The night’s sleep is interrupted several times by a cockerel that clearly does not understand the concept of sunrise. It could perhaps be forgiven—the silver light from the full moon at 1.30 am fools us into thinking that dawn is imminent, until, that is, Jay finds the light-button on her alarm clock.
Today is the day of the Big Climb. We begin from the camp site at 3200 m, aiming to reach the aptly-named “Dead Woman’s Pass” at 4200 m by lunch time. On the way, we pass through some extraordinary scenery, including a short stretch of cloud-forest complete with vines hanging from gnarled moss-draped trees, and humming birds flitting back and forth. However, the struggle for air in the rarefied atmosphere makes it hard to fully appreciate the scenery we are walking through. Jay is feeling the altitude the most, and James is suffering from a headache and nausea. I fair a little better, but find myself breathing very rapidly and taking tiny steps, my legs feeling like lead. It is some time after reaching the pass before I can fully appreciate the view, and the magic of seeing down into the next valley.
Once we have regrouped, Americo explains that we will stop early for the night, since to reach the following campsite would entail walking for another four hours. This leaves two passes to do the next day, although we are assured that they will be considerably easier than that of today. We make our campsite at Pacamayo, a short distance below Dead Woman’s Pass. Just below us is another, larger, group. They have clearly chosen the luxury tour—chairs and tables are set out next to an enormous kitchen tent. We saw their porters earlier in the day—a line of stacked flour sacks and metal frames on legs, doggedly making their way up the valley.