7 Summits: A Real Adventure for a Real Adventurer

Want to hear about a real adventurer?

Over the course of four years Cody Hudson is summiting the seven highest mountains in the world.

Cody Hudson

Yes, that includes Everest.

And yes, it also includes Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica.

Why would someone want to do such a thing?

It’s all so he can raise a quarter of a million dollars for Save the Children, going towards children’s education in Nepal.

Cody’s lust for life and taste for adventurer comes from his late grandfather, whom Cody describes as “an avid hunter, trekker and mountain lover, often volunteering on rescue teams operating on Mount Cook: New Zealand’s highest and deadliest mountain.”

While his grandfather wasn’t able to realise his dreams of scaling peaks around the globe, he did pass on his passion for the great outdoors.

Summit 1: Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa

Summit 1: Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa

Cody’s 7 Summits Project began last December, with Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

The highest freestanding mountain in the world, in true Cody style he describes it as “without a doubt the most popular, and probably the easiest, of the Seven Summits – bar Australia’s own Mount Kosciuszko.”

Despite this, the effects of altitude on a climber make it far from certain that even seasoned travellers will make it the summit of the roof of Africa.

For Cody, the journey to the snow-capped peak on summit day was a mere seven hour hike.

Summit 2: Mount Kosciuszko, Australia

Summit 2: Mount Kosciuszko, Australia<Hot on the heels of Kili’s snowy peak was the tallest of the Australian Alps, Kosciuszko (“Kosi” to its mates) in New South Wales.

Cody notes on his blog that there is a lot of debate since around whether Kosi should be included among the 7 Summits. He notes that it was included in Dick Bass original list of the 7 Summits in 1985, but the controversy centres around whether Australia is a continent.

It turns out that there is no one hard-and-fast definition of what a continent is, how many continents there are, or what the continents are.

Some sources will list six continents, each starting and ending with the same letter for ease of memory. These are Europe, Asia, Africa, America, Antarctica and Australasia. Others will tell you there’s seven continents, counting North and South America as separate continents.

While agreeing on seven continents, there’s further debate about whether Australia is a continent, or whether it is Australasia or Oceania.

It might sound unimportant, but these distinctions matter: because it means the difference between the 2,228 metres of Mount Kosciuszko, the smallest of the summits, or all 4,884m of Papua New Guinea’s Carstensz Pyramid.

Cody describes himself as “a circumstantial patriot” who considers Australia a continent, and Bass’ original list to be definitive – so he crossed Kosciuszko off the list in March.

All Work and no Play

Training on the Kokoda trail

What does an adventurer like Cody do between summiting mountains?

Easy: he trains. It’s no surprise that Cody’s craziness doesn’t begin and end with just the summits.

While you’d expect the usual training, like running, or swimming (which Cody swears by, for helping with lung capacity), or rock climbing, Cody goes all out.

On any one day you can expect to find him scaling the 30 steps of Jacob’s Ladder in Perth’s picturesque King’s Park 50 times in one day, or going running along the Kokoda trail: while carrying a 17kg pack on his back.

Summit 3: Mount Elbrus, Europe

Summit 3: Mount Elbrus, Europe

This month found Cody on the slopes of Europe’s Mount Elbrus.

The Russian giant rises 5,642 metres into the air, and is a long-dormant volcano — with its  snowy slopes making Cody’s home for eight days.

After a few days of acclimatisation hikes, Cody and his group setting off at 3am for the summit. Conditions were fine… at first — but by the time they had reached 5,200m a blizzard set in — and would follow them to the top of the continent’s highest peak.

This didn’t stop them reaching the summit, marking the 7 Summits Project off as three down, four to go.

Get Involved

Aside from training hard, another important activity for the 7 Summits Project is fundraising, and raising awareness of the project.

It’s with both of these in mind that Cody will be climbing the equivalent of the height of Mount Everest this August, without even leaving Perth.

At the University of Western Australia’s annual book sale event for Save the Children, Cody will spend over 15 hours on a treadmill, spread over two days. Anyone is welcome to drop in and join Cody for part of his journey: there will be a second treadmill alongside the crazy climber if you want to cross Mount Everest off your own bucket list without having to deal with the little things like training, altitude, or international air travel.

Now it’s your turn to get involved. Follow the 7 Summits Project blog, on Facebook, or Instagram – and most importantly donate to help raise vital funds for the children of Nepal. The country has been hit with two devastating earthquakes this year alone, so your help is needed more than ever.

The 7 Summits Project

Guest blog post from Anna Shields: The London Marathon for Mind

Anna, triumphant after her first London Marathon

Today’s blog post comes from the very talented and inspirational Anna Shields. Anna is co-founder and musical director of Starling Arts. This month, Anna ran the London Marathon for the first time. This is her story.

Anna, triumphant after her first London MarathonThis time two years ago I had just started therapy for my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). There are so many misconceptions about OCD and what it is, and I won’t delve into mine too much. However, I will say that the term OCD is thrown around incorrectly by a lot of people when they’re talking about being organised or a bit ‘anal’ about things – this is not OCD. OCD is actually ‘a serious anxiety-related condition where a person experiences frequent intrusive and unwelcome obsessional thoughts, often followed by repetitive compulsions, impulses or urges’. Many describe it as ‘the hidden illness’ and I think that’s a good description.

