Across The Andes By Prog (Tuesday 1 November)

I woke up at 0500.  I had not had a good night, but I thought I felt all right.  I needed to go to the toilet again.  There had been flooding in the toilet the previous night because the water pipe going to the basin in there was leaking.  So I took my gaffer tape and tried to fix it.  I managed to get the leak to pour in the direction of a waiting bucket, at least.  On my way back to my tent I heard Sally mistakenly trying to get into Andy and Heather’s tent.  I am not sure what time breakfast was at, but I did not feel like eating.  I forced some quinoa porridge with apple chunks into me.  I had no mirror so I had no idea how I looked.  The others told me later on that I had looked like a zombie in the morning, my face completely pale.  We left camp at 0735 and arrived at the Trail control point at 0750.  We were able to have our passports stamped here, as we had done yesterday at the Paukarkancha control point.  So now I had the Wayllamba control point as well.  I had been fine so far and was looking forward to our climb to Warmiwanusca, Dead Woman’s Pass.

The only photograph I took all day...

The only photograph I took all day…

How things changed, and so quickly.  Suddenly I found the going really tough.  My body was not hurting but it felt drained.  I had no energy and no appetite to eat anything.  I kept drinking my water with its electrolites and pushed on at the back of the group.  But while on other days I had taken up a position at the back because I knew that I would keep up and so could be there to help anyone else, today I was at the back because I was not capable of pushing any further up the line.  I was really struggling.  Andy dropped back to walk with me, which was a good encouragement, even if I immediately felt bad that I was holding him back, and keeping him from walking with Heather.  Another encouragement was that I passed a couple of people.  I do have to wonder what they were thinking in doing this if I could overtake them in my state, though.  At 0905 the group stopped me and insisted on taking items from my daypack and sharing the load between them, with Silvia, Sally, Heather and Andy taking various things.  It was very kind of them, even though I was not feeling any weight in my daypack.  They must have been worried because it was only 5 minutes later when we stopped for a proper break.  We left at 0930.  It was sunny and we were walking into the cloud forest.  I remember steps.  Lots and lots of steps and a constant uphill ahead of me.  I had lost contact with the main group almost immediately, and now Silvia and Andy were walking with me.  They were just ahead, chatting, and I added in the odd word here and there.  Chatting was well beyond me by this stage.  Even answering a question was difficult.  My head was down as I kept going in a determined manner, keeping my feet moving, albeit in a very slow manner, really using my walking poles to drag me up each step.  It was slow going, but still my body was not hurting.  Just as it had from the beginning of this climb, it just felt empty, drained, and I did not feel like I had any energy at all.  At 1125 I arrived at our snack point.  The others had arrived at 1100.  I felt like I was letting them down, and that was getting to me.  I wandered off to the toilet block and passed Sally on the way.  She asked me how I was doing and could see it was making me emotional, and so she gave me a hug, which really helped so much and gave me back some balance within myself.  I returned to the group and tried to eat my snack.  Our position was at 3700m.  We had climbed 800m in about 4 hours.  We still had another 500m to go before we reached Dead Woman’s Pass.

Everyone was very reassuring, making it very clear to me that they did not think I was letting them down.  That was really my main concern.  I had no intention of stopping, but I knew that I was unlikely to be able to walk any faster than at present.  I knew there had to be the possibility that Silvia might consider I was not fit enough to continue, but I refused to allow that to be the case.  I would keep walking and not give any reason to take me off the mountain.  We left the stopping point at 1200 and continued to climb.  Andy and Sally walked with me initially, and then Andy and Russ, and every step of the way they all kept encouraging me.  The rest of the group would push on and then wait for me to catch up, which could not have been ideal for them.  It was a long, hard, uphill slog for me, and I was reminded that my former wife, Leigh, had jokingly said to me before I headed off to Peru, “what can be so hard about walking, it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other”.  Right now I was finding it very hard to put one foot all the way in front of the other, and as the day wore on it got to the point where it was impossible to actually put one foot in front of the other, and my movement almost became nothing more than a shuffle.  The Leki walking poles were invaluable as they allowed me to use my arms as well as my legs to get me up the mountain, and to support me.  I was really finding it much harder to breathe than at any other time of the trip so far, and needed to take stops just to get some control over the breathing, but I did not want to be stopping and sitting down every time, so I was leaning on the walking poles while standing there sucking in the air.  However, my ability to recover my breathing got worse as the climb continued so that I was reduced to sitting down to actually be able to recover.  I was still listening to everything around me but any response I did manage was down to one or two words.  Andy was still encouraging me along, and was willing to put up with my lack of reply.  He kept trying to regulate my stops, but that was never going to work.  I pushed on whenever I could, and when I needed to stop, I stopped.  Andy had said earlier that I did not strike him as being someone who gave up, and I knew that was the case.  I doubt it would have been the case 18 months ago, and I doubt that 6 months ago my fitness levels would have allowed my determination to still carry me, but right here and right now I knew that I was not going to give up.  I had passed a few other people, including two Australian girls who had dropped back from their much larger group because they saw no point in walking quicker than they wanted to, and we could now see Dead Woman’s Pass.  Someone asked Silvia why it had that name and she pointed out one part of the top of the mountain which looked like a breast and nipple.  We decided not to look for Dead Man’s Pass.  I finally allowed Russ to take my daypack.  To be honest, I am not sure that any weight it had was having an effect on me, but they were all doing everything they could to help me, so I let it go.  Looking up the mountain was deceptive because there were so many hidden twists in the path which meant the Pass kept looking closer than it actually was.  I told Andy to go off and be with Heather to get to the top, but he was soon back saying it had been agreed that everyone would reach the top together.  So I knew I had to get there.  And I did.  At 1425, after a walk of 8km covering a climb from 2900m to 4215m which had taken almost 7 hours, we reached Dead Woman’s Pass.  And I was crying.  Crying with joy for having made it, crying with relief that I had not let everyone down, and crying with triumph out of adversity.  My trek could continue.

