Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Huayna Picchu, Peru

Holding the top spot of the list of the "World's Most Dangerous Hikes" is Huayna Picchu, Peru.

I had first seen the peak in the mid-seventies when I travel in Peru. Peter Gelin and I took the narrow gage railway out of Cuzco to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. The train stopped in what seemed the middle of nowhere and we hiked up the muddy road to the only hotel of Aguas Calientes. 

The following morning we took a small bus up the switchback dirt road to Machu Picchu. It was remote and well hidden on the ridge and the site was in the midst of archeological excavation. Dominating the site was was the peak of Huayna Picchu, elevation 2720 metres. It was a very dangerous and risky climb with excavations still taking place..

I was so impressed with Machu Picchu and its excavations that we spent all of our time wandering the ruins. At the time the theory was that it had been a nunnery, as the skeletal remains that were found were mostly those of females. Not wanting to stay another night in Aguas Calientes, we took the train back to Cuzco.

In 2010, while living aboard Yacht Sequitur, moored in La Punts, outside Lima, Peru, we took the opportunity to visit Cusco and Machu Picchu. 

I was curious to see the site again and its development over the years. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has the numbers of its daily and annual visitors controlled. 

I was delighted to see the expansion of the site with areas I had not previously seen. The theory that it had once been a nunnery had also changed through DNA. The skeletal remains were both male and female. Huayna Picchu had become accessible, but with a limited number of visitors per day, an early start was recommended.

We took the first bus up to Machu Picchu, checking in early for our hike up Huayna Picchu. The climb was straight up and because of the altitude it was slow. The seemingly never-ending Inca trail took us higher and higher until we reached the lower levels of the excavations. Steep stairwells and huts began appearing and the trees made way for the view of the valley below.

The view was magnificent and we followed the Inca trail through passageways and a carved stairway to the top. Slightly below the top was a viewing area; a large rock platform.  To reach the platform one has to jump down one metre over a gaping crevice. That was relatively easy, but we discovered that one can not return that way. Unlike the Grouse Grind, there was no cable car down the mountain, but only the Inca steps alongside the cliff. 

The barrel chested Incas were sure-footed and had little trouble running up and down these stairs; at least, there is no record of any that did not make it. The stairs were flat stones sticking out of the wall with no railing and steps too widely spaced for North American standards.  

The last series of steps were on an overhang with the first bounce far below in the Urubamba Valley. Concentration was required; descending is more dangerous than ascending.

The climb was spectacular and we found the ruins there more interesting than those on Machu Picchu. We continued climbing down the trail and then climbed Huchuy Picchu at 2479 metres, a smaller peak which still looks down over Machu Picchu. We saved Machu Picchu for last and spent the next few hours roaming the site in awe. 

Gone are the Fedora hatted ladies that wove their natural dyed wools along the side of the road. They have been replaced by factories and their mass-produced, aniline dyed weavings.

In the past, Machu Picchu had been at the top of my list of favourite places, but it now holds second place to Huayna Picchu.

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