The classic Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu spans 45 kilometres over 4 days reaching altitudes of 4200m. As you walk along the Inca roads and climb the ancient Inca stairs up and over Dead Women’s pass you are stepping into history as your view changes from spectacular mountain backdrop to ancient ruins, a highlight for many people’s trip. There is more, the average tourist now has the opportunity to overcome physical hardships in a small expedition, pushing themselves and the people around them up and through this tricky hike, but what happens when you are staying in the mountains and dealing with Raynaud’s disease. What do you pack to make sure you are ok and how did it affect me?
What I packed
- Smart wool socks, lots of them, to switch everyday or if they get wet.
- Merino wool base layer tights and base layer shirt (I used these to sleep in at night in the tent).
- Athletic tights 2 pairs to which occasionally I layered.
- Gortex pants, expensive but any frostie knows getting wet makes things so much worse, and it rained during my hike.
- Fleece hoodie, these never look cute but are helpful.
- Gortex jacket.
- Merino wool glove liners, I was able to wear these at camp when the weather was less cool as well as put them in my gloves when it became too cold.
- Mittens (glove liners fit in these as well).
- Three buffs, as most body heat escapes through the head. With these I could have a hat, scarf and balaclava; a veritable Raynaud’s trichotomy.
- Gortex shoes (keep dry and thus warm).
- A mummy bag with extra down at the feet rated for -10o C (I got mine at MEC but they are available at any hiker’s store).
- Sleeping bag liner and Thermal insert (camping at 3,800 can be chilly).
- Baffin Boot base camp slippers, these are like sleeping bags for your feet and make a huge difference.
How did my Raynaud’s affect my trek?
I was aware that my four days on the Inca trail would include intense temperature variations as well as a possibility of a little bit of stress, so I did my best to be as well prepared as possible. The first day was easy, the sun was shining, the altitude was not bad, the incline was not too steep, and as an added bonus we had no rain. I was able to hike in a t-shirt during the day and was satisfied with my night, though happy to have my own sleeping bag.
Day 2 was the day of high altitude on the Inca trail; it was also the longest day, so I carefully packed my day bag. I brought a pair of extra socks just in case my feet got wet, a merino base layer, Gortex pants and jacket, extra mittens, all my buffs, and headed up the mountain. I found that as long as I kept a steady pace I felt relatively fine at least until lunch. After sitting down for an hour eating lunch I could feel the cold in my hands and so I quickly added my merino glove liners to my mittens, an extra base layer under my fleece and a scarf. Some members of our group had apparently contracted a virus which caused a slowdown in our day. My feet, feeling numb and uncomfortable, caused me to leave the group and hike up at a steadier pace in hopes of generating more heat thus increasing my internal temperature. As I climbed higher and higher up the mountain, the temperature dropped steadily. It was windy and rainy, and so I stopped to add another layer on my legs, my Gortex pants which were a huge help as they block the wind. When I reached Dead Women’s pass at 4,200m, I made the decision to wait for the rest of the group. This was probably not the best idea for my condition but I knew they were struggling and I wanted to be there to cheer them on as some hit their first ever summit. I wedged myself between two rocks and sat for about an hour. Thankfully, the last of the group arrived right before I was ready to continue my trek down. My hands and feet had turned colour. I was feeling tired and starting to get more stressed about my current condition, inevitably making things worse. Instead of staying with everyone for the trip down, I ran ahead, desperate for the hot water sitting at my tent. The last 400 meters of descent was definitely a little tough for me since I was lacking feeling in my feet causing me to wobble down like a penguin. When I reached the tent I kicked off my wet clothes, slipped on my base camp boots and climbed into my sleeping bag complete with thermal liner to warm up. I was basically uncomfortable for the rest of the night and I could not thank my tent mate enough for containing enough of my body heat to pass the night.
The next morning was cold as well; I slipped on my Gortex boots and headed up the mountain first. My feet were kind of numb from the get go. I was feeling ill and super stressed about my Raynaud’s condition. I was told to wait at a set of ruins for the rest of the group. When I got there I noticed two people just behind me on the mountain, my Mom and Dad. We sat on a rock and I took my shoes off so my parents could rub them and try to get some heat in them. This may not help the Raynaud’s, but it did ease my mind; and so to me it helps. As soon as I was told I could move forward I rushed up the mountain once again with my parents and their warm hands meeting me at every stop. This continued until lunch time when the temperature finally rose and my body was able to regulate itself. The Raynauds issues in my hands continued for the rest of journey, but not any more serious than I would get sitting and typing on a computer. I arrived in camp feeling up in spirits, with my Baffin boots on I slipped into my sleeping bag and had a pretty comfortable night.
The last day of the hike was short and with it being our lowest altitude, probably a little bit warmer than the other days. My hands and feet felt fine and were practically normal in colour. It rained for most of the day but covered in Gortex and knowing there was the heated bathrooms of Machu Picchu right in front of us, my mind was eased. With my Raynauds under control and in one of the wonders of the world I could fully enjoy my day.
I think that anyone interested in expeditions, mountains, and overnight hikes should look into Baffin Boots. These are down filled slippers to wear in and around camp and they are soft enough to shove into your sleeping bag for the night. These really helped me when I was having trouble with my feet, and with missing my usual hot shower,which is what I do at home to warm up my feet. The Baffin Boots made my nights much easier.