My treatment took the form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in which I would wean myself off the ‘compulsions’ I carried out as a result of my obsessive thoughts. It was a tough and gruelling process, but ultimately helped me understand my condition and, thankfully, get a hold of it.

But alongside my OCD, I had a bit of a meltdown. I didn’t ‘do’ sadness up ‘til then, so I hated the fact that I was suddenly miserable and in tears all the time as result of having OCD. However, every cloud has a silver lining, and this thunderous smog taught me to understand the mind. One of my best friend’s, Amy, has suffered from depression and agoraphobia for several years, and once I got to grips with my own mental health problems, I realised I suddenly got to grips with hers too. For years I’d thought, ‘I don’t know why she can’t just beat this?’, but I then realised that the mind doesn’t always work that way. However, with the right help we can make it work that way, and my CBT, along with the incredible support of my family and friends, helped me beat my demons.

In taking stock of my life, it dawned on me that my favourite thing in the world, singing, was now my profession and that I had no other hobby with which to escape. Having been a good middle-distance runner at school, I decided I would re-try my hand at running. It was a struggle at first, but ultimately it worked.

A few months later, I went to Canada to visit one of my best friends. She’s a ‘fitness guru’ and set me on the path to really enjoying the sport. She kitted me out with some decent trainers, inspired me to pursue races and I was away.

I entered the Silverstone Half Marathon in March 2012, followed by a 10k race and another half later in the year, then one cold November afternoon, I got a call from Mind offering me a place on their London Marathon 2013 team. I’d entered the public ballot for the marathon earlier in the year, but was unsuccessful and had rather written off dreams of the race this time round. However, I’d forgotten I’d also submitted a charity entry to Mind so, following a quick call to my folks and my best girls to reassure me I could do this challenge, I had myself a place to run the London Marathon 2013. Gulp!

Mind is ‘the mental health charity’ with the brilliant tagline, ‘for better mental health.’ As I have often said, we all have mental health – it peaks and troughs throughout our lives, but it’s always there, whether good or bad. What frustrates me is that so many people feel scared to talk about something everyone on this planet has! People are scared of what they can’t see, so my ambition in completing the marathon, aside from running 26.2 miles (!), was to raise awareness of mental health problems and encourage people to talk openly about them.

Training through the longest, coldest winter we’ve had for years was a struggle, but having a charitable goal at the end of it all helped me plough through and I loved ticking off longer and longer runs as the weeks went by, conquering great distances and having a good excuse to eat copious amounts of pasta and even more Mars bars than usual.

Everyone seems to be doing something sponsored these days, and in a tough economic climate it can be hard to sponsor everyone. To that end, I thought a bit outside the box when it came to fundraising and, with my housemate Cat, devised a plan to combine my old and new hobby, singing and running, and produce a concert in just 26.2 hours. With an hour of rehearsal for every mile in the marathon and a handful of talented friends and family, The Marathon Show was born.

This concert raised just under £1,000 of my £1,700 target for Mind. Just as importantly, it provided a platform for me to talk publicly about my OCD and mental health to an audience of around 80 people and, having heard their feedback, inspired many of them to confront mental health issues in their own lives, whether personal to them or their friends, family and colleagues. I couldn’t have asked for a better response.

On April 21st, I completed the London Marathon in 4hrs 19 mins. It was undoubtedly one of the proudest moments of my life and I sobbed with glee on crossing the finish line.

I ran the race with a card on my back which read:

‘I’m doing it for…
My mind
Amy’s mind
Your mind’

While running has saved my mind, given me a focus aside from singing, and helped me to complete one of the greatest sporting achievements in the world, it has also given me the opportunity to contribute towards your mental well-being in running in aid of Mind.

To date, I have raised over £2,700 for Mind, far-exceeding all expectations when I took on this challenge. It is overwhelming, wonderful, and something I am so thankful to all my supporters for contributing to.

Adversity is bitch, but beating it is the greatest thrill in the world. We all have the right to better mental health, so let’s have it.

A new year for adventure

The Aurora Borealis over Eielson Air Force base, Alaska
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Strang

It’s a brand new year, Adventure-seekers! And do you know what this means? No, not New Year resolutions — but that the Great Arctic Fundraisng Adventure is now a matter of weeks away! No longer is it “next year”, but instead something like 8 weeks away.

Am I crazy to be swapping a nice warm flat in east London for some basic cabins in the Arctic Circle, and exchanging my days of social media marketing for sledding across frozen lakes and Arctic forests?

People ask me “Isn’t life an adventure on its own?”. So, maybe I am crazy, because the answer for me is no. When I am looking up at the Aurora Borealis, or speeding across the Arctic tundra with a pack of huskies I will know this is why I am doing it.

Not forgetting the other reason why I am doing it, either — raising £6,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support.

