Machu Picchu: Conquered

We survived. My brother Gregory, Jeff, and I have made our pilgrimage to Machu Picchu, the sacred site of the Quechua people* and returned to Cusco, more or less intact.

This past summer, Jeff and I hiked somewhere around 500 miles. More than once, we hiked over 20 miles in one day, and then woke up the next day to do it again. I wouldn’t say it was fun and I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it wasn’t killer. The hike to Machu Picchu by way of the classic Inca Trail is about 26 miles long, and it’s done over the course of four days. Sounds not too bad, right?

Ha. Think again. The Inca Trail is hard. This is no stroll in the park, no walk in the woods. This is a long, hard haul at extremely high elevation. You begin at 2,600 meters. (That’s 8,528 feet for those of you who can’t figure out the metric system.) By the first night, you are at 3,100 meters (10,137 feet). That’s twice the elevation of Denver, which many of us Americans consider to be high and hard on the lungs. On the second day, you ascend to 4,200 meters (13,776 feet). You go up a lot. But it’s not just uphill. You also go downhill–hard and fast–and then go back uphill all over again. The ground is rough, much of it paved with uneven stones. Sometimes the only thing on the side of the trail is a steep drop-off. And being the rainy season, creeks spill over the trail, stones become slippery, and rivers rage. The Inca Trail is not for the faint of heart.

But it’s difficulties are balanced by its rewards. On the first day, you pass local people in traditional dress, working the land and living the way they have for hundreds of years.

Every day magnificent scenery surrounds you—sheer mountains that seem to rise straight from the earth, snow-capped peaks, waterfalls, cloud forest jungle—and because it’s the rainy season thousands of orchids, bromelids, and other flowers.

And you don’t have to wait until you get to Machu Picchu to see Incan ruins, as there are many ruins along the way: small sites that served as resting spots, larger sites that astronomers used to predict the best times for planting and harvest, and a variety of other impressive ruins where pilgrims to Machu Picchu stopped five hundred years ago.

All in all, we had a fabulous time. Our group of 12—aside from an unfortunately whiny Canadian couple—was good, our guides were knowledgeable and encouraging, the food was plentiful and pretty tasty, the tents warm, the porters amazing, and the weather surprisingly good for the heart of rainy season. And Machu Picchu, well, it was definitely worth the work.

Check back tomorrow for a day by day break-down of the trip, along with some more photos. And yes, we know that we have not yet posted anything about our first few adventures prior to the Inca Trail. We will take some time and rewind back to that after we enjoy our last few days with Gregory.

*It’s incorrect to refer to the people as Incas. There was only one Inca—the king.

11 Replies to “Machu Picchu: Conquered”

  1. Yay! You guys survived it 🙂 It really is difficult regardless of how fit you are because the altitude tends to level folks.

    I hiked it in May and it was the experience of a lifetime

  2. I can’t wait to read the day to day breakdown. We’ll be hiking the Inca Trail in June – it is one of the things I am most looking forward to. Could you tell me which company you decided on for the trek? I must decide that in the coming weeks and would appreciate any advice. Cheers.

  3. Gosh, I was expecting Greg to write this entry. I am glad to hear the hike went well and you all are fine. I can’t wait to hear Greg tell me about it. I will also enjoy reading your day to day breakdown. Enjoy the next few days with Greg.

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