The Inca Trail - All Mountain Adventure

Oct 21, 2011
by Rowan Hick  


Follow that ridgeline down to a valley then out to the Pacific Ocean. Awesome. Just plain awesome.

Follow that ridge line, down to a valley, then out to the Pacific Ocean. Awesome. Just plain awesome.


I boarded a plane to Lima, Peru

Bound full of excitement, fear, and nervousness... this was the trip of a lifetime. I'd never before undertaken something on this scale, by myself (well only for the plane flight in reality). Ten days of full-on action and adventure, high up in the Peruvian Andes.

I'd heard about SacredRides from one of my mates in Toronto, he recommended them. They're a specialist Mountain Bike Guiding company, that does hard core trips for solid riders. No nancy tootling along gravel roads here mate. I mean pick how solid a rider you are, match it up with the trip and go nuts. This particular trip was rated 4/5 on skills, and 4/5 on fitness. Meaning you had to have a number of years of riding under your belt, and be able to crank out solid rides day after day.

Leading up to the date of the trip I kept watching youtube footage of the Olleros downhill, and other Inca trail rides. I kept getting more nervous - since leaving New Zealand it had been years since my bike had seen anything resembling a mountain. All these Ontario trails are tight, twisty, technical singletrack, but flat. BC boys call us 'FlatLanders'. I was really hoping the endurance from 100km+ road rides was going to pay off, because in Toronto, there is not a mountain in sight to get those hill climbing legs into shape.

At the airport I hooked up with another dude who had a remarkably familiar looking bike bag. Turns out he was coming from Calgary. Awesome! (...but he has mountains in his backyard....) A sketchy taxi shuttle to our hotel in Miraflores followed a few hours later, and all of our compadres rolled into the hotel. 3 Australians, 1 South African, another Kiwi, and my Canadian mate I'd met at the airport. The Commonwealth storming Peru...




Riding begins!

Day 2, or really Day 1, begins with a breakfast and loading up the bus with bikes to head up to our first adventure. The bus is made for it, bike cage on the top, cooler covered in stickers, newly installed LCD to play bike porn on. The boys were impressed. In short order we're at the trail. Our lead guide, is officially the man. Wayo Stein has been the Peruvian Downhill Champ, and he lead us out on some old river bed for our first ride. An ascent of 200 - 300m, it felt pretty tough (uh oh...) but all was made better after we turned around and the downhill began. A good 5-10km of -6% or so descent, fast, flowy, fun. We met up with our bus for lunch, then we were introduced to the word of the trip. Exposure. Peruvians have built their country on it. Big, scary, one slip and you're screwed type stuff. Concentrate and don't stuff up. There's a sat phone, but you really don't want that number called.

We start tackling a single track, along the edge of a mountain side. 1-2 feet wide. It started at first rocky, devoid of any vegetation with a nice little natural ledge to stop you going over the edge. A few km's and we drop down into a nice area to view one of our first Inca ruins. Then we get onto the exposed bit. 1-2 feet wide, *no* ledge. Culvert on one side, cliffs on the other, if you tumble off that's it. Dare not look down, lest you go the direction that you're looking. That would be bad. Granny gearing it we just mosey along. Some more km's down and it gradually winds into some hills with lush vegetation. Wayo calls out, 'it's a little slippery'. Be careful. Jacket's on, it's cooling down. That turns out to be a test of bike control, wet muddy, mossy ground. The first little bit of carnage begins, Don behind me can't slow down and asses it. (Garmin Graph)

Cacti in the Sun

Cactus in the sun and very surreal light... (enhanced by HDR)


The downhill, to end all downhills. Olleros.

Up at 5 in the morning, on the road at 6. We drive for 4 hours, 3 of which are on a road that defines sketchy (although not as bad as I expected), including the most scenic pee breaks of a lifetime. Driving up the foot hills of the Andes we were headed to the Olleros (o-yer-os) trail built by Inca long before modern civilization. Dust is the order of the day to start. Paving the way to sketchy exposure and ever increasing grade - at some points easily -20%. Our brake pads started smelling at only 200-300m of the descent, after about an hour of riding we ended up in the town of Olleros. We took the time to eat and do some impromptu bike maintenance before we were off again.

