- Don’t look and walk.
- Be self-sufficient.
- Watch where you step!
After nearly walking off the edge of the mountain, I decided I needed to create personal rules for my trekking.
I do not remember having the same issues climbing to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in January of this year. It turns out each trek has its challenges and rewards. Much of what I learned in Africa did not apply to Peru. This is the 4th thing I learned.
I suppose the 5th thing would be to pay attention to the time of year you plan your trek.
Knowing the weather from a year ago helped me plan for our trek to Peru this year. On top of that, I was in touch with our guide service and had Wunderground tracking Machu Pichu weather for the last six weeks before our trek. I added a rain poncho to my day pack. That was the one thing I wished I had had on Kilimanjaro.
When we had rain the first afternoon of our trek, I was much more prepared.
But I digress. What I want to talk about is the three things I learned in the Peruvian Andes. With a cell phone camera and a digital, 35 mm Sony camera with a zoom lens, I took many pictures. By the second day, I had figured out how to take pictures safely.
- Don’t Look And Walk
Looking while walking almost had me going over the edge of a 1,000-plus foot drop to the valley floor. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a glacier on the peak across from our peak. I raised my head to look while continuing to walk. Moments later, the trail took a bend around a rock outcropping. Two more steps and I would have walked right off the mountain. The fall would have been well over 1,000 feet.
This near-death experience helped me formulate my rule #1, don’t look and walk.
Our Guide Oned said, “Stop and take pictures whenever you want, for you may never come this way again.” Having his “permission” helped me see that my rule #1 was a keeper. After all, at age 67, I have other mountains to climb, and returning to the Inca trail will be less of a priority.
But the absolute brilliance and vastness of the Andes have my heart wishing I could live in the mountains of Peru.
So, in the end, my trekking plan rule #1 became just concentrating on the next step, the next 20 feet of trail. Occasionally, I would raise my head a bit higher and check on the location of our guide. If, while looking down at the trail, I saw a flower or petals on the ground in front of me, I would stop walking and look up. Almost every time, I was rewarded with the sight of a Peruvian flower in bloom.
That first day in Peru, I was learning my lesson about stopping to look around.
Yes, the one close call was an eye-opener. But there were many minor instances that morning before the final incident. Going into the trek, I knew I was an adult, plus, I had some experience climbing at altitude. This gave me a false sense of confidence as we set out to venture up the mountain.
- Be self-sufficient.
Being self-sufficient is a relative thing in the Peruvian Andes. Not only are you pretty much at the mercy of the elements, but there is no Uber to take you back to your hotel. In our case, we were 2 days from civilization before we turned back towards Machu Pichu and cell phone towers.
If you brought it with you, you could use it.
If you didn’t remember to bring it with you, well you were out of luck. There was no Target or CVS where you could stop by and pick up a deck of cards, or another blanket. Some of what I brought or did not bring was colored by my African experience. There, I traveled with a book I was going to read. By the end of the trek, I realized that I had taken the book to 19,341 feet and had not even cracked the cover.
So, I assumed that there would be no time for extracurricular activities. This led me to leave the cards that I always travel with in my suitcase kept by our hotel. So, when we arrived at camp earlier than expected on the fourth day, I did not have a book to read or a deck of cards to share.
I did find that I had some paper and pens.
This led us to play that game where you put 100 dots (or more) on the paper and then draw short lines to connect two points. I think it is called dots and boxes. At some point, squares, or boxes, are formed, and you put your initials inside the square. The game ends when there are no more dots to connect. The winner is the one with the most initialed squares.
The point of all this is that each adventure, each trek, and each day, is unique.
Just because something was a certain way before, doesn’t mean it will be that way in the future. And while the past is the best predictor of the future, it is not written in stone that this time will be exactly like last time.
Had I thought more clearly about this before we left for Peru, I might have brought a book to read. At least I had my books on tape (Audible) to listen to at night. Knowing what worked and what didn’t work on Kilimanjaro, I purchased a heavy-duty poncho for our Machu Pichu trek. And while I only needed it once in Peru, there once again was no REI to get one from had I not brought it with me.
- Watch where you step.
This third rule for my trek is probably the most important. There were many places both on the Inca Trail and The Anacostia portion, where a misstep would have been troublesome at best. Some trail edges are abutted with 1,000-foot+ drops. I said this before, OSHA would have shut down the trail the first time they saw it. In the Peruvian government’s defense, handicap accessibility would be cost-prohibitive.
And the experience would be modified to where it would be almost unrecognizable.
I am on the record supporting everyone’s rights and I am not saying that the trail should not be accessible to anyone with the desire to make the trek. But there are many ways to experience Machu Pichu that are or could be ADA-compliant.
Watching where you step, for me, means being aware of your surroundings.
Very early in this trek, I learned a trick I used for all seven days on the trail. With our guide in the front, I cocked my hat slightly downward and focused my attention on where my foot was being placed. I also focused my attention on where I was placing my trekking poles.
By using the trekking poles in combination with my own two feet, I maintained three contacts with the trail. This gave me confidence that I was not going to slip or slide to and over the edge. It also helped me keep the steep staircases and trail sections in perspective. If I just looked forward, I could see the often-vertical nature of the trail.
If I looked at where I was placing my feet, I could control my pace and feel more confident in my footing.
Every so often, I would look up and check on our guide Oned. This periodic check gave me confidence that I was going in the right direction, especially the first few days. Before we joined the actual Inca trail, our journey was over open mountain ranges. At one point we were traversing a ridgeline, and across the canyon on the other mountaintop, were glaciers, moaning and cracking in the afternoon sun.
Watching where you step was the best thing that I could have done to stay safe on the trail.
I am so glad to have had a competent, generous guide, who kept us on pace. Knowing that he knew where to go, I could focus on where I placed each step. And once I adjusted to being a follower, instead of a leader, I was able to relax and immerse myself in the beauty and sheer vastness of Peru.
Until this trek, I had never used the word vast to describe anything.
But the Andes in Peru are vast. They stretch for hundreds if not thousands of miles along the border with the Pacific Ocean. We trekked maybe 40 miles and I am still in awe of the enormity of the mountains. Walking into Machu Pichu from the Sun Gate seven days after we began our trek was a fitting finish for our adventure.