Rising up to the clouds




September 2011 • Canon 40D camera

UNESCO World Heritage site
Part of the Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System

Hike stats

13km (8mi)



Highest point

6–7 hours


We woke up early to a cloudy morning. Day two of the Inca trail and I was excited to get cracking. Silvia told us this part of the trail is considered the most strenuous due to the steep gradient uphill to the highest point of the Inca Trail—the Dead Woman’s Pass. The pass, also known as Warmiwañusqa in the Quechua language, it is one of the most famous part of the trail. And the most talked about because of an altitude of around 4,200m, it is the highest point of the trail. We could actually see the tip of the mountain where we would be climbing up to from our campsite this morning. It was recognisable as Silvia mentioned people refer to the mountain tip as a ‘nipple’

The forecast for today was cloudy, cold at the top with a slight chance of rain later this evening. After breakfast we made our way from our campsite through a small cloud forest. It was more like the trek I had envisioned compared to yesterday. Thick, dense forest of trees lined the way and time to time there was a nice river stream flowing down the side of us. Along the trail, Llamas would walk besides us which was nice to see. The hike was getting steeper the more you walked up. Stone pathways cut through the forest until we reached the end at the Llulluchapampa sector. It was a welcome point to take a break. Here you will be able to buy snacks and bottled water. Restrooms are also available at this point as it was also a campsite. It was already tough day but I was feeling good. Excited by the challenge of the tough trail.

Dead Woman's Pass

From the steep climb earlier, I had stripped down to my t shirt. But when I stopped I felt the chilly cold air. I was also starting to breath more heavily due to the altitude. You could see the stony pathway in the distance cutting through the valley. By now the group had split up, going their own pace—which was correct as not everyone can go at the same speed. Ryan, Jason and I went ahead slowly pushing each other and taking turns leading from the front.

Because we were at the end of the Inca Trail season there were not many hikers today. But I can imagine how busy this path would have been in peak season. Because of the difficulty of this stretch a lot of people would be stopping making the pathway busy. Although the weather was not the best it did make up for the fact there was less people on the trail.

Did you know...

The name Dead Woman’s Pass comes from the mountain resembling a supine woman. The tip of the mountain is the woman's breast, as we saw from the campsite this morning.

The higher we went the slower we went. It was tough. People took more breaks to catch their breath. It was truly amazing to see the porters with the heavy bags of equipment climbing this part of the trail quicker than everyone else! It was cloudy and gloomy like it was going to rain. Clouds hung on top of the mountains.

Looking down below into the distance you saw clouds engulfing the area below us in white. This was the challenge that I was looking for. Breathing heavily. Heart beating. Climbing up on a broken stone stairway. Rising up to the clouds.

4,200 metres above sea level

Finally we made it to the top. The weather up here was cold. My heart was beating faster and breathing heavily because of the altitude. It did nothing to wipe away the big smile off my face. Everyone that made it to the top had a sense that they had accomplished something great. And rightly so. High five’s to everyone that ever made it to the top.

We waited for everyone to make their way to the top before we took a group photo and to pose around at the top. The clouds were right there in front of us hovering at the tip of the ‘nipple’ hill. The weather was so cold and windy now we all put on our coats, woolly hats and gloves (that we bought at km82 as Silvia said it would be cold on the trail). Soon it started to rain and so we all slowly made it down hill on the other side and towards our campsite for the night. The rain made the steps going down slippery. Together with the wind the trekking poles came very handy to keep you steady.

Final thoughts

What a thrilling day! It was tough going the last few steps on the pass, but an exhilarating experience of accomplishment. Make sure you have good shoes for hiking and a lot of people found the trekking poles very helpful—up or down the pass. Do not let this section of the trail put you off from hiking the Inca trail. It is not as difficult as you might think as you go up at your own pace. The weather was surprising cold at the top so check before you climb up to make sure you have adequate warm clothes and waterproof jacket.

At the campsite you will want to get out of your hiking boots after a tough day so bring sandals/slip on trainers to rest your feet. The nights get very cold. Do not underestimate this. Freezing in our case this time of year. You need a good warm sleeping bag. A three season sleeping bag will be good enough for the Inca trail season. I also recommend bringing a sleeping bag liner and also some thermal underwear for extra warmth at night.

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