The Inca king pointed the way, his gilded arm gesturing north-west from atop the fountain in Cusco’s Plaza des Armas; this was the bearing I’d follow from the navel of the world to the terraces of Machu Picchu. Unusually, my Inca Trail began right here, in the city square, weaving new routes from old ways. The Inca created around 18,640 miles of pathways during their brief tenure as overlords of South America. The 26 miles leading to Machu Picchu – the classic Inca Trail – receives most of the attention. But I was tackling a new trek, using alternative routes (and a few road transfers) to connect Cusco and the fabled lost city. Andres Adasme, Mountain Lodges of Peru’s head of adventure, masterminded the “Black Diamond” route. “Twenty-five per cent of the route is on lightly used trails, 25 per cent is on little-used trails, and 50 per cent is absolutely off the beaten path,” he told me. I was sold. So, in a small group led by guide Guido, we began walking from Cusco. The route has its downsides – in that, it’s all up, and quickly (pre-acclimatisation is essential). Climbing past the gargantuan stones of Sacsayhuaman fortress, through rural green into spiky ichu grass, we were soon at a 14,000ft pass, being battered by hail to boot. But it was thrilling to leave the city on foot, following tourist-less footpaths to end at a private camp on Piuray Lake, drying our boots by the fire, watching the stars appear over the mountains. This was one of our wilder nights. The 10-day adventure would include a few sleeps under canvas, offset by more luxurious lodge stays.