Climbing Machu Picchu unfit – Way back in 2018, I was turning 40, unfit and determined to change, when I heard my brother ask ‘Fancy Climbing Machu Picchu for your birthday?‘ If ever there was a reason to motivate me to get fit, it would be this…So I jumped at the chance…Oh, how wrong I was! Actually, If I am being completely honest, I didn’t really know what Machu Picchu was or where it was. A quick google search showed me lots of pictures of happy people, jumping in the air, with this beautiful mountain scene in the background, it couldn’t be that hard, could it?
My highly competitive brother took this opportunity to humiliate me and booked us the 2-week trip to Peru. A trip that would see me climbing Machu Picchu unfit, slightly overweight 40 year old, a 4-day trek! Now for anyone that knows me, they will know that I am far from athletic. These days, my idea of trekking is walking to the fridge! Let alone this kind of incline….I didn’t Google this until after I had agreed!
Actually, to say I am not athletic these days, would be kind. I am usually found sitting at my desk editing and munching bags of Revels. Unfit is much more my reality, so climbing Machu Picchu unfit was not my brightest idea. Was this really the perfect birthday treat for me? No! The reality is, my brother and I are highly competitive and he saw another opportunity to humiliate and torture me, so he took it! He once booked me onto the Birmingham Half Marathon he had been training months for. It was 3 weeks before the race and on a night out, I agreed to run it with him. The next morning I woke up with a hangover to a screenshot of my entry place. He had even booked me to start at the front with him and the other elite runners! I ran it and came in exactly an hour after him, to the second! Not bad for no training!
Now, I am not one to ever knock back a challenge from him, so I embarked on a 6-month intensive training programme…… Well, that’s what I should have done! What I actually did was eat more chocolate and rule out any source of physical exercise, or any kind of movement for that matter.
I will admit, I joined a local gym: AKA, paid 12 months’ membership (forgot to cancel after 6 months) went for about 2 weeks, posted a few Facebook check ins and never went again. I cringe every time I think about the waste of money, I estimate that each step on the stepping machine cost me £3!
Me, Naively smiling on the plane to Cusco, Peru – before Climbing Machu Picchu unfit!
Fast forward 6 months and there I was on a flight to Cusco, unfit and unready for climbing Machu Picchu! Obligatory selfie on the plane and picture of me sipping a cocktail on Facebook. All my friends and family commented about how jealous they were and how they wished they could go. I admit I was feeling pretty smug at this point.
Climbing Machu Picchu unfit!
I nestled down into my seat and prepared to take off. I then spent the whole flight trying not to look down at the cuddly tummy that was spilling over the seatbelt and laying cosily on my lap. Nor think about what lay ahead or what a fool I had been not training. I had taken a life-changing, positive thinking type book with me but instead opted to read the Take A Break magazines I had panic bought in WH Smith before takeoff, whilst tucking into my sharing size bag of sweets.
We arrived in Cusco a few days prior to the trip to acclimatise to the altitude as suggested by every blog I read. The altitude was a killer, our tiny hill elevation to our hotel felt like climbing Snowdon (well, what I imagined that would feel like!). I had to keep stopping to get my breath, the signs weren’t looking good (Note to reader – make sure your hotel isn’t like ours who pump oxygen into the rooms, we didn’t really acclimatise much at all).
I consoled myself with a few gins and a burger in the highest altitude Irish pub in the world. In fact, I did a lot of eating and drinking beforehand. Cusco is a great place to wander around and so colourful. As a photographer, I was in my element!
The evening before our trek, we had to go to the LLama Path headquarters to meet our Guide Roger and fellow team members. Kev had chosen Llama Path as they are sustainable and care about their staff and community. When we got to the offices, we were taken into a room and a tiny bit of sick came up from my stomach and into my mouth…all around me were seriously fit, toned, army type people! It was my worst fears coming true, I was the only unfit one in the group. I imagined they were all looking at me and thinking I had no chance climbing Macchu Picchu unfit!
However, everyone was so friendly. I tried my hardest to breathe in the entire time, it was no easy feat…especially as my mind kept wandering to the chocolate bar in my bag (Strictly for energy purposes only). Being competitive, I felt defeated. That was until I met I Zac, an incredibly cute 2-year-old boy, I could definitely beat him in a race! Unfairly, I found out he was going to be carried up by his mum and dad, so I was back to being the most unfit by a mile!
Fast forward to 3am, in the cold, dark streets of Cusco, waiting for our tour guide Roger and a van to collect us. I realised I was not only unfit for climbing Machu Picchu but also ill-equipped (Sports Direct rucksack full of brand new sports clothes, all of which had been in the sale, 3 million sachets of Imodium, Berocca and a box of Moleskin plasters for blisters because every blog I read recommended them!)
