I came back from Peru a couple of weeks ago and I have been wanting to share some pictures with you! Hiking to Machu Picchu was one of the things I had always wanted to do so you can imagine how excited I was leading up to the trip.
My friend Jeff who had done the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu gave me a tip or two before the trip. He specifically warned me that the hike is going to be “at least twice as difficult” compared to the Mt Kinabalu (Sabah, Malaysia) climb which both of us had done. That made me a little nervous since I remember Mt Kinabalu was quite a challenge for me 2 years ago! Nevertheless, my heart was set – it was not easy to secure a trek permit for Machu Picchu so I was going come what may!
My only consolation was that the highest elevation for the Mt Kinabalu climb is 4095m (the peak) and the highest elevation for the Inca Trail is not much higher at 4200m – Dead Woman’s Pass (see “Elevation Along the Inca Trail” below).
To put things into perspective, Singapore (where I live) is 15m above sea level. The highest point in Singapore is Bukit Timah, merely 165m above sea level.
My fellow hikers and I at the start of the Inca Trail (KM 82). All smiles:
Breathtaking views along The Inca Trail:
As you can see, the landscape looks pretty different at various parts of the trail.
The changes in elevation along the Inca Trail mean that vegetation, temperature and humidity vary as we hike over 3 and half days. We were layering and taking off layers of clothes throughout the hike.
Below are some pictures of us setting up camp. We camped for 3 nights:
Since it was the last week of August, weather conditions are fairly dry and generally sunny during the day. However it gets very cold at night (minus 10 to 0 degrees celcius). Two out of the 3 nights, we were sleeping at 3600 metres and freezing!
Here’s part of the Inca Trail leading up to Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest part of the trail at 4200m above sea level. Leading up to Dead Woman’s Pass, some hikers started to feel dizzy, nauseous or started coughing. Others experienced tightness in the chest and said they felt “hungover”.
High altitude is considered to be between 1500m and 3500m above sea level. Anything above 3500m would be considered very high or extremely high altitude.
At high altitudes, atmospheric pressure decrease and air molecules are more dispersed. Even though the percentage of oxygen in the air at sea level is the same at high altitudes (about 21%), but because the air molecules are more dispersed, each breath delivers less oxygen to the body.
According to Curtis, “when you take a breath at 12,000 feet (3,658m), you’re breathing in 40% less oxygen than at sea level. At 18,000 feet (5,486m), you’re taking in 50% less oxygen”, hence the shortness of breath during or after physical activities like mountain climbing or hiking at higher altitudes. Our bodies also start to “create more red blood cells to carry oxygen through the bloodstream, pushing air into normally unused portions of the lungs and producing citrate synthase, a special enzyme that helps the oxygen found in hemoglobin make its way into body tissue”.
I find this fascinating. Before I studied with Ron Fletcher, I was practising Pilates and breathing alright (no pun intended), but when I started studying with Ron, I realised I wasn’t truly breathing or at least not breathing deeply when I practice Pilates.
Joseph Pilates said: “Breathe! You got to OUT de air to IN de air!”. Given that each of us is made of 70 trillion cells and every cell is hungry for oxygen all the time, Ron’s advice is: “Be extravagant with your breathing and come fully alive … you will reach a new high”. And with that, I leave you with the sacred site of Machu Picchu:
Written by: Kris Ng (September 2013)
Photos by: Brett MacDougall
Curtis, Rick. “Outdoor Action Guide to High Altitude: Acclimatization and Illnesses”. 2008
Fletcher, Ron. “Every Body is Beautiful”. 1978