Climbing Machu Picchu’s Huayna Picchu was no easy task!
Climbing Machu Picchu’s Huayna Picchu was no easy task!
Over a quick breakfast in Agua Calientes, Bob and I debated whether or not to actually tackle climbing up Huayna Picchu Mountain, which sits overlooking Machu Picchu. The hiking trail up this mountain follows another ancient Inca path with an ascent up steep stony pathways, through tunnels, and along sheer cliff edges that offer no protection for hikers. We both decided that it would be an exhilarating and challenging trek, but I was unsure if I would have the courage. I have to tell you that I am very afraid of heights.
The previous day, it had been evident from far below that climbing Huayna Picchu was going to be a very precipitous and possibly dangerous climb. In the end, I agreed with Bob that I just couldn’t let this opportunity of a lifetime pass me by. We would at least try to climb the mountain.
Arriving early at the Huayna Picchu checkpoint was key. We had to enter our names on a list and then wait for a ticket to be issued giving us permission to climb the mountain. Only 400 people are allowed to ascend the mountain each day, and yet over 1,000 people come to Machu Picchu most days. Consequently, because of the restriction, many people are not able to fulfill their desire to climb the mountain. After getting our tickets, we took time to study the map at the entrance to gain insight into the route we would be climbing.
By 9:30 a.m., our climb was underway, and Bob and I were grateful that this side of the mountain was presently shaded.
For the most part, the trail wasn’t much different from that traveled the other day except that it was much steeper. Thankfully, steel cables are provided at the riskier sections of the climb so that we could help pull ourselves up the larger stone steps. The Inca people would have had no such assistance.
Sections of the ancient stone walls could be seen where the Inca built them to support the trail and prevent erosion. It is amazing to me that these steps, that these Inca trails, still exist in good condition after all these centuries.
As we ascended Huayna Picchu, Bob and I stopped periodically to take in the panoramic view. Far below us, the ruins of Machu Picchu lay spread before us, and we could also see Huchuy Picchu (in the lower right corner of this picture), the little mountain that we surmounted the day before.
At one point, the trail brought us out onto a terrace constructed by the Inca to provide a view of Machu Picchu far below, but the panoramic mountain landscape was no less impressive.
As Bob and I took a break on an upper terrace, I was surprised to hear a number of the climbers admitting that they, too, are afraid of heights. Both of us were sure to keep well back from the edge, and even at this height, we were still a long ways from the top!
In order to reach the last section of the trail leading to the peak, it was necessary to climb from the upper terrace through a short tunnel carved into the bottom of and under a monolithic granite boulder. This tunnel was used by the Inca as a control point to stop invading forces from gaining access to the top of the mountain.
Bob soon discovered that the narrow tunnel provided an excellent means of guarding access to the next section of the trail. Despite the blistering hot day, cool water dripped from the walls as we both crouched low to make our way through the passage.
Adequate head space existed at one spot in the tunnel so I could stand up, and the chilly air within its confines was a welcome reprieve from the burning rays of the sun on the exposed side of the mountain.
I found it a tight fit at certain points, making it necessary to focus on the placement of each footstep as we moved forward.
Upon exiting the tunnel, a wooden ladder came into view. The ladder was an aid to hikers who now had to scale the same huge boulder that topped the tunnel. Once this obstacle was surmounted, the reward was a lookout from atop a tumble of over-sized granite rocks.
Photo opportunities existed everywhere. I couldn’t believe that here, on top of this narrow mountain, the Inca actually built terraces and temples. The work that went into this construction is defies belief.
Near the top, we joined a small group of people appreciating the amazing scenery and also awaiting turns to climb the final stretch onto the single colossal boulder that rests at the pinnacle of the mountain.
After waiting my turn, I finally mustered the courage to climb up to the summit of Huayna Picchu. What a moving experience to sit at the top of the world. I was proud of myself for mastering my fear and felt blessed to be looking out over such stunning scenery as the Andes Mountains provided.
Bob and I achieved the highest point on Huayna Picchu mountain, and it seemed we were level with the nearby snow-capped peaks.
Only 15 to 20 minutes could be spent at the crest because of other hikers arriving from below. Space was limited there at the top, and we had a timetable to stick to. A 1 o’clock train departing Agua Calientes would be our ride back to Cuzco.
After descending back to the plateau of Machu Picchu, Bob and I could see colorful specks ascending the narrow paths etched into the side of Huayna Picchu. The specks were, of course, the hikers making their way up the rustic stone steps of the trail in pursuit of their own goals.
It was always my dream to visit Machu Picchu, and both Bob and I were not disappointed. It was an incredible and, at times, mystical experience. The Inca Trail hike was unforgettable in that world of cloud forest, warm rain, tropical flowers, and endless narrow footpaths.
Machu Picchu should not be missed. Scaling the mountains at Machu Picchu was certainly demanding, but it was well worth both the time and the energy. Having a chance to look out over the citadel of Machu Picchu from on high was a view I will not soon forget.
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