Inca Trail – 4 days to Machu Picchu

The First of the Days: Tough Stuff!

Four months after booking the hike, at 4:30am, Friday, April 6, 2012: I sleepily drag myself out of bed, throw my last belongings in my backpack and a short 20 minutes later, we are on a bus to km 82 of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Km 82 is 82 km from Cuzco. At 2,600m, this is where the Classic Inca Trail begins. After a couple hours of sleeping on the bus, we are at the beginning of the trail. I stopped at the loo (this is my new way of saying toilet/washroom/bathroom thanks to our 2 English hiking buddies), had some breakfast, bought some coca leaves and water, and was on my way with the rest of what turned out to be a pretty awesome group!

Pumped and ready to start!

So who was in this group and why were they so awesome? (from left to right)

Jason and Kate – a couple from London, England. Always very calm, good to talk to. Kate is an anesthesiologist and major trauma consultant for the British Navy and had her 40th birthday the day after the hike was over.

Abby – teaches high school at JFK. She is a “princess” and this is the kind of thing, while she’s happy to check it off the list, she will not do again for many years to come. But you would never know this from her great attitude and perseverance throughout the trip. 

Kerri – 2ndgrade teacher at JFK. She always has a super positive attitude and lots of energy. Her enthusiasm for new people, cultures, living species, and other learning opportunities really makes her a great person to travel with!

Me – this is when I thought I could carry 14 kilos on my back!

Patrick – from Melbourne, Australia. He’s a doctor, too (but he’s only 25 years old. It’s a much different system than in Canada and the States). He was always calm and super laid back – definitely Aussie. 

Our group was actually much larger, when you include our tour guide and the many chaskis.

Chaski? What the heck is a chaski?
De Wikipedia: 
“The Chasquis(also Chaskis) were agile and highly-trained runners that delivered messages, royal delicacies such as fish and other objects throughout the Inca Empire, principally in the service of the Sapa Inca.”

What are normally referred to as porters, we called chaskis (runners). The chaskis carried about 60lbs, I think. And most of them were super tiny, too! They carried all the tents for sleeping and the tents for cooking/eating in, the tables and stools that we ate at, plus their own stuff. Everyone in our group, except my super trooper friends Kerri and Abby, hired a personal chaski to carry their personal things (they all made that smart decision before the hike started). 
Our group including the chaskis

We had only 6 hikers and 10 chaskis. Larger groups
had a lot more chaskis! This is one line of chaskis walking.

We started the day with lots of flat ground walking, a small incline, and some great views (these views were nothing compared to what lied ahead, though). 

Our first meal – this was seriously amazing food, and plenty of it!

After lunch, I had a lot of walking by myself because I had a real bad day in terms of speed an endurance. I caught up to the rest of the group at the campsite. I ended in a full out sprint of excitement, followed by a 5 minute rest flat on the ground before setting up my bed and belongings for the night.

The group minus Abby and me at the first campsite.

Second Day: Slow and Steady*Cool*

About 6:00 we are awake, fed, and ready to begin. We took some time for everyone to introduce him/herself as we stood in a circle. Then we held hands and sang some traditional song-type thing. I really don’t remember a lot about that, but it was pretty cool.

We were prepared mentally for this day to be very tough. With thousands of steps to climb, Dead Woman’s Pass is known as the most difficult part of the Inca Trail. While most hikers find this day the most challenging, I actually found it much easier than the first day. The first day threw me a bunch of extra challenges that I had to overcome, but on day 2 I had a more positive start to the day, a much lighter load on my back, and I had mastered the trick to successful uphill hiking. What’s the trick I mastered? Slow and steady! When I stopped, I only did for 3-5 breaths, then kept going. There was no sitting or long breaks – just a steady movement. Great life lessons here.

After climbing those thousands of steps to our highest point at about 4200m, I was so excited to be at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass. I ran up the last few steps, much like the guy at 7:30 mins in this video. The only difference is that I wasn’t smart enough to bring my hiking poles high enough off the ground so I had a nice stumble. At this point, I was unstoppable – I immediately broke into laughter and couldn’t stop smiling, regardless of the scrapes on my hands and the blood gushing from my knee. What a great feeling!
After my fall at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass.
We made it (up Dead Woman’s Pass)!!!

