Sunday, January 29, 2017

Peru Part 3: Machu Picchu

By: Apryle Craig

Machu Picchu
To get to Machu Picchu, we could either take a tour bus (costs $) or hike (free). The tour buses drive a switchback road and the hiker route cuts the switchbacks, following a steep and relentless staircase built by the Incas. Both routes end at the same location, the entrance gates to Machu Picchu. Of course, we opted to walk to the Forgotten City. 

Machu Picchu

We got up early to begin our hike to Machu Picchu from our hotel in Aguas Calientes. We found out this is really a 2-step process: 1) Walk the city roads to the hikers gate and 2) Ascend the staircase to the Machu Picchu entrance gate. Walking the muddy road in the darkness, we were unsure if we were going the right way until we started to catch up to headlamps. We were walking at our usual aggressive pace and figured we would pass these headlamps to be first at the gates. However, to our surprise when we rounded the bend we saw a line already about 150 people long. 

Coati at Machu Picchu
A queue forms at a ticket booth just before the river that separates Aguas Calientes from the mountain Machu Picchu sits atop. At 5am, they opened the gate and checked tickets before allowing us to cross the bridge and begin the hike up the Incan staircase. We kept a brisk pace and turned the 150 people in front of us into 100, then 75. Topping out on the final few stairs, we saw that we had beaten the tour buses up the hill and passed all but the first 5-10 hikers through the gates. We looked forward to being one of the first to enter Machu Picchu that day. 

Machu Picchu from Sun Gate
My excitement soared as we went through the entrance booth and quickly found a lookout point. The sun had not yet broken over the horizon but it was light enough to snap a few photos of the scene before it was littered with the 2,498 other ticket-holders now flooding through the gates. It was everything I thought it would be and more. We found a sign pointing towards the Sun Gate. Would we make it in time? 

Machu Picchu
Prior to visiting Peru, we had debated taking the Inca Trail to arrive at the Sun Gates for sunrise. To hike the Inca Trail, you must join an expensive guided tour and book far in advance. The route follows paths used by the Inca to reach Machu Picchu and ascends to a rocky saddle between 2 mountains where you get your first glimpse of the ruins. The hiking groups time it such that the journey culminates in these spectacular views as first sun illuminates the ruins. 

Machu Picchu
This view alone may have been worth paying to join a guided hike. Still sweating from our ascent from Aguas Calientes, we continued up wondering if we could make it in time for sunrise. Along the way, Zach pointed out a unique medium-sized mammal ahead on the trail and we snapped a few pictures. We later identified this critter as a Coati, which is a relative of the raccoon. 

Temple of the Condor
We arrived at the Sun Gate with about 10 minutes to spare before sunrise. We were cold from the sweat and the windy perch between the mountains. We huddled together amidst the guided tour groups and had a snack while waiting. This vantage point showed the impressive size of the stone city, terraces, and lawns. The sun slowly overtook the jungle, mountains, and ruins. The mountain is often shrouded in a cloud, obscuring any view of the ruins, but today was gorgeous. What a great way to start the day! 

Temple at Machu Picchu

As the tour groups were starting to pack up, we began our descent back to Machu Picchu. We found a side-trail to the Inca Bridge and followed it. We wrapped around a different side of the mountain and saw an old log bridge spanning a precipice ledge that was used as access into the city. We explored room after room, admiring the stone work. We learned about the rooms and spaces by overhearing guided tours and by using the excellent descriptions in our Peru tour book my Nonie had gotten me for Christmas. 

Machu Picchu
Although there were a ton of tourists, the ruins are so massive that it rarely felt over-crowded. As the day progressed, wispy clouds moved in and out of the sacred valley, eventually settling in. As we were finishing up at the ruins, Zach decided to see how fast he could ascend the staircase from the morning. I waited in the ruins until it started to rain. When Zach topped out, we decided to pack it in for the day. The drizzle increased to a downpour as we descended the staircase together. We stopped in for pizza on the walk back to the hotel. Later that night, we got a late train out of Aguas Calientes back to Ollantaytambo. 

Logistics Summary

Aguas Calientes to TH
Train Ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes takes about 2 hours and covers around 24 miles.

Walk from Aguas Calientes (7500ft) to Machu Picchu via Avenida Hermanos Ayar – 1.3 miles. This road has very little traffic and looses about 300 feet from town to the trailhead. We left shortly after 4:30 A.M. in order to arrive at the trailhead for the 5:00 A.M. opening.

Machu Picchu Trail

There was an extensive line at the trailhead. The hike from the trailhead to the entrance gate of Machu Picchu is a little over a mile with about 1500ft of vertical gain. The trail crosses the road a few times, and at this point in the morning a few buses are driving up so be vigilant. The entrance gate of Machu Picchu is around 9100ft.