Every kilometer of every bit of mountain biking I'd ever done put to the test. This was the "All Mountain" part of the "XC/AM" trip for sure. I kept thinking about the brave sods on a hard tail I'd seen from pictures a couple of weeks before. The terrain started out hard packed, loose rock over scenic valleys, quickly giving way to maximum exposure on windswept ridge lines, and then it got sketchy. The trail cut into the side of the mountain as we got off the ridge, loose rock switch back descents, wincing as rocks pang off the down tube, 8 inch rotors squealing, trying to stay clipped in, trying to stay on the bike, hugging the side of the mountain.

Every rest gave the brakes and riders a short respite. 1000m down it turned into super loose gravel, which was near impossible to control. Bike surfing, holding the rear brakes, trying not to dab the fronts - my lack of weight actually hindered me - I couldn't get rear traction, locking it up or not, didn't make a damn bit of difference. Nearly collected one of the other guys on the fastest bit - had to lay it down on a very opportunely placed feature otherwise we were both going down.

We averaged, get this, -18% grade for 8km. 1500m of descent. A few technical drops required a couple of steps off the bike, as the grins gave way to exhausted arms, messy handling started showing up - the switchbacks being particularly ugly. Never before exposed to terrain like this trying to just stay on the bike was the only mission. If you went down in the wrong place at the wrong time, your bike, or you, or both, were toast. Wayo's words "you're riding by yourself" never rang more true - don't trust what's around the corner.

By the time we'd dropped 2400m we were toast, and then it was the way out along the valley floor. 25km of -6% grade, pulling it out to the Pacific Ocean. The landscape at one point was surreal, like a moonscape, concrete like hard pack, grip was off the charts. Wayo was just having fun, launching off anything that would lead to air, weaving in and out, railing natural berms. The Garmin counted down till we could smell it, then hear it, then see it - The Pacific ocean. 5 hours previous we were 3.7km up in dry arid, thin air. Now grins, everyone agreeing that it had been the most epic trail they'd ever done. Beers all round. (Now that's a garmin graph)






The river bend run, Olleros Town Square, and the beach. 3570 meters of vertical from the top in one run...


Groggy from the previous night of breaking down bikes, but the stoke still going on strong from Olleros. Breakfast is hoofed down, and we transport ourselves to the Lima airport. Next stop Cuzco. As if out of nowhere, clouds open up in what felt like one of the quickest airplane descents - we land at approximately 3500m. The immediately cooler and drier Cuzco greets us. In short order we're at our hotel and building bikes just as quick as we broke them down. If you didn't know how to pull apart and put your bike back together before, you will after this trip.

It doesn't take long, and we're climbing out of the hotel on a gentle granny gear grind up a hill. And oh my god what a grind. At 3500m suddenly things just seem hard. The legs pumping away to get this hunk of Carbon, Alloy and Titanium up the mountain leading up from our hotel. An Inca ruin, and a history talk from Wayo is very welcome. Letting what little of the oxygen is in the air find it's way to my quads. "By the end of the trip, you will be comfortable climbing at 4000m" Really?

bigquotesBy the end of the trip, you will be comfortable climbing at 4000m - Wayo

Finally things level out and we get to play on single track, and then descend into Cuzco. We get to see parts off the beaten trail. Back alleys, dirty downhill trails littered with trash, and water drains you're not really sure what is going on in. This isn't your average tourist trap walk, and I'm sure lonely planet isn't pointing out these places. An unexpected style of riding - urban downhill into Cuzco. One of the highlights, nailing the 3rd big staircase in a row. Stunned tourists not knowing what to do with these crazy dudes, wearing armor, and bouncing down stairs on bikes.

Eating in short order, the ride package includes Breakfast and Lunch everyday, so we're treated to some very tasty food at a cafe just round from the hotel. Everything here is fresh and pretty damn organic - no chicken mills, or snap frozen produce. The fresh lemonade just kicked ass. A quick rest at the hotel, and then dinner seemed to roll around in no time - we all went out to dinner with the guides, which was quite welcome - giving us advice on what was the go or not.

Altitude sickness and weaker stomachs started affecting a couple of people. One went down with some dodgy food, and my room-mate started looking decidedly ill, later figured out the altitude was affecting him. There's no rhyme or reason. I'd brought Diamox and started taking it at Lima, but after some seriously tingly fingers I gave that idea up.



