My hardest day Machu Picchu and an interview with the best Guide who got me through it.
There I was at 4 am still dark heading up the mountain to Machu Picchu. Above the clouds waiting for the sun to come up in front of me and the only other person was my husband quietly walking along helping me. The top of Dead woman’s pass was today’s goal.
I had done all the prep work. Arrived in Cusco early and spent four days acclimatizing to the altitude. Taken the anti-altitude medicine given to me and drank lots of coca tea. I felt good climbing onto the bus that morning at 4 am heading to one of my greatest adventures so far, Machu Picchu. But here I was on the side of a mountain so high in altitude that I was having trouble breathing, the rest of our group long gone having been lucky enough to be with a very young, fit group they had no problem tackling this pass. Me, I had trouble from day one.
But here I was on the side of a mountain so high in altitude that I was having trouble breathing. The rest of our group long gone having been lucky enough to be with a very young, fit group they had no problem tackling this pass. Me, I had trouble from day one.
How it all started
Let’s go back to 2013 when I got the crazy idea from our friends in Australia. We met one of them on our walk across Spain doing the Camino for 5 weeks. Which by the way made me believe that I could do the Camino Inka trail. So, lots of planning for flights, travel, hotels, meals every detail considered and I was ready to go… until I landed in Cusco and instantly got a migraine. They were not kidding when I was told the altitude was going to affect me.
We took it easy for the first day and quietly toured the city and surrounding area for four days, that should be enough, right? Nope.
First mountain Pass
The trek didn’t start off bad. I was ready to go and not falling too far behind on the first day. But my guide (patience of a saint) waited for me as the climb got steeper he helped and encouraged me along. So I kept going. By the time we got to our second night of camping at the bottom of Dead Woman’s pass I was exhausted and sick. Not to mention not able to eat for the first day and ready to quit. Our guide talked to me and said not to worry I could get up earlier than the rest the next day and get a head start so that I didn’t fall behind, so optimistic!
That takes us back to the beginning where OK I was only about a quarter of the way up when the rest of our group smiled and cruised right past me.
Never Give up!
But I was not giving up. My guide was determined to get me to camp before dark. Let’s say for argument sake, that there “could” have been some locals with donkeys heading up the hill. And may have made room for an additional package, me! So, I may have donated 50 soles and to be honest it could have been a million I would have given it. (By the way at this point I should point out that it is illegal to ride any animal, donkey or horse on the Inka Trail unless you are a local and have a business reason to do so). I just kept my head down and they would take me as far as they could, so for the next 40 minutes, I rode a donkey up Dead Woman’s Pass so that I would not be named after this hill.
I reached the top and gloriously fell to the ground to rest. When I was told get going it’s a long climb down, I’ll be honest I wondered if a helicopter could get me. it was another 3- 4 hours down, down, down. So off I was to the next campsite for the night whereby the time I got there I had my appetite back a bit anyway. The rest of the walk was pretty much the same hardship without the long climbs up until we reached…The Gringo Killer!
Gringo Killer Pass
Appropriately named the Gringo Killer pass is so steep and the steps so large that the only way I could do this, hold my poles I crawling up this one on my hands and knees. Butthat’ss another tale.
5 days, 4 nights and a lot of pain but it was worth it and to anyone, whether you are ready or not give it a go, it is not a race I wasn’t there to win it I was there to finish it was my motto.
Enjoy my interview with my Guide Hilbert Sumire. He has some great advice for those wanting to climb Machu Picchu and about the area. And if you ever find yourself in need of one the most experienced guides with over 675 treks under his belt you can contact him here
Interview with Hilbert Sumire, to date 696 treks to Machu Picchu.
1. What is your #1 piece of advice for people who are interested in hiking to Machu Picchu?
My first advice is, the hiker must stay in Cusco city for 2 or 3 days. The best advice is 3 days. During those days, the person must eat very light meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). Why, because the local cuisine is very heavy (too much oil). The hiker is used to drinking water after any meal, that is a big mistake. In Cusco city local people after any meal we have a herbal tea or we drink a liquor for digestion. Cusco city is very high, 3,400 mts, the classical problem in the mountains when the hiker is walking is the altitude, the altitude makes a big difference.
2. What is the one thing everyone should pack when on the Inka Trail?
The proper hiking equipment: a good sleeping bag, thermal roll mattress, walking poles, hiking boots, clothes and the passion to hike in the mountains and to live this great adventure to Machu Picchu city
3. What is the best time of year to book the climb?
Cusco city is in the Andes, we have two seasons, rainy season (from November to April), dry season (from May to November), for American people Summer vacation, but there is a limit of people for this trek, 500 people per day (less than 200 hikers + more than 300 porters), we have more porters than hikers, because the porters carry all the hiking equipment and food for 4 days. The hiker MUST book in ADVANCE, 6 or 7 months, otherwise, no chance to do this trek, when the Inca Trail is busy we have other nice options to get to Machu Picchu by foot: Lares trek, Salkantay trek, Huchuy Qosqo trek, Choquequirau trek and others too.
