Salkantay or Salcantay, the gigantic and imposing snow-capped mountain that seems to be closer to the sky than to the earth, was considered since ancient times in the Andean world as a “sacred icon”. For the Andean cosmovision, reverence to the Apus or sacred mountains, did not go unnoticed in time.
For the inhabitants of the Andes, reverence to the Apus, sacred mountains, turned into local protectors, did not go unnoticed over time, mountains like the imposing snow-capped Salkantay assume an important role in the Andean cosmovision. This is because before, during and after the Inca period, the mountains were considered sacred places.
The most powerful were usually the highest mountains in a region. Being popular belief that all mountains have their own superior spirits considered protectors of men and people, so they are known under the term of Apus protectors.
Currently the Salkantay, retains and persists in its religious symbolic importance among nearby populations, considered one of the most important mountains in the invocations of the ceremonies of thanksgiving to the Apus.
WHAT DOES SALKANTAY MEAN?
Etymologically, its name in Quechua could be translated as “wild mountain” which comes from the words: Salqa which means sullen or wild and Antay which refers to the action of producing avalanches or avalanches.
HISTORY OF THE SNOWY SALKANTAY
In Inca times, the snow-capped Salkantay was venerated and offerings were given in special ceremonies. This system was based on the possibility of achieving a safe and abundant production linked to a continuous and complex ritual dedicated to the land, water and the mountain itself; having the liquid element made the Incas and their ancestors practice sacrifices, offerings or significant rituals, constituting the “sacred water” which thaws from the sacred snow-capped mountains emerging and feeding lagoons, puquiales and rivers, in that route irrigates natural pasture fields and agricultural spaces for the consumption of animals.
ANDEAN COSMOVISION ON SALKANTAY
In the popular Andean religious imaginary, the apu Salkantay is catalogued as “lord protector” who protects the towns of Limatambo, Mollepata, Machu Picchu and Choquequirao located in the Vilcabamba mountain range. The Salkantay remains “majestic and lordly”, unlike the apu Ausangate which is considered “the powerful”.
Within the traditional symbology of the dual Andean thought or yanantin, the snow-capped Waqay Willke also called Veronica, is considered the complement of the Salkantay. In the local Andean thought Salkantay is considered one of the most powerful and active deities, he is the father of all mountains.
OFFERINGS TO THE APU SALKANTAY
Nowadays, different offerings continue to be made to the Apu Salkantay for different reasons, against the natural phenomenon of hail and crop diseases, in order to increase production and multiplication of herds, as well as protection in general.
The Apus do not speak to humans, it is humans, through invocations, offerings, rituals and prayers, who speak to the Apus asking for protection. Their role, as well as that of humans and the major gods, is to ensure abundance and cosmic balance.
SALKANTAY IN INCA TIMES
For the Incas, the Salkantay would also be involved in the vital cycles of the Urubamba River or Willca Mayuc, since the waters of its thaws feed this sacred river. According to a beautiful legend, “the waters that fertilized mother earth (Pachamama) came through the Urubamba River, which the Incas saw disappearing in the Amazon jungle, without seeing it reach the ocean; so they believed that its waters returned at night to their sacred snow-capped mountains from the jungle in the form of a celestial river, which were the stars of the Milky Way.
INCA TRAIL IN SALKANTAY
Towards the Apu Salkantay there are three pre-Hispanic roads of Qhapaq Ñan, the Inca roads of Choquechurco, Choquequirao and the colonial road of Mollepata.
HEIGHT OF SALKANTAY SNOW-CAPPED MOUNTAIN
Geographically speaking, the snow-capped Salkantay, 6271 meters high.
LOCATION OF SALKANTAY
It is located in the Cordillera Vilcabamba, in the province of La Convención, district of Santa Teresa. It is the 12th highest mountain in Peru, and the second highest in the Cusco region behind Ausangate. Salkantay is the highest and most important mountain in the Vilcabamba range and occupies the southern position of the Aobamba Valley basin. The Sisaypampa, Orcospampa and Paccha Grande streams rise from its slopes.
DEGLACIATION IN THE SALKANTAY SNOW-CAPPED MOUNTAIN RANGE
At present, the lower edge of the Salkantay glacier area is above 4800 masl, and due to the accelerated process of deglaciation, this level will continue to rise in the coming years.
The base rock of the Salkantay is granitic and can be seen today in many parts of the mountain where due to the process of deglaciation. In the last 40 years the glacier surface has lost 63.6% (21.91 km22 ) according to figures from the National Water Authority.
