Machu Picchu with Huayna Picchu in the background.
Unsplash / Pixabay Machu Picchu with Huayna Picchu in the background.

February 13, 2010

If you ever vacation in Peru, plan on going to Machu Picchu; but, more importantly, plan to climb Huayna Picchu.  It was one experience that I will never forget.

We flew to Lima and spent a couple days with our former next door neighbor, Rina.  We spent a couple days visiting all the tourist sites in Lima.  Then we flew to Cusco.  I was told it is a 22 hour trip by car or bus or a one hour flight.  One important thing Rina impressed upon us was that it is not uncommon for airlines in Peru to change gates and even take off before the scheduled time.  We can verify that – it happened to us when we were leaving Cusco a two weeks later.  We were sitting at our gate two hours before the flight to the United States.  Rina heard (in Spanish) the departure of our flight from a different gate – several gates away – 45 minutes before it was supposed to depart.  We actually departed 45 minutes before the scheduled time.  Be very aware of flights leaving Cusco – this is the most important advice I can give you about travel in Peru.

We did the tourist thing around Cusco – probably worthy of another blog just on those sites.  We took the train very early one morning to Machu Picchu.  I believe there were seven switch backs that the train had to take just to get out of Cusco.  We traveled for hours and hours and arrived at Machu Picchu around noon.  It’s only 80 kilometers, but the travel is through, around and over mountains and it descends nearly 4000 feet.

Machu Picchu is approximately 8000 feet in elevation (Cusco is around 12,000 feet).  It was definitely cold in Cusco in April, but Machu Picchu greeted us with warm, comfortable weather – bright sunshine, light winds and little cloud cover.  We arrived at the end of the rainy season and everything was jungle green.  The Urubamba River slinks around three sides of Machu Picchu.  The vertical drop from the city to the river is 1500 feet.

Machu Picchu was pretty impressive – and, we had seen some pretty interesting Incan sanctuaries, forts and cities before we arrived there.  I read a long time ago that if you ever go to Machu Picchu, you must climb Huayna PicchuHuayna Picchu is the mountain that is most prominent in every photo of the city of Machu Picchu.  It is part of the mountain ridge and is adjacent to Machu Picchu. I took off immediately for mountain climbing and left my wife and Rina to explore the ruins at Machu Picchu.

Building at Machu Picchu
Dharmadatta / Pixabay – Building at Machu Picchu

I didn’t bring any climbing gear and none is really needed.  You descend from Machu Picchu about 500 feet and then begin the climb to the absolute top of Huayna Picchu.  As you begin your climb you must register with the ‘Park Police’ (I don’t know what to call them, but the term explains what they do).  You are not allowed to climb after 2:00 p.m.  Everyone is logged on and off the mountain.  I guess they’ve had people stranded there over night and don’t want it repeated.

Huayna Picchu is approximately 1000 feet higher than Machu Picchu.  It is very evident how much higher it is when you get on top of the mountain.  The lower third of the climb had uneven steps and some rope and wire holds (sort of a guide to hold on to while you climbed and it also kept you from falling off the side of the mountain.  The steps were generally around 8-10 inches, but some were nearly 20 inches.  I spent my time looking down at my feet and where I was climbing next all the way to the top.

Every few minutes one or more climbers would pass me on their way down the mountain.  Almost everyone said, “Go right at the Y.”  They said I would understand when I got there.  Sure enough, when I got to the “Y”, I knew exactly what they meant.  Going right kept you at the same rate of ascent that I had been experiencing to that point.  The path to the left was actually straight up the side of the mountain.  It looked like something I didn’t want to take any chances with at all.

As I approached the very top, there was a cave to crawl through.  You could see the other side of the mountain – it was about 30-36 inches high and was tilted about 20 degrees through most of it.  I got to the other side and found that I was nearly at the top.  Now the climb involved scrambling up big boulders, some nearly five feet tall.  Fortunately you could use the side of other boulders to climb up.  It surprised me that after two or three boulders I arrived at the top.  By the top, I mean that I was standing on top of the mountain and there was only the sole of my shoes making me higher than the mountain.

Different perspective of Machu Picchu
Auzz33 / Pixabay – Different perspective of Machu Picchu

I stayed there around 15-20 minutes and began heading back down.  This is the first time that fright entered my mind.  I was looking down off the side of the mountain and realized what I had not seen climbing up the mountain.  There is nothing but air between you and a few thousand feet to the jungle floor below.  I physically stopped and surveyed the situation and began very slowly.  By turning around and reversing the steps of climbing up I was able to get past the area where I was looking at shear panic.

It took me an hour to climb and about an hour to descend.  I wish I had taken some water with me.  A nice young lady gave me an apple and half a bottle of water on top the mountain.  I would strongly suggest anyone going on this trip take extra camera batteries.  I was a third of the way up and stopped to photograph the surroundings and found my camera inoperable – dead batteries.  I took them out and cleaned the ends and reinserted them and managed to get off enough photos to make the trip memorable.

I am not a mountain climber by tradition or experience.  I did it because it was highly recommended in a travel magazine.  If I hadn’t read the article I would never had know that it could be climbed.  There are a couple of other mountains around Machu Picchu to climb – as I was advised by other travelers.  I will save those for another trip.  On the way to Machu Picchu the train stopped and let off a dozen or so hikers who would make a four-day trek to Machu Picchu – I don’t think that is in my planning on future excursions.  Making the trip in one day is no longer on my schedule either.  They have a really nice hotel near by and I will definitely stay there the next time.

Choices have consequences.  Your Prosperity Professor, Red O’Laughlin

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