I am going to Peru and May and am going to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I’ve done some hiking before, but am far from an expert. And I’ve never been in high altitude (except in an airplane!). What is the best way to prepare?
-Bob, New York
Your trip will be amazing! I haven’t been to Peru yet, however, a close friend hiked the Inca Trail 2 years ago and loved it. The best thing to do is start preparing early, so I’m glad you asked the question.
The best way to prepare for a long-distance, high altitude hike is to practice exactly that – high altitude, distance hikes. 🙂
In the New York area you are a bit limited because most mountains in the tri-state area are only 2,000 to 4,000 feet high, compared to 8,000 feet at Machu Picchu. What you can do easily is practice long-distance hiking up shorter hills. Perhaps section hiking the Appalachian Trail (check out Bill Bryson’s book for more info on that)?
If you can’t get outside, prepare by using the stairmaster or an elliptical machine. It is very different to hike uphill for hours vs. walking on flat areas (stairmaster vs. treadmill). Also, even if you’re using the gym, wear a backpack filled with water and some gear. Even though you likely will have porters carrying most of your gear, you’ll definitely be carrying a daypack, so start strengthening your back and shoulders by wearing a pack.
High Altitude Tricks:
As far as the altitude, the best way to prepare is to spend time in high altitude before you do strenuous physical exertion. If you can get there a day or 2 early, do moderate physical activity to get your body ready. I also take supplements starting a week before a trip (like my summer hike of Mount Whitney, CA):
- Chlorophyll. First, I take liquid Chlorophyll supplements starting a week before the hike. Since the bottle is glass I don’t take it with me when I’m concerned about the weight of my backpack, but I diligently take it everyday for at least 1 week prior to the hike. You can also find Chlorophyll online or at Whole Foods. Chlorophyll helps you increase your red blood cell count, so along with Ginkgo, is invaluable in helping you acclimatize. Remember that your body will be deprived of oxygen in the high altitude. If you’re very concerned about high altitude health issues, ask your doctor about Diamox, which is a prescription drug that is used to hasten acclimatization). I have some friends that have taken it along with them as an emergency kit addition.
- Ginkgo Biloba. I take Ginkgo Biloba supplements starting about a week before a trip, and continue to take it throughout the trip. You can pick up Ginkgo supplements online or at a local Whole Foods store. Ginkgo Biloba increases the blood flood to your extremities, which is important in oxygen deprived, high altitude environments like Machu Picchu.
Finally, be sure to drink tons of water and eat enough food. Your body burns a lot more calories in high altitude, and ironically, you likely won’t feel hungry. You have to force yourself to eat.
I’m so excited for you! It will be an amazing trip! I did the same preparation when I hiked Mt. Whitney this summer and I was problem free in the high altitude.
Do you have a question for the Hiking Lady?