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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

How to Prepare for Our Treks:

A lot of Dragons students haven’t heard the word trekking used in context before. I want to provide some details about our upcoming treks in the Andes so you are prepared.

Trekking is hard.  Our treks in South America may be one of the hardest things that you have experienced.

Two summers ago, I chose to take off five months in order to hike the Pacific Crest Trail: the 2,650 mile-long trail that runs from the U.S. border with Mexico all the way to Canada.  I had done quite a bit of trekking in my life, but it obviously still kicked my butt.  I want you to be more prepared than I was.

One of the challenges that we face at Dragons is trying to explain and illustrate to students what trekking– as well as rugged travel and homestays– is really like, especially to those students who have never really experienced it before.  Looking at your profiles, it seems like some of you have trekked before: in New England, in Utah, in the Spanish Pyrenees and the Swiss Alps, and even on the John Muir Trail/Pacific Crest Trail (yay!).  But many others, probably the majority of you twelve students, don’t have experience with trekking and, probably don’t really understand what it entails.  There’s no shame in that!  We are excited that you are excited to experience it.

The first thing to know is that trekking is different from hiking.  Hiking often entails a few-hour jaunt on developed trails, with a return to creature comforts afterwards.  Trekking, on the other hand, often entails a full day (~8 hours) of walking and scrambling through broken, rugged terrain, exposed to the weather thrown at you, carrying food, water, clothes and everything else for days or weeks— without the availability of showers, a laundry machine, or a plush sleeping situation.

Our current trekking plan, so you can prepare:

  • On day 7 of our course (February 14) we will start a 3-4 day trek in the mountains of Toro Toro.  This will be a moderate-to-difficult trek, and we will be carrying our gear in backpacks on our backs (i.e.: the trek is not “supported”).  We will be with one or two local trekking guides.
  • On day 42 of course (March 22nd) we will begin a big seven-day trek in either the Cordillera Real or Cordillera Apolobamba.  This trek will likely include animal support (i.e. it is supported) which will carry some of our gear as well as group gear, and guides who will help set up a kitchen tent for us to prepare food. This is will be a strenuous trek.
  • On day 57 (April 6) we will likely be doing another big seven-day trek in Q’eros. This trek will likely be supported (with llamas!).  It’s a more remote so we have to gauge the readiness of the group.
  • There will likely also be some opportunities for day-hikes, as well as the opportunity for you students to build trekking into your final expedition phase, if you want.

A quick discussion about language.  Most of us in the developed niceties of the U.S. have never actually experienced real hunger, real cold, real thirst, or real discomfort.  That means we don’t have a lot of perspective about those things and what they are like.  On our treks (as well as other times on our course) you will— some of you for the first time— experience some level of discomfort.  Many of you might be inclined to yell out things like, “I’m starving!”, “I’m freezing!”, “I’m dying!”, etc.

But, don’t do it!  Instead, you should practice moderating your language and your internal thoughts to reflect reality.  You aren’t freezing, you are cold, perhaps for the first time in your life.  You’re not dying, you’re tired and sore, maybe for the first time in your life.

How to prepare yourself for trekking:

  • Make sure you have good gear.  You need good gear for trekking.  It should fit well, be broken in, and you should know how to use it.  Take it out for a test run now so you understand how it works.
  • Get yourself healthy and fit.  Go walk a couple miles a day until our program starts.  Stretch.  Do sports.  Go workout in the gym.  Train your body.  Eat right, sleep well.
  • If you feel like you don’t really know what trekking is all about, do some research!  Talk to someone who has done some hard treks.  Read some articles on the internet; watch some videos.  You could read or watch “Wild”— Cheryl Strayed’s book/movie about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
  • Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally.  This is actually the most important piece.

A common mistake that folks make is to over-prepare themselves physically and with gear while overlooking the single most important factor of success in trekking: mentality.  Make that muscle between your ears strong and fit too!

Discover Your “Why”:

This can’t be understated. Finding your why is the single most important tactic for achieving success on treks.  Uncovering your why is what builds an intrinsic drive, and thus, will help you to enjoy the journey, or at worst, find meaning in the struggle. Although grinding through millions of steps is honorable, to master the mental game, the focus should be on maximizing happiness.

To know your why is to know your purpose. It’s a snapshot into the emotional state of what brought you to trek in the Andes in the first place.  When battling dehydration, heat exhaustion, a smell coming from yourself that just won’t quit, and an array of huge blisters, it’s hard to remember why you’ve subjected yourself to such a lifestyle. Instead of letting your emotions be at the mercy of volatile environmental factors, it’s important to arm yourself with a rock-solid foundation.

We’ll accomplish this by writing down (not just thinking or saying) the reasons you want to trek.  I want each of you to come on course with these written in a notebook.  I’ll be checking!

  • I want to totally rock some big treks in the Andes because…(your reasons for doing it)
  • When I successfully complete these big mountain treks, I will…(positive outcomes/effects)
  • If I were to complain or bring negativity to the group, or request an emotional evacuation, I will…(negative repercussions)

Take at least thirty minutes to reflect on and complete this list.  Be vulnerable.  Confront your demons. Go deep.  Work that you put into this practice now will yield huge motivational dividends during our days and weeks in the backcountry.  Your lists not only have the potential to turn a frown upside down, but it can make the difference between quitting on your goal and persevering.

A final note: trekking is a challenge.  Trekking with a group of sixteen or more people (which we will be) is even more of a challenge.  As instructors, we have a limited ability to influence or steer the group culture that you students bring on trip.  So, bring a good one!  Bring a ton of positivity for challenge, as well as readiness to practice emotional and social intelligence, kindness, and empathy!  At times, our group will struggle, particularly while trekking.  But you cannot believe the feeling of accomplishment and joie de vivre which will be ours when we come out, together, on the other side.

With excitement,


P.S. Included are some photos from Jeff’s fall 2017 Andes & Amazon treks to get you psyched!