He played that flute most of the way, while I could barely breathe ...

While most of our group was struggling to breathe as we hiked the Inca Trail’s high altitudes, Miguel Pacsi, the trip leader, impressed us all by playing his flute throughout the trek. It’s no wonder that he’s such an expert at this hike — as the son of one of Wilderness Travel’s original camp managers in Peru, the Inca Trail and WT are in his blood! I asked him if going to Lima at sea level led to reverse altitude sickness — he said yes, that he got a headache, lost his appetite, and didn’t sleep well. I can’t help but wonder if he was just trying to humor me.

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One of the most difficult parts of hiking the Inca trail was the ascent of Warmiwañusqa (elev. 13,800 ft), which goes by the haunting English name of Dead Woman’s Pass. My son (bottom right) and I made slow but consistent progress, but we were constantly outstripped by Rocky, the oldest porter in our group at about 60 years old. He moved a lot faster than us up the trail, in spite of the load you see him carrying here.

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Once again proving himself a spectacular leader on this journey, Miguel made coffee and woke us up before dawn so that we could appreciate this spectacular view before getting on with the day. It was surreal and stunning… but a little chilly. What a fantastic way to kick off the last part of the hike!

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A classic shot! The grand finale of our strenuous and rewarding trek involved watching the sun rise over the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu. Most tourists take a short bus ride up from the nearby town of Aguas Calientes and enter the site through the main gate. Hiking the Inca Trail, however, meant ascending the Inca Steps and coming to Machu Picchu through Inti Punku, the famous Sun Gate. Only 400 visitors are allowed to ascend Inti Punku each day, in two groups of 200, and we were lucky enough to be among the first that morning.

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My wife at Machu Picchu… making friends in high places!

Photos by Clay Elliott, 6-time WT adventurer, Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

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