were also lucky enough to see some Andean hawks (unfortunately, we are completely ignorant of the type of species it was). Called huaman in Quechua, they must have had a nest near the summit, as we continued to see them riding on thermals on our descent.

approx 1430: The initial descent is through an extremely steep, but short tunnel through the rocks. After a series of switchbacks, the clearly-marked trail heads west and gradually evens out, passing high above an algae-filled lake to the right of the trail. Once again, we were lucky to see some of Peru's elusive fauna in the form of an extremely big bird standing on the lake's edge. One of the guides on the trail informed us that it was probably an Andean Gull.

At a small viewpoint, there is a good view of the Inca ruin of Sayacmarca ("dominant town"), 2,580ft (11,472ft) on a small plateau. Further down the trail, at a hairpin turn, is the staircase entrance to the ruin. After a very, steep and narrow climb (50m/150ft), we were in the ruin properly, and Eric pointed out the various other Inca roads running to Vilcabamba and the jungle. Sayacmarca had obviously been built at a crossroads, but there is no conclusive agreement as to the purpose of the structure. Despite not being a tambo (as there is no nearby agricultural terracing) and not heavily built with fortifications, it is interesting to see how the Inca's incorporated the natural rock elements into the structure.

IMAGE of rock

From Sayacmarca, we could clearly see across the narrow valley where we would be camping for the night.

approx 1600: Our descent was a lovely hike. We passed a small Inca dwelling called Concha Marca (discovered in the 1980s), then we crossed over a tributary to the Rio Aobamba ("wavy plain," 3,600m/11,811ft above sea level). As the sunlight slowly disappeared, we found ourselves surrounded by the thick and fragrant fauna of the Raincloud forest. It was extremely exotic, and we wished we had a chance to really stop and examine the various interesting plants. But night was closing in, and we had to make camp.

approx 1730: Similar to the night before, our tents were already up and afternoon tea underway. This site also had a toilet block and running water. We were glad to see that there were less hikers in camp (as most were back in Pacaymayu). To top off the day, we had a clear view of Sayamarca in the setting sun.
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