Hiking the Inca Trail
by Douglas J. Klostermann
Just ahead of me, around a
bend, I heard my companion exclaim in exasperation, “You have
We had begun the trek at
Km. 88 - so named for its distance from
The second day commenced
with hot cups of coca tea brought to our tent, and an overcast sky.
Soon there was steady rain, but the weather couldn’t dampen the group’s
spirit as our guide Percy led his poncho clad followers on the ascent
towards Warmihuañusca - Dead Woman's Pass. At 13,800 feet
(4,215 m) above sea level, it is the highest pass on the trail, and made for
the most challenging day. We advanced through changing habitats of
cloud forests with rushing streams, and open valleys grazed by llamas and
alpacas. The trail, we concluded, should be named the Inca Steps.
Many of the trail’s original ancient Inca stones are still in place, and
while steps sound like a convenient way to climb a mountain, when they are
twice as high as usual, they make for an exhausting ascent. By the
time I neared the summit, I could take just two steps before needing a rest.
After triumphant photos at the pinnacle, we discovered that descending the
steps was just as difficult.
The sun returned on the
third day to display wide vistas of Andean peaks. Since the trail
often dropped off precipitously on one side, Percy advised that we step to
the inside each time a porter passed. Despite bearing dozens of pounds
of food and gear, the porters moved quickly and confidently past their
clients who were gasping for air and pausing for energy bars. We
encountered the distinctive circular ruins of Runkuracay, thought to
be a rest stop for ancient travelers, and ducked through stone tunnels
carved out by the Inca trail builders. Lush vegetation surrounded the
trail as it passed through the edge of the Amazon jungle. We ended the
day near the terraced ruins of Wiñay Wayna, at a campsite offering
hot showers and cold Cusqueña beer. The next day would be the final
leg, so hoping to reach the Sun Gate by sunrise, we prepared for an early
wake up call.
As we gathered in early morning darkness at
the control point, one of our companions brought out his iPod and speakers,
and we enthusiastically sang “The Final Countdown.” As soon as the
gates opened, we rushed forward, all hoping to be the first to view Machu
Picchu. Although I was soon exhausted,
the excitement kept me moving.
And then we reached the stairs.
But that ascent paid off, as it led directly
to the Sun Gate. Hikers gathered atop the ruins and we watched the
morning sky illuminate the Inca citadel below. The feeling of
accomplishment was immense, and the reward of Machu Picchu, we realized to our own surprise, was secondary to the pride gained from
climbing over mountains to reach it.
Inca Trail is strictly regulated - the number of tourists is limited to
about 200 per day, with groups of sixteen maximum. One must have a
guide and porters, and book through a licensed tour company. Prices,
(This article was originally published on Adventure Life's website)
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