A cardiac nurse specialist at Abergavenny’s Nevill Hall Hospital has raised over £1,200 for a local heart charity by trekking the challenging Inca Trail in Peru.

Sarah Howard, 49, from Pontypool, swapped her NHS scrubs for hiking gear last month to raise funds for the North Gwent Cardiac Rehabilitation and Aftercare Charity.

“It was tough – mentally and physically,” says Sarah, who tackled the trail with her sister Melanie, aged 52, also from Pontypool. “It’s probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and there were points when I really had to dig deep.”

The 28-mile trek took the sisters 4 days to complete. “The trail is really rugged, with some terrifyingly sheer drops at times. And you can get four seasons in a day – boiling hot and humid in the rainforest, moving to freezing cold and icy at the top of the mountain passes – so you have to carry all the right gear, and enough water for the whole day: at least 3 litres.

“And because it’s so high – 4,200m at the highest point – you really have to slow the pace down. But there are amazing views along the way, with Inca ruins, incredible waterfalls and herds of wild llamas!”

The final day of the walk saw Sarah and Melanie up at 3am to trek the last few miles down to the famed “lost city” of Machu Picchu. “Getting to the entrance, the Sun Gate, that morning was really emotional: I just burst into tears,” says Sarah. “I think it was the culmination of everything – all the years of planning, and then having this fantastic experience that was just way better than anything I’d imagined.”

“And of course I’m really pleased that people have been so generous with their donations to the North Gwent Cardiac Rehabilitation And Aftercare Charity. I thought I was being ambitious setting a £1,000 fundraising target. So to have raised £1,236 for them is just brilliant.”

Charity Chair Jacky Miles MBE says: “We’re delighted to see Sarah back safe and sound after her epic trip, and very grateful to her and the many people who’ve donated through Just

Giving. The money she’s raised for us will help us continue our vital work supporting heart patients across the North Gwent area.”

* The North Gwent Cardiac rehabilitation and Aftercare Charity provides ongoing weekly cardiac rehab exercise classes at 10 locations across North Monmouthshire and Blaenau Gwent. To find out more, go to cardiac-rehab.org.uk or call 07856 692148.