Tuesday, June 28, 2016

[URUBAMBA] Climbing Huayna Picchu

I don’t really know what came over me to even think about hiking. Once I was on top of Huayna Picchu and saw the zigzag road the bus took to get us up there, I wondered if I would have survived such a hike. From Aguas Calientes going up, you are likely to take an hour and a half to get to the entrance of Machu Picchu. You will be traversing the same mountain the bus does through the zigzag road, but there are trails made especially for hikers so that you won’t have to zigzag and just head straight up.

Tickets that include Huayna Picchu have restrictions. The first group is allowed to get on the mountain trail from 7 AM to 8 AM; the second group, from 10 AM to 11 AM. Come a minute late and they won’t let you in. Deciding to take the bus last minute saved me from a lot of trouble. Buses leave when they're full, which is every five minutes on peak hours. The ride takes 20 minutes on a comfortable seat as opposed to an hour and a half of hamstring torture.

The only hotel up there right next to Machu Picchu is said to cost USD 700. A NIGHT. Most people stay at Aguas Calientes down below. There is luggage storage after they check your passport and entrance tickets but the line was long and I arrived at 10:45 AM, which meant I only had 15 minutes to run to the entrance of Huayna Picchu. I snubbed the magnificent views Machu Picchu was bombarding me with for the first time despite that being hard to do. It paid off and I arrived at the gate five minutes to 11.

When they say that your ticket is valid for entrance until 11 AM, that means you can enter until 11 AM and stay until the mountain is closed down at 2 PM, by which time you have to be back at the gate and ready to leave. After that, you can then explore Machu Picchu itself which doesn’t close until 5 PM. The ascent took me exactly an hour. Going uphill with me were a French family of four and a trio Argentinean girls. When we reached the peak, I met two Jersey-based Filipino guys.

I was wearing four layers when I arrived at the mountain gate and I had to take them all off except for one because I was already dripping with sweat. I was fortunate enough that the guard allowed me to leave my backpack with him before my ascent, which left me with my large paper bag to carry all the way up to the mountain. Taking a Guess paper bag with you on a hike makes you look like an idiot. Take it from me. The Argentinean girls kept teasing me about how I really had to shop before going up there.

It’s okay, I ended up pushing them down a ravine. Nah, JOKE. They were actually kind of chatty and it was fun sharing the misery of climbing a mountain with other suffering human beings. Climbing a mountain alone seems like a very suicidal thought. Anyway, the ascent is challenging because of the steepness. It’s as if you’re half-expecting that someone will suddenly slip, fall down, and die any minute. But nobody ever does. And so, how fit do you have to be to climb Hayna Picchu? Not so fit, I’d say, based on myself.

I only had the croissant and banana that Peru Rail served as snacks coupled with two glasses of water. I brought a half empty 625 ml bottle of mineral water with me up to the peak and didn’t finish it until I got all the way back down. All in all, I didn’t have lunch when I climbed. I felt like dying when I reached the peak, but the overwhelming barrage of postcard-worthy images takes all that away, I swear. The feeling is just so awesome, as if you’ve achieved something that you can brag about for the weeks to come.

There isn’t much space up there and you will be lining up to get a selfie at the peak, of which there are two but the lower one seems more popular than the other. You have to climb Huayna Picchu if you want a vantage point high enough to capture the ruins on the opposite slope as well as the surrounding peaks. You won’t be able to get such a photo if you just stay at Machu Picchu. If anything, it’s a view of Huayna Picchu in the background that you will catch in that picture if ever, but it’s not as picturesque.

The descent seems easier but still took around 45 minutes to finish. You have to pass by a mini cave on your way down which opens to another plateau overlooking the ruins from a lower vantage point. After this spot, you will then be traversing the same slopes you climbed. This is why climbing can take a longer time to accomplish because there are sections of the slopes where two-way traffic is the norm, and you have to give and take. Overall, allot around 3 hours for the entire hike of Huayna Picchu alone.

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