The new University College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Centre will open this year, and cost £100 million to build. Macmillan Cancer Support will be making its biggest ever contribution, of £10 million, towards the centre. The University College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Centre will be the first of its kind in the NHS and will redefine the ways patients are treated, using the best diagnostic and treatment techniques to improve survival rates.

Macmillan will provide a Wellbeing Centre within the building where people affected by cancer can find the best information and support, including advice around coping with personal and financial impact of cancer and returning to work.

The start of a new year can be hard when you have lost loved ones. You wonder what their plans might have been for the year ahead. It can also be tough on anyone living with cancer, or caring for someone living with cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support are there, providing help and support. If you want to find out more about Macmillan, or would like to contact them follow the links or visit http://www.macmillan.org.uk/

So far I have raised £3,359 towards the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure for Macmillan — and this year promises more pub quizzes, more station collections, and the Aurora Borealis.  You can help support the Arctic Adventure with a donation here or by buying a fundraising calendar here.

Adventure is out there

Preparations for the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure have got into full swing this week — and hardly a minute too soon.

Donations via the Just Giving page have reached £220 this week. It might seem like a slow start, but that’s 5 donations — including one from someone who is a little bit a personal hero of mine, Peter Lubbers.  The man does it all — ultra-marathons, bungee-jumping, skydiving — and still finds the time to be an expert on HTML5.

Corporate requests for sponsorship have so far been met with polite declines.  From a sports marketing perspective, I also approached several brandsto see if they would get behind “The Flat Footed Adventurer”, with much the same level of success.  Adidas have told me that while Macmillan Cancer Support are one of the charities they are supporting this year, they can’t support me “due to resource & budget limitations”.  Animal — without a doubt one of my own favourite brands — agreed that Macmillan Cancer Support are a great cause, and like so many others the friendly press office contact had seen first-hand their work, and said on a personal level he “supported” any charity fundraising for them.  However, like so many others, Animal have to draw a line somewhere.  In this case, I was told normally they offer goods to raffle off or to support in any event that ties in with their core of surf, board and bike sports.  However, dog sledding doesn’t count as one of their core board sports — although it involves snow.  As they say, there has to be a line somewhere.

Among the other responses I have had included a no from the office of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.  As a publicly funded organisation and a strategic body for London, I am told the Greater London Authority is not in a position to assist individual causes, no matter how worthy they might be.  As “sorry, no” responses go, while it may be entirely copy/pasted, there’s very little you can argue with in it.

I have not had any kind of response from the press offices of London’s various transport services, nor from my local MP.

In a more positive light, the organisers of the Hacker News London Meetup made an announcement to their members about my Arctic Fundraising Adventure ahead of this month’s meeting, and I was given a very kind donation by the organiser of the London Java Community.

Outside of fundraising, I was generously given a free personal training consultation by Matt Wolstenholme this week — Matt has a variety of fitness qualifications and bags of experience under hsi belt (as well as being a talented sports writer), so I considered myself very fortunate to get an exclusive consultation with him.  Although I am sore today, and noticeably out of shape, I found I’m not nearly as disastrously unfit as I had thought I was — but this could just be as a result of Matt’s motivational style.  If you’re in London and want a personal trainer, Matt comes highly recommended by me — and hopefuly, if finances allow, I will be able to see Matt on a regular basis for more personal training. With his help, I have no doubt that in no time I will be fit for chasing huskies and pushing sleds uphill.

So , where does this leave me?  I consider this some of my first steps along the road — I have made a start on fundraising, but there is an awful lot more to go.  I have also had one personal training session, the first of many more hours of fitness training.  From here, we can only go up.  There needs to be more donations, which will surely come as a result of more effort to find the donations — so there must be more emails written and more contacts made.  I also need to start some traditional supermarket collections.

I should also get a proper press release written, since all contact with the Docklands newspaper was met with a resounding silence.

In the news his week was a report that Four in 10 Britons will get cancer.  According to the Guardian, “Figures obtained by Macmillan Cancer Support show that 42% of Britons had cancer before they died – compared with around 35% a decade ago.  The study, which analysed data from 2008, also revealed that 64% of cancer sufferers will eventually die from the disease.”

It reminds me of why I am doing this trip in the first place.  You can donate to my Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure here.  Adventure is out there!

Warning: road block ahead

Image source: http://www.roadblockdnb.co.uk

We left the flat-footed adventurer last time trying to find support from adventurer-turned-Gardener’s-World-presenter Ben Fogle, as well as financial help and press coverage from the Docklands newspaper.  So, what is new?

My email to the editor of Docklands was met with an auto-reply: he was out of the office, please contact x in his absence.  Fair enough, I redrafted the email and sent it to the new news contact.  Two emails, two auto-replies.  This contact had actually left the newspaper some weeks before — and was now on an adventure of his own, in Africa.  You can follow his own adventures on the site It All Began in Africa.  It’s very inspiring stuff — doing good work, and finding positive stories in such an often-misunderstood continent.  This auto-reply gave me yet another contact — but I figured maybe the paper’s editor was just out of office for a day or two.