I have never felt so sick or nervous as I did that day. We eventually arrived at the beginning of the trek, 9 bouncing pumped up athletes raring to get going, 1 sleepy baby and 1 scared plumped up 40 year old, munching on an energy bar and inhaling Berocca.
A quick group picture, then off we set. We crossed the bridge, the view was amazing. Some quick, excited selfies, then BAM! Reality kicked in, I turned and saw the zig zag pathway that led up the hillside. That hill felt like a truck was running over me over. It was pretty flat in comparison to what was to come, thankfully I didn’t know that then. I went into a total state of panic, I couldn’t breathe. Maybe it was the altitude? But it was more likely the packet of family size Maltesers that I demolished on the bus, and the sheer lack of training coming back to haunt me.
Why hadn’t I gone for at least one single walk before I went on this trek? Six months of preparation and all I had done was Google ‘How to climb Machu Pichhu when unfit and fat’ ‘Will fat people die on Machu Pichhu?’ ‘Do I really have to train to climb Machu Picchu?’….. Well a fat lot of good that did me, pardon the pun. However, I am telling this story so the answer is YES, unfit people can climb Machu Picchu!
Day 1 was beautiful, truly stunning. Every step felt like a miracle, mainly because after the initial incline, it’s pretty flat and the path was easy for most points. The walk is around 14km the first day and goes through places where people live, you can use their toilets and they sell sweets etc! As expected, my super fit brother left me to walk on my own. He was bored of my snail pace and the fact I couldn’t talk as I needed to breathe and doing both at once was impossible. He did come back at times to laugh at my red, puffy face.
Thankfully, the guides stop at some beautiful points of interest along the way so I got chances to catch up, along with my saving grace; a baby on the trek! This amazing couple from Australia brought their son Zac along for the ride – What a pair of Trojans! There was me struggling to carry my Sports Direct bag (which to be fair did contain some pretty heavy energy bars) and there was them lugging a 2 year old up the mountain!
The trip, minus the walking, huffing, puffing, and frequent worry that I was going to die, was amazing and the tour guides were so good. A 3 course luxury meal for every meal break really helped to get me from one point to the next! On the last day, we even had food carved into animal shapes and a cake for the birthday boy on our trip. I am pretty fussy and basic with my food, so I was a little worried (I even packed lots of extra emergency sweets just in case ) but I shouldn’t have worried, it was lovely. Massive shoutout to the Llama Path team, they were gods!
When we arrived at camp the first night I was amazed, the Porters stayed behind at every meal break clearing up and then ran past us to get to the next stop to set up. Our tents were ready and waiting for us to collapse into as soon as we arrived at camp each night, it was much appreciated. I should clarify that I didn’t arrive at the same time as the rest of the team, I was a little way behind. It really didn’t matter though, the way is very clear and there are others walking at the same time so you get chatting to people (if you can talk!).
Our meal the first night was fab and my worst fears were put to bed…there were actual toilets! I have a huge hang up about all things toilet related, I suffer from IBS at times, so mainly try to wait until I get home. I had stocked up on Imodium and just thought I would get myself through, only to be told by our tour guide not to use anything like that…as Elsa sings, we just had to ‘Let it go’. I was mortified and dreading it but it really wasn’t bad. The toilets were clean and spaced out around the camp. I survived!
Day 2 – Dead Woman’s Pass, or in my case, unfit, over 40s, Woman’s pass. I had dreaded this day and I was right. The highest point of the trek at 4200M to cross, is coupled with around 16km to cover. It was a killer from the very start, I felt defeated and angry at my fat self for not training. I decided to hang back and walk with Zac and his parents, in the hope he would walk the last bit and I could run ahead of him and win…however, our amazing guide Roger spoke to me and said that walking slower wouldn’t make it any easier, in fact, it would be harder. He gave me some coca leaves to chew and told me to just follow at my own pace.
He also gave me some great advice which was to take the smallest steps up that I could find. Embarrassingly (I’m not sure what I actually expected on an Inca trail that had been laid all those years ago by hand!), what stood out to me most on the hike was that the path was millions of rocks and not a flat path (yes, yes I know, I’m thick!) As I watched Roger navigate the paths, he zig zags up the rocks taking the lowest rocks each time. My instinct had been to take the quickest route (to get it over and done with!) which was just straight up and meant I was climbing more than walking and tiring my wobbly legs more than I needed to!
‘The Inca Trail is for your mind, not for your feet’ (Llama Path Guides Saying)
After Roger’s pep talk I went for it, I chewed on the Coca leaves put my headphones in, and started to focus on the experience rather than the physical. All of a sudden it hit me, I stopped dead, turned and stood at the edge of the mountain, reached my arms out to the sky, soaked in the sun and thanked the universe for this amazing adventure.