Entrance to Sungate
Wait in line a few minutes, have passport and tickets ready then try to get a photo before the ruins are crawling with people. Our first mission was a hike to the Sun Gate, which is 1.1 miles from the entrance gate and gains 876ft.

Spend the day walking around the ruins then make the final trek back down the trail and back into Aguas Calientes.

Masonry Work at Machu Picchu

Flora of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Apryle at Staircase

Llamas at Machu Picchu

Hiking Trail Sign


Machu Picchu Interior

Viscacha at Machu Picchu

Zach at Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Llama at Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Bridle Trails 50K and the move back to the Westside

January Lead Up
Rainier from Union Bay Loop
Apryle and I rang in the new year unpacking our moving truck at our new home in Newcastle, WA. Newcastle is a small town situated between Bellevue to the north and Renton to the south and is bookended by Lake Washington to the west and Cougar Mountain Regional Park to the east. Shortly after hauling all of our belongings up the stairs a snow storm blanketed the ground. This made us feel right at home after leaving Tonasket’s stark winter landscape.

American Wigeon 
The first two weeks of the 2017 have been quite productive on the trail running side of life. With Cougar Mountain less than a kilometer from my back door; I have been taking full advantage of our new location. Most of my training has consisted of out and backs to Wilderness Peak. This offers between 1600-2000 vertical feet over about 10 miles. However, because of the snow storm and cool temperatures, I had to continue utilizing the yactracks on the ice; inevitably slowing my pace.

Sycamore from the Window
In order to combat the slow paces on the icy/undulating trails, I have continued running at the University District. This offers a fast mix of cinder trails around Union Bay and the Arboretum, as well as sidewalks and a series of floating boardwalks between Marsh and Foster Islands.

Barrows Goldeneye
In addition to the increased mileage, I have also been raising the bar in my birding exploits. With the frequent runs around Union Bay I have added 13 new birds to my life list. I hope to continue the ambitious pace throughout the year.

The Race
Ring-tailed Duck
Last year I signed up for the Bridle Trails 50K rather last minute, mainly because I had run at the state park a few days earlier and knew it was close to our residence in Shoreline. This year was similar, I was reluctant to sign up for the race because I did not think my fitness level was quite on par with last years 3:25 effort. But on the final day before registration closed Apryle convinced me to give it a shot, and if nothing else get in a quick long run.

Horned Grebe
So I tapered down slightly, taking Thursday off and going short on Friday to save the legs for the long effort. I calculated my splits and decided that I would once again aim for the stout course record of 3:19:40. Because the race consists of 6 laps of 5.2 miles, it was quite easy to strategize. Additionally, because there are 5 and 10 mile races at the start, I knew I would have some built in pacers for the first two laps.

Barrows Goldeneye
My goal was to run the first two laps as quickly as possible (within reason for 50 kilometers), trying to use adrenaline and my competitive nature to bank away some time early. Then run three and four quickly enough to beat the setting sun. Then try my best to hold an even tempo in the dark for the final two laps.

Common Goldeneye
Apryle set up in the same position she had the previous year to crew (last hill before start/finish), which was invaluable to my strategy. This allowed me to grab a swig of water and a gel pack without stopping. I knew based on my experience last year that I would not need the headlamp until lap 5 and that it was cool enough that I did not need to carry water. Both of these predictions held true and the race went off without a hitch.

Yessler Swamp
I was very happy with my first three or four laps, but once again, along with the setting sun, went my motivation. At the start of the race I am full of adrenaline, trying my best to keep up with the 5/10 mile racers, then in the next two laps I am just excited to be in one of the most beautiful urban forests in the Puget Sound area, doing what I love – trail running. But once the sun sets, I am ready to get in the car, head home and relax in the hot tub – not stumble around a cold, dark, lonely corridor in the woods.

Coal Creek
Coming through the start/finish into my final lap, I knew it would be faster than my time from the previous year, but probably not a course record. I told Apryle I would see her when the clock turned over 3:23 and disappeared into back into the abyss. I tried my best to push it but just could not find it in me to pick up the pace. I grunted up the final uphill and sprinted the last downhill and crossed the line in a time of 3:22:30; good enough for a win but not a course record.

Evans Creek Park in Sammanish
Overall I was quite happy, the time was faster than last year and it also felt a little easier. The race was a great confidence boost going into an ambitious 2017 consisting of Chuckanut 50K in March, Lake Sonoma 50 miler in April, and the Rut 50K in September. Additionally, I may also add in a few others such as Smith Rock Ascent 50K and White River 50 miler as well as the Wonderland Trail and a Mount Rainier ascent.

Race Splits:
Lap 1 31:04
Lap 2 31:48
Lap 3 32:49
Lap 4 34:52
Lap 5 35:45
Lap 6 36:10

Lead Up Running Log:

Vertical Gain

Week 1
7 Days

Week 2
6 Days

My friend Gooses newest single: Step by Step