The early wakeups at Pincopata Ecocamp are well worth it when you are greeted with hot teas and coffee as well as fresh juice and a healthy sized breakfast. Fueled up with fresh fruits and delicious scrambled eggs we set off for Soray Ecocamp; the second of five Ecocamps. After the morning clouds began to clear, the journey offered us the perfect view of Mount Salkantay, as a reward for being the first group on the road.
In Soraypampa bleary eye trekkers were starting to peep out of their tents as they prepared for another day of hiking towards Machu Picchu. We passed the campers and pulled into our destination, Soray Ecocamp. The luxury at Soray matches that of Pincopata- as does the hospitality. We were welcomed with another muña tea and more stunning views of both Humantay and Salkantay Mountains. We were quick to start our trek as we were keen to be among the first to arrive at Humantay Lake.
We set off on the wonderful private path which is reserved for the sole use of Peru Ecocamp and one other company who were yet to arrive at the start point. We headed straight for a steep ascent, which combined with the arrival of the sun, meant we swiftly stripped off our hats, jackets and many other layers. My hiking companions for the day were particularly active so we opted for the steeper routes to get our hearts working as hard as our legs.
We followed the valley, constantly gaining on the imposing Humantay Mountain and while we didn’t see another human, we passed a few lonely cows traversing the steep edge of the surrounding mountains with ease. The peaceful path meandered around the luscious green hills that stood between us and the lake. However, we chose to ignore the path and climb, or at times scramble, straight up the face of the impending obstacle.
As we strove on, our guide encouraged us with the promise of reaching our destination in a few minutes if we kept up our pace. So we pushed ahead and as we scaled the final few steps we came to a sudden stop, all of us completely breathless; not just from the exhilarating climb but more so due to the view unveiling before our eyes. Right on cue, the sun emerged from behind the clouds to light up the lake, enhancing the phosphorescent blue water with splashes of lime green circling the shallow edges.
I almost felt ashamed that deep-down I had expected the lake to be a slight disappointment. Or perhaps not a disappointment, but I wondered how it could possibly compare to the photos that have started to emerge, strung up on the doors of travel agents across Cusco. Unlike the photoshop fails of Vicuña Mountain, the glacial lake exceeded expectations. The spectacle of being the first visitors to the lake certainly added to the allure of the scene before us.
In the midst of our moment of reflection, a large adult condor swooped over us, heading in the direction of Soray. Suddenly, a second and then a third followed. In the stillness surrounding the lake, I noticed an abrupt movement in the corner of my eye. I turned to see a herd of cows worriedly heading to lower ground, keeping their young calves concealed amongst the group in an effort to protect them for the giant preadtors of the skies.
Having marveled at the views of the glistening glacier, the sun tucked back behind the thick smog of clouds. I put my hat and jacket back on along with my gloves and scarf which I had also stuffed into the bottom of my bag as our guide had warned us how unpredictable the weather would be at 14,000ft.
Our path had led us to a wonderful view point above the lake where we were able to enjoy the view in total peace. We sat and enjoyed our fresh fruit picked from the Pincopata garden and then scaled down the side of the hill to the water’s edge. By this point the banks of the lake were slowly filling with an array of foreigners as well as Peruvians, some of whom still come to give thanks to Pachamama (Mother Nature).
We glanced down the pain public paths from our vantage point and spotted what resembled an army of ants in a formulated line, slowly ascending the exposed valley. We therefore opted to take another alternative route back down the secluded side of the mountain. We headed down the middle where we were happy to pass between shaded areas, offering relieve from the late-morning sun which had once again appeared. We followed the riverbed for the final few minutes and crossed over the trickling water before crossing the familiar final sector of woodland and arriving back in Soray.
On return to the camp we took a moment to take in the views and consider how, despite seeing the peak of Mount Humantay, there is no evidence of the existence of the lake beyond. That morning we had had a taste of adventure and the exhilaration of coming across something so stunning it doesn’t quite seem real. It is hard to imagine the emotions of the first people to discover this lake, knowing nothing of its presence.
As we drove out of the Soraypampa area, we were passed by several large groups finishing their first day of the Salkantay trek, who were ready to join the end of the ant trail to the lake if they could muster the energy. We returned to the peace of Pincopata, truly grateful for our experience of witnessing the lake in the most authentic way possible.
It is no wonder that both Mount Salkantay and Humantay are sacred and still worshipped today and that certain communities still chose the glacial lake as the site to give thanks to Pachamama.