Last week, I was able to check off another item from my bucket list. I climbed Machu Picchu Mountain in Peru. We went as a large group of 25 to celebrate one of our friends’ 50th birthday. This group included 6 kids, ranging in age from 21 to 26 with one 14-year-old to keep us all young. The remaining 19 of us were comprised of 5 of us who were still in our 40s (Sunny and I included). Everyone else was in their 50s. The reason I mention this is that there were varying ages and degrees of endurance as we began our climb. 

The day before the mountain hike, we actually visited the city of Machu Picchu and the sacred site. Now, getting to the site itself required a 20-minute hike that some were not prepared for. However, the positive that came from this mini pre-day test was that those with medical issues were able to get a brief glimpse of what the actual hike would be like. 

That evening, many conversations were had by people considering their options. Could they take on the challenge? Make no mistake, it’s not easy to climb Machu Picchu Mountain. It’s 3.5 hours of stairs going up and winding around the mountain. Yes, your thighs and knees will hate you.  

The morning finally arrived. At 6 am, we were all at breakfast and our guides came in. There were three guides for our journey, and the decision was made that one guide would take a small group of four to the lower ruins rather than the hike. You see, I know people often say to push yourself, you don’t win if you don’t try…etc…. but when it comes to your health, you need to listen to your body. Three of our ladies (out of 9) did not bow to pressure to join the rest of the group, and believe me, there were plenty saying to just “try it.” They knew their physical limitations and made the best decision for themselves. Two of the spouses stayed behind to keep them company—a wise decision for happy marriages 🙂 

So, we started our climb with 19 of our group members, and two guides—one at the front and the other at the back. It was early, so there was still fog in the valley and a light mist that made the trek up slower, as we all were careful not to slip. Slow and steady we started our climb, the initial half hour spent in awe of the surroundings, stopping to take pictures, and for the most part, the group stayed together. We had just hit the 30% mark, and we hadn’t even hit the hard part yet, when one of our group had a panic attack. She had been struggling up the mountain and so when we got to the landing, she drank her water too fast and started to choke, a panic attack ensued. We all came together to help her catch her breath, calm down and start breathing.  

Now it is much harder to breathe at that elevation. The day we landed in Cusco even I struggled, and I’m relatively in good shape. One of the guides had “given” me a menthol spray for my hands that helped open the sinuses called Muna spray. It was a miracle spray, and I think he was a little surprised when I asked if I could keep it. But boy did that spray help, and it came in handy on the hike up. I pulled it out of my backpack and sprayed it on her hands. It helped her breathe and calm down. Eventually the panic subsided, but a decision was made, she could not continue up. The guides knew she would not be able to make it up, so one of them would have to help her down. We would be down to one guide, so it was decision time. After this moment, there was no turning back, you would have to continue with the group. Three more left the group, and we were down to 16. 

The guide would follow at the back now, so Sunny and two of the kids would lead the way. All of the children were still with us, reminding us that age is really a number, racing up the mountain with the speed and endurance of youth. In the next hour, the group started to separate, with 3 kids, Sunny, myself and another friend at the front of the group, another in the middle, and one trailing with the guide. We were halfway through, and I was actually quite proud of my endurance.  

We had stopped to take some more pictures (yes, there were a lot of pictures, I think the final count from the trip was over 4000). Two of the boys in our group (now they are both 26, but in a mom’s eyes, they will always be babies 🙂 were struggling up the mountain. They had both recently lost weight, but had never been hiking, so, endurance and stamina was an issue. They were the sons of two of my besties, one of which was still with us and helping her son up the mountain. The other boy’s mom had not made the trip up due to knee problems. That made it my responsibility, as a resident mommy, to help. 

We became the middle group, with me leading the way with one of the boys, and my friend and her son following behind. I told Sunny to continue, he and my bestie’s husband were both racing up the mountain with the young kids. I could have left my friend to help both boys, and continued up with Sunny, but I didn’t. We both made the decision to stay with the kids. Now, obviously my bestie would stay to help her son, but two things mattered in that moment—one, I’d never leave my friend alone, and two, the boys needed moral support. It’s not like we were actually lifting them up, it was the fact that we were there, helping lift their spirits, pacing them that mattered. 

We continued up the mountain, making one landing at a time. Up 20 stairs, rest, breathe in the miracle spray, and continue. I took the boy’s backpack from him, now he did try to resist, but I knew the additional weight was actually causing him more of a strain. We made it up to 60%. We believed we could do this. I passed off the backpack to one of the young kids at the front at the next stop, and we continued. Slow and steady, and I can’t tell you how many times I was really worried. There were times he would start to sway, and I’d hold onto him. As a big boy, he’d tell me he was ok, but I knew. I took his water bottle and started to carry it up. I wanted his hands free to grab onto the rocks for support. 

My friend and her son were behind us, and God bless that boy, there were times he was literally crawling up the stairs, but he was making it. Every landing and stairs another challenge they were overcoming. We finally made it to the top, 3.5 hours later, tired but elated at the same time. There was another group behind us that also made it, all 16 were at the top of the mountain (4 of us ladies).  

The fog was actually dissipating, and we could start to see Machu Picchu below us. Sustenance was needed, we all opened our snacks and started to devour them—carbs were badly needed in that moment. We made sure that the boys put something into their systems too, even though they didn’t want to. One of them actually felt nauseous, but we knew that he needed something to make it down. The steps were very narrow and steep, so going down was probably going to be harder than coming up. Once we had finished all our pictures, eaten, and taken in all the beauty, we started our trip down. 

This time the boys grabbed hiking sticks to help. We stayed together, the four of us, a pack of mommas with their cubs, making our way down. This time Sunny and our friend’s husband stayed with us, as I led the way down. It was much faster, only an hour, but it was very steep and slippery, with wet leaves lining the rocks. The boys did much better on the way down, but we still stayed together. Now we were all just tired and wanted it done. 

We made it down with no injuries. You saw everyone make a bee line for the rest rooms, having held all that water in our systems for five hours until that point. My friend’s son walked over to me and thanked me. He said there was no way he would have made it up the mountain without me. That helped in motivating him, helping him breathe (love that Muna Spray), taking the weight off of his shoulders and allowing him to lean in, helped him do something he never thought he would be able to do. In that moment, we bonded. 

You see, life is full of mountains that we will climb, some large and some small. The goal isn’t being the first one up the mountain, it’s about who you bring with you along the way that counts most. 

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