4. Tell me about your best or more interesting climb?
I think of all the treks or adventures that I did in my 20 years have been and will be the best, for every trip is always a new adventure and challenge as a guide that your passengers finish their trek to Machu Picchu and that implies a lot of responsibility as a guide, but as a guide and archeologist I enjoy it a lot, to be in the mountains is my greatest passion and sharing my culture makes me feel proud of my country
5. What is an unrealistic expectation on the trail?
I believe in my years of experience the weather, especially in rainy season, because all people expect to have their adventure to Machupicchu the 4 days a beautiful weather especially the last day, which is the visit to the city of Machu Picchu, which is understandable, but in the Andes the weather is unpredictable or very changeable, but as I like to say to adventurers, rain is part of the adventure and the question: are you a tourist or are you an adventurous person, of the two people, which one are you?
6. Is there a favorite part of the trail other than Machu Picchu?
The part where I enjoy the Inca trail to Machupicchu is the third day. For many reasons, one because we can visit the Inca archaeological groups and share with the adventurer people the history and culture of my ancestors. The second are the landscapes, mountains, glacier mountains (Apus), flora, fauna, and contact with Mother Earth(Pachamama).
7. Which hike do you prefer and why?
The classic Inca trail offered by all tourist agencies in Cusco is 4 days and 3 nights, where the camps are official. But in all of them, there are problems of bathrooms, which are not clean, there is no hot shower service. Because the most of our tourists are accustomed to taking hot showers but for local people, it is normal to take a cold shower. Otherwise, the official camps are noisy especially the last camp (Wiñaywayna, it is very small).
What I recommend as a mountain guide if a tourist wants to enjoy if it is adult person(over 50 years old), family trip, group of friends to enjoy this great adventure is the Inca trail of 5 days and 4 nights because you camp in places of smaller people and that one enjoy the sights and the opportunity to take wonderful photos and enjoy the landscapes, fauna, flora and other things.
The 8 days and 7 nights that is two treks together: Salkantay trek+ Inca trail, likewise is to do it with great tranquility, because in this trek the first step (Incachiriaska Pass, located at 4,998 meters / 16,394 feet) is very strong especially physical and altitude problems, but with the acclimatization in Cusco it is possible to make this great challenge
8. What is your shortest time to complete? I hear there is a story?
It was 10 years ago, when I did the adventure in 3 days and 2 nights with 2 American marines, that trip was interesting, I thought that I would do it very well because I am supposedly physically prepared for being a local person accustomed to the height and to the walk every week, but these marines surprised me in spite of each one loading more than 40 kilos, they loaded the equipment of camping and the food.
Remembering that the second day when we went up to the step of the Dead Woman´s Pass (4,200 mts / 13,776 feet), I asked each half an hour to wait for me, my respect to those marines now I understand why the American Marines are men of attack and combat, that trek we did very fast but always enjoying the Inca archaeological groups and this great adventure to Machupicchu
9. What should be left behind that too many people bring?
In my years of experience, for the Inca trail you must carry what is necessary, a very light-weight camping equipment, especially if someone is thinking of loading all their equipment, which travel companies indicate: hair dryers, heavy books, especially women their manicure equipment, in the mountains all women are beautiful, local people know it, because the weight in the mountains bends the weight, it is perhaps because of the pressure of the height and physical condition of the passenger
10. What is always/ most often forgotten?
What the passenger sometimes forgets is the passport if he is an elderly person. Or if he is a student, the student card especially on the first day. Since at the beginning of the trek everyone has to show his original passport, especially the passport with which you have made the reservation. If you have a new passport you must bring with you the old passport and the new passport
11. Can you quickly explain the Apu and Pachamama?
Apu means Sacred Mountain (glacier mountains and mountains). If you are a farmer for you as a farmer which is the most important thing in your routine life, it is the element of water. That is why the Incas worshiped and respected the Apus, Pachamama means Mother Earth
12. Why do you hold your Lamas?
In American culture it is common to say when a person rushes to another person or that person does things very fast without enjoying Take it easy, hold your horses this phrase I change it and I like to say it always so that the passenger enjoys this great adventure or any adventure in the mountains: Take it easy, hold your llamas…!
13. Tell me about your best or more interesting climb?
I have many stories. But the one I always remembered and learned from that trip, is 8 or 9 years ago when in a group of 16 people there was a German couple I do not remember the woman’s name but the second day when I arrived at the camp she had pains Head or bad height very common the second day on this trek. We provide an oxygen tank and the necessary help, but the third day at the time of awakening, leaving her tent she fell and began to convulse. To put foam through her mouth, which she had, cerebral edema (lack of oxygen), was an experience that I will remember all my life, to see the husband crying to the concerned friend without knowing what to do.
A Guides Responsibility
When one is mountain guide he has to take A responsible decision, we did, to charge this person in a hammock, we did 22 km’s in only 7 hours to Aguas Calientes town then we organized a train to Ollantaytambo and at the station a team of doctors were waiting for us, from there direct to the city of Cusco direct to the medical clinic after an hour of waiting the main doctor told us that the temporary edema cerebral, but with the necessary help of oxygen tanks and the immediate evacuation we were able to save a life of a person, after two days she recovered and he could recognize me as his guide, that was the happiest moment. From that experience every time I do a hike in the mountains, I always ask are you ok, some problem with the altitude, as I always say:
Take it easy, hold your llamas! Machu Picchu does not move, Machu Picchu was, Machu Picchu is, Machupicchu will be forever in the same place, you can do it, no pain, no gain, we are adventure people, not tourists…!
Hilbert Sumire Happy New Year 2017. A huge hug from Peru.
More exciting stories of my journey on the Inka Trail to come.