I called the newspaper the next day, using all of my own journalist training to sound expected, asking for the editor by name, and feigning surprise when I was he was out of the office.  What I didn’t expect, when I asked if he would be back in the following day, was to be told he was on long-term sick leave.  Often this is code for a nervous breakdown, but I wish the man well, whatever the circumstances.  I got from the receptionist a name for the news editor who was effectively in charge these days, but didn’t take the offer of being put straight through — people rarely appreciate cold calls.  The third email — to the news editor — ddn’t bounce back.  It also got absolutely no response whatsoever.  My offer to the Docklands newspaper for exclusive coverage of my dog sled adventure was as good as refused.

In a continuing theme, I have also not had a response from Ben Fogle.  That’s hardly a surprise, however — I get more emails than I can handle at work, I can’t imagine how many emails someone like Ben Fogle must get.  I doubt he ever even saw it.

But help has come from an unexpected place.  My work.

I deliberately didn’t ask them for any donation for financial support before now — not because I didn’t think they would provide it, but because I didn’t think it was fair to put them in that position.  However, when I was telling a colleague recently about the adventure and my struggle to get the money to sign up, he pointed out the obvious: I could earn it.  It was obvious: in exchnage for £500, I will work one evening a week for the next 10 or so weeks — on top of the day job.  Yes, it means that once a week I will be working 12 hour days or longer, but it’s worth it.

That was one road block stormed through: I’ll get the money in this month’s pay.  I am now free to sign up for the adventure.

I made contact with Cancer Research UK, to register to fundraise for them, to tell them my plans — and to get their permission.  This last part has thrown up road block number 2.  I am welcome to fundraise for them, and they will give me all the support I need: except for the option of the “minimum sponsorship” for the trip.  The charity does not have the facilities to pay Across the Divide for the trip, so if I want to take part and want to raise money for them, that’s all great — but it has to be self funded.

My early attempts at securing a corporate sponsor for this failed, and my more recent attempt to just get sponsorship for the deposit also floundered.  If I didn’t have £500, I certainly don’t have the best part of £3,000.  So, I have returned to the idea of fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support.  It’s not a case of favouring one charity over another, I was planning to fundraise for Cancer Research only because my cousin requested for my uncle John’s funeral that donations go to Cancer Research — his illness had been too rapid for him to receive any support at home from Macmillan.  I like to think of cancer patients and their families getting the support that they need, and I think my uncle John would have felt the same way.  Naturally, my family have no objections to any choice of charity.

Macmillan Cancer Support have in a way given me a third road block in the process of helping me overcome the second.  They are absolutely fine with the “Minimum Sponsorship” option, and being invoiced by Across the Divide for the cost of the trip — except that they have a different cost to donation ratio than the organisers.  What does this mean? It means that I will have a higher minimum sponsorship — instead of £4,500 it will be more like £6,000.

Next week is the beginning of July. The trip will be in March.  I expect I will have to have raised the money by about January.  That’s roughly £1,000 a month.  Do we think I can do it?  I have to think about it and talk to Macmillan’s fundraising team.  I spoke to someone tonight who told me that his own experience of fundraising has shown him that recording your event and making it available afterwards can double your total raised — just in donations received after the event.  It’s worth bearing in mind.

The next wave of companies being contacted for help/sipport/collateral will be footwear companies — who better to support an adventurer with flat feet like myself — and perhaps electronics companies who would like to give or lend me a small camera.

But first, I should sign up for the adventure.

The Flat Footed Adventurer needs a patron!

Image source: http://tinyurl.com/44n294x

Next year, the big adventure is Dog Sledding in the Arctic Circle — courtesy of Across the Divide.

To self-fund the challenge will cost me £2,860, including the £500 deposit I have to pay on registering.  All fundraising money raised between now and the trip would be donated 100% to Cancer Research.

Alternatively, I can choose to raise a minimum of £4,720 in sponsorship for Cancer Research and pay only the £500 deposit from my own money.

I only need £500 to sign up with this option, but that’s money I don’t have lying around, going spare.  But I do have some ideas on what I can do about this.

What I need as “The Flat Footed Adventurer” is some kind of sponsorship, or support — in other words, I need a patron.  The idea is if this challenge and the resulting publicity is successful to turn “The Flat Footed Adventurer” into a Free Range Career.

But we need to focus on this challenge first, and my ideas need some explaining  I have made a list of as far as I can tell everything I need to make this challenge happen, and it looks something like this:

  • Finance: This is most important, as I don’t have £2860 — corporate support towards this target will allow me to register and begin the charity fundraising.
  • Fitness: This will be a challenge in the true sense of the word, and will require me to be dedicated to getting into the best physical shape I can be — and have ever been.  To do this I will need expert training, guidance and support.
  • Publicity: I am a talented writer, and I want to document every step of the challenge, from signing up and raising money for Cancer Research, to the days spent sledding through the Norwegian wilderness.  I will need help in getting my journals publicised — and later, hopefully, published.

I have tried making contact with several large financial institutions.  8 out of 10 did not give me the time of day to even respond.  One replied, curtly, that they do not support individuals.  One replied and was both warm and helpful, sadly they could not help but they wished me luck.  That was a bust.

