Machu Picchu, Peru, Travel

Training for a Hike of Lifetime

This week began something new for me in planning for a trip. I’m used to doing budgets, searching flights, looking at hotels, and figuring out transportation, but this is the first time that I have to physically train for a trip. Our summer trip this year is taking us to the South American country of Peru and the main reason we are making this trip is to visit the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is nestled in the middle of the Andes Mountains at an elevation of 7,972ft., we however are coming from a state with an astronomical peak of 345ft, so quite the discrepancy.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Elevation is not something that you can necessarily train for, so what are we training for? In researching travel to Machu Picchu I discovered that one main attraction is to hike the Inca Trail to the Machu Picchu site. The Inca Trail hike takes four days and it covers 26 miles at a very high elevation. It allows the hiker to visit other ancient ruins and to see Machu Picchu from a different perspective then most visitors. Instead of just arriving by bus to the site, we would be able to look down upon the site from the surrounding trail that a good portion of visitors don’t witness. This is because the Peruvian Government has limited the number of people on the Inca Trail to 500 people a day to protect it from excessive wear and tear, whereas the number of people allowed to visit Machu Picchu daily is 2500, so while not entirely isolated our hike will be a unique perspective.

Unfortunately, due to our budget and time constraints, we were very hesitant to use four days and a significant amount of money to do the hike. Luckily during my searches I discovered that several companies offer a one day hike to Machu Picchu, which covers the tail end of the Inca Trail. After a discussion with my wife we decided that this provided the best opportunity for us to see the Inca Trail and the distinct vantage point it provides of Machu Picchu.

So I started delving more into the information on the one day hikes and what they entail. The hike takes over 5 hours while walking 6 miles and climbing over 1,900ft. The hike begins at an elevation above 7,000ft, so it is still not the simplest of hikes for us lowlanders. The website states that the hike is considered easy, but I won’t be fooled by that word again. During our honeymoon we were in St. Lucia and took a tour to hike one of the pitons. The description of the tour said that it was an easy hike up to the top. Well, we found out that day that there are varying levels of easy and for us hiking up a piton is not one of them. We only made it halfway before bowing out and heading back down into the village.

Pitons, St. Lucia

Pitons, St. Lucia

For our trip to Machu Picchu however we’re determined to finish the hike. With the knowledge that we aren’t the strongest hikers we have created a plan to train for the hike. Since we live in such a flat state the start of our training will just be hiking for extended distances over uneven terrain, while carrying our backpacks. We started last month when we hiked through a local wilderness park for about 7 miles. Our plan is to walk at least 5 days out of the week and have at least one longer hike on the weekends. While walking and hiking around Florida is great, I felt that we needed some experience hiking some actual mountains, so I started looking at the Appalachian Mountains in Georgia. I settled on making an extended weekend trip to Blood Mountain in April to practice climbing around 1900ft. If we can make that hike successfully it will give us positive reinforcement that we are capable of making such a hike and will help us immensely in our trip to Machu Picchu.

So far the hikes have been wonderful and it’s pleasant being outside. It helps to have a solid goal in mind when we make our treks. I’m sure the hiking will get a little less fun once our brief Florida winter is over, but I think looking forward to hiking in Georgia and then having an experience of a lifetime hiking the Inca Trail will provide all of the drive I need. I’m curious if any of you have ever taken a trip that you had to physically prepare for and how did you approach it?


9 thoughts on “Training for a Hike of Lifetime

  1. Pingback: Never Hike In A T-Shirt « One Eyebrow Raised

  2. Hey Dustin, I’m sure that you’ll love Peru and Machu Picchu is wonderful. And you’re correct, you can’t train for altitude, but you can acclimate. We flew from Lima (sea level) to Cusco (11,000 feet), and like every visitor, it took time to adjust. You won’t necessarily have headaches and naseau (some people do), but you’ll have considerable shortness of breath. If possible, stop in Cusco for at least 2 days to acclimate. Altitude sickness affects different people in different ways, so it will help to plan for it. You don’t want to be adjusting on the Inca Trail. Have a great trip. ~ James

    • Hi James, I am very excited about Peru, and Machu Picchu is one of the top sites on my wish list to see. I don’t know if we’ll be flying into Cusco from Lima or taking the bus for Arequipa, but the plan is to be in Cusco for three days during Inti Raymi before we hike the Inca Trail. Do you have any tips to help with acclimatization? Thanks, Dustin

      • Hey Dustin. As a matter of fact, I just wrote a post on Cusco and in it I said: “My advice it to take is easy on the day of arrival, have a nap in the afternoon, indulge gently with food and booze, get a good night’s sleep, and acclimate for a couple of days before moving on.” The post just ran today, so check it out for some pics and info about Cusco.

  3. Hi Dustin,
    Don’t drink alcohol for 10 days before the trek and none on it. Chew the coca leaf candy and drink coca tea (quite pleasant – you could get to like it!). These are easily obtained. Take short uphill walks with lots of pauses whilst in Cuzco. Don’t be alarmed if you feel breathless – just take it steady. Use trekking sticks to help you get up and down the steeper bits. Follow the porters’ example: zig zag up the trail, and walk on the flatter stones on the sides that they use: so much easier on your legs. When you have rest breaks it is tempting to sit, but you may find it better to remove pack and keep on your feet. The Inca trail is a great experience, take your time, use your camera. You’ll see the hummingbirds the others who forge ahead won’t see. Enjoy.

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