Inca Trail Trials

Just before I embarked this ´great ascent´ to the Gods, I received 10 handy tips for how to make my pending adventure a miserable nightmare. I held on to them because having survived the trail through all weathers, at least now I´m in a position to comment.

Here they are, as provided by Diane Valenti, owner and founder of Llama Expeditions (not the company I traveled with). Nonetheless, they are words to the wise.

1) Be a porter instead of hiring a porter.
Your quads will be screaming as you summit not one but two mountain passes at nearly 14,000 feet each.
Most outfitters will hire either porters or llamas to carry your gear. In all liklihood, you’ll only be allowed 6 kilos, half of which will be your sleeping bag and air mattress. Carrying only a necessary daypack of water and camera will still see more than your quads screaming.

2) Hire the cheapest trekking company.
Horror stories abound about guests going to bed starving because their designated company didn’t pack enough food.
Good outfitters will give you three meals and snacks, all in generous helpings of carbs and proteins. And food will be hot, hot, hot because it can get cold and wet at these lofty heights.

3) Forget to bring toilet paper.
Enough said.
Not enough said. Sadly, for a UNESCO designated site, the toilets en route are a national disgrace. Expect a hole in the ground. Designated facilities are usually a traipse from your tent. Toilet paper (your own) is used and put to one side so you can imagine the fragrancy of every cubicule. Bushes and nature are cleaner alternatives during the trekking part of the day but after that these pit stops are your only option. Hand sanitizer is a must.

4) Hike in sneakers or brand new hiking boots you haven’t broken in yet.
You’ll wish you could make the hike in flip flops once the blisters begin.
Quality boots are an absolute essential even though you’ll see the porters literally scamper past you in leather thongs.

5) Let a friend talk you into hiking the trail without researching what you are getting into.
You need to train for this hike. If you aren’t in good shape for it, you’ll wish you could kill your friend.
At these altitudes training doesn´t count for everything. Be fit. Be healthy. Expect to puff your way through some of the ascents. Take comfort that the guide bringing up the rear usually has an oxygen tank ….. if, of course, you’ve chosen your outfitter well.

6) Think that because you hiked Kilimanjaro the Inca Trail will be a piece of cake.
Kilimanjaro is gradual. The Inca Trail is steep.
First day is a healthy hike with beautiful scenery, one or two killer ascents to flex your muscles, and a lots of rolling pathways.
Second day is upward bound from 6am for about 7 hours. Some long stairs, some irregular walls to climb, some gravel paths through rainforest. The third day is full of luscious scenery and descents, and makes for just rewards of your efforts thus far.

7) Race the porters.
If you hike too fast at altitude, you increase your risk of getting altitude sickness. This could include severe headaches, vomiting and diarrhea in a place where bathrooms are few and far between. (Plus, remember you forgot the toilet paper.)
True, all too true.

8) Plan your hike during the rainy season, November through January.
Rock-paved paths and stone steps can become dangerously slick. And then there’s all that mud.
Yes, it can certainly get damp with sheets of rain weighing heavily on your back. And the views can be obscured by rolling mists. But the cooler temperature makes for an easier hike.

9) Pack summer clothes for a hike during June, July, or August.
It’s winter in the southern hemisphere. You’ll freeze, especially at night. A hot water bottle can be just the thing to help you feel toasty in your sleeping bag on those cold nights when you are chilled from hiking all day.
You´ll probably hike in the same clothes for four days. No worries. Everyone else is in the same boat. Bring rain gear for wet season (to cover you and your day pack), all of which you can pick up dirt cheap in Cusco.

10) Bring heavy books or a hair dryer.
If you hired a porter and your pack is overweight (approx. 45 lbs. max.), you’ll end up carrying these heavy, unnecessary items in your daypack. It won’t be fun.
Bring only bare essentials. Even though I traveled with a gal who brought make-up as one of her necessities, most of us expected not to shower, change clothes or be much of anything after four days

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About Chris McBeath

Travel writer Chris McBeath has worked aboard cruise ships, opened hotels, managed convention centers, marketed spas and spa resorts, and written guide books and travel articles on nearly every aspect of travel.
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