As of today (Saturday, July 22), we are now only 37 days away from setting out on the 26-mile Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Put another way, it has now been 339 days since we decided to completely change our lives around in order to get ready for a 4-day event.
Of course there has been more to it than that; we really did need to get into better shape, me especially. But I’m not exaggerating when I say we have changed our lives – this was not simply an exercise/diet plan.
It is really gratifying to look back now, and think about what a difference the decision to commit ourselves has made. The most obvious change, is I weigh 60+ pounds less than when we started out. Great for my health, but a major hit on my wardrobe. But the less obvious physical changes are very interesting.
For example, we have been keeping up with our two 3-mile walks and two times down and up our condo steps (321 each way) for some time now. This morning, we decided to take the 8-mile loop out to the top of El Morro and back, just for a little variety and to get a long walk in once and awhile.
I remember the first time we did this walk. It is about 3.5 miles until you get to the base of El Morro, and we were fine with that. Then you walk up a fairly steep trail to an overlook, a short level patch and then up a steep staircase of 20 or so steps, a slow climb then to the final set of 30 steps that are even steeper, and finally a short ramp up to the main viewpoint.
On that first trip, we had to stop to rest twice on the first hill, and again at the first overlook. We had to take a break at the top of the first stairs, and halfway up the second set. A final breather at the top of those stairs, and we were ready to make the final push. We arrived at the top, gasping for breath, and dreading the walk back down – which left us with shaky legs for the rest of the walk home. Once back home, we were done for the day. And I mean DONE.
Today, it was surprisingly easy, no big deal. We made it from the base to the summit at a steady pace, with no breaks at all. We expertly drank a little water from our hydration packs along the way without breaking stride, and arrived at the top not even breathing hard. And the walk down? Piece of cake, we were chatting as we strolled down. Home in time for a light lunch, and we’ll be taking the dog out for a walk shortly. No doubt we will still do our 3-mile walk after dinner tonight.
Part of the change has been due to the almost 60,000 total stairs we’ve climbed in our condo, part the weight loss, but also it was really helpful to take our practice high-altitude hikes in June, first in the Cotacachi area, and then near Chugchilán/Quilotoa. After all that, no wonder the local hike seems like a stroll in the park (okay, technically it is).
So at this point, I really feel like whatever happens in Peru, our journey has been a success.
Not that we are terribly concerned about Peru now. Don’t get me wrong, we know it is going to be a very big challenge, and we will need every one of the 376 days we spent preparing for it by the time it is over. But thanks to our training and our practice hikes, we feel like 3 of the 4 days will not be any harder than hikes we have already accomplished.
Consider: the first day is about 9 miles of trail, and we will go from an altitude of 8,923 feet up to camp at 10,829 feet. Meh, we did something very similar in Chugchilán on our Toachi Canyon hike. The third day is only about 6 miles, descending for the most part. We made a more difficult and longer hike around Lago de Cuicocha in Cotacachi. Finally, the last day is an almost laughable 3 miles, plus time walking around Machu Picchu. That has got to be easier than the descent and climb out of the Quilotoa crater.
That leaves the only day we still have a little concern about, day 2, AKA “the worst day of your life”. This day is about 10 miles of trail, and we will be summiting over 13,000 feet twice, which is higher than we have hiked so far. All in all, we will climb about 4,373 feet that day, and walk downhill a total of 3,102 feet.
We have not done this yet, or indeed, anything like it.
We are making one more trip to the Quito area to acclimate, just before we leave for Peru. We will get another chance to climb Fuya-Fuya, and to summit Mount Pichincha in Quito. If weather permits, this will give us experience at those 2nd day altitudes and more, topping off at 13,986 feet and 15,413 feet, respectively. But although these will confirm what we already feel, that we will be okay at the highest altitudes on the trail, they still do not present the kind of grueling challenge the 10-12 hour long hike of our 2nd day on the Inca Trail will have in store for us.
But hey, what’s life without challenges?