We were gelling as group

The group of antipodean's may go down in SacredRides as a "do not mix together". Definitely not a stayed bunch of politically correct gentile's. No sir. Mix Aussies, Kiwis, a South African, and a Canadian into the mix and you have a recipe for one heck of a time. This is something about a guided trip, you have no idea going into it, how it's going to end up - with your mates you know what the outcome is going to be. Complete strangers - everything is new territory. On the bikes, we'd figured out our riding styles. Coming to an hill climb the group generally sorted itself out one way, downhill another. Off the bikes we were best of mates in no time.

Day 5 Rolls around

Hump day, our 4th day of riding. This is where if you'd done multi-day stuff before you were glad. We spent a day on the trails, checking out Inca ruins. Starting to build on the days in the saddle, I could feel my technical downhill skills going up. Some moments following Wayo, hammering out some sections I was fully stoking. I could feel the body slowly acclimatizing but still, today was TOUGH. It started with a hike-a-bike @ 4000m. I forgot to turn my Garmin on, but I'm sure we did 200 - 300m vert hike-a-bike. Lung busting stuff. The day took us from 4000m down to 3300m or so. But it was punctuated by lung burning uphills. You had to get into a rhythm and not push your muscles too far, as you couldn't recover from the oxygen debt, but slowly and surely it was getting less tough at this altitude. But don't let me sound like it was easy. Nope. No siree. Many an uphill resulted in resting, head between my knees, trying to force oxygen back in. The standing joke was that every 30mins it was someones turn for a mechanical, be it Derailleur adjustment, puncture, headset, anything... just give us a break for 10mins. Tonight we hit the hay exhausted.




The Moray was perhaps an Inca agricultural experiment station.



The Sacred Valley

We pack up our bags, throw them in one vehicle. Bikes in another. We shuttle to the start of our ride, while the 4x4 heads off to Ollantaytambo. Lots of wide open easy rides greeted us today. Long, red, dusty roads. Great way to eat up the kilometers to one of the bigger attractions - the Moray. A great Inca agricultural project. On our way we stumble upon something none of us have seen. "Look up" A halo around the sun. Crazy stuff. Then we reach one of the fastest, most balls out fun sections. There wasn't any exposure, there weren't any cliffs, just very quick hard packed trail.




One of our hotels in the Sacred Valley, and the spectacular halo...



Rest Day - Machu Picchu

This was supposedly a rest day. Well, put it like this - I nearly got heat stroke, and was dog tired by the end of it. 6000 people a day visit Machu Picchu, only 400 go up to Huayna Picchu. Guess what we did? Yep. You got it, we legged it up to Huanya Picchu. This is hands down the scariest place I've ever been. If you're even remotely afraid of heights by the top you will be a gibbering wreck. No guard rails. No barriers. It's your own stupid damn fault if you decide to get to close to the edge. And for some of us, even a meter away from the edge was still too close. Most of the crew decided to do the full Grand Cavern route. 3 hours of hard slog. Drenched. (don't wear jeans, oh but you knew that already..) Some very, very, sketchy wooden ladders. Token wire ropes for the really scary exposed stairs. For one of our group it was a childhood dream to do Machu Picchu, and it certainly was very spectacular. The entire time you kept thinking, how did those poor buggers get stones all the way up these stairs, all over the place. Absolutely crazy. The pictures below speak for themselves.

Machu Picchu



Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, truly a spectacular place.



The last two days of riding

Fully rested from our day off the bikes, we hit our last two days of riding. I however, was not rested, a touch of altitude sickness/mild cold meant I started the day feeling not the greatest. Day 7 we drove up to 4400m/14'500 ft (Garmin Graph) and so began the ride. You know it's going to start out rough, when the clouds start rolling in over the mountains. Not more than 20 minutes into the ride hail started coming down. A peak that we'd passed on the van ride up was dusted in snow, it had been completely dry an hour before. You know the drill. Nasty horrible wet riding. Riding shoes soaked through. A couple of the crew didn't have waterproof jackets (if you're reading this, and going on the Inca trip, pack one!). Really what MTB trip wouldn't be a trip, without a complete Epic? I even managed one-when-no-one-was-around-tanty after falling off for the nth time. I don't know whether it was the altitude getting to me, or the solid week of just shredding, but man I was *tired*. 2-3 hours in I realized I'd been riding at 120mm travel instead of 150mm, my front tire was too hard, and generally I was out of sorts. Your brain doesn't react quite the same on limited oxygen...

