Hiking Up The Mountain Of Death

Everyone has seen a picture of Machu Picchu. And in almost every one of those pictures, there is an often overlooked, but interesting mountain at the back. That’s Huayna Picchu – meaning “young peak” in the Quechua language. You could even say, that where Machu Picchu is one of Peru’s most visited sights, Huayna Picchu may just be one if Peru’s most overlooked sights!

This mountain is located in the Cusco region of the Urubamba Province, with the Urubamba river winding all around it. It is common knowledge that Machu Picchu was built by the Incas. But, they also built a trail up the side of the Huayna Picchu mountain and built temples and terraces on its peak, some of which are visible even today. Huayna Picchu is over 800 feet taller than Machu Picchu, at around 8,835 feet above sea level.

View of Huayna Picchu. Photo courtesy, author Sakshi Suryanarayan

According to some legends, these temples and terraces were built as residences for the high priest and others of the temples. It is said that they would walk down to Machu Picchu each morning and signal to the residents that a new day has begun.

It is possible now, for tourists to hike up to the peak of Huayna Picchu – nicknamed as the ‘mountain of death’! Although you must be warned, this climb is not very easy, it is very steep and narrow, and for people who suffer from vertigo or have difficulties with the altitude, it may be best to avoid this trail altogether.

There are a limited number of people who can climb Huayna Picchu each day, and it is advised to start your climb as soon as the checkpoints open, the reason being that it’s at this time that you are most likely to get a clear view of Machu Picchu from the peak, since the weather in this area changes rapidly.

View from Huayna Picchu. Photo courtesy, author Sakshi Suryanarayan

The approach to Huayna Picchu is difficult, to say the least. Right after the checkpoint, the path begins in a nice, pleasant, semi-paved way. But just a few of feet from there, the path rapidly becomes almost perpendicular and begins to open up on all sides. While this is frightening, you will be able to see all around the valley and look at the winding Urubamba river below you.

Sometimes along the path, there will be stairs, and sometimes there will be handrails or ropes to offer support. But, even so, this trail is not for the faint-hearted. Believe it or not, in certain parts, there no real ‘trail’, you will have to squeeze through narrow tunnels built by the Incas!

While the first part of the hike is hidden in the jungle, at the upper part of Huayna Picchu you will get the most gorgeous, breathtaking bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu. You must take all the pictures you want right here, because the ruins will be more distant the higher you go, and, you will not take the same path down, as you did up.

View of Macchu Picchu from Huyana Picchu. Photo Courtesy, author Sakshi Surayanarayan

The way down is actually far trickier than the one up. The trail winds around the top of the mountain, so that, you will end up coming down a different path than the one you took up. And this is when you will first see the ‘stairs of death’. These stairs follow an incline of over 60 percent! In fact, they are so steep that you will feel like you are climbing down a ladder, except with very little support!

Photo Courtesy, author Sakshi Suryanarayan

That being said, if you’re brave enough, take a look around. The views from this side are just as breathtaking as the ones from the ascent, it offers you a gorgeous view of the Urubamba valley below.

Yes, this sounds so scary. The trick is to understand that a large part of it is really psychological. It is high up, it doesn’t seem to have had any kind of safety measures, but be rest assured, as long as you follow your guide, take the necessary precautions and remain calm, this trek will be one of the most rewarding ones that you have ever taken.


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