Trekking the Inca Trail for Marie Curie

This year, Brian Everett, a 78-year-old from Darlington, is trekking the Andes and the Himalayas to raise money for both Marie Curie and Cancer Research UK. In July he completed the first leg of his double challenge, which included trekking the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Brian tells us about his Andean adventure in his own words.

Arriving at Cuzco

trekking the inca trail

Our journey to Machu Picchu started in Cuzco, the gateway to the Inca Trail and one of the most beautiful cities in the Andes. Altitude training started almost immediately. Our hotel was situated at almost the highest point in the city, which meant carrying our backpacks up around 640 steps.

Setting off

On the first day I awoke early to blue cloudless skies and warm sun. Leaving by coach from Cuzco city centre, our party of 12 (Australians, Canadians, Irish, Welsh and of course other Brits, accompanied by our Peruvian guides) set out to conquer the Andes – well that’s what it felt like! The rules for climbing mean that you have to do it in groups with at least two trained guides. Our route followed the classic Inca Trail, starting at Piscacucho and running alongside the Vilcanota River, which nestles beneath the snow-capped Nevado Veronica Mountains. By midday we found ourselves passing the Inca ruins of Llactapata before reaching a side valley near the hamlet of Huayllabamba by late afternoon. There we stopped to camp for the night.

Early starts

A path in the forest on the Inca TrailEach day offered different challenges and new adventures.  On day four we were up at 5am for what was to be the longest and most strenuous day – over eight hours of continuous clambering over rocksy paths. Initially, we climbed up the mountain to where the path runs through an area of rainforest and a section of polylepis woodland in which wildlife abounds. Our route continued up and around terraces of cultivated fields surrounding the ruins of Llulluchapampa and then ever upwards, towards the Warmihuanusca (Dead Woman’s) Pass at a height of 4,234 metres (almost 14,000ft). After a brief respite in the hope of rebalancing our oxygen intake and putting on our waterproofs, for by now a fine persistent rain and low cloud enveloped us, we started a long steep descent to our camp for that evening and a most welcome rest. Already three of the group were showing the classic symptoms of acute mountain sickness, one eventually being taken down by stretcher. By day five we had established the pattern of rising early. After breakfast we set off on yet another climb to reach the Runquracay Pass at 3,930 metres (just under 13,000ft). We then passed the ruins of Sayajmarca, re-entering the rainforest through an old Inca tunnel, before camping on the ridge overlooking the ancient Inca settlement of Phuyupatamarca, still at a height in excess of 12,000 ft.

Walking in the footsteps of the Incas

Machu PicchuThe following morning I was up very early to see the sunrise as the first rays crossed over the snow-capped peaks. From the high ridge we started down the infamous Inca steps, a two-kilometre descent with sheer drops to the river thousands of metres below.  Eventually, we arrived at the Inti Punka, the ‘Inca Gate of the Sun’, where we had our first view of Machu Picchu. The familiar sight of its awesome mountain, Huayna Picchu, loomed large, like a predatory condor with its outstretched wings sheltering the settlement below. Passing the edge of the ruins we descended to the Urumbamba River and camped near Puente Ruinas. What a delight to be able to wash again and to know that the hardest part of the challenge was now behind us. However, those dreaded early morning starts were not yet at an end. The next day we were up at 3.30am to ensure we made it to Machu Picchu in time to catch the first rays of the sun illuminate the mountains and the ancient ruins. The remainder of the day was spent exploring this intoxicating site.

Heading back

By late afternoon, having absorbed as much as we could and in an attempt to sidestep the tourists who travel up in their bus loads, we set off for nearby Aguas Calientes. From there, we caught the train for our return to Cuzco and a celebratory dinner with the group and our guides. In summary, the Inca Trail was a hard challenge that exceeded expectations. Would I do it again? I think not, once is enough. Besides which, there are even more challenges ahead and so little time to achieve them all – Everest being the next in October. If you would like to support Brian’s amazing efforts, you can make a donation on his JustGiving page. And if you are a UK taxpayer, you can Gift Aid your contribution.