Beeep-beeep-beeeep. It was 3:15 am and Ankur’s alarm was going off. I shuffled over until my alarm went off five minutes later. I didn’t want to wake up, especially with the roaring but soothing sound of rapids outside the window. It was the second day in a row of us starting the day before 3:30 am. I hit snooze on my phone and heard Vivek get up from his bed. David was also making some noise and they both started to look out the window. Vivek said astonishingly, ¨It’s not raining.¨ I suddenly felt a dash of energy and got up.
The four of us: Ankur from California, David from Hamburg, Germany, Vivek from Miami, Florida, and myself, were ready and on our way by 3:45 am. We were on foot and were quickly out of the city of Aguas Calientes and into the darkness. We turned on our headlights and it didn’t take us long before we arrived to the bridge around 4:05 am. To our surprise, the gate was closed until a quarter of five. We didn’t anticipate this as we woke up early in order to be the first to arrive at Machu Picchu, catch sunrise, and be among the first 400 to be granted access to Wayna Picchu, the monolithic mountain set behind the ruins.
There were two more Germans already there and they had no idea about the gates either. As time passed, more and more visitors showed up anticipating the climb up. This was bad news because as soon as the gates would open, it would be a treacherous race up the 2500 steps. Not only were we competing with fellow hikers, but also with the lazy people on buses that would arrive promptly at the top at 5:50 am. The stoic guards never gave way to our requests. They finally opened the gates at a quarter of and it was every man for themself from that point on.
We passed the bridge and started up the winding steps. Speedy David continued on into the darkness without a flashlight as I tried keeping up. Unfortunately, the messenger bag which I was hoping to check in and keep locked during the day was still on my back. It continued to gain weight with each step I made. I was soon passed by three bearded Frenchman all huffing and puffing within the misty air. At that point I decided to not let anyone else pass and if I saw any glimmer of light behind me from another person, I would speed up. Sunlight soon started shining through the dense fog and I caught a few glances of the surrounding mountains. I continued on al0ne for what seemed like ages and started wondering if I was on the correct trail or not. I kept on and just thinking, ¨at least it’s not pouring.¨ Finally, I saw an end to the stairs and once there, I saw David sitting in line. We were the fourth and fifth to the top.
Within a few minutes, the line grew as more people started arriving and I started wondering how far along Ankur and Vivek were. While I held our spots, David went to go inspect the line. He came back saying that he saw Ankur, but no sign of Vivek. About 20 minutes after reaching the top they started stamping our tickets which granted us access to Wayna Picchu at 7am or 10am. We opted for 10am and hoped the fog would clear up by then. The gates to enter the ruins soon opened.
The views were surreal. The fog added an amazing element of mystery to the entire surroundings. The walls of the ruins came into sight as well. Every hillside we saw, there were terraces of farming paddies carved in. I can’t imagine how the lost city would look with vegetation thriving.
As we went further, we caught a gorgeous yet daunting look of the ruins of Machu Picchu. There was a second mountain behind Wayna Picchu which was peeking through the clouds, too. David and I started talking to another American who mentioned that Machu Picchu is more beautiful this time of year. The last time he visited was around June, and it wasn’t nearly as green then. We wandered around some more until we found Ankur and Vivek.
Ankur was peaking around the terraces as well and later we discussed how it must have been possible to build as vast a city in such a setting.
Almost an hour later we found out that Vivek got a 10am pass for Wayna Picchu, but Ankur got a 7am pass. It was past 7am by then, and Ankur had to rush to the trailhead and climb. In the meanwhile, the rest of us explored the ruins.
Apparently they like long integrals here.
The views were steep and overwhelming.
At that hieght, the roar of the rivers were still evident.
I couldn’t get enough of the fog. The view above almost fooled me into seeing snowcapped mountains in the distance.
While wandering around alone, I found this dude enjoying the view of Putu Cusi.
Later on, I also found David and Vivek wandering through the ruins.
I tried finding my way towards where the guys were, but the ruins became a maze and I was momentarily lost.
I found the stairs that lead to the guard’s hut with a decent view of the ruins. The fog started clearing and I made my way back up.
I made my way towards a llama who happened to be gazing out towards the tremendous view.
He/she was with a few others who were just relaxing while one was breaking a move.
I found a slightly better spot and took the above shot. I then returned back into the ruins to make my way towards the trailhead for Wayna Picchu since it was almost 10am.
The mountain itself looked almost undoable, but we did see people covered in sweat returning from the 7am slot. One of them was Ankur. He mentioned it’s one of the most grueling hikes he’s done and he gave me his extra water since I was practically out.
Looking closer, the trail was visible and even the people who were climbing up the steps and holding onto the steel cord.
After hiking up with David & Vivek for about 40 or so minutes, I took the above shot looking up to the steep steps and the unbelievable ruins set on top of the mountain.
The above is a glimpse of the Machu Picchu ruins from the top of Wayna, but in ‘miniature mode’. It’s from this view that the ruins are supposed to resemble a flying condor, an important symbol to the Incans. Can you see it?
After climbing down, I found Ankur at our 1pm rendevous point, but David and Vivek were no where in sight. Ankur and I headed to another short hike to see the Inca bridge.
The bridge was built to help evacuate from the ruins and potentially escape the Spaniards.
On the way back, I took what might be my favortie shot of Machu Picchu since it includes the river and gives a decent sense of the overall surrounding.
Within a few minutes, the fog rolled back in.
Overall, the entire experience of climbing up and witnessing the ruins will be unforgettable. The whole day seemed almost dream-like and theatrical. Arriving in the morning after a tough hike almost earned us a gorgeous day. But, to add to that was the dramatic fog which slowly unveiled the ruins during the morning. It gave us an interactive show during the day which involved getting lost in a maze, some more climbing, and even a nap. By the end at around 4pm, the show was over and the dense fog rolled in. Machu Picchu was concealed and left imprinted in our memory.