Biology – Austin, TX
It became harder and harder to breathe. My legs gave out faster and faster, forcing me to stop every twenty feet. The 15,100 foot Salkantay Pass was in view, yet there was still another thirty feet uphill. After the grueling hike up, there was no turning back. The only choice was to push through, not stopping until the brilliant summit. This is the Salkantay Trek, a popular route to Machu Picchu in Peru. It can range from two to nine days depending on preference and ability. The three-day, two-night option covers about thirty-five miles, not including the hike up to Machu Picchu. Planning and packing for the hike are both intimidating tasks that require time and thought; however, executing it is the most daunting task of all.
Ability is a large part of the overall experience of the hike. Physically preparing at least a few weeks prior will help tremendously on the trail. While packing for a trip is hard, further compressing your belongings into two backpacks for the hike is even harder. One bag, the horse pack, can be no more than ten pounds. The second backpack, daypack, can be as heavy as you’d like. “Keep your pack light, family” is one of the most useful pieces of advice our guide, Rolando, gave the very first morning. Essentials for the daypack include snacks, sunscreen, water and a camera. Speaking from personal experience, most hikers overestimate their ability to carry a heavy daypack, but after one day, their minds quickly change. The horse bag should hold additional, warm clothes, bathroom supplies and an extra pair of shoes for camp. The horses will also carry tents, cooking materials and sleeping bags and pads. Warm clothes are imperative for the night and morning hikes when the temperature drops to the mid-twenties.
The first day starts in a zig-zag pattern up a steep mountainside, putting your pre-hike preparations to the test. After encountering the Inca Canal, trailing it for the remainder of the day proves to be a more level and scenic journey. The first day including the hike to Humantay Lake is a mere 8.68 miles. Take advantage of the night to eat a delicious dinner prepared by the chefs and take a peek at the luminous tapestry of the night sky before going to bed early to recover from the day’s hike. The demanding second day is 18.5 miles and will absolutely require rest, a light pack and comfortable shoes. It begins with climbing steep slopes and scaling large rocks. As you reach the summit, both the scenery and altitude take your breath away. Hiking down from the peak ventures over more large rocks and eventually reaches a striking blue lake. Climbing down after the lake is a rocky yet sandy path that eventually turns into jungle and must be taken slowly and with caution to avoid falls. Taking many short breaks will prove vital for your knees and feet. Day three begins before dawn with a total distance of almost eight miles following the Urubamba River. Upon reaching Aguas Calientes, relaxation and a refreshing shower await you.
With only a short hike separating you from one of the New Seven Wonders of the world, the fourth day begins with a sense of accomplishment. Wandering through the ruins of Machu Picchu leaves visitors with a sense of awe. Near the end, the thought of the air-conditioned bus ride down is one of the only things keeping your feet moving. Take the days following the hike easy and with caution, allowing your body to heal. Though an arduous task, the reward is far greater than the cost. Come prepared mentally and physically to take on a formidable “aventura” and reap the benefits of the beautiful Salkantay Trek.
Clarissa was part of Baylor in Peru 2017