The trouble is, I don’t know who to contact.  Surely, there are companies out there who could help and would want to help.  When I hiked the Inca Trail in 2009, it was largely due to the help of transport giant First Group who were very generous in their sponsorship — and they, in return, received a wealth of publicity, both in print and online.  There is a tremendous opportunity for positive PR for any companies supporting me with this — helped my own background in Public Relations.  I am hoping this will help me to at least find people who might know people who can help.

Without the finance in place, I can’t begin to find contacts for help with the other parts — because the trip can’t happen.  I can get as fit as I like, learn to speak Norwegian and have a stunning network of people eager to help publicise my writing, but it’s all for nothing if I can’t even afford to go.

Cancer has directly affected my family.  In 2008, my aunt Margie succumbed to the illness after a long battle — she had loved to travel, and loved walking, and she was my inspiration for the trip to Machu Picchu.  In 2010, my uncle John (my aunt’s — and my Dad’s — brother) was the victim of an aggressive brain cancer.  The illness took him so quickly that there wasn’t time to receive any nursing at home, but the family requested any donations to be made to Cancer Research UK.  My uncle loved dogs, and this seems like a fitting way to remember both my aunt Margie and my uncle John, who were my Dad’s two oldest siblings.  I want to be able to raise awareness as well as money for Cancer Research. In the UK alone, someone is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes.

To summarise, what do I need from you?  I need you to help spread the word.  Please share this post with friends, with family, with followers.  Please.  Take 10 seconds just to think if you work for, or know, a company that would be able to help me achieve this challenge.  But most of all, please help spread the word — or if you have a spare few grand, and want the publicity, get in touch!

Day 6: Winay Wayna-Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, PeruYou think you know Machu Picchu. You have seen it in guidebooks, in things to do before you die lists, in Facebook photo albums of various friends. You’ve seen it in high-definition technicolour. How can seeing it in person not be an anti-climax?

I thought all of these things, until I saw it. The lost city, that technically has no name, but is referred to by the name of the mountain: Machu Picchu.

And maybe it’s the altitude, and maybe it’s exhaustion, maybe it’s that you’ve been working towards this moment for so long: planning and training and fundraising and hiking — but either way, it’s a big emotional moment. I tell everyone the same thing: if you want to see Machu Picchu, you should hike the Inca trail to get there.

Sure, you can take a bus up the mountain from Agua Calientes, and arrive all fresh and rested, but where would be the sense of achievement?

The last day’s hiking started with an unexpected lie-in. When this became the plan, I don’t know, I was fairly sure it was meant to be an early start to be there for sunrise: but none of that mattered once we were awake and on our way. To tell the truth, the hike to get to Machu Picchu on the last day fades in my memory: because there was an enormous event waiting at the end, and everything else becomes over-exposed because of it.

 Inti Punku, the sun gateWhat I remember most is the stone steps up to the sun gate, from where you look down on to the lost city below. One more set of steps, except that lining the steps on both sides are the trip guides, the doctors, the porters you have become close to over the last few days. And they are all cheering and applauding. I raised an arm in triumph for a photo: I did it. On bruised and blistered and broken feet, I did it.

After the photo opportunities with mountain Machu Picchu in the background, we were encouraged to spend a few minutes in quiet reflection about why we were there and what we had accomplished. That’s about the time that the exhaustion and altitude combined to have almost everyone break down in tears. We were all there raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support, and all had stories about how cancer had affected the lives of people around us — or us personally. My aunt would have loved Machu Picchu and Peru, and it seemed like a fitting tribute to her memory.

What I don’t often talk about is the pain I was in on this last day. I’d been on a prescription pain killers all week to deal with the pain in my injured foot and in my knees, and had foolishly decided for the last day to start reducing the dose. Looking back, I could have waited another couple of days, but I under-estimated how much of a hike the final day would be. But you know what? Look at that smile. I was genuinely happy. In that moment, it was all worth it.

Among the ruins of Machu Picchu there are wild llamas just wandering around, and once you have descended the long, winding path down to the city you yourself just wander among the ruins and the grass: marvelling at the pyramids and the buildings, and the ingenuity of this long lost civilisation. Everyone there probably wishes they were alone to experience it without the slightly grubby hikers, like me, or the fresh faced tourists just off the air-conditioned bus. Just the same, you remember the feeling of the city and try to memorise all the details to report back later.

Day 5: Pacamayo – Winay Wayna

Our last full day’s hiking began shortly after 5.30am, on a cold Andean morning above the Pacamayo river.  Joe had slept the night through, and the cheerful porters were greeting us all with bowls of hot water for washing in, and mugs of Coca tea.

But it was mornings like this that brought home where we were, and why we were doing it.  Sometimes at the end of the day when your knees were screaming and you were hiking the last few miles to camp in rapidly fading light, it was easy to forget.  Then you wake up the next morning with views of cloud-filled valleys, and you wonder why you don’t do this kind of thing more often.  Day three of proper hiking along the Inca trail promised lots more ruins, more altitude, and more cloud forest.

About a kilometre along the trail from the campsite, and a climb of about 150m we came to the first set of ruins of the day, the remains of Runkuraqay — at an altitude of approximately 3750m.