Despite the epic nature of the morning, we were in luck. Lunchtime rolled around and we were treated to a delicious meal of soup and fresh trout, in one of the local families own homes no less. Talk about 7 happy chappies, the hearty meal warmed us up. Finishing off it was as if the riding gods pressed the magic good time button. The clouds parted, and epic single track unfolded. Words could not do it justice. Yet another day of brilliant riding unfolded for the next few hours. We all thanked the Inca's for that stretch of singletrack.

2nd to last ride. 4000m or so.

Shuttling up into the clouds...



It's almost over.

On the second to last day, my out of sorts-ness turned into a head cold. Fantastic. But I was going to finish the trip come hell or high water. We packed our bags to leave the Sacred Valley, got on the bus, and headed to our final start point. The last day was uneventful bar the biggest hill climb of the trip. 3/4 hour of grinding (really, that was the biggest hill climb), finishing with a fast downhill run into Cuzco, the biggest danger was avoiding the mangy dogs. As long as we had expected the day to be, with our beat tired selves, it was over pretty darned quick.

Boys on the best bit.

The boys on the best bit...



It is over....

Beers to celebrate. The boys all made it in one piece. We spent our last 24-32 hours in Peru eating, packing up the bikes, thanking the guides, and causing mischief. This was one helluva ride. It will go down, I can safely say for all us, as one of the most memorable things we'd done. All of my 18 odd years on a bike culminated in this one trip. I couldn't have asked for a greater bunch of guys to ride with, or better guides to take us on this adventure. For me personally, it was 10 days of waking up stoked, every morning to ride, every day having another epic trail to ride on, every day a new adventure, every day constantly pushing it.

Original Post


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65 Comments

  • 26 2
 No pics of anyone actually riding? Still looks amazing though!
  • 8 0
 Hey yeah, so it was actually a lot harder than it seemed to get riding photos. Trust me I would have loved to, but unless I was going to ride faster and go ahead of Wayo (not going to happen!), or the other riders to wander back up and repeat sections at 13'000 ft (again unlikely - altitude was killer!) really missed the opportunity to take good riding shots... we really were guided and stuck together as a group, barely had enough time at every rest to take even these shots. As soon as we unloaded the van every day it was pretty much 'go' for 4-6hrs, with no real chance to take extra time to setup shots. Per comment below I took a lot of GoPro footage, which I haven't had time to edit, I have uploaded one trail that was super fun vimeo.com/28995581 If you look up inkasadventures.pinkbike.com you'll find some riding pics from Wayo of Peru.
  • 1 0
 the voids kinda tripy it doesn't look like your tire is moving for a lot of the time, i pretty intense
  • 2 0
 Awesome read and some great photos! I'm baffled as to why people built little communes way way up in the hills. . . Would have been a shit hike to go down to get food or water every day And the architecture is amazing. My backyard doesn't even look this good, nor does my girlfriend really
  • 1 0
 @ RowanH: Haha, I totally understand I have a hard enough time getting off my bike in Whistler to take a pic. Stopping ruins the ride sometimes. I just don't want to get off my bike!
  • 3 0
 Hey y'all, Mike here with Sacred Rides. There are lots of people asking for riding photos and more video, so here are some links:

Trip page at sacredrides.com: sacredrides.com/rides/peru/incatrail (just click on the Photos and Videos tabs).
Bike Magazine pics, via Dan Barham: www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150221959146612.313216.7602526611&type=1
Pics from an August trip: www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150264966791612.326568.7602526611&type=1
Pics from our Freeride trip: www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.497717111611.271832.7602526611&type=1

If you're keen, drop me a line at mike@sacredrides.com or (88Cool -423-7849 (+1.647.999.7955 outside North America) and I'd be happy to chat about the trip with you, even offer you a 5% Pinkbike discount.

FYI, 2012 is almost sold out...
  • 4 0
 OMG... amazing trip. It seems some special atmosphere must hang in the air up there.
  • 2 0
 Thank you for writing this. Looks and sounds absolutely outstanding. Peru is somewhere I've always wanted to visit. And Sacred Rides is always something I've wanted to do. I'm sold.
  • 1 0
 Amazing photo's, although a tad surreal at times.
I've been on the BigMountainbike Adventures tour here (same guide, Wayo from Inca Adventures) and it is truly stunning! Its simply amazing to start out at 3,5km high, and end at the ocean after a full day riding through incredible and remote desert regions. Riding over walking trails made a 1000 years ago with steep hills and sometimes shear drops to the side. Riding through local villages that tourists hardly ever come to and having lunch with the locals.

