Inca Trail Hiking with Zephyr Adventures

    News about trekking and hiking in Peru

    Browsing Posts published in April, 2010

    A Zephyr trekker contemplates the universe from Inca Trail, above the clouds and peaks

    A Zephyr trekker contemplates the universe from Inca Trail, above the clouds and peaks

    The answer to that question, for most people, is no.  Thousands of people hike the Inca Trail each year and most do not have serious issues.  However, you should definitely be prepared for the effects of altitude and know a little bit about altitude sickness ahead of time.

    The highest point we reach on our Classic Inca Trail trek is 13,860 feet.   At this height you will likely have some symptoms of altitude sickness, which affects different people in different ways:  headache, nausea, loss of appetite, trouble with sleep, and lack of energy.   These are manageable effects and will generally go away when you descend to a lower altitude.  (Note: on our Royal (Original) Inca Trail trek, the highest point we reach is 11,220 feet – therefore, you should have much milder effects at this altitude.)

    Why does altitude sickness occur? As you climb higher the air gets thinner.  At 14,000 feet elevation, each lungful of air gives you roughly 60% of the oxygen you would get at sea level.  Your heart and lungs have to work almost twice as hard to maintain a normal oxygen supply to your tissues.  What effect does this have on your body?  You breathe faster and deeper (immediately).  Your heart beats faster, increasing oxygen circulation to your tissues (also immediately).  Your body gets rid of excess fluid (this is why fluid replacement is so important) and creates more red blood cells (this can take up to a week or two, which is why acclimatization is so important).

    If you have symptoms that are more severe (such as vomiting, mental confusion, or being short of breath even when not exercising) this may indicate the development of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and the solution is to get yourself to lower elevation as soon as you can.  However, severe AMS and complications are very unlikely on the Inca Trail if you follow a sensible plan.

    What can you do to mitigate the effects of altitude sickness?   First and foremost, make sure to prepare for your trip by being physically fit.  Always remain well hydrated – because altitude issues are intricately tied to hydration, you should increase your fluid intake and limit alcoholic beverages, caffeine, and aspirin, which tend to dehydrate your system.  While on the trail, plan for three to five liters of fluid per day, most of it in the form of water.  Get plenty of rest.  Gradually expose yourself to higher elevations and go at a slower pace than you normally would.  Most importantly, you should spend at least two days prior to embarking on your trek in Cusco doing easy to moderate activity to begin your acclimatization process.  Some people also have good luck taking the prescription drug acetazolamide (trade name Diamox), which speeds up the acclimatization process and helps prevent AMS.

    Early mornings in camp can be chilly, but a down jacket or vest (and hot coffee!) can keep you comfortable.

    Early mornings in camp can be chilly, but a down jacket or vest (and hot coffee!) can keep you comfortable.

    Perhaps the most important thing to remember when packing for your trek on the Inca Trail is that you will not need as much “stuff” as you think.  The old guideline of laying out all your necessities on your bed at home and then removing two thirds (or realistically, half) is fairly accurate.   Packing light in Peru is especially important because there are weight restrictions for in-country flights as well as on the trail.

    On our Inca Trail treks, we provide group camping gear including tents, stove, cooking equipment, sleeping bags, pads, food, and utensils.  The Peruvian government has placed restrictions on the weight porters can carry on the trail.  You are allowed a total of seven kilograms (16 pounds) of personal gear to give to the porters to carry for you (including your sleeping bag which weighs approximately four pounds).

    Inca Trail Packing List

    In the mountains the weather can change drastically and quickly.  You should be prepared for cold, hot, rain, and sun.  Two theories crucial to your comfort are and “synthetic fibers” and “layering.” Synthetic fibers are vital when at altitude because they help to wick moisture away from your body.  Layering is the system which allows you to add and subtract layers as needed, before you get either too cold or too hot.  For instance, during the day, you might leave camp wearing a polypropylene tank top under a wicking t-shirt, under a long-sleeved fleece and covered with your waterproof and windproof jacket (with a hood) and pants (a material like Gore-Tex is great).  Throughout the day, you might become warm enough to shed three of those layers!  At night, you might be most comfortable with a bottom layer of polypropylene underwear, topping that with a fleece or wool layer, adding a down jacket, and finally your waterproof outer layer.

    When the temperature on the trail rises during the day, you will be happy to have a sun hat and shorts!

    When the temperature on the trail rises during the day, you will be happy to have a sun hat and shorts!

    Comfortable hiking boots are essential.  You should wear your boots in advance to break them in!  Equally important are lightweight and comfortable sandals or shoes (we love Crocs!) to wear once you get to camp.

    Other clothing to pack: hiking pants and shorts (zip-offs are nice because they are pants AND shorts!), fleece pants and top, socks, a down jacket or vest, a couple extra under-layers (these are the ones that will bear the brunt of your sweating, so it is nice to have a clean one each day), a sun hat, fleece gloves and a pair of warm waterproof gloves or mittens.

    What else?  A headlamp with extra batteries is very useful for nighttime bathroom breaks or to illuminate the inside of your tent.   A camp towel or bandana is useful for taking “bird baths” on the trek.  A cheap plastic rain poncho will cover you and your pack in the event of a downpour (you can buy this in Peru right before we depart on the trek).  Although we provide a fleece sleeping bag liner for you, you might consider bringing your own lightweight silk liner.

    Rubber tips on trekking poles help protect the ancient stones of the Inca Trail and also eliminate the sometimes-annoying "clicking" sound when the tips hit the stones.

    Rubber tips on trekking poles help protect the ancient stones of the Inca Trail and also eliminate the sometimes-annoying “clicking” sound when the tips hit the stones.

    We also highly recommend one or two trekking poles!  Studies have shown these reduce muscle wear and knee strain and can help with balance.  You must outfit your pole(s) with rubber tips to bring them on the Inca Trail.

    Finally, you should have a daypack that is comfortable and large enough to carry water, snacks, and extra clothing during the day.  Plan on packing at least 2 one-liter bottles that won’t melt when hot water is added.  Hydration packs (like Camelbaks) also work well.

    homephotoMachu Picchu, Peru’s most famous historical and tourist site, reopened today, April 1st. This is good news for our Inca Trail travelers and our friends in Peru.

    The Peruvian government is celebrating with a reopening festival of sorts, complete with local music and a visit by American movie star Susan Sarandon. What she has to do with Peru and Machu Picchu besides bringing star appeal, we don’t know.

    The historical site itself was not damaged by the flooding in early February. However, the railroad to the citadel, which is the transportation method used by almost everyone visiting the area, was washed out in several places and closed for almost two months. Because of that, Peru’s government also closed Machu Picchu to visitors.

    The railroad is now open, although only from Piscacucho (the start of the Inca Trail) to Machu Picchu. The railroad section from Cusco to Piscacucho is still closed, meaning travelers will need to use a combination of buses and the train to reach Machu Picchu. This is no problem and any of you traveling on our Machu Picchu treks will be taken care of by our local staff.