‘Why Hiking Macchu Picchu Was The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done’

For those of you who haven’t read my #wellnessjourney column in the print edition of Women’s Health yet—Hi! I’m Marta Topran, the beauty director at WH. Over the past several months I’ve been working with a trainer and doctor to improve my overall wellness. Here’s my latest report from ten months in.

What’s kept me motivated on this healthy new path for nine months? Focusing on what truly matters to me—like where my body can take me, not what it can wear.

A place I’ve dreamed of going? Machu Picchu. I didn’t want to just see the ruins; I wanted to celebrate my newfound strength by taking a hike through the Andes to get to them (not knowing I’d find a whole new kind of strength within me). Now, I’m all for adventure, but not for totally roughing it. Enter Mountain Lodges of Peru’s 7-Day Salkantay Trek, a guided tour with daily hikes, plus nights at cozy lodges along the trail (hello, hot tubs and delicious meals). I mean, it’s still vacay, right?

Peru Prep

My strength coach, Adriana Couvillion, put me in beast mode with four HIIT sessions a week to build my cardio (check out the exact workout I did here), plus incline tread walks. I felt ready but still scared of a variable I couldn’t control: the altitude. There was a 15,200-foot pass on the trip! My doctor, Gabrielle Lyon, DO, and I decided I should take Diamox, an anti–altitude sickness Rx.

Where should I go on my next adventure? 🏔 #tbt #whstrong #experiencemlp

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Trek Time

No joke, within the first 15 minutes I felt like I was going to pass out—I saw spots and couldn’t catch my breath, the air was so thin. I was desperately trying to keep up.

Thankfully, our incredible guide, Leo, told me to go at my speed. So I swallowed my pride and took breaks when I needed to (read: frequently). The next day I huffed and puffed uphill (when I wanted to give up, I’d tell myself, “I deadlift 225 pounds—I can do this!”) to Lake Humantay with its unreal turquoise waters. There, an Andean priest led an offering, called a despacho, to Pachamama (Mother Earth) to bless our trek. We each made a wish. Mine: to believe in my strength.

Only candid I’ve ever liked of me. Taking in the beauty of the glacial waters of Lake Humantay after a heart-pounding climb. It’s hard not to feel so small in these magical mountains. #whstrong #experiencemlp #salkantaytrek #humantay #doingthings

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Facing My Fears

I was so nervous, I barely slept the night before our hike over the notoriously difficult Salkantay Pass. We spent the crystal-clear morning hiking alongside a roaring river and grazing cows on the mountainside—it was so pretty that it seemed fake, like a movie screen.

“My head started to feel like it was in a vise. Each step up became harder and harder…”

Later, my head started to feel like it was in a vise. Each step up became harder and harder…and then the freezing rain hit. We got pounded. I couldn’t go 25 steps without stopping. Five hours after we began, we reached the top—cold, wet, and exhausted. But the battle wasn’t over. The four-hour descent to our next lodge was rough. The trail was so slippery and steep. My left knee was screaming, and I fell crossing a river. But I did it—at my pace—without emergency oxygen or a mule ride.

15,200ft. Still can’t believe I did this, but my sore body is definitely reminding me that I did. #whstrong #experiencemlp #salkantaytrek #salkantaypass

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Finishing Strong

I was next-level sore the following a.m., but I pushed through. The fifth day, I freaked—how could I do two more days of 10-mile hikes? I had to look in the mirror, tell myself I could finish, and shadowbox to psych myself up.

By those last days we were in lower altitudes, so I could breathe again and ended up loving the hikes. When we arrived at the train station to head to Machu Picchu, I couldn’t believe it—had I just done that?!

I am still in Peru and this is probably the best picture I’ll ever take. ————— My man, Santos, casually spinning yarn with Humantay in the background, while I try to catch my breath after walking a few steps in the 14,000 foot altitude. . . . #peru #humantaylake #travelphotography #andes #highaltitude #photography

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The Wonder of It All

The energy at Machu Picchu is indescribable. It made me think about our ability to do the seemingly impossible. Looking back, I realize this trek wasn’t a test of my physical strength so much as my mental fortitude, something Dr. Lyon and I have been working on by breaking old patterns.

I couldn’t have done this life-changing experience without my brain telling me to push through and stay positive and confident—even if my body wasn’t. Cliché though it may be, I truly believe if we set our mind to it, we can accomplish anything. Now, where to next?

Want to see more pics and videos from my trip? Head to my Instagram, @martatopran, and click the ‘Peru!’ bubble on my story highlights.

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