5:30am – The alarm on my iPhone ricochets against the dark womb of my 2015 Ford Transit. I lift my head a few inches to groggily peer outside at the tall, black spires of towering pines all around, dizzied by the carpet of stars surrounding them. Is it too early? Should I go back to sleep? My boyfriend, Brian, stirs in bed next to me, burrowing his warmth into my legs. I yawn and spread my toes as far apart as I can muster like a cat napping on a sofa in the sun, grumbling like an eighty year old man. Leaving this isn’t going to be easy.
The moment I catch my first glimpse of Dead Woman’s Pass between ragged breaths in the thin air of 13,000 feet, I smile with relief. Perched atop massive stone steps, slick with jungle rain, I can barely make out the fluorescent sheets of plastic adorning ant-sized tourists up top to shield them from the downpour. My hiking partner, Rosie, and I are way out front of our group, preferring to put our heads down and charge forward until our heart rates soar and we stop to gasp for air in the crisp mountain morning. 828 feet later, I stagger up the final few stairs to the top of the notorious pass, beaming. My fingers go numb as I wander around snapping a few photos, the wind-chill dipping into the mid-twenties. I can feel the blood coursing through my capillaries as I take in the taller peaks and wait for my crew to catch up. The hardest part of the trek was behind me, I was higher than I had ever been with a full pack on, and my mom was somewhere just below, crushing it on The Inca Trail.