29 July 2014

Cycling in the Cordillera Blanca: a loop around Huascarán

After a few days of rest in Carhuaz, we were itching to stop staring up into the snowcapped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca and actually start riding in them! There are just too many pictures from these five days in the mountains, so we present you with another blog in the classic pictures-tell-the-story format.

Leaving as much as possible in the hotel, our lightweight (or more accurately, lighter-weight) set up had us flying up the paved climb out of Carhuaz to Shilla.

As we continue climbing on the pristine pavement, Peru´s highest mountain, Huascarán, comes into view.

The road flattens out through a pampa at 3900 m, after which, the climb to Punta Olímpica starts in the form of the zig-zags which you can just make out in the distance.
Camped at 3900 m before the switchbacks, to better aid our acclimatisation, we enjoyed the afternoon light on the surrounding peaks.

The night views weren´t bad either.

The next morning the road had us climbing straight towards the glacier as we headed up to Punta Olimpica.

At 4750 m we found temporary shelter from snow and cold at the newly opened tunnel...
... but we opted for the old road, which climbs a further 150 m, traffic free.
At 4850 m Lucy started to feel dizzy (probably due to the altitude), so turned around and took the tunnel. Alberto finished the last 50 m on his own and took the mandatory picture at 4900 m. In both cases, it´s the highest we´ve ever pedalled.
Stunning views from the top of Punta Olímpica, but riding those tempting switchbacks will have to wait for another time, as Alberto joined Lucy retracing to the tunnel.
It was a cold but mercifully quick descent to Chacas, which is famous for its Don Bosco mission and artesanías. The Italians kindly let us stay with in their parochial house and even allowed us to eat some of their yummy dinner.

The next day, on our way to Sapchaa, we met French cyclist Laurent, on a tour of schools connected to the Plan charity.
We watched rain fall around the valley as we climbed away from Sapchaa...

...and at 3900 m, the rain caught up with us and we dove into our tent before yet another 4000m-plus pass.
The following morning we enjoyed a thrilling descent to Yanama, with a background of nevados in the distance.

Arriving in Yanama at 10am, we found ourselves craving chicken for breakfast. Luckily, this is a perfectly reasonable request in rural Peru and we left town an hour later fully satisfied.
Continuing on from Yanama, we hit another fast descent,

then arrived at the tiny community that is Vaquería, well known for being the start/finish of the popular Santa Cruz trek.

From Vaquería we climbed to the last pass of the route, the Portachuelo de Llanganuco, passing waterfalls as we went.
At 4300 m we called it a day and camped in another idyllic spot.

Air must be pure up here.

We woke up to overcast skies, that then cleared as we approached the last switchbacks of the pass. Chopicalqui stands out at 6354 m.

The views kept getting better...

...and better

Until we crested Portachuelo de Llanganuco pass at 4700 m.
Happy cyclists with the Huascarán Sur (left) and Norte (right).
The descent from Portachuelo was slow going, given the rough condition of the roads, but it gave us the chance to soak in the views of the nevados Huandoy(s), Pisco and Chakrarahu (left to right).
As we turned the first corner of the descent, the lagunas Llanganuco came into view in the valley below.
Chakrarahu´s (6108 m) steep ice wall.
A quick lunch by the lagunas...

... before we pressed on down a quick descent back to Yungay, completing a loop of the nevados Huascarán

Arriving back in Carhuaz after 225 km of hard riding in the mountains, we treated ourselves to our favourite home-made ice cream at Virgen de las Mercedes panadería.

Route notes:

It´s a well travelled loop around the Cordillera which you can read about in many other blogs such as here. There is no need to carry more than a couple days supplies. Chacas, Yanama and Sapchaa all have ample restocking opportunities. The Punta Olímpica Pass from Carhuaz to Chacas is all paved, with the exception of the old road going off above the tunnel at 4750 m. From Chacas the entire route is unpaved to Yungay. Route below:

1 comment:

  1. I want to state for the record that I am a huge fan of the pictures-tell-the-story blog format. The lagunas nestled beneath the nevados looks like something out of a fairy tale. Enjoy it and stay warm!