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Adventure Tips

On the trail to Machu Picchu with Sea to Summit Ambassador Clay Abney


This post comes from Clay Abney, a friend of Sea to Summit. He recently traveled to Peru to explore Machu Picchu with his nephews. Upon his return, he was kind enough to share his experiences and gear choices with us.

Since my nephews could walk, I have been dragging them along on adventures whenever they visited. As a self-professed adrenaline junkie, I considered it an honor to teach all three how to ride their bikes, sea kayak, kneeboard, zip line and whatever else I could coerce them into trying.

Having no children of our own, my wife and I made a commitment years ago to give our nephews memorable and life-enhancing high school graduation gifts. After much contemplation, we decided an international trip to a historically and culturally rich destination would be perfect. Machu Picchu, or the lost city of the Incas, has always been on my short list of must-see places. So, I decided to share the experience with them. I have been backpacking for over 30 years. Much to my dismay, I realized that I had neglected to share this type of adventure with them. Our motto is ‘go hard or go home’, so appropriately their first backpacking experience would take them high into the Andes!

This trip of a lifetime did pose several challenges, like suitable gear and apparel. While I had given them plenty of outdoor adventure apparel over the years, their gear closets were still in need of a makeover.

After months of logistical planning along with gear research and acquisition, my nephews now had some of the best gear and apparel on the market.  They had everything from synthetic underwear to outerwear, high-performance weekend packs, high warmth to weight sleeping bags and more.  As I told them, I was in my thirties before my gear collection compared to the haul they were receiving!

After a four-hour long packing ‘seminar’, we hopped a plane from Atlanta to Lima.  A day later we arrived in the former Incan capital of Cusco on June 15. Once there, we spent several days acclimating to the altitude in preparation for our four days en route to the ancient citadel.

Day 1:  

Our guide picked us up at the hostel at 5:30 am for a 90-minute bus ride to Ollantaytambo where we had breakfast and then proceeded to the trailhead to begin our trek. After some last minute packing, we were on our way down the trail.

The number of people on the trail at any given time is monitored via a series of controls that each hiker, guide, and porter must pass through before continuing. It is essential that you provide your passport at each of these control points along with your ‘ticket’ (our guide held on to these throughout the trek).

Our first trail meal was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting typical backpacker fare and yet it consisted of 3 courses: appetizer, soup, trout, rice, and vegetables.

We got our first sight of Inca ruins from a scenic vista overlooking what was once a large city that cultivated, harvested and transported food to neighboring villages, cities, and outposts within the empire.

inca trail1Day 2:

Our wake up call came in the form of one of the guides standing outside the tent and asking us if we wanted any coca tea. The guides encouraged each of us to drink the tea as they believe that the leaves help eliminate the effects of altitude on the body.

This day was all about covering distance and gaining altitude. After reaching Dead Woman’s Pass at just under 14,000 feet, it was all downhill from there to our camp for the night.

Day 3:

Aside from the final day, this would prove to be the most scenic day of the trek. We crossed two passes over 13,000 feet, saw multiple Inca ruins and passed through multiple microclimates along the trail (including high altitude rainforest).

At the conclusion of the day’s trek, we were only an hour from the Sun Gate and the highlight of our journey.

Day 4:

This day began as the earliest day as all of the groups were eager to line up promptly at the last control to assure an early arrival (before sunrise) at Machu Picchu.

Our planning had brought us to this day on the winter solstice and we arrived at the ruins as the sun’s rays slowly crept over the mountain shadowing the citadel.

Below is a list of gear and apparel that we carried on the trail during our trek. Food and tents were carried by porters and they provided the sleeping pad that we had to carry on the trail.

As Sea to Summit brand ambassadors, we utilized many of their products during our 3-week adventure (see links below). In addition to what we wore on the trail, our packs contained the following:

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