Cycling the 2nd Highest Mountain Range in the World: Cordillera Blanca

Having most of our gear stored in Huaraz, Mike and I headed off to tackle 263 km’s over 6 days around the beautiful Huascarán mountain (the highest mountain in Perú) for a total of 5,446 m in overall elevation gain over 3 passes with a maximum elevation of 4,982 m at the top of Punta Olímpica!

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going light

 

Knowing this was going to be a highlight, we left most of  our gear stored in Huaraz to tackle the hills with the bare essentials.

 

Ice cream

 

The town of Carhuaz is known for their ice cream meaning you HAVE to try it. Flavor “tuná” or cactus fruit.

 

Hostal

 

Our first stop in Carhuaz to get a good sleep before heading into the mountains to climb.

 

 

Primus

 

Trying out our new Primus Stove courtesy of Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC)! Loving that it can use butane canisters, so much cleaner and super excited you can find them in Huaraz.

 

 

UP

 

The first tell tale sign that we are headed for the hills.

 

Huascarán

 

Entering the National Park of Huascarán, the highest mountain in Perú at 6,768 m asl

 

 

rest side of the road

 

With the rain holding at bay we stop at the side of the road with a perfect view for a snack and a break before there is more climbing to be done.

 

 

Night in the pampas

 

Our first night in the tent was spent alone in the pampas, at the base of our largest climb to Punta Olímpica also at the beginning of a sendero “hiking trail” to the town of Yanama. We arrived just before the rain to set up the tent, later the skies cleared and we were treated to an elegant display of lightning bugs and the noise of the nearby stream and distant cracking glaciers.

 

 

Burros

 

We shared the pampas that night with a few friendly, curious neighbors.

 

Rain in tent

 
As the rain set in we had nothing to do but make funny faces at the camera.

 

Wake-up call

 

The next morning we woke up to this face nosing around at the tent as if to say “get up you have no idea what you are missing”.

Waiting for the sun
After a cold, rainy evening we awoke to a stunning clear morning. We sipped our tea/coffee and waited for the sun to reach across the valley and warm us.

The long climb up

 
That morning we started with climb up to Punta Olímpica. I think I counted over 20 switchbacks in total.
 
 
Seeing Huascarán in the distance
 
 
As we reached the top of Punta Olîmpica we could see Huascarán in the distance. It’s not that big.
 
 
 
The new tunnel
The tunnel at 4,736 m asl was completed this August. Travel time from Carhuaz to Chacas used to take 9 hours and now with the pavement and the help of the tunnel this cuts down the travel time to 2.5 hours. In addition, prior to the pavement and the addition of the tunnel this used to be one of the most deadliest roads in the world and was featured in the TV Program “Hell Roads” or “Carreteras Infernales”.
See the clip below.
 
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Virgin Mary
We bypass the tunnel and opt for the old road and the original pass  that is now closed off to vehicular traffic. On the way we observe the Virgin Mary statue that watches over the roads in memory of all those who have lost their lives and to ward off the dangers of the road.
Punta Olímpica
 
 
 
We finally reach the crest of the pass that is narrow and snowy.
 
4,907
 
 
 
At 4,907 m asl is officially the highest we have been on the bikes.
 

 

 

The decent
After any pass there is always a down and just like the front side this one had a series of switchbacks, all the way down.
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down
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Stunning lake
The new pavement and tunnel now bypass this placid lake which we were fortunate to pic-nic by in solitude.
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Up the road to Chacas
The downhill didn’t last long until we were climbing up the roads again to Chacas. We spent the night in beautiful Chacas and with clear skies we headed out the next day to round the circuit on our way to Yanama.
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Andes Lodge
We spoiled ourselves by staying at the Andes Lodge in Yanama where we were greeted by a friendly family, a king sized bed complete with a beautiful down duvet and excellent home cooking.
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View from Andes Lodge
We were also rewarded with the stunning scenery of the surrounding mountains right from our bedroom.
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Hard to leave the comfortable bed we set off the next day bound for Laguna Llaganuco, the weather had held up until we summited our last pass where the snow started falling then piercing hail. We did have a fleeting opportunity to view the lakes below for a few seconds through the clouds.
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Lagunas thorugh the mist
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Riding along Laguna Llaganuco
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Rewarded by another beautiful day we rolled off down the road on our last day along Laguna Llaganuco.
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Quenua tree
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We passed several of these Quenua tress, endemic to the area that add a stunning jewel like quality as their bark stands out so clearly along the rocks and lakes where it grows. Down from the lakes we headed towards Yanguay our last destination which was mostly downhill from where we had camped. Yanguay unfortunately has a very dark past, in 1970 a chunk  of mountain broke off and instantly wiped out the whole town burying almost all of the
25 000 inhabitants.  Little indication remained but it was quite sombering to visit the town.
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Anxious to return to Huraz we hired a station wagon taxi to take us back, avoiding the busy main road after days off blissful no traffic on back-roads,  where we celebrated with a monumental incredibly tasty dinner out.
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Details for this adventure can be found on MapMyRide including GPS information and route.
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Check out this map on MapMyRide: Cordillera Blanca
Distance: 262.79 km
http://www.mapmyride.com/pe/huaraz-ancash/cordillera-blanca-route-320596361
 
 
 
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