In true Bridget Jones fashion, minus the pull in pants, I started a spiritual journey (very likely the influence of the coca leaves!) I got it, I understood what I was here for, all my problems just faded away. I have always been a chronic overthinker, I obsess over the small things, insignificant encounters, things that really shouldn’t bother me, but they do. I had recently split up with my husband, not long after my 40th birthday, I had 4 children to support, a mountain of debt and having to face up to life as a single parent.
For the first time since it all happened, I was excited. Excited for the future and trusting that it would all be good. I had always been intrigued by manifesting and life had always had a funny way of just working out. On that mountain that day, it all made sense, we control our destiny, our thoughts become our things! I knew that I could do this, I knew that I could make my life better, I could see it. (Within 2 years of this trip I had made my business a success, paid off my debts and bought my first house on my own…that’s a whole other blog that I am currently writing…manifesting for the disillusioned over 40’s!)
(Me wearing anti-sickness bands, maybe a placebo, but I wore them on the flight and kept them on until I did the trek, didn’t get altitude sickness once or even feel queasy.)
I just knew I could get up that bloody amazing mountain…and I did. I was actually only about 20 mins behind the main group! On my way up I passed a couple of extremely toned men sitting down, I smiled and said Hi, they asked how I was still going. I laughed and said ‘Muscle uses more oxygen than fat, you boys should have eaten more chocolate before you came!’…If that’s actually true, my chocolate eating whilst laying on the couch was equivalent to an Olympic athlete’s training!
I felt true euphoria, my amazing body, whilst not in its peak state of fitness, had got me to the peak of that mountain! I was ecstatic …and bright red! We took our pictures, drank in the moment, inhaled a chocolate bar, then it was the descent down the other side…bam! The weather went from glorious sunshine on one side to cold and wet on the other. It was on with the Sports Direct, 2 for £20, waterproofs and off I went.
If I thought the climb up was hard, the descent, whilst not out of breath, was harder. My Knees,! This is when I felt that extra weight! The rain came down making the rocks slippy. Thank the Lord for the hiking sticks I brought the day before, they saved my life a good few times on the way down. Just to paint a picture here, people where walking past me whilst I was gingerly side-stepping down the rocks with my sticks, like a 98 year old woman who had previously broken both hips. A couple told me not to use the sticks as it was easier and quicker, but slow and steady wins the race. I saw quite a few people go over…and I didn’t quite trust my £27.99 Karramore walking boots, although they did the job!
When I arrived at the camp I was soaked, but nothing could wipe that smile off my face. Despite being full of chocolate and energy jelly beans, I was so grateful for my lunch that day! We had about an hour’s rest and then it was heading off again to make it to our night camp. Watching the sunset over the mountains was a sight to behold and worth the achy legs. We were all buzzing that night in our dinner tent and it was celebrations all round. The night was ended perfectly; when we stepped outside of the food tent to head to our beds, two llamas charged by us nearly knocking my brother over, it was the least he deserved for mocking me!
The next day we woke up to the most amazing views and were raring to go again. My legs were pretty Jelly like at that point and my feet sore in my boots. The moleskin plasters, whilst in every blog guide, didn’t seem to do much! A good excuse to keep stopping for drink and chocolate breaks. Day 3 trekking is easier and so beautiful, you walk through the rainforests and at one point stand above the clouds, it’s magical.
I was manifesting the crap out of my life at this point and grateful for every single step. I was walking the same mystical route that the Incas took, you could almost feel the universe vibrating, I knew that life was going to get better. When we stopped at Winay Wayna, it took my breath away. It also took one of my team mate Megan’s breath away….When she turned round at the entrance to this magnificent site, her partner Jack proposed. It was so beautiful (they are now married with two beautiful babies!)
Our last night camping was probably the grimmest. It was the first time the toilet situation was a bit of an issue, 3 days in and people were feeling it! Thankfully still plenty of toilets around but as it’s a busy campsite, privacy is not much of an option! As everyone is in a rush to get to the Sun Gate in the morning for the sunrise, everyone crams in. Our camp was pretty near the toilets and as I said, after 3 days on the mountain, stomachs are getting a little delicate 😉 Good job the view is amazing!
We were all excited to reach the Sun Gate and ultimately Machu Picchu, it was so close and you could feel it. We hardly slept that night but it didn’t matter, we had to be up and at the checkpoint for 3am (the earliest time you are allowed to leave camp) It is a case of first come, first to leave. Competition is high! We were there early and raring to go. We where second in line and it was raining. Only some of the checkpoint is undercover, so you are onto a double whammy if you get there early. You get a seat and shelter from the rain! As soon as we were allowed to leave it was all systems go…it was a pretty mad scramble.
