A Mission to Mount Salkantay
3rd Place Competition Runner Up! What the judges say: Mariana’s story is a beautifully written account of her Salkantay adventure, weaving in all the highlights and ending with a special mission.
In September 2015, we were newly empty-nesters and celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. It was time to start tackling our bucket list, and seeing Machu Picchu was near the top of that list. The Inn-to-Inn trek checked all of our boxes: it would be physically active, expose us to a wide variety of natural beauty and have cultural meaning- all while eating well and sleeping in luxurious comfort. The summer before our September departure we “trained”, going on as many hikes as our busy schedules would allow including a few multi-day hikes. We felt like we were in good physical condition (for our early 50s), but we had no way to train for hiking at altitude while living at sea level, and we didn’t know how different it would feel.
The first day of the trek, we started the short hike to our beautiful inn at about 9,000 feet above sea level with a modest and brief incline. I panted heavily with every uphill step and genuinely wondered how I would get through the week. Of course, the trip was exquisitely planned to help us acclimate for 2 nights while getting accustomed to hiking at altitude. And acclimate we did, enough at least. We adjusted to our new oxygen intake while hiking to a stunning glacial lake at 14,000 feet, accompanied by a lovely local medicine man playing Peruvian music on his flute.
The daily hikes were spectacular. We experienced all four seasons in six days including snow and sleet as we went over the Salkantay pass at more than 15,000 feet, followed by a sweaty day through a hot tropical oasis in the valley on the other side of it. We earned every meal with our physical exertion, but hadn’t expected that these fresh gourmet feasts would be cooked by our own chefs who came with us from inn-to-inn, passing us on the trail so that they could have the meals prepared when we arrived, even though they left the previous inn after us. Impressive and more than a little humbling. We were so hungry we could have eaten a Guinea pig. OK, we did eat a Guinea pig, a local delicacy that surprisingly didn’t taste like chicken. (It tasked more like duck.) The meals were terrific and the hot tubs at almost all of the lodges were also a welcome treat after a long day of hiking.
Of course, the highlight of the trip was reaching Machu Picchu. Our full day exploration of this wonder started with a hike up Mount Machu Picchu for an unparalleled view of the ruins. Only 3 of our group chose to make this optional hike, straight up 3000 feet of stone-cut stairs. For my husband and I, this hike was not optional; we were on a very special and emotional mission. Shortly before our trip, our dear friends lost their 22-year-old son to cancer. Sam had loved to hike and wanted to summit a peak higher than 10,000 feet. They entrusted us with some of Sam’s ashes to spread at the top of a high peak. We carried Sam with us for 6 days and we knew that the top of Mount Machu Picchu would provide the majesty Sam deserved.
When we reached the summit, we hoped to see the peak of nearby Mount Salkantay but it was covered in clouds, as we were told is often the case. We alerted the others on the peak that we were going to spread the ashes of a loved one so that they wouldn’t be surprised or disturbed. As we shared Sam with this unique and magical place, the clouds covering Mount Salkantay suddenly opened, giving us a clear view of the peak. It felt truly spiritual and we, and the others on the peak, were enveloped in love.
Mariana Nacht, MT Sobek Guest
MT Sobek Trip: Machu Picchu Inn-to-Inn Trek, 2015