PPPPPP (Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance)!

I had been itching for another adventure.  It had been over a year since the Grand Canyon Expedition and that little voice in my head was getting a little louder each week.  Though I would have loved to think I could actually trek Kilimanjaro as I’d been dreaming, the reality was the time, cost and preparation for that (much less, the basic trekking experience necessary to make it enjoyable) were beyond my reach at the moment.  In late October or early November I kept remembering a suggestion a friend made about the “Inca Trail”.  What was it about that name that just sounded right?  I didn’t even really know what the Inca Trail was.  That’s where it started.

Wikipedia is a fine place to start anything.  Their article on the “Inca Trail to Machu Picchu” was an excellent beginning!  Several rather detailed pages lay there before me, with photographs (albeit very small photographs!) of the trail and some Inca ruins along the way.  I printed it out and studied it carefully, underlining key phrases and marking spots for future research.  This was remarkable!  An ancient stone-paved trail through the Andes, from Cusco (the ancient Inca capitol) to Machu Picchu!  Of course, there were many, many “Inca trails” throughout the region…but, this particular trek would cover a distance of about 45 kilometers from a point along the Sacred Valley of the Upper Urubamba River, over several mountain passes and past seven or eight ancient Inca ruins, to the final destination: Machu Picchu itself!  If I could find the right outfitter, and arrange to take the proper amount of time to do this right…the game was afoot!

November 10th, I shot off an email to my “compadres” Jim Davison and Chris Multhauf to see if they would be interested in a January expedition to Peru. November 11th, Multhauf writes back that he thinks he can do it…and gives me a time slot that is good for the trip.  Now, it’s up to me to convince Davison.  Without going into too much personal detail, or giving the impression that he reluctantly accepted the challenge, let me just say that I had to work on the guy a bit.  We needed a lot of time to make this work right, more than he usually allocates for our expeditions.  He had, also, just finished a magnificent addition to his home in Nashville and the segue from the frenetic remodeling just being finished to the preparations needed for such an adventure as I layed out for him might have been a little difficult for him to swallow.  Needless to say, he was “on board” with the concept within a week or ten days of my first contacting him, and then the planning began in earnest!

TIME ALLOCATED: This was the first key decision.  Here’s the elements of it: Flights to Lima, Peru are not the greatest connection times with all arriving there very late at night, flights to Cusco from Lima are in the morning or mid-day with none after noon, the trek takes four days, starts very early in the morning at high altitude in Cusco, ends at Machu Picchu on a saddle ridge above the Urubamba River and rail head town of Aguas Calientes late in the day, return to Cusco is well beyond the time of return flights to Lima, flights back to the United States are mostly all late night departures.  Further, because of the altitude at Cusco and the trek itself, several days need to be set aside in Cusco to acclimate else altitude sickness (even with Diamox) could ruin the experience. Lastly, traveling so far and NOT setting aside some time to see Lima itself seemed to be out of the question.  When it was all said and done, we allocated 11-12 days total for the trip: two travel days, one on each end…going to Lima and returning home; four nights in Lima, two nights on each end; four nights in Cusco, three before beginning the trek, during acclimation, and one after the trek; and three nights on the Inca Trail itself.

TREK OUTFITTER: Several well known companies offer trek outfitting for the Inca Trail: Gap Adventures, SAS, Mayuc Tours and Llama Path quickly surfaced as the top choices, based on Internet chatter, presentation and customer reviews. This would be a critical decision, for the trek itself is withering: four days, three nights and three high passes through the Andes (including one daunting haul over the first one: Warmiwañusca or “Dead Woman’s Pass”). What an appropriate name for a 13,779-foot pass!  The outfitter can make…or break…the trek experience, and since that is the core of the adventure this would be the most important choice to make.  We used several sources of reviews for this decision: those the outfitters actually publish on their websites, those that are available via Google, and those that came from a great trip planning website called TripAdvisor (more on that later).  We also had to decide what kind of trek experience we wanted: a group adventure with a bunch of strangers, or a private trek. We, also, wanted to take some of the “load” off, as it were, and looked for the ability to have porters. Based on the desire to make this adventure a focused INHL Expedition, and to avoid the distraction of persons not connected with our group, we aimed for the trek outfitters who offer “private” treks, and that limited the choices right away.  Only Mayuc Tours and Llama Path really made a statement on the Private Trek.  Between them, Llama Path was evidently the more experienced and “focused” Inca Trail trek provider.  That was it, we’d use Llama Path!

TRAINING: This is a very important aspect of the preparation for this adventure!  The trek is rigorous, and some call it daunting.  Anyone who lives at low altitude should be ready for a shock.  The difference between Los Angeles, or Dallas (or Nashville, or Chicago) and Cusco is 11,000 feet of atmosphere!  Less than half the oxygen is available to your lungs there as you are normally used to using.  For me, in El Paso in the high desert of the Southwest (4,000+ feet), the change wasn’t going to be as significant…but it would definitely be a challenge!  Then, there’s just the trek itself.  (See the graphic I posted on January 11th.) As I said, there are three high passes to summit (13,779-feet, 13,123-feet and 12,073 feet each) during the four-day, 45-kilometer trek.  Lots of walking, and lots of vertical elevation changes (remember when you go up a pass, there’s a descent on the other side)!  To train for this, I started climbing stairs at my office building…all 17 floors of them…in mid-November.  Gradually, I worked up to doing it twice a day, then this week began a 3-time a day routine.  Each ascent of those stairs covers 34 flights with 10 stairs per flight: 340 steps up…and 340 steps down!  I have also taken significant hikes into the Franklin Mountains above our home on weekends, which provide a test of vertical climbing endurance and some altitude acclimation:

December 12th Franklin Mountain Ridge Hike with Joe Perry and Liam Etzold

North Franklin Peak Summit (7,300 feet) January 13, 2010

Many of these more recent training hikes have been with the actual hiking boots (very sturdy leather and Vibram-sole) that I’ll be taking to Peru, and with the trekking poles which I’ll use on the Inca Trail.  The reason for this is to get my feet used to the boots, though they are well broken in over the years, and to train my upper torso for the work of using the trek poles (shoulders, arms, hands and chest).

Of course, in the next week we’ll see whether this regimen will have been the right one for the challenge!

Two days to go!

~ by Dave Etzold on January 13, 2010.

5 Responses to “PPPPPP (Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance)!”

  1. I’m really interested to hear about your Peru adventure, as my husband and I are looking into our own Peruvian escape later in the year. I was just online yesterday looking at guides for the Inca Trail!

  2. Hey guys good luck! I am living in Peru at the moment but haven’t got a chance to do the trail yet, though I really want to! I felt the need to point out that it’s rainy season in Cusco and on the trail, but sunny season in Lima, so make sure you pack appropriately and bring a bit of everything!

    • Thanks Alison, I haven’t remarked about the “problem” the varied weather presents! You are right, pack for everything! What do you think the temperatures are going to be on the Trail, its about 2,000 ft higher than Cusco?

  3. Machu Pichu-Glad 2 Meechu

    Hey, Dave. Nice blog, glad to see that you’ve spelled my last name correctly. Tomorrow, I start taking Dr Davison’s (I meant Diego) prescribed anti-altitude sickness medication. Looking forward to that first Pisco Sour in Lima late Saturday night.



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