These people are the reason I made it to the top of Warmiwanusca, Dead Woman’s Pass

These people are the reason I made it to the top of Warmiwanusca, Dead Woman’s Pass

We all agreed later that the fact I made it was testament to the level of my fitness.  I also found out that the group had not been wondering if I would collapse, but had been wondering when I would collapse.  Apparently, I looked awful.  I was oblivious to everything going on around me at the top, lost as I was in my own thoughts of what I had been through, but it seems they enjoyed a picnic of whatever food people were carrying because the time it had taken me to get up had ruined all lunch plans.  My Nakd bars were proving popular and a fair number went in that meal.  Frankly, that was the least I could give back to such a wonderful group of people.  I did manage to eat a Nakd bar myself.  I got my daypack back from Russ, but somehow completely missed Heather taking one of the Sigg waterbottles off it.  We left at 1450 and began the descent to our camp.  I just kept telling myself it was all downhill from here.  It was mostly going down by steps, with some flat part along tracks, and I did find it far easier going than the uphill climb.  I was mostly walking along with Helena and was just relieved that I was able to be moving at a decent enough pace.  We arrived at the camp at 1610, after walking the 4km from the Pass, and dropping down to 3300m.  I thanked everyone for all their support through the day, and was told they were giving me a tent to myself for the night.  They really should not have, but I was very appreciative, and went straight off to get some sleep.  I put on my iPod Shuffle but fell asleep almost immediately and so consciously heard practically none of the tracks which were played.

Big Big Train – Victorian Brickwork
Matt Stevens – Burning Bandstands (The European Perspective session)
Von Hertzen Brothers – Voices In Our Heads
Rainbow – Eyes Of The World
Gazpacho – The Walk Part 1
The Waterboys – The Pan Within
Von Hertzen Brothers – Disciple Of The Sun
The Pineapple Thief – So We Row
Jethro Tull – Locomotive Breath (live)
Twelfth Night – Counterpoint
Magenta – Greed
Kate Bush – The Big Sky
IQ – Ryker Skies
Peter Gabriel – Sky Blue
Matt Stevens – Rusty
Von Hertzen Brothers – Gloria
The Tangent – Perdu Dans Paris
DeeExpus – Greed
Peter Gabriel – Rhythm Of The Heat
Von Hertzen Brothers – In The End

I woke at 1900.

Panic Room – Apocalypstick
Magenta – Anger
The Tangent – The World We Drive Through (live)

I surfaced at 2000 and went to the meal tent.  Everyone there was pleased to see I was looking better, and this was when they revealed just how bad I had looked before.  Andy had chosen a very apt phrase of the day :

Hayalgu sitio donde me pueda sentar ?
Is there somwhere I can sit ?

I drank some hot chocolate with sugar and ate some hot blackcurrant jelly with apple chunks in it.  I did not want anything more than that, but was not feeling unwell.  I found out that Russ was sharing a tent with Katherine to allow me to have one to myself, and I made a note to thank them both, because that was going way beyond what could be expected of anyone in this situation.  I went back to my tent and lay there thinking about the day.  It had been the toughest day so far for me, it had been the longest walk, and it had been the biggest achievement at the end.  It had given me a high-point which I had not planned for or expected or, frankly, which I would have asked for.  But a challenge had been set down and I had been equal to it because of my determination, my level of fitness, and especially because of the support I had felt around me.  I had not wanted to let anyone down, including myself, and I had not.  I had survived to walk another day.

Credo – Ghosts Of Yesterday
Chantel McGregor – Freefall
Riverside – Hybrid Times
AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long
Galahad – Empires Never Last

I got into my sleeping bag to sleep at 2112.

Lazuli – Abime
Blackfield – Blackfield
Eddie Vedder – Hard Sun

I woke at midnight and then again at 0430, but I was not feeling ill, and it was not the same as the night before.  I did wonder what the day might bring, though.

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