In the portfolio of Tusker’s hiking trips Peru ranks near the top in terms of tough.
While the Cordillera Blanca 15-day trip doesn’t take you as high as Kilimanjaro’s summit, nearly the entire trip is spent at altitudes over 12,000 feet. You go from sea level in Lima to 10,000 feet by bus during a nine hour van drive before you even strap on your hiking boots. Little acclimatization time means coming to Peru in the best shape you’ve been in years.
Andrew Springsteel, Tusker’s South America guide, recommends you arrive in Peru in as good of shape as if you were tackling Kilimanjaro. To be physically worthy for the Cordillera Blanca trek you need to be in excellent cardiovascular condition and have the genetic makeup to handle altitude. The first you can tweak, the second is in the hands of the gods.
“We recommend a good four months of cardiovascular training before the trek. For a trip like this you will need good lower body strength and a strong core. The key is balance, because you need to be able to do eight hour hikes on consecutive days,” Andrew said.
Overall the trip covers around 65 miles including several day hikes around Huaraz where the group’s hotel is located. Over 90 percent of these hikes are at altitudes over 12,000 feet. Unlike Kilimanjaro where trekkers don’t hit 12,000 feet until the fifth day, in Peru you hit the altitude threshold early. So this is not a trek where you condition yourself while doing it. Donkeys port your luggage so you’re only toting your day pack, but you need to be in peak condition.
“This is a testing ground to see if you’re genetically ready for real altitude, like on Kilimanjaro, or higher. In any case, a great mental attitude is always important,” Andrew adds.
Hanging with the Condors
The Quilqueyhuanca route includes camping at 15,000 feet and hiking over a 17,000 foot pass. If you’re going to hang with the condors you need to grow some wings. That means fueling up to keep your legs, lungs and heart strong. Recently, a seasoned marathon runner had to skip part of the Cordillera Blanca trek due to poor acclimatization. On her marathons, she ate very little and assumed she could follow the same protocol in the Andes. Her dietary mistake most likely played a role in her problems at altitude. Andrew recommends you eat twice what you would normally eat while exercising at lower altitude. “This is not the time to be dieting.”
What about Machu Picchu?
The Machu Picchu seven-day extension is far less rigorous than the Cordillera Blanca trip. The iconic archaeological site sits just under 8,000 feet and among the thousands of tourists who do it, most would never consider the Cordillera Blanca where mountain climbers and serious backpackers tread.
However, Tusker’s Machu Picchu trip will not be the standard trip and includes higher routes not often traveled along the Inca Trail.
If you’re thinking about Peru now may be a good time to dust off your hiking boots and start using them. Get in shape to be ready for a mountain range worthy of a life changing experience – the Cordillera Blanca.