Discovered by the explorer Hiram Bingham, who was searching for Machu Picchu, like much of the Incan architecture the purpose of the tambo aren’t entirely clear.  While some historians claim it was a lookout post for the trail, others have said it was a guard house, a grain store or even a llama corral.

From here the hike just kep going up — and like the previous day, the air was thin, the trail was steep and the going was slow.  While we knew we were going up to 4,000m again, we’d spent the night at altitude and so hadn’t nearly as far to go this time — instead we had almost all of the rest of the day downhill.

And so from the highest point of the day, it was another 400m descent down to the town of Sayaqmarka.  Reached only by a steep, narrow staircase Sayaqmarka can be translated as “inaccesible town”.

Having spent the best part of the day so far not actually at the back of the group, I decided to forego a brief side trip up to the ruins of Sayaqmarka and instead press on ahead.  There was still a lot of hiking to be done, and I had some foolish notion that I might possibly be able to get back before nightfall without being eaten by a puma.  Though I expect for many it would be an honour to be eaten by such a revered animal, I figured that could at least wait until after Machu Picchu.

Speaking of Machu Picchu, I had come this far now and was now reassured in myself that I wouldn’t have to abandon the trail with one of the group leaders and instead take the train to the lost city.  In some of my darker moments the day before I had reassured myself that it would still be an adventure, even if that was the worst case scenario.  But it wasn’t me being carried up to Dead Woman’s Pass in a papoose, or giving the porters a fright by keeling over at the top.  So, surely, if I had come this far then I would just keep going?  The worst of the uphill was behind me, and we were at such a point that returning were as tedious as to go o’er.

As the day wore on, the trail levelled out and widened — giving us fine views and occasional patches of cloud forest.  The third pass was reached easily after passing through an Inca tunnel in the rock.  I can’t be sure exactly when it was in the day, but it must have been about around this time that one of my fellow trekkers had a small mishap with some strong pharmaceutical painkillers.

For reasons of her own, one of the trek doctors had given her two of these tablets, and she’d been instructed to take them something like four hours apart.  I can be fairly clear about these instructions, since I’d been given some myself — but never felt the need to resort to those on top of what I was already taking.  Many of you can probably guess what happened next — it got to halfway through the day, and Yvonne realised she had forgotten to take one of the tablets earlier.  Maybe she was feeling particularly sore, and that was what reminded her, but she obviously figured that she would need to “catch up” on what she had missed, and took them both at once.

Yvonne later told us that she didn’t realise this was a mistake until some time later.  We were at the top of a particularly steep climb, everyone was getting their breath back, and Yvonne noticed how the colours on all the plants seemed so unusually vivid, and thought to herself that she hadn’t known that was a symptom of altitude sickness.  Then she remembered the tablets she had taken, and realised all was not well.  Before long, she was giggling like an addict in the depths of an ether binge, and was unable to walk any distance completely unaided.

Luckily for everyone involved, Yvonne needed nothing more than one of the group leaders to support her as she walked and to keep an eye on her — no permanent damage was going to have been done, she just needed supervision and assistance.

On route to the last night’s camp we passed above the ruins of Phuyupatmarka (meaning Cloud-Level Town), a complex structure of protection walls and paths built on the uppermost side of a high hill.  It’s a sad state of affairs when by this point it is almost getting to a point where this elaborate Inca architecture is starting to seem normal.  It never becomes boring or uninteresting, but after a while you start to expect it — and know you are getting closer to the final day.

Before you can get to the final day, though, if you are like me you will spend most of the last hour of walking actually hiking in complete darkness with only a headtorch for light. While I wasn’t alone and the camp wasn’t far away, it was still not advisable to be walking the trails in the dark.  For me, it just added to the adventure — but I still didn’t want to get eaten by any wild animals.

The campsite of Winay Wayna was completely different to the previous two nights.  For a start it had toilets and showers — real toilets and real showers, that weren’t in tents.  It also had a dining hall, a kind of off-licence and a small shop that sold the tokens you needed to buy beer.  Most of the others had already been back at the camp for an hour or two already by this point, and had got on the beers without delay. Even Joe, who had made a lazarus-like recovery.

To celebrate the end of the camping, that evening there was a formal meal at real tables and everything — but for many of us, that was where the celebrations would stay, because the next day was the final hike to the lost city of Machu Picchu.

Day 4: The Inca Trail, Wayllabamba to Pacamayo

After a restless night disturbed by tentmate Joe’s frequent and noisy vomiting, we started the second proper day of walking with the knowledge that this would be perhaps the hardest thing many of us had ever done — and possibly the hardest thing we would ever do.

We had camped overnight at an altitude of 2700m at a place called Wayllabamba, which in the Peruvian Quechan language means “grassy plain”. Both of these are quite safe, reassuring facts that you take comfort in on the trail. The altitude is low (although that is still double the height of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles), and the name tells you how it’s nice and flat. This contrasted with the focal point of the day: Dead Woman’s Pass, standing at an altitude of 4200m, over three times the height of Ben Nevis and nearly four times the height of Snowdon*.

