A Mountain To Climb

In honor of my oldest daughter’s birthday today, I thought I’d write about a trip we took together in 2015. My two daughters and I went on a two week excursion of our own making to Peru. I think it was Loren’s idea, and Jessika and I said, "Why not!"

We have been a traveling family since the girls were young. We took them to foreign countries they don’t even remember visiting. But they remember that we took them. 

The full  itinerary and details will have to wait for another blog entry. Today is specifically going to be about hiking Machu Picchu together. I’m the trip planner in the family–they give me the ideas, and I fill in the details.

This time the trip planning had a little extra part for me. You see, I am very afraid of open heights. I knew this mountain hiking trip would have plenty for me to worry about in terms of openness and heights.

To prepare myself I scheduled myself for several sessions with a sports psychologist. The idea was to give me some tools to work with and use during the climb. We worked on using deep breathing as a relaxation technique. In advance we envisioned the trail and the scary spots in hopes of making them less scary. And finally we created a little mantra to help me through: “I’m safe, I can do this”.

We met our four co-climbers, tour guide Julio, 11 porters, and one chef at the entrance of what would be a great adventure. We took a group photo at the gate and off we went on day one of the hike. We started at almost 9,000 feet and worked our way up to just under 11,000 feet the first day. The first bridge we crossed was at the trailhead over the Urubamba River.

First up were the ruins of Llactapata, rediscovered by Highram Bingham in 1912. The trail was winding and open. Then…another kind of bridge! Unsecured logs with low, wide and useless handrails, and about an 18” gap in the planks of the bridge. Thanks to the support of my girls, I actually crossed it. The photo depicts a totally nervous smile!

I can’t tell you how glad I was that the porters carried many of our things, set up our tents, and the chef cooked for us! After a long day (which they had completed long before us, with all that extra weight) it was a relief.  

Day two was a challenge with 16km of hiking from 11,000 feet to 13,800 feet! Lots of uphill climbing, four hours of uphill, in fact. Then we reached Dead Woman’s Pass. (I can see why it’s called that!) This was quite interesting as it also began to rain and the ground happened to be covered with rocks–now slippery rocks. The rain stopped, and after well over 8 hours of hiking, we made our camp.

Now I think the next day was my favorite–even more so than Machu Picchu itself.  But I don’t think that hiking day was Jessika’s favorite. You see, after the rain came mosquitos. We were falsely told that there were no mosquitos at that altitude. WRONG! She was really eaten up quite severely to the point where most of her feet and legs were swelling. As soon as we got to camp she had to take her shoes off.

The way to Winay Wayna was awesome. Very narrow paths, which we often shared with Alpacas. Then when we arrived at the destination it was breathtaking and oh so peaceful. The Inka Trail only allows 500 people total on it per day, which translates to about 200 tourists and we really didn’t see many others at all as they were on a different schedule. It was the perfect type of seclusion for me. 

Winay Wayna means forever young, so I guess you’re all set if you make it past Dead Woman’s Pass. Ha!

The last day we got up at 3:30 AM for a 4 AM departure. Why, you might ask? It’s not a particularly long day, but the reason is so you can hike in to the Sun Gate to see the sun rise and really get a spectacular view of Machu Picchu.

Once in the fantastic city of Machu Picchu, we were given a tour by our guide with many details about it’s rediscovery as well as the ancient Incan uses of the city.  

Loren and Jessika ahead of time decided to take an additional several hour hike to Huayna Picchu.  Why didn’t I go? Well, although the journey was partly about challenging myself, I also do know my limits. The path to the summit was a steep and, at times, exposed pathway. Some portions are slippery and steel cables provided some support during the one-hour climb. I am proud and awed that my daughters will go beyond where I go.

I gladly rested, reflected, and enjoyed exploring the ruins some more on my own. So did I use my helpful tools from the Sports Psychologist? Not really. But I think the fact that it was part of my preparation did help. What really helped me the most was the help, care, and understanding of my daughters.


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