What a beautiful view! Look closely to the very bottom – where we cam from!
After making it to the top of Dead Woman’s Pass, there was a lot of downhill to the lunch site. I was so pumped to be good at something that I really went all out and went faster than the rest of the group. There was a certain peacefulness being alone but also knowing that I can go as slow or as fast as I want and no one is going to be waiting for me. It was also nice to have a ton of energy and not be out of breath!

Arrival at the lunch site, looking up at where I just came from.

Wow, those clouds are coming in quickly!
Slowly, clouds began to surround us at our level, then it started to rain… and I mean really rain! Pouring rain! We waited it out for maybe about an hour, then kept on going when there was only a light drizzle that went away shortly after. It really was so amazing to see this big downpour come and go so quickly and drastically all in the course of one meal.
As we were eating lunch, the clouds came even lower.

“Ugly” days really are quite beautiful!

Despite Eddy (the tour guide) predicting, with complete confidence, that it would not rain, it started to rain. No, that’s an understatement. It started to pour. Really pour. Hail, too! I love being so close to nature’s “bad” weather. 

We waited out the rain (about an hour after lunch), then were on our way with only a light drizzle falling and the clouds slowing dissipating. 

The rest of the day had many more beautiful views and good sized hills that were fun to hike up (slow and steady) and down. The rain made for some interesting spots where we could not avoid stepping in the stream of water rushing over the rocks. 

We regularly stopped to let the chaskis pass.
You can see all the water rushing down here.
Kerri and Abby confused whether this is a stream or the trail. 

So many stairs!

Hail made for some snowy trekking.
Look closely – you can see a chaski
running (the lighter parts).
One of the many places we stopped
to rest, learn, and explore.

Look closely – top center (I think) is our camp site for night 2.

After this stop, camp wasn’t much farther. We entered into a less open area of the trail, surrounded by green rainforest. Kerri was super excited for the llamas. Too bad they lost interest before I snapped the picture.

Kerri with llamas, almost at campsite 2.

This was the scenery we had as we approached campsite #2.

Campsite #2. This campsite had amazing views of the mountains.

Day Number Three: Short and Sweet

Day 3!!! 

We started day 3 with these amazing views!

Day 3 started with some amazing views of mountains and clouds. The day continued with different scenery, including a cave and hours of forest.

Cave on day 3.

Layers: snowcapped mountains, clouds, green mountains.

And lots more stairs.

There were lots of flowers.

Day 3 was a short day. We arrived at camp around 1, I think. It was a more relaxing walk – Kerri, Abby, and I took our time walking through the forest, stopping for pictures and to enjoy the scenery and each other’s company. When we did arrive at the campsite (which is where all other groups also stopped, as it is the last campsite before Machu Picchu), we had plenty of time to relax. A couple people took naps, a few of us laid our wet clothes out to dry (the humidity on the first couple days prevented anything from drying completely), and of course I spent some good time playing cards and reading.

After a few relaxing hours, we took a short walk to the last archaeological site we would see before Machu Picchu. Wiñay Wayna (in Quechuan) means “forever young”. This small town is very beautiful, with many, many terraces, and buildings up and down. The temples were on top, then many, many terraces led to housing below. The housing was huge and so much fun to explore. 

Our group at Winaywayna.

Me looking out over the mountains
and ground below.

After spending some time exploring the housing area, I found this spot that overlooked the mountain and below. Standing here was absolutely my favorite 5 minutes of the entire hike. 

Two steps in front of me and I would have stepped off of the edge to fall to my death. This was terrifying. I forced myself to step out just to feel the exhilaration of that fear. When I wasn’t testing the natural fear of heights, I was simply standing, enjoying the view and tranquility with only muted voices in the distance (no one was around me at this point). Serenity.

Upon our return to the campsite, we had another amazing dinner – pizza!! Then, we hit the sleeping bags for as much sleep as we could get before our 3:30am wake-up.

Pizza on night 3.

Fourth Day: Machu Picchu

3:30 in the morning, we are awake and quickly prepping to get down to the checkpoint out of the campsite. In less than two hours, we would be at Machu Picchu!

Not-so-bright-but-definitely-early walk to Machu Picchu.

After some great, excitement-driven hiking, we arrive at a spot where we can see just how close we are. Machu Picchu is right there in the background!

Machu Picchu in the background.

*Energy, fascination, success, determination*
Stay tuned for the arrival at and exploration of Machu Picchu.


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