07.02.2003-07.28.2003 Huaraz, Peru to Huanuco, Peru|
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|I spent a few days in Huaraz resting and arranging a trek into the Cordillera Blanca. On the second day I found a trekking partner in Dave, an Irishman living in Seattle. With Huaraz's wide variety of outfitters we were able to quickly hire the requisite gear and the next morning we were off to the trailhead for the Santa Cruz trek. The first day we followed the narrow Quebrada Santa Cruz. The views opened up on the second day as we continued up the valley towards the towering Taulliraju. We camped close to the base of Taulliraju on the second night, a site that ranked as the best camp site of the trip. The third day brought more memorable views as we ascended the 15,500ft. Punta Union pass. A welcomed descent to lower elevations followed, accompanied by more stunning mountain views. We finished off the trek the next day and received a special treat on the bus ride back to Huaraz, as the road punched through the rock at another high pass and dropped through several thousand feet and dozