This past weekend our Ascend Adventure Travel team discovered one of Peru’s greatest trekking adventures…the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu! Self-supported, we set out on the 80 kilometer adventure on a mission to make it to the “Lost city of the Incas” in just three days (an adventure that usually takes five). As we set out on early Sunday morning from the city of Mollepata outside of Cuzco we knew that in order to complete the trail in less than three days we would need to hike 10 hours a day for the first two days…and that is just what we did. In the first day we made it to Salkantaypampa, 25 kilometers into the hike. This is the closest you can camp to the highest point of the trek, the pass between Nevado Huamantay and Nevado Salkantay at over 4,600 meters, or 15,200 feet. At about 10pm on the first night a huge lightning snow storm hit us that unfortunately persisted for over an hour. With only a bivy sack to keep my sleeping bag dry, I felt as if I was being tossed as the mixture of sleet, hail, snow and lightning came shooting in sideways into the breathing pocket of my bivy sack! I awoke with the sunrise to find an ice sheet covering my bivy sack and backpack (both incredibly still relatively dry).
The second day began with the trek over the pass of Nevado Salkantay and ended at a makeshift campsite in the jungle near our turn-off along the Rio Santa Teresa; a 30 kilometer day of hiking from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm. With 25 kilometers still to go, and knowing that I had to make it to Machu Picchu on our third day as I had previously bought my entrance fee for that day, we began our third day with the arduous pass of Llactapata. Passing remote villages with coffee farms, we snatched some beans in hopes to gain a little caffeine boost. After a steep descent we arrived at Hydro Electrica and began our final 2 hour 10km trek along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu. As it was already one-o-clock in the afternoon, and knowing that Machu Picchu closes at five pm, I walked as fast as I could, yet feeling like Forest Gump with leg braces on because my feet and legs were in such agony from hour-after-hour of continuous trekking. By the grace of the Incas, I luckily made it to Aguas Calientes (the town of Machu Picchu) at three pm and caught the last bus to Machu Picchu at 3:20 pm. (I would have done the additional 2 hour trek to the entrance of Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes, but knowing that it closes at five it would have been impossible to make it in time; plus, I definitely needed a break). When I made it to Machu Picchu I found a nice spot on the top of the hill, kicked my feet up, and enjoyed the “Lost city of the Incas” as the sun began to set and my feet finally got the chance to rest. The only thing left to do was enjoy a cold Cusquena cervesa and reminisce our incredible journey to one of the most amazing places in all of South America.