I´m not actually doing the Inca Trail. The Inca Trail needs to be reserved well in advance. I had heard from someone at some point that the Salkantay Trail was better anyway, so I decided to do it. The main differences are that Salkantay is a day longer (5 days as opposed to 4) and goes about 400 meters higher than the Inca Trail (4600 meters above sea level being the high point for the Salkantay).
I will say that 4600 meters is a pretty good ways up. We got up to the pass about halfway through the second day. We had started at about 3500 meters that morning. We finished that day at 2500 meters above sea level. Altitude affects everything around here...from the temperature to the vegetation to number of bug bites you can expect to get and, of course, your breathing.
Yeah, so 4600 meters...wasn´t easy to get up there. I would say I´m in fairly decent physical condition these days but it´s hard to prepare for that kind of altitude. Luckily, I had been at 3000 meters or more for three days prior so I had some preparation. And I wasn´t carrying all my gear, only a small day pack. We had an old man with a mule carrying most of our stuff. When we woke up that morning it was raining fairly heavily, of course. This was a big fear for me since I was to do the entire trail wearing running shoes. Boots would have been nice, but I don´t have any with me and refused to buy any since I literally have about 10 pairs at home. Running shoes are fantastic if it doesn´t rain since they´re lighter and more comfortable than boots. Of course, it has rained quite a bit every day though. So the rain was not what I wanted to see...but after seeing our muleman wearing sandals I felt a little better.
The higher we got...the less rain there was...as it turned to ice and then snow. This was a little unexpected and Miguel acted like it is rare to see snow during the summer even at the top of the pass. But with the help of my trusty walking stick (which after 3 days I have learned to use quite effectively for balance and propulsion) I got up there with energy to spare. Good thing I felt good too because we still had about 10 km to cover that day...and the downhill parts tend to be a little painful on the old knees.