Roger had prepped us all to stay close as the first there get the prime spots, so I knew I had to get my head in the game to keep up. Off we went in the dark (my borrowed head torch was a total result!) I didn’t struggle to keep up, I just ploughed on, inhaling Berocca as I went! It was another amazing trek and although hard, you just go for it. It’s at this part that you have a bit of an actual rock climb. It’s only a small part but you do have to physically climb up rocks, I loved it! Reaching the Sun Gate was again euphoric. As the sun came up and we got our first views of Machu Picchu, we all hugged and soaked in the moment. I had made it…and I still had reserves of chocolate left!
Walkling down to Machu Picchu is magical, I just can’t put it into words to do it justice. The best bit is when you get there and the day trippers arrive, they look at you like celebrities and everyone wants to know what the trek was like. Ohh actually no, the best bit was the toilets, proper toilets! The sinks, hot water, it was bliss! We all piled into the toilets and had a wash. Machu Picchu itself is breathtaking. Nothing will compare to the feeling of standing at the top and looking down, you can transport yourself back in time and feel what the Incas would have felt like when they had completed that journey. It’s like you have reached heaven!
We spent a few hours there walking round and taking it all in, before hopping on a bus down into the town. It was all so surreal. We all just kept looking at each other and smiling. We met up for a meal before we said our goodbyes, it was so sad to leave them and we were gutted we hadn’t at least booked one night there like some of the others had! If I had my time again, I would stay a night or two and take the day tripper route back up to Macchu Pichhu. As much as it was amazing, I was tired, overwhelmed and buzzing so didn’t quite take it all in!
If you ever get the chance to go, do it, you won’t regret it! Don’t put it off until you lose weight, get fit, save…just go! In fact that goes for anything in life, don’t put it off, tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us.
Top tips for a complete novice’s guide to climbing Machu Picchu when you are unfit!
- Don’t be scared, if I can do it, anyone can
- Don’t put it off, don’t wait until you lose weight or get fitter
- Don’t be me! Try and walk a little before you go at least!
- Go with a sustainable, reputable company. Llama Path properly clothe their porters and provide them with proper walking boots. They invest in education for the local community too. I saw some porters with no equipment or shoes and paid very little. These guys are amazing, they run past you with all the tents and equipment as you are panting under the weight of your snack bag!
- Pay extra to hire their sleeping bags etc Unless you want to lug your own about for the rest of your trip in Peru.
- If you aren’t super fit, pay extra for a porter to carry your stuff up. We struggled with this at first as it didn’t feel right but you are funding another wage and in reality, no way I would have managed. It was hard enough carrying a rucksack. Some of the others in our team carried their own camping equipment, but they were hardcore!
- Wear your walking boots in before you go, no amount of moleskin plasters will help. Ew just had a sudden thought, are moleskin plasters real moleskin?? I need to google that, I’m vegetarian but almost vegan these days. I need to Google this, will be right back! Phew, they are vegan!
- Book at least one night in the town, we made the mistake of having booked to go back to Cusco after dinner whilst the rest of the team stayed to party in the town. We were gutted! It is also beautiful and would have been good to explore more.
- Keep in touch with your group, we are still Facebook friends and it’s lovely when photos pop up on our memories!
- At the end of your trip, tip your guide and porter team. They are Gods!
Top 10 things to pack for a trip to climb Machu Picchu when you are unfit!
- A waterproof backpack – the weather goes through all the seasons in one day!
- A drink backpack thingy – I had bottles of water, but stopping to get them out was tiring and such an effort!
- Waterproof climbing boots/trainers – I have weak ankles, so looking back I should have gone for boots, but all the blogs said, pick trainers. My brother is athletic so he said trainers were easier for him
- Snacks/energy sachets
- Berocca – Probably a placebo but they made me feel more energetic
- Music and headphones – get an awesome, inspiring soundtrack – no weepy shit!
- A camera – the views are out of this world. I didn’t take as many pictures as I thought I would as I was so in the moment but lovely to look back on those that I did.
- A material headband/snood type – This stopped the sweat from running in my eyes and also covered my ears and nose when it was cold
- Lip balm – my lips dried out lots and if it wasn’t for lip balm, they would have cracked when chewing all my snacks!
- A notepad and pen – Each day I wrote down the things I was grateful for!
- BONUS TIP – Anti-sickness wristbands, I didn’t get altitude sickness once on the whole trip. I wore them on the flight and kept them on!
If you are looking for an unfit wedding photographer to accompany you on your trip up to Machu Picchu, please click the link –UNFIT WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER
Thanks for reading….Oh and one last thing…you are never as ‘fat’ as you think you are. Five years later and I would kill to be this slim again!
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Here is a quick slideshow of highlights from my climbing Machu Picchu unfit trip! Also a few pictures from our stay on a floating island in Puno…what an experience 🙂