When Mick told me he wanted to climb Wayna Picchu during our visit to Machu Picchu, I was dubious. See that big mountain in the background? See how vertical it is? That’s Wayna Picchu.
At the time he proposed the climb, I didn’t actually know which mountain he was talking or how steep it was. My hesitation simply came from the fact that he said it would be fairly strenuous and that his mother decided she didn’t want to do it. She’s 71, but an active and in-shape 71. If she didn’t think she could do it, what made me think I could? I figured she knew something I didn’t.
Nevertheless, I agreed to do it. I hated the idea that I would refuse a physical challenge even if it seemed impossibly daunting. Having now finished the climb, I can report that my misgivings were entirely appropriate–honestly, if I’d have truly known how difficult it would be, I probably wouldn’t have done it.
This was near the beginning of the climb. The easy part.
Wayna Picchu rises about a 1000 feet above Machu Picchu. The climb to the summit is steep and at times exposed; many portions are slippery and steel cables provide some support during the climb. When there were no cables I resorted to using my hands to keep myself steady.
It was positively frightening in some places.
Sorry for the wide-angle view of my ass.
Except for the marathon I ran in 2006, climbing Wayna Picchu was the hardest thing (physically speaking) I’ve ever done. And it was so worth it.
Wayna Picchu’s summit is a grouping of large rocks. I’m not sure how many people were in the group that climbed with us, but we all scrambled for places on the rocks, congratulating ourselves on a job well-done. I felt a sort of kinship with them, knowing we’d all just shared this extremely intense experience.
What can I say? It was just one of those experiences that make me think “this is what life is all about.” So yeah, if I’d have known how hard it was going to be before I did it, I might’ve refused the challenge. But knowing how I feel now, having done it, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
And now for some practical info if you ever find yourself presented with the opportunity to climb Wayna Picchu:
1) Sign up for the 7am group.
It’s tempting to wait for the 10am group since we had to get up at 5am to get there in time, but I’m oh so glad we did it at 7, for a couple of reasons. When the 10am group started, there were still members of the 7am group on the mountain, which means there was lots of waiting in narrow passages while one group passed another. I was on my way down, which made the wait tolerable because I knew I was close to being done. But had I that climb in front of me, it would’ve been terrible. Also, by 10am the mist had burned off and the sun was out full force. The climb was strenuous enough without worrying about heat stroke.
2) Book a month or more in advance.
We booked three weeks in advance and got the last 2 tickets of the 400 allotted for the day we went.
3) Wayna Picchu and Huaynapicchu are the same thing.
It says Huaynapicchu on your tickets, but the signs at MP say Wayna Picchu
4) Bring water.
Pretty obvious, that one.
5) Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.
Much of the climb is through slimy, slippery, and muddy rocks. You will get dirty.
6) Take as many rests as you need.
This climb is STEEP and NARROW. If you don’t take rests, you might get dizzy. If you get dizzy, you might fall, which could cause a domino effect. I forced myself to rest even when I didn’t quite feel I needed to.
7) If you’re not 100% sure you can do the climb, consider doing it anyway. But that said, be realistic.
I’m not in great shape. I’m overweight, but I do exercise regularly. The climb is strenuous even for people who are in much better physical condition than I am, and yet there were people much older, and in some cases fatter, than I am doing it. In my case, by the time I’d reached what I thought was my max physical exertion capacity, the climb was nearly done.
All I can say is that this was an experience of a life time and in spite of the utter exhaustion I felt, it was incredibly exhilarating. It’s the kind of thing that I take with me into my daily life–it was a much-needed reminder that sometimes, the most rewarding things in life are the most difficult.