The Ancient Way

Jun 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

Adventure-running across Peru's Cordillera Blanca
OUTFITTER: Andes Adventures; 310-395-5265;
COST: $2,700
DATES: June 29-July 14

Why walk the Inca trail when you can run?

Ultramarathoner Devy Reinstein was enjoying a leisurely sprint up the John Muir Trail to the top of California's Mount Whitney one day in 1994 when he was struck by an unusual idea: Why not start a business that combined his loves for his native Peru and for long-distance trail racing? (He's completed more than 15 ultra marathons in the last sevenyears.) The result was Andes Adventures, a travel company whose keystone trip, which Reinstein still offers several times a year and which is always fully booked, includes a 27-mile run that concludes with a spectacular entrance into the Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu. Encouraged by the success of this venture, Reinstein recently set out to create an even more challenging adventure-running odyssey: the Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash Adventure Run.

"This event is not for everyone," warns Reinstein in what can only be called an ultra-understatement. Clients spend nine of the trip's 16 days jogging 140 miles on rocky trails up, down, and across two mountain ranges in north-central Peru. First comes a three-day, 40-mile "warm-up"run that includes a complete circuit around Huayhuash and through parts of the Cordillera Blanca—at 20,000 feet, the world's highest tropical mountain range. After a mere one-day's rest, clients embark on a five-day, 100-mile loop through the Cordillera Huayhuash, crossing ten 15,000-foot-plus passes through terrain equaled only in the Himalayas: 22,205-foot Mount Huascarán, the highest peak in Peru; 20,846-foot Chopicalqui; Yerupaja, a 21,765 footer; and 20,100-foot Sarapo. Keep in mind that you'll be carting your own emergency clothing, food, and water each day, as well as a radio in case you get separated from the pack. Muleteers provide aid stations stocked with Peruvian cheese sandwiches, coca tea, and other energy foods along every trail; camps await runners at the end of each day. Villagers met along the way greet you warmly, if a little quizzically—nylon tights and chronometers have yet to enter the native Peruvian culture.


Trekking India's Himachal Pradesh
OUTFITTER: Ibex Expeditions; 541-345-1289; [email protected]
COST: $3,400
DATES: September 23-October 21, 2000

If you'd rather spend nine non-VO2-max hours a day on the trail, consider Ibex Expeditions' Unknown Great Himalaya Trek. Veteran trip leader Bruce Klepinger begins this exploratory trip at a barren 13,000-foot trailhead in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh and ascends to an 18,000-foot glacier. Participants spend at least a week navigating the snowfields and camping on the ice amid dozens of 20,000-foot peaks before descending into Himachal's rocky Spiti district. Long closed to outsiders, the course crosses parts of an ancient Tibetan-Indian trade route dotted with 2,000-year-old monasteries. The trip also includes an optional six-day extension for those who want to tackle another 18,000-foot pass and wind up on a tributary of the Ganges.


The Trans Canada Trail
WHEN TO GO: May-September
MILEAGE: 10,000

When Canada turned 125 years old in 1992, burgeoning national pride led outdoor enthusiasts to dream up an integrated hiking trail running from St. John's, Newfoundland, to Victoria, British Columbia, with a dogleg up to the Arctic. No one has yet tackled the entire route, namely because maps and trail linkages are still in the making. Which means that a unique distinction awaits the intrepid adventurer willing to embark on some seat-of-the-pants route-finding across the third-largest country in the world. "It runs through remote grizzly territory—and be aware of wild cats," warns Geoff Kloos, spokesman for the project. "There also can be hundreds of miles between resupply points." Call the Trans Canada Foundation in Montreal at 800-465-3636.

New Zealand's Te Araroa Trail
WHEN TO GO: December-March
MILEAGE: 1,500

Linking the North Island's Cape Reinga to the tip of the South Island at Bluff, the Te Araroa is so inchoate (it opened in 1998) and untracked (at press time, two British hikers were attempting the South Island section's first test-run) that route-finding and food drops are likely to give as much trouble as any of the 6,000-foot passes and 200 miles of ankle-turning beaches. Complete the route, however, and you'll be rewarded with the most diverse terrain on earth: white-sand coasts, blasted volcanoes, glutinous rainforests, and glacier-carved fjords. In most sections, Appalachian-style huts are available, but tents and food drops are required. Contact the Te Araroa Trust at 011-64-9-378-4873 or



Strength/endurance: "The trails aren't like those in national parks," says Mike Duncan, a 1998 survivor of the Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash Adventure Run. "There are no switchbacks. It's straight uphill." To prepare, he and Reinstein both recommend basic ultraracing training—especially hill-running—with at least one 20-40 mile run each week. The hill work helps develop your quads for the 32,000-foot total elevation gain.

Mental Fitness: "Most important,"says Reinstein, "is doing long runs on back-to-back days. You need a kind of training that builds the body and the mind." That mental toughness will pay off when you're awakened at 5:30 a.m. in subzero temperatures to begin the day's run.

Environmental Challenges:
Expect rain, snow, and every other type of precipitation. The route itself can be slick and frozen over, and exhausted runners may be prone to hypothermia in the thin, cold air. Deal with it.

Skills: There's no substitute for logging the miles, and ultramarathon experience is a necessity. The more ultras you've run, the better prepared you'll be during that four-day stretch of running nearly 20 miles per day.


For Inspiration:
The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz. A Polish cavalry officer who was sent to the Soviet gulag in 1939, Rawicz escaped and walked 4,000 miles to India and freedom. It'll put your slog up hypoxic Dead Woman's Pass on the Inca Trail into perspective.

For Practical Know-How:
The Complete Walker III, by Colin Fletcher. The standard—and indispensible—trekker's bible.

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