WHAT IS THE SALKANTAY SNOW-CAPPED MOUNTAIN LIKE?
The summit of Salkantay has two summits or heads; one on the east side and the other on the west side, this is known as the bicephalous mass. The west side was more slender and attractive than the east side, the latter in turn was slightly higher due to a serac or large block of ice fragmented by cracks. After the passage of time and the collapse of this serac, the height remained practically identical on both summits.
ASCENTS TO THE SALKANTAY SNOWY PEAK
This snowy mountain was visited by climbers from all over the world, some lived the immense satisfaction of reaching the summit; while others had to retire even with tragic results. The mountain holds a series of contradictions and discussions about its first ascent in 1952 when Swiss climbers and a few days later French-American climbers ascended the mountain.
The detail is that the Swiss climbed first the East summit (the lowest at that time), while the Americans climbed the West (which was somewhat higher). Because of this, statistics deny the Swiss Bronimman and Marx their first absolute ascent of this sacred mountain since ancient times.
The last summit ascent occurred in June 2013, when Americans Nathan Heald and Thomas Ryan together with Peruvian Luis Crispin reached the summit at 10:30 in the morning after 9 hours of ascent. This made Crispin the first Peruvian to conquer the summit of Salkantay.
Currently this route is quite popular and one of the most outstanding in all of Peru, it is the second favorite route for travelers after the Inca Trail. The Salkantay route has a classic duration ranging from 3 to 5 days and allows you to combine nature, culture and history. It leads its explorers through impressive landscapes of the Andes and the Ceja de Selva.
The highest point is located in the Salkantay pass, in the foothills of the snow-capped mountain at 4630 meters of altitude that as you advance descends more than 2000 meters to reach the rainforest or jungle brow at about 2000 meters of altitude.
During this hike you will appreciate a series of snow-capped mountain ranges, glacial lakes, pampas, rivers, streams and hot springs. This hike crosses a series of ecological floors loaded with the most diverse varieties of flora and fauna where we highlight the Andean condors, a variety of hummingbirds and spectacled bears, on the side of the flora if you are a knowledgeable about the subject can be seen up to 300 varieties of orchids throughout this area.
Finally, as already mentioned, this hike is part of the Qapac Ñan, which formerly linked this area with Llactapata, an Inca site. From Llactapata you can contemplate a lateral and different view of Machu Picchu and the Vilcanota Canyon from about three kilometers away and through the valley.
The climate in the snowy Salkantay reaches up to 16° C during the day, while at night it can reach a freezing temperature of -10°C. While, if we talk about the trekking route, it varies due to the different terrains and different altitudes. The first part of the trail is dry and cold, the second part is warmer and more humid.
APACHETAS ON THE ROUTE TO SALKANTAY
A detail that we can appreciate in the skirts of the snow-capped Salkantay, speaking for example of the Salkantay pass or pass, are the apachetas. Although we do not have a totally clear idea of the function that they fulfilled in their origins.
It is known that, currently, it is the travelers who ask the Pachamama and the apus to keep misfortunes out of their way to continue the journey with health and tranquility, the apachetas then are a sign of respect, gratitude and at the same time a rite of passage that symbolizes the elimination of fatigue and the restoration of strength.
THE THREE MOUNTAIN RANGES OF CUSCO
On the other hand, we must mention that the three mountain ranges of Cusco: Vilcanota, Urubamba and Vilcabamba (in which the snowy Salkantay is located); together represent 25% of the glacier mass of the whole country and thus become the second most important chain after the Cordillera Blanca of the Ancash region. Besides that, the Vilcabamba mountain range is an important tourist attraction, visited by people from every corner of the world.
Finally, the hike through the Salkantay has an approximate distance of 75 km, and as mentioned is the best alternative option to reach Machu Picchu after the Inca Trail, especially when this route is covered. The best time to travel is between the months of April to November, during the dry season in Cusco. This hike also enters the district of Santa Teresa, famous for its hot springs in Cocalmayo, considered by many as the best hot springs in the Cusco region.
This massif offers dreamlike landscapes with its imposing ice walls that contrast with the blue of the sky, the green of the pampas and the turquoise blue of the lagoons to which it gives rise.
In 2009, the National Geographic Traveler magazine chose the Salkantay – Machu Picchu route as one of the best routes to reach the Inca city due to the impressive beauty of its landscape, which was chosen as one of the most beautiful in the world.