It wasn’t long before the ascending trail took us up through what is referred to as “cloud forest”, where the forests are persistently misty — this made it cooler for the uphill hike, but the altitude was still tough. Joe hadn’t recovered from the night before, and was struggling to continue going since he couldn’t even keep water down. We were lucky that it stayed dry for us, since this part of the trail had a reputation for being hard going when it got muddy as well as steep.

I remember one stop we made for a rest and water, which really symbolised the contrast of the traditional Peruvian society and the “modern world”. We stopped to regroup and rest, and a few feet away, under a tree sat two Peruvian women in traditional dress, with their donkey. And a table selling bottle water, Coke, chocolate, Powerade and various other delicacies. Every now and then the donkey would wander closer to one of the women, and she’d hit it with a stick. I got the impression the woman was telling the donkey to go away, but maybe it was the other way round — the donkey enjoyed it, and every now and then just had an urge to be hit with a stick again, whereupon the old lady would oblige.

Lunch a couple of hours later was a beautiful lush valley, with views of snow-capped peaks and the heights of Dead Woman’s Pass lying ahead of us. Joe was in a bad way. He was dehydrated and weak, from being unable to keep anything down but still being determined to keep going. I think the trail and the long months of preparation did that to you: giving up was not an option. If I thought I had things bad with dodgy knees and a bad foot, Joe had to be put on an intravenous drip in a tent.

When I arrived at the lunch stop true to form our team of trusty porters had already erected the three group dining tents for us, as well as the cooking tents and done all the cooking — and there was still a few minutes to go before meal time. Most others had been there a while longer than me, but I was perpetually slow. It’s now such a bad way to take the trail, you get the opportunity to take in all the sights around you — which never have the chance to become familiar or run of the mill.

I encouraged a fellow trekker to venture in to one of the surrounding fields where llamas (or maybe alpacas, I can’t tell the difference) were peacefully grazing. I had been tasked by Ali to hug a llama for her, and I was determines to meet my obligations, and have a photo taken to prove it. Unfortunately, the llamas had other ideas about this. They might be big. And smelly. But they are also still timid of people, and weren’t keen on the idea of being hugged by someone who hadn’t showered in a couple of days. I settled for a photo near a llama instead, though I won’t post it since it’s not a very flattering picture — and I don’t look a whole heap better.

Lunch was packed with carbs — the now-usual selection of dishes ranging between soup, chicken, white rice and traditional Peruvian dishes. It was delicious, and best of all plentiful — and we needed it, since Dead Woman’s Pass still lay several hours ahead and several thousand meters above us.


After lunch the trail got steeper and relentless, there was often barely enough room for two people to walk side by side, when there would come up the mountain a shout of “Porters!”. Everyone would move to one side to let these Peruvian supermen past — with port-a-loos and stoves on their backs and nothing more than sandals on their feet.

The altitude made the trek hard going. We’d be able to walk no more than a few minutes before having to stop to catch our breath — the thing about altitude was that the air literally did feel thinner, you could take long, deep breaths but the air just didn’t go so far. Your heart would pound, your head would thump, and you just had to stop and let everything settle — no amount of eagerness or speed would get you up the mountain any faster.

With the altitude came the cloud, and once we reached Dead Woman’s Pass (so-called because it is said to resemble a dead woman lying on her back, with the view of two mountainous peaks resembling breasts) it got cold very quickly. We all assembled together to appreciate what would be the highest — although not necessarily the hardest — point of our trip. The views were limited by the cloud around and below us, and strangely reminded me of Dartmoor — probably because of the cloud/fog, rock and desolate landscape. On many of the surrounding hills were small piles of stones, not unlike the cairns found in the British Isles — they were apparently expressions of wishes by Quechan travellers, who would return and add another stone to the top of the pile when their wish came true.

Getting to the top of Dead Woman’s Pass was only half the battle — there was still a 500m descent to camp to go. While the ascent was hard-going because of the altitude and steep climb, descending is often just as hard, and the relentless steps are torture on your knees — and like with the ascent, you can’t speed up, even if you want to, and know you are against the clock to get into camp before dark.

The second night camping was in the Pacamayo (or “sunrise”) valley, where instead the sun was quickly setting. My tentmate Joe (who had been carried at one point on the steepest part of the trail uphill) was already in the tent and his sleeping bag and fell sound asleep almost as soon as I got back. After a hard day, many of us were a lot more tired than the night before and went to sleep right after dinner.

The next day was promised by some to be the hardest, with another very early start.

*Readers outside of the UK: please feel free to chip in with how this compares with mountains you are more familiar with — I appreciate the UK isn’t known for its mountainous terrain.

Day 3 KM 82 – Wayllabamba

Day three started early, with an alarm call at 4.30am. My phone shows a text sent at 5.37 to the girl, just before we were leaving the hotel. I’d already been up for an hour, and it was another hour before sunrise.

This was to be day one of the proper trail: no more hotel beds, no gentle walks across countryside, instead we were going to be camping in the mountains with no mobile reception for three days. The next time anyone heard from me would be after Machu Picchu, whether I made it on foot or not. We piled into two coaches for the 3-hour drive to the start of the trail, known as “KM 82”.

