How did we end up here? Here, on a bus headed for Ollantaytambo and the start of a challenging, 4 day, 3 night hike covering almost 30 miles of the ancient Inca path to Machu Picchu through some pretty difficult terrain at high altitude? We who a year before hadn’t camped out any farther than our own backyard for fun? Well really, we owe the whole thing, the idea, the planning, the motivation to our friends from home who invited us along with them on this trip of a lifetime they had planned. Pretty much they were our travel agents, all we did was agree to everything they’d already planned and paid to join them on their vacation. We are so grateful they invited us, not only because we got to make some incredible memories with them but also because they did so much work planning out all the details, we were in good hands. THANK YOU!!
For anyone interested in hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I thought I’d share a bit about how we went from not very athletic 30-somethings to finishing the Inca Trail.
We definitely had been hiking around our home in the San Jose area long before planning this trip to Machu Picchu but we didn’t get serious about it until about August of 2016, we were on the trail in late April 2017. After researching and buying proper gear, we started by taking a class with REI that included a night out in Portola Redwood State Park (where one camper had to be carried out by EMS…I ended up assisting with monitoring and stabilizing the camper while my husband and our guide hiked out to get help at sundown). More hikes followed while slowly increasing the weight we carried and the distance we hiked until we worked up to a three-day, 30 mile (48Km) camping trip all on our own! (I think I’ll make that another post for another day). That hike, the Skyline to the Sea hike, gave us a test run of how far we’d travel each day in Peru with full packs and an idea of what things we found we MUST HAVE (like bath wipes) when on the trail. Whatever you can do to train, I’d suggest it. The altitude made everything so much more difficult and challenging that if we hadn’t been in good shape I’m not sure we could have made it, day two especially crossing “Dead Woman’s Pass”, the highest point of elevation for the hike.
If you’re going from zero to hero like we did, here are some things I absolutely found helpful.
- Check with your MD if this kind of exertion is ok for you. Also ask about Diamox for altitude sickness prevention and any immunizations you will need for travelling to Peru.
- Get fitted for gear by professionals….REI is a great resource. They have the gear and they’re a co-op so if you join, a percentage of any money you spend will come back to you at the end of the year to invest into more gear. Investing in good boots, a good pack and lightweight gear is important. Ounces count my friend.
- Get fit. Work on your cardio, work up to doing 10 mile hikes regularly carrying at least 50% of your planned weight, increasing to as much as you can tolerate over time. Challenge yourself! Plus, the weight you lose while training is less weight you have to carry over the mountains! I don’t know what the official figures are but for instance, I know that my max weight is about 40 lbs of gear or else my feet and back are killing me and my stamina is greatly reduced. I found 30-35 lbs is ideal. My husband? He can go closer to 45 lbs without straining himself. Find what works for you.
- Test out your gear in the real world. Take your new boots out to break them in and make sure they don’t rub you wrong, find out where your “spots” will be on your feet – everybody walks a little differently and blisters will form in “usual” places. Learn those spots and how to prevent them with better socks, sock liners and mole-skin padding. Or else return the shoes and get better fitting ones(REI will take back used gear for store credit, no questions asked). Learn how to set up your tent and make sure that your sleeping mat doesn’t leak air. Get familiar with using your water-pump/filter and how to use your camp-stove. Yes, when going with a paid group, not all of these skills are necessary for Machu Picchu but I’m willing to bet that you’ll enjoy the hiking and camping so much you’ll want to keep it up.
- Test out your pack weight on long hikes, make sure you have only what you MUST have and be ready to carry it. Make sure you know how to pack your bag and how to adjust it. Also, get used to using proper hiking poles. Those have saved me many a sprained ankle or fall.
- Take a class or read up on trail safety and wilderness first-aid. The most common injuries are sprains, blisters, dehydration and burns. But there of course are accidents, falls and/or animal attacks to think about so it’s good to be knowledgeable and prepared. I couldn’t imagine a worse situation than being injured and not having the basic knowledge to help yourself out there. You’re a long way from home Dorothy, don’t die from ignorance.
- Plan WAY in advance, like a 9 months to a year in advance. You must have a permit from the Peruvian government to allow you to hike the Inca trail. I’m not even sure going alone is allowed but going with an experienced guide/group was invaluable. They knew how far to go each day to make the best of it, they knew what campsites were the best to stop at and they set up camp, cooked meals, carried our food and some of our gear for us and made sure we didn’t get lost. When you book, pay the extra fee for a porter (chasqui). They will carry an additional 25 pounds for you for 75-100$…..money well spent I assure you. Don’t be a macho pig, take the assist, you will enjoy the hike that much more I promise.
The following photo’s chronicle our training from August 2016 – April 2017. Enjoy!