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23 warm valley of the holy Urubamba River onto the “Pass of the dead woman”. Our overnight stay leaves us with cold feet, literally, because of the sharp frost that occurs at this altitude. A descent of more than a thousand metres, mainly on steps erected by the Incas, makes tough demands on knees and calves. After days of teeth-gritting and endurance, we arrive at the former Inca city Ma- chu Picchu. It’s a hugely satisfying moment, being greeted by the fantastic sight of these stupendous ruins at sunrise. Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, perches on a precarious-looking mountain top, where astonishing stone buildings bear testament to their architects’ technical pro- wess. Among them is the Inti Watana stone („The Hitching Post of the Sun“) to which, according to the Incas’ beliefs, the sun was attached, and forced to rise every morning. After the exhausting walk to Machu Picchu we test ourselves to the limits again by climbing up onto the Nevado Chachani, on the peak of which Incan mummies have been discovered. As the an- cient Incas were able to reach the peak without modern equipment, we assume we could get the- re just in jeans and cheap outdoor jackets. At 6,075 metres above sea level, Nevado Chachani is more than twice as high as the Zugspitze – Germany’s tallest peak, and the climb is one of the most memo- rable of all those we have made in South America. We arrive at the base camp, at 5,300 metres, late in the afternoon. An American is just returning with his last ounce of strength, with his mountain guide. His three companions had to stay at the base-camp, as the altitude proved more than they could take. After the sun has set, it becomes bitterly cold. Because of my experience of night frosts at this height I pack my water into my sleeping bag. The icy chill prevents us having even a moment’s sleep in our inadequate sleeping bags. When it is time to get up at midnight. I find the water at my feet in the sleeping bag has frozen solid. Only af- ter cutting up the plastic bottle and thawing the ice do we have something to drink. At two o’clock in the morning we finally start, with two lamps between four people. On the first ice field, we need to attach crampons; this turns out to be ext- remely difficult with our almost frozen fingers. In the dim light I can look only a few metres down the steep ice… and just as well that I couldn’t see any further. Had I appreciated the scale of the icy slope, I may well have given up there and then. Then my numb fingers fail to hold on to my ice axe, my salvation from oblivion. But in my light- headed, fatigued state, I don’t really care. After just less than ten hours’ climb we reach the peak. Although the view is fantastic we start our return route more exhausted than euphoric. We need to hurry, because the sun is becoming stronger and is melting the top ice layer which is getting incre- asingly slippery. The relentless effort as we force our crampons into the ice saps our energy. Never have we been so happy to see our tents again. In the empire of the Incas Chapter 2