I slept a lot of the journey, and woke up shortly before we stopped in a town called Ollantaytambo. The town itself was still waking up, but the people eager to sell to the tourists were already up and waiting — people selling scarves and hats and walking poles and any number of things. The walking poles were beautifully carved and painted, I started to wish I hadn’t brought my hiking poles from home with me — but I’d needed my poles for all the walks back in England, and they were adjustable to different heights, making them suitable for both uphill and downhill, which you couldn’t get with the wooden ones.

We spread out through the town square, some people were buying agua de florida — a kind of cologne that you splash on your hands, clap together and then inhale deeply, which was meant to help with altitude sickness. I was more interested in finding a scarf, less for the cold nights and more for protecting my neck from the sun, it was something I’d forgotten to take along. I walked from one traditional shop to the other, giving a bueans dias to the shop keepers and just smiling politely if they tried to make any further conversation. In each shop there would be shelves from floor to ceiling with ponchos and sweaters, blankets and scarves. I found a scarf I liked and bargained, although only briefly, with the shopkeeper for a good price.

It was still early and so still cold in the town. I was wearing my beanie hat for warmth, and my wide-brimmed hat on top of it as much for convenience as anything else. Occasionally, someone would stop me and try to sell me a hat. I knew they couldn’t speak English, but just the same my response was always the same: I’m already wearing two hats, do I look like I need a third? I think they understood the gist of it, even if not the exact words.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a parade appeared. There was men banging drums and playing trumpets, and most disturbing lots of men in scary-looking masks that resembled devils. They marched through the town holding their banner and banging their drum and then they were gone again. We never did find out what it had all been about — none of the locals seemed to pay any attention to it — but apparently the masks date back to the time of the conquistadors. We were told that the conquistadors had forbidden any traditional celebrations, and so people wore these masks to hide their identities.

Soon, we all piled back into our coaches for the rest of the journey to the check point at the start of the trail.

The Peruvian authorities are very cautious now about protecting the Inca trail, so numbers of people walking it are very tightly controlled and all groups have to be authorised. It wasn’t enough to just be a registered group saying how many people you were taking on the trail — everyone was listed by name, and had to provide their passports at the check point so they could cross-reference the names on the list with the names and pictures. You did get a stamp in the passport for it, though.

The train to Machu Picchu runs alongside KM 82, and everyone turned their noses up at the idea of being “a tourist” and just riding the train to the lost city — where is the challenge in that, where is the adventure if you haven’t hiked for days to reach the goal? Just the same, I think all of us felt just a little, tiny bit jealous. Nobody there would have chosen the train, even if given the option at the last minute — it was about the trail for us, not just the destination — but seeing it there made you stop and think about what lay ahead.

This first day of walking was still, by the trail’s standards, gentle. We crossed the Urubamba river and followed alongside it for several hours, until lunch. The rest of the day was a steady climb, looking down on terraced hillsides and the ruins of Patallacta.

I spent most of the day at the back of the group, as you might expect from my injury so was one of the last to arrive at the camp. At camp in Wayllabamba, the porters had put up all the tents for the group — neatly separated into the three sub groups, named Condor, Puma and Pachamama. Not only this, but they were already busy preparing the evening feast, and had set up the three communal tents with hot drinks and bowls of popcorn.

As was to become the standard, the evening meal was a carb-loaded three courses, starting with bowls of soup, before offering plates of white rice and chicken and potatoes alongside more traditional dishes and vegetarian options. After the early start and first day of walking, we all went to our tents fairly soon after dinner — besides as soon as the sun went down at 6pm it became very cold in the mountains, and I was glad for my poncho. The group leaders laughed at it, but I was warm and that was what mattered. It also made a very good improvised pillow for sleeping in the tent.

The sleeping tents we all shared with a tent mate, who had been previously assigned as our hotel room mates, too. I got a young guy called Joe who was a musician. He was nice enough, but strangely reminded me a lot of someone I had gone to school with — except almost ten years younger than we are now. It wasn’t long that we were in the tent that Joe mentioned not feeling great. I told him he’d probably feel better after a trip to the toilet — that I’d felt a bit off colour myself for a little while earlier, and it would be OK.

And so it was that our first night camping in the mountains of Peru was punctuated by Joe frequently getting up to loudly vomit outside our tent. If he wasn’t actually being sick he would be asking me what I thought he should do, should he see the doctor again or just leave it. After my initial mis-diagnosis, I generally told him that he should let them know. He’d see them, get a shot or some tablets or whatever, then go back to bed, only for the whole thing to repeat again.

It went on all night, and I genuinely felt more sorry for him than I did feel any annoyance at not getting sleep. We’d been advised before we went to bed that if you needed to get up in the night to unzip the tent and leave it open until you returned: that way the whole camp wouldn’t be kept awake by the zip-zip, zip-zip of you opening it, and closing it and the zip-zip, zip-zip when you returned again. Nobody needed to worry about that when there was a guy being very loudly sick in the camp.