Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ancascocha Trail, Peru

The Ancascocha Trail in the Peruvian Andes is a spectacular trail that remains off the beaten path even given its close proximity to the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

I hiked it with a group of 18 teenagers from the U.S.—nine of the students were blind or visually impaired and nine were sighted, with the sighted guiding the blind. Around the middle of the trek we camped for a full day and night at the remote mountain community of Chillipahua, where we partook in a game of soccer with the village kids (our blind participants used a soccer ball with a plastic bag over it in order to hear it roll). We were all out of breath, since the village is at 12,000 feet. We also painted a schoolhouse alongside community members, and the locals celebrated our stay with a traditional meal: sheep and vegetables cooked under hot rocks buried in the ground.

When we all got to the Gateway of the Sun, above the World Heritage site of Machu Picchu, I remember the sighted kids describing the incredible view looking into this ancient city of rock, with much more of the ruins still buried under jungle vegetation. —Erik Weihenmayer

Length: 19-mile hike from Parpishu to Camicancha (plus bus and train ride to Machu Picchu)

The Details: The Inca Trail has fallen off most best-of lists because it is just too crowded, but the ruins of Machu Picchu—which poet Pablo Neruda praised as “madre de piedra, espuma de los cóndores” (“mother of stone, spume of condors”)—and the surrounding passes and peaks of the Andes should remain on any bucket list.

Enter Weihenmayer’s choice: the Ancascocha Trek (often called the Super Inca Trail or even the Hidden Inca Trail), a far more strenuous, yet less traveled and more rewarding path. The trek takes roughly five or six days wandering through traditional villages like Chillipahua and its namesake Ancascocha at 12,795 feet. Along the way, it humps over big passes, including a high point of roughly 16,000 feet on Inca Chiriaska, and takes in views of towering 20,551-foot Salcantay.

Many local guide companies have added the “Hidden” Inca Trail to itineraries, so take advantage of their logistical planning but go before the masses catch on. One note, the trail doesn’t actually end at Machu Picchu; you need to hop a short bus and train ride to get there, but you won’t care much after the experience of solitude in the high Andes.

When to Go: Spring (April-May) and fall (September-October) are best, avoiding the winter storms and minimizing the hordes of tourists that arrive at Machu Picchu in summer.

About Weihenmayer: In 2001, Erik Weihenmayer summited Mount Everest—he is the first and only blind person to stand atop the tallest peak. But that climb was just one of many accomplishments claimed by the Colorado-based adventurer, who lost his sight due to a degenerative disease at age 13. Weihenmayer, who is accompanied by a partner on his adventures, has since climbed the remaining highest peaks on every continent, run marathons, and competed in adventure races and reality TV shows. He is currently training to kayak the Grand Canyon. Weihenmayer also helps other blind, deaf, and hard-of-hearing people achieve outdoor dreams through Leading the Way, an arm of the nonprofit No Barriers USA.

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