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Overnight Rain and Snow

Overnight Rain and Snow

I WAS the first to wake up, pleased to have survived the night having slept in a tent at such high altitude. Thankfully the rain had by now stopped falling. I had woken up a couple of times during the night hearing rain falling heavily outside. Thankfully I had not needed to get up as it was very cold. I crawled out of the tent to view my surroundings. It was very overcast but the cloud had lifted to above the tops of most of the mountains. Looking back down the Llulluchapampa Valley, I could see some fresh snow on the mountain on the other side of the valley. I looked the other way. There was snow on the tops of the hills behind me, down to about four and a half thousand metres just below where the dark clouds were still concealing the tops of the hills. Thick cloud obscured Dead Woman Pass. Were we going to cross the highest passes of the trail without any views?


I returned inside my tent for a few minutes before two of the porters arrived offering a cup of tea. I recalled the sales person in my camping gear store who had done the Inca Trail before suggest I ask for two sugars every morning with my tea. That will give a boost of energy much needed at the high altitude. Now that really made sense as I didn’t have a lot of energy at the moment. Now I very rarely drink tea – almost never. In fact I bought a box of tea bags back in 2001 and have hardly gone through any at all. In fact I can’t recall why I bought them in the first place. Perhaps it was because I had visitors.  Fortunately tea bags do last a long time, so I’m sure if any of my visitors had noticed they are so old.

Tea seemed to be the only drink on offer, so I accepted it with two sugars. Instantly the sugar gave me a hit and I was wide awake. The porters went to the other tents to offer tea. Then one put a bowl of hot water with some soap by my tent so I could wash up a little.

This started my association with drinking tea at high altitudes. From this day forward I have only drunken tea whilst above two thousand metres above sea level. I’m not sure if it is the best thing to be drinking at high altitude from a biochemical perspective. Tea is coloured by tannin, essentially the component of rotting vegetation that gives stagnant pools of water their discolouration. Ingested tannin reduces iron absorption into the body. This is not good as the iron you eat goes into your blood stream. It is the iron in your red blood cells that carries the oxygen you breath around your body. High altitudes create reduced oxygen input so you want to have as much iron in your blood as possible. Anything that reduces iron absorption (such as the tannin from tea) is not good.

I was hoping my iron levels were high though. I had taken iron supplements in the two weeks before starting this trip. I had also taken calcium supplements to aid the iron absorption. So far during this trip I have been eating about twice the quantity of meat that I usually have to help maintain the high iron levels. Now I was hoping that by drinking tea I wasn’t undoing all this hard work.

Along with the cup of tea, the porter had provided me with a small plastic bowl of hot water and a small bar of soap outside the tent. Once washed, I walked up to the main tent for breakfast. Marissa joined me and upon realising that I was in the tent next to hers, she asked me if I had farted last night. Gosh, what a question. She elaborated saying that she heard someone farting really loudly all through the night. I told her that I couldn’t prove anything, but no one has ever complained of me farting in my sleep before. Then I realised Michael and Julia had been sleeping in the tent on the other side of hers. I suggested that perhaps Michael was still having stomach problems giving him the flatulence problem. Marissa seemed to agree with that and therefore let me off the hook. Apparently one of the many effects of high altitude for some people is greatly increased flatulence. Obviously someone here was affected by it.

We all entered the main tent to eat breakfast whilst our porters packed up our tents. Breakfast consisted of more hot tea and pancakes with jam and cream served on our aluminium plates. It was a very nice breakfast by any standards. We were a little quiet this morning though, probably because we were all in nervous anticipation of the climb that lay before us. We had two significant mountain passes to cross today. The first pass will break a higher altitude than I have ever been before.

I recalled my climb up Mount Kinabalu earlier this year, and how thin the air had been as we had approached the summit, and how cold I became at the top. Will it be like that again today? It was definitely going to be cold with the snow having fallen to just a couple of hundred metres above the pass.

Before setting off from the campsite Wilbur gave us our final briefing for the day as we assembled fine-tuning our hiking poles. He opened with the wonderful news that half of us had bags now over the six kilogram limit. Someone pointed out that this was probably due to the extra moisture from the damp air of the rainy night adding to the weight. Wilbur didn’t comment any further, but I guessed that some of us had lightened our day packs offloading extra stuff into our duffel bags. I had a clear conscience though. I knew my duffel bag didn’t contain any more gear than it had yesterday, so any extra weight would have been from moisture. We had passed the last weigh station yesterday before the final climb up to the camp (there are no more weigh stations along the trail), so Wilbur seemed okay with letting it go.

We had two passes to climb today, the first being Warmiwanusca (Dead Woman’s Pass) the highest on the entire track. Once over the first pass we will drop steeply to another campsite where we will have lunch. Then we will steeply ascend to Rukuraqay, the second highest pass of the trek before dropping steeply down the other side to our campsite for the night. The dropping steeply parts didn’t appeal to me at all, but I focused my thoughts just on the first part of the trek – reaching the summit of Dead Woman pass and reaching new heights. Looking up towards the pass I could now see the cloud had cleared from the area, so there was a much better chance of getting a good view from the top. I crossed my fingers hoping the cloud would remain clear.

Someone asked Wilbur whether there would be any problems with the snow, but he said it had fallen above the pass so we will be able to get through okay. He said there was one time when snow fell to about the level of the campsite, and the group he was leading had to turn back about half way to the pass because it was impossible to walk through the knee deep snow. We were fine today though as the snow had not come down to the level of the pass.

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16 October 2010


Inca Trail



3300m ASL


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