This is truly a trip of a lifetime, and as good as they are, the photo's don't do it justice!
  • 1 1
 Have to do an Alumni trip perhaps Smile Cheers @Faab.
  • 1 0
 Best line: "Stunned tourists not knowing what to do with these crazy dudes, wearing armor, and bouncing down stairs on bikes." lol...cant wait to be able to do a trip like this someday! I guess that when you ride trails like this, the local ones dont have enough stokeness to give. Awesome!
  • 1 0
 I'm not hating. I just hope if you cant do it right, just leave the post processing alone. The normal pictures of the terrain are amazing enough. The post processing didnt add anything, it just made it look bad. If you think it made it better then you're blind.
  • 2 0
 I contemplated a trip such as this, but that sounds like a lifetime experience that needs to be done... Better start saving again...
  • 2 0
 It's worth it. all I can say. Smile
  • 2 0
 Mike here with Sacred Rides! You can find more info at sacredrides.com/rides/peru/incatrail, and I'd be happy to talk to you via email or phone about the trip:
mike@sacredrides.com or 888-423-7849 (+1.647.999.7955 outside North America).
  • 2 0
 I have been to Machu Picchu with some friends last week and really wondered why I did not take my bike ... lol. Amazing mountains in this place =)
  • 3 0
 Great article! Understandable that you were too busy riding to take riding pics, I think I would be to Big Grin
  • 2 0
 Thanks for the great photo and story, Rowan! Peru has also been a place that I would love to visit with my bike. Your work makes me want to check it off the list!
  • 1 0
 hey Mike, Mike here with Sacred Rides. Drop me a line at mike@sacredrides.com and I'd be happy to help you check it off the list!
sacredrides.com/rides/peru/incatrail
  • 1 0
 nice. i got back from there 1 month ago too, and wished i had an xc bike the entire time walking through the andes! no comment on the hdr.. but i like the first 4 photos. stoked you got to bike there, im jealous!
  • 4 0
 Amazing...nuff said.
  • 4 1
 Someone please stop that HDR frenzy
  • 1 0
 It is a fantastic trip, with incredible conference I leave a video you on board that I have found of this route:

goo.gl/W28g1
  • 3 0
 who mows the lawn at Machu Picchu?
  • 1 0
 Personally, I thought the pictures look incredible. I was wondering what made that unique contrast before I got to the comments, particularly in the cactus image. Great work!
  • 1 0
 Greta story great pics was thinking of going there at some stage didnt know you could bike it that makes for a whole new adventure!!
  • 1 0
 your description it´s the same when i first went to the alps... "i will never like to ride my bike again like before, back in hometown..."
  • 1 0
 the first time i went to the alps was the same... "i will never like to ride my bike like before, once again, back in hometown trails... :s "
  • 3 0
 amazing trip
  • 2 0
 awesome, ive always wanted to go there. i had better get saving now.
  • 2 0
 Another thing to put on the old bucket list i thinks
  • 1 0
 fantastic experience! who else wanna be living in there for biking every weekend??????? Smile
  • 1 0
 Dudes! i've done this trip last year! everything they write is sooo true! reminds me of the good days!!
  • 1 0
 yes.. amazing, but pics actually riding those trails would be great!!!
  • 1 0
 Congrats Wayo!!!! next year we will be there again!!!!
  • 1 0
 what can i say but epic id love to go do that one day
  • 1 1
 I hope you were able to also do the Death Road in Bolivia, if not - something to go back to South America for!
  • 2 0
 Wow, just wow.
  • 2 0
 Jealous much. ;D
  • 1 0
 WOW what a great experience
  • 1 0
 I'm peruvian and i'm ashamed that still haven't done this.
  • 1 0
 Inkasadventures the best !!! Good one Wayo.. see you soon..
  • 1 0
 amazing Smile
  • 1 0
 no way :o
  • 1 0
 cool!
  • 1 0
 going there too
  • 1 0
 Awesome
  • 1 1
 Photos and Videos from Peru best trails?, ....Check www.intibike.com !!!
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