The MLP lodges and associated logistics were truly impressive on multiple levels. Hearing the term “mountain lodge,” I expected rustic accommodations with simple food, basic amenities, and limited services. Instead, we were treated to fantastic Peruvian cuisine plus some Western options (breakfast and dinner at the lodges, lunches either on the trail or at the lodge depending on the day), hot showers, well-decorated rooms with soft beds, and generator-provided power from 6am to 11pm every day. Each lodge had a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains and valleys, comfortable common areas, and complete privacy. For each night, we had the run of the place. Not to mention, that one uber-amenity – the jacuzzi (available at all but the final lodge, and always starting at 5pm). In addition, our guide, David, Cusco born and bred, filled us in each evening on the day’s itinerary and cultural and natural history along the way.
As one might expect based on the experience, our group was not the usual collection of international backpackers who were comfortable speeding through the route and camping in fields of llama shit. Instead, it was entirely American, and comprised of a variety of professional types (doctors, lawyers, etc.) along with other folks who shared the similar trait of not being 21 years old with limited means of support. Because MLP always offers the option of riding the mules instead of hiking, it’s also become popular with many older travelers with an adventurous spirit, who may elect to move at a different pace and occasionally take advantage of mountain transport on especially difficult days.
For most MLP trekkers, that day is the third day, when we ascended Salkantay Pass at 15,100 feet, the highest point of the journey. Into the rain and clouds we rose, until we eventually crested the pass in a swirl of wind and whiteout conditions, quite common at this altitude after midday, when the moisture from the nearby Amazon rushes up the eastern slopes of the Andes as it warms. Descending from the pass, we hiked through a goblin’s paradise of lichen-covered boulders, strange plants and rock spires occasionally emerging from the spooky mist. Eventually, after a warming lunch along the trail, we reached the Wayra Lodge, set in a stunning location on the edge of a plateau where the high mountain terrain of rocks, grassland, and shrubs plunges sharply downward into the cloud forest of orchids, hummingbirds, and increasingly large trees. At 12,700 feet, it’s slightly higher than the Salkantay Lodge, and, while we couldn’t assess the surrounding terrain when we arrived given the dense clouds and fog, morning brought an incredible “ah-ha” moment, revealing glacier-clad peaks (the north face of Humantay, the west face of Tucarway) piercing the blue sky.