We Survived the Inca Trail

May 30th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

Here we are in Ollantaytambo, the next destination in our trip, with very sore legs and for me, a swollen knee. We arrived here last night after completing the trail, spending a few hours at Machu Picchu, then another few hours in a town called Aguas Calientes, and finally an extremely slow train ride here to Ollantay. It was a long day (we were up at 3 am to begin day 4) and I don’t want to see another step or hill for a long time, but this area is full of them, so there is no escape!

The 4-day Inca Trail was the most challenging physical and mental thing I’ve ever done. There were a few times I didn’t think I could make it to camp, but also knew there were hours of trail ahead of me: that’s where the mental challenge is — willing yourself to forge onward… Wondering what happens when your muscles and body just don’t have any more to give, like a dry gas tank… Working through pain and sore body parts… Working through managing a mind that is “sick of it” (upon seeing what appears to be a never ending hill or stairs). The trail is a very individual experience in this regard.

The physical challenge is obvious — we were climbing and descending giant and steep mountains in the Andes! The high altitude makes it hard to breathe, and the descents in steep and rocky terrain were hard on the knees. So were the stairs. I for sure would have been better off in better physical shape, I did not get as fit prior to the hike as I should have or wanted to. But I still made it!

All that said, it was amazing and the finishing point of Machu Picchu was like the best written climax in any great quest story. Machu Picchu is a special place, made so all the more with our effort to get there, and really getting a sense of place by walking and sleeping with “Pachamama” (how the Incas called Mother Earth). Though, many times I wanted to give Pachamama the finger!

It was jarring to join the throngs of tourists who arrived by bus and train. I’d developed this sort of mental cacoon on the trail, which was free from all the junk that comes with crowds of people with agendas and to-do lists. It was a shock to the system and the only down side to the entire hike experience.

There’s a lot more to say or show in pictures, but I’m not quite ready to share the entire experience; I want to savor it on my own for just a while longer…


Hike Starts Tomorrow!

May 25th, 2012 § Comments Off on Hike Starts Tomorrow! § permalink

Our adventure begins at 4 am with a 3-hour bus ride to the trail head. We are stocked with plenty of coca leaves, cliff bars brought from home, and rain gear—the weather is weird and occasionally rainy now even though the wet season is over (Yesterday it hailed! Residents of Cuzco got their cameras out).

Tonight we pack our trail bags (and in my case, most likely, pack and repack) and get to sleep early.

I’ll be back online on Wed, totally of the grid for next 4 days.

Here’s my pre-hike meal…carefully chosen to give me something of a symbolic visual to make the exertion have meaning when I’m feeling spent. “This 1000 feet is for that bacon, and the next will be for the onion rings, etc…”

Today I…

May 24th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

Bought a belt from this lady in the San Blas neighborhood (she put it on me, pulling it through my belt loops; I felt like a little girl getting dressed by her mother):


Climbed up the hills surrounding town and got a view of Cuzco like this:


Meandered along narrow alleys such as this:


And sipped a cappuccino from a balcony along the main square, Plaza de Armas, looking out to La Catredal de Cuzco:


I also went to Enigma Tour and picked up this map and some info while paying our balance:

Here’s how the hike breaks down:

Hike 15 km (9.3 miles) – probably around 9 hrs
Starting altitude is 2,600 m (8,528 ft)
We camp at Llulluchapampa, at 3,750 m (12,303 ft)
Elevation gain: 3,775 ft (I have never done this in one day)
Looks like most of that gain is at the end of the day, too.

DAY TWO (the HARD day they say):
Hike 13 km (8 miles) – probably around 9 hrs
We hike over 2 mountain passes
First pass is named, “Dead Woman’s Pass” at 4,200 m (13,779 ft)
Second pass is at 3,950 m (12,956 ft)
We camp at Chaquicocha, at 3,500 m (11,483 ft)
Elevation is up and down this day, but there are 2 pushes up those passes that equal 2,621 ft of uphill exertion

It actually sounds better to me than Day One, but that extra elevation and corellating lack of oxygen will make it tougher **at the highest altitude this day, we’re only getting 40% of the oxygen we’re accustomed to

Hike 9 km (6 miles) – probably around 6 hrs
We hike over our 3rd mountain pass at 3,670 m (12,037 ft)
We camp at Winay Waya at 2,700 m (8,858 ft)
Elevation gain for the mountain pass is 554 ft, then it’s downhill

We hike to Machu Picchu!!!!!
It will take about 3 hours (4 km / 2.5 miles)
No real elevation gain, but lots of downhill at the end, and very steep

If They Can Do It, So Can We

May 21st, 2012 § 4 comments § permalink

We met three ladies at breakfast who had just come from Cuzco and had hiked to Machu Picchu on a different trail than we will be. They are in their 50s and don’t hike at home; one had never slept in a tent before. They said it was hard, like everyone else has, but they didn’t say it was impossible!

Their biggest advice was to not bring anything extra, particularly clothes and specifically extra underwear. Apparently, we will not be bothered to change it. I have been camping before, I know the drill…but underwear is pretty light weight.


I’m sure we’ll be hearing lots more stories in Cuzco, we’re going there tomorrow. It all makes me think of our 2-day stair climb up Emei Shan in China. People at the bottom of the mountain hang out in cafes and worry about the impending torment of going up while people who have just come down are too tired to talk about it.

At the bottom of Emei Shan, the cafe walls where we did our fretting were covered with the scrawls of travelers and pilgrims, penned in all shades of blue and black; there were warnings and statements of triumph–not one message said, “it’s not so bad…” (which is, of course, the message I was always looking for).

Preparing for Machu Picchu

March 26th, 2012 § Comments Off on Preparing for Machu Picchu § permalink

…so this weekend we did a 3-hour, 6-mile hike with a 1400 ft altitude gain (and drop) and my legs were super sore the following day. That is a little less strenuous than DAY 1 OF 4 of our upcoming Machu Picchu hike, and it will be at HIGH altitude.  Am I a wee bit nervous? Um, yes. I have 2 months to get a little more confident with my fitness level.

Here’s how the hike will break down:

Day 1:
Elevation gain: 1312 feet
Distance: approx 7.5 miles
Approx walking time: 5.5 hours

Day 2:
Elevation gain: 1640 feet
Distance: approx 7 miles
Approx walking time: 7.5 hours

Day 3:
Elevation gain: -2788 feet (with ups and downs)
Distance: approx 10 miles
Approx walking time: 8 hours

Day 4:
Elevation gain: -820 feet (with ups and downs)
Distance: approx 3.5 miles
Approx walking time: 2.5 hours