Climbing Machu Picchu: An Inca Trail Hike

With less than 100 steps left until I reached the summit, I could hear the claps and cheers echo throughout the Andes mountains of Peru. “You got this! Just a few more steps! PMA! PMA (positive mental attitude)! ” Support, encouragement, community, a little bit of prayer, and a whole lot of PMA willed me to take one step up after another as I inched closer and closer to 14,000 feet elevation.

On May 23, 2022, I boarded a plane to Peru to share a (long-awaited) once-in-a-lifetime experience with 22 other healthcare professionals. I’ve traveled the world with dozens of nurses and allied staff to places like Ireland, Morocco, Colombia, and Thailand, but there wasn’t any experience to date that paralleled this Med Travel Hub 3-night, 4-day hike along the Inca Trail.

Day 1: Starting the Climb to Machu Picchu

The hike progressed like a cinematic sequence; there was an intro, a climax, some ups and downs, and a beautiful ending. Day one, the intro, was supposed to be “rehearsal.” Our guide, Freddy, mentioned it was the easiest part of the journey. However, it wasn’t too long after we took the customary group picture at the large burgundy sign indicating the entrance to the Inca Trail that we found ourselves hiking a tough incline. It was the first real challenge of how the high altitude would affect our stamina. It was also the first real challenge of our PMA.

I distinctly remember sitting in our dinner tent like a big family at the end of day one. While passing around bowls of surprisingly good food cooked by our Andean chefs, I could see the fatigue and anxiousness on the faces of our group. If that was the easy part, what does the hard part look like? It felt like thoughts were audible and the tension was palpable. Between friends who have completed the hike before, and all the blog posts google had to offer, everyone knew day two was going to be brutal. Freddy was intentional in not speaking about day two until after we filled our stomachs and a bit of malaise set in. Smart man, but he wasn’t going to escape the question that was on everyone’s mind; how bad was day two going to get?

Day 2: The Real Challenge of the Inca Trail Hike

Day two was bad, really bad. I’m talking 6-7 miles almost entirely uphill in high altitude bad. I’m talking clutching your chest trying to catch your breath while questioning all the life decisions that brought you to this moment, bad.  Looking up and seeing nothing but an endless trail on an incline was demoralizing. Dead Woman’s Pass (the summit) was visible for miles, taunting me with a false perception of getting closer with each step. This was so tough that I had to give myself small feasible goals. “Ok Jonathan, walk to that rock right there. Stop, and take five deep breaths. Great job! Ok. Are you ready? Walk to that other rock over there. Stop, and take five deep breathes.”

As difficult as day two was, it didn’t stop me from appreciating the still moments where I had time to pay attention to the natural beauty that surrounded me. In fact, the physical (and mental) challenge enhanced it. I can remember many times in life looking up at a star-lit sky and feeling so small, but nothing seemed to compare to the feeling of being immersed in the magnitude and magic of the Andes mountains. I felt present with my appreciation for the natural environment. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude. I felt privileged that only 5% of people who visit Machu Picchu actually hike the Inca Trail.

Most importantly, I felt honored to share this experience with 22 incredible healthcare professionals.

Day 3 & 4: Arriving at Dead Woman’s Pass

After hiking through the rain and willing it to stop with our collective prayers (it did eventually), on day three we slept at the most incredible campsite with silhouettes of snow-tipped mountains as our front yard. On day 4, we made it to Machu Picchu. There were so many stories and experiences between day three and four that I could write a miniseries. However, the overall theme was the attitude, spirit, and energy (of this band of misfits put together… joking) of this group of healthcare professionals who came together to share a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I know a few people sincerely questioned if and how they were going to complete this hike, but they did it. We all did it!

The Power of Community and Positive Mental Attitude

Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right.

I love that saying. At some point in my adult life, I realized that the best way to approach anything you would like to achieve and accomplish is with positivity and enthusiasm. There isn’t space for words like “maybe”, “can’t”, or “try”.

If you want it, claim it! “I can”, “I will”, “I am”. I am a firm believer that mindset matters. A positive mental attitude (PMA) was our figurative 24th traveler, present throughout each challenge along our journey. We carried it on our shoulders and it made the load lighter. The power of positivity added something special to this trip and I’m grateful for the collective energy that willed it through.

There will be plenty of experiences around the world through my travel community, Med Travel Hub. We’re going to places like Thailand, Bali, Argentina (Patagonia), Ireland, Iceland, South Africa and so many more. Naturally, there will be more trips to Peru and hikes to Machu Picchu. I’ll tell you one thing, this group of travelers will always have a special place in my heart. PMA all day!

About the Author

Jonathan Pierre is a Step-down RN, public speaker, and the Founder and CEO of Med Travel Hub. Travel is his love and people are his passion. He is driven to create a paradigm shift within the healthcare staffing industry that focuses on creating memorable experiences for healthcare travelers through community-building events.

Med Travel Hub curates domestic and international travel experiences for healthcare professionals while addressing the need for community-building within healthcare staffing. Our mantra is “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” From skydiving in Vegas to seeing the northern lights in Iceland, let’s create and share memorable experiences locally and around the world.

To-date, Med Travel Hub has taken groups to Thailand, Spain, Morocco, Peru, and Colombia. For more information, check them out at www.medtravelhub.com, and follow them on instagram @medtravelhub.