MARK: Straight to the point and no suspense. We did it! No, we smashed it! Two middle-aged people walked, climbed and ran the Inca Trail, seeing Machu Picchu at dawn through the Sun Gate – or should I say Cloud Gate?
Surprisingly, we found the challenge hard but not nearly as hard as we had anticipated. The 45km, four day, 12,000 stair hike was without doubt one of our Round the World highlights and if you ever get the chance, DO IT as you won’t be disappointed!
Where to start? Well the beginning I guess and a 45 minute mini-bus ride took us to the start of the Trail, from our overnight stay in Ollantaytambo. On arrival, purple shirted porters were busy preparing their bags. They had everything you could think of including the kitchen sink. And boy, were they fit. Carrying in excess of 50lbs they literally ran everywhere…
A gentle amble down the valley for 10 minutes brought us to the start of the Trail. Cue tourist picture.
Another five minutes and we were at the first check point. Two hundred people a day get passes to walk the Inca Trail, the Bailey’s had their paperwork reviewed, including passport and we were off!
The first morning was a pleasant walk at relatively low altitude – 2,650m along the banks of the river. Views were stunning, spirits were high, the sun was shining.
Every so often, a train would blow its horn, lamas and other animals would run quickly away. Randomly, in the distance, a man with a pink umbrella was setting a very fast pace.
The first Inca settlement – there would be 10 to see – was reached at around 1100 after two hours steady walking, with little incline.
The views over the site were spectacular, but lunch beckoned and so we flew over the ridge and up towards the camp where we enjoyed a hearty lunch including soup and chicken, all prepared from two gas burners. Excellent.
The afternoon was more challenging with some steep hills, but we took them in our stride and as the sun began to set behind some striking mountains we saw our little red tents all lined up. Time to wash our feet and to sink a quick beer that somebody had kindly brought! Tomorrow we all knew was going to be a different ball game….
At 0500 we awoke from our semi-sleep. Fitful would be a better word for it as the air mattresses supplied ensured we felt every bump of the hard ground.
But outside, the sun was coming up and we were ready for the big one.
Day 2 is the day people dread on the Inca Trail. A four/five hour trek from 2,700m to 4,200m to reach Dead Woman’s Pass and then a steep climb down the other side to 3,600m. Our Group of 11 quickly split into two. I was setting the pace with Matt, Sarah just behind with Hannah. But then Matt (29) and just 60kg, took off like a mountain goat and showed why he was an expert climber. God, the boy flew. Three hours later, I caught him up, smiling! He had arrived ten minutes earlier. But I felt better when I realised that our back marker was over an hour behind us. It wasn’t a race, but it was a personal test of stamina and fitness.
At 1000 we set off again to reach the summit, this time working as a team to keep each other going. It was hard, very hard. Calves hurting, the pink umbrella could clearly be seen half a mile ahead. Heart racing, the last 250m was really tough, but as the cloud closed in we reached the summit in just over an hour. The view down the valley spectacular, which prompted a short “live” video report. Click on the link/arrow/photo below to play the video:
Sarah wasn’t far behind. All that training had paid off and even though her knee was hurting from the Ecuadorian Volcano fall, she still managed a smile!
Group photo done, we were off down the other side, a steep track with hundreds of stairs. It was now that M Bailey Esq came into his own as he sped downhill with poles providing an all important support. It was great fun, music loud on I-pod. Happy Days.
Camp that night was great fun, superb views and wonderful food.
DAY 3: This was billed as a “gentle walk”, with the chance to see numerous Inca settlements. The day though was far from easy. 16km of ascent and descent, with heavy rain during the middle part of the day. Throw in to the mix paths which were a metre wide with 500m drops and you get the rather soggy picture. Matt though, got me through my bouts of vertigo by walking on the edge acting as a human shield. Hero.
It certainly wasn’t plain sailing as during the late morning, Dieter, a lovely 23 year old guy from Belgium, really wasn’t very well and had to be helped down to the last camp by our Number 2 Guide and two porters. This was getting hard!
The descent continued. This time from 3,600m to 2,600m. Walking down thousands of stairs is arguably harder than going up. It really plays on your knees, but we kept on going through caves and along the side of steep gorges until we found the last but one Inca settlement. This was stunning despite the fact that it was now 6.00pm with the light rapidly fading….
A quiet group ate dinner that night. Thoughts were with Dieter in his tent and two other members of the group who were beginning to struggle. Our Guide, J then hit us with the bombshell that our wake up call was going to be 3.30am next morning, we would clear camp by 4.30am ready for the final 6kms of the trek. The aim was to be at the Sun Gate that overlooks Machu Picchu by sunrise.
It was cold and wet and miserable, when we woke up. But who managed to crawl out of his tent? Dieter!! “I’ve not come all this bloody way not to do this…” Fair Play.
The final push in low cloud and mist, where was the sun? A bit of a bun fight developed as 200 people walked at quick speed along narrow ledges and up the flight of monkey stairs – 75 rock steps. We hung back aware that a tourist had recently been accidentally “knocked” over the cliff face to her death 300m below. We’d come so far and weren’t going to not get there.
And then we arrived at the Sun Gate, which I renamed Cloud Gate…. But the mist lifted and wow what a view… take a look at the shots below. They speak for themselves. Oh yes and I finally met Mr Pink Umbrella – a Doctor from Delhi!
We then headed down to MP. Another 45 minutes! And wow what a place. Quite amazing.
We loved walking around all smelly and looking a mess as all the “rich tourists” in their designer gear walked past. They knew what we’d done. We knew what we’d done.
As we sign off, heading south now to Lake Titicaca and on to Bolivia, we are into our final month away. May 10th and LHR T5 gets ever closer. But we live in the moment. If we don’t then we will never appreciate fully just what we are doing and what we have achieved.