“When you stood at the Sun Gate with the iconic view of Machu Picchu in front of you, it was truly breath-taking.”

In October, Nona Toothill trekked the Inca Trail in support of our Sue Ryder Manorlands Hospice. This is her run-down of how to fundraise, prepare, train, the support you can expect from Team Incredible and what it’s really like when you get there.

Nona Toothill at Machu Picchu
Llamas and Nona
Peruvian Llamas

Since I first saw an article about Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail in National Geographic Magazine 25 years ago, I have had an unexplainable pull to experience it. In September 2017, I was in the right place at the right time.

I was chaperoning a group of Girl Guides at Oxenhope train station with hundreds of others, waiting to start the Sue Ryder Manorlands Starlight Hike, when I heard, above the laughter and shouting, a clear voice asking if anyone was interested in doing the Inca Trail and, if so, to make themselves known to the staff at the gazebo.

I don’t think anyone was actually hurt in my crazed stampede to get myself ‘known’ – though I did momentarily lose the 30 Girl Guides who I was supposed to be looking after! – but it all ended well and I was signed up within a few weeks.

From fundraising novice to pro

Hayley Ibbotson was my designated fundraising helper and she has been very supportive throughout the whole fundraising year.

Before this, I had helped with the odd cake sale and PTA Christmas Fete. I don’t think Hayley realised just how inexperienced I was at first; I really had no idea how to fundraise!

However – in for a penny! – my daughters and I started to plan and the money started to roll in to my JustGiving page.

Learning about Machu Picchu

I started to gain as much information about Machu Picchu as I could.

I read articles and books, bought maps and spoke to people who had already done the trail. It was about March 2018 that I actually realised that you didn’t need to do the Inca Trail to get to Machu Picchu – you could just get the train to the town at the bottom of the hill and hop on a bus to take you right up to the entrance of the Inca ruins!

Nevertheless, I was pleased that I was doing the trail, although the tales I was hearing were of how difficult it was and the blisters, steps, altitude sickness… so I was well aware it was going to be a challenge.

Preparation, preparation, preparation…

I realised that there was nothing I could do in preparation to stop altitude sickness, so I focused on becoming as fit as possible. I was already doing an outdoors army fit class once a week and I increased this to three times a week.

When doing a challenge like this, I think it’s important to find a way to increase your fitness level without it being too hard a task or big an impact on your life. I have never enjoyed doing fitness classes indoors and, quite honestly, if there is an easy way or a café, I am easily distracted! That’s why the army boot camps were perfect for my lifestyle, and a lot of fun and banter too!

There was a lot of preparation for the trek: I needed to find durable, lightweight clothing that would fit into a rucksack; learn to walk with poles (sounds daft but they can be just as much a hindrance if you are not used to them!); and of course find a lot of steps to practise on. Luckily, in the Dales we have the gorgeous Malham Cove on our doorstep and also Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough (the Yorkshire Three Peaks).

What the Inca Trail is really like

The whole trek focused on Machu Picchu, it being the most famous of all the Inca sites. Everyone who I spoke to who had done the Inca trail said the same thing: that the difficulties in doing the trek were worth it when you stood at the Sun Gate and had the iconic view of Machu Picchu in front of you, and it really is breath-taking.

However, what no one explained was that the Inca Trail itself was absolutely spectacular, other amazing Inca sites are spread along the way and we had lots of time to walk around and explore them.

Literally around every corner you turned, there was another view well worthy of a centre spread in the National Geographic. Even if the clouds were spoiling the view, you only needed to wait a matter of minutes and you could see the mountains appearing in front of your eyes. It was truly magical.

Guidance, food and support along the way

We also had the most brilliant guide called Biktar. He was born and bred into the Inca traditions and had an amazing knowledge, not just of the Inca trail but also of the local towns and villages, lakes and mountains. His understanding of birds and flowers was second to none and he was the most interesting man I have ever met.

He occasionally misspoke and said everything was ‘a piece of cookie’ and this became our mantra when things got tough!

Along the trek, we were looked after so well. All we had to carry was our rucksack (this was pretty minimal as all non-essentials were left at the hotel in Cusco); the porters carried everything else. By the time we got to our lunch stop, they had put up our dining tent and cooked a fabulous meal. The food was incredible – you would not believe the chefs could create what they did with their sparse equipment – and the presentation was as good as in a five-star hotel; we even got tomato roses on top of each perfectly formed rice mound.

Nothing was too much trouble and the people on vegetarian and gluten-free diets were well catered for. At the end of each day, as we trudged into camp, they were there again clapping us in (this really felt good) – ironic really and a tad embarrassing with hindsight because these were the guys who had overtaken us all at a run, carrying packs twice the size of themselves, and then worked really hard putting up our tents and cooking for us!

A great way to challenge – or find – yourself

Trekking the Inca Trail is the hardest physical challenge I have done. It is not just physical though; it is mentally draining, exhilarating and most definitely spiritual at the same time.

I would recommend this to anyone; there was a huge age range on our trek. Out of the 28 of us, the youngest was 18 and the oldest in her late 60s. This made no difference to their abilities as you were able to go at your own pace and the older people always came in before the younger ones!

On the whole, I’d highly recommend it to anyone wanting to experience magnificent views, camaraderie and a challenge to push – or find – yourself. Stop procrastinating and sign up!

You heard Nona - register now for our Inca Trek!

Author

Nona Toothill

Inca Trail trekker

Nona Toothill

Nona Toothill trekked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in support of her local Sue Ryder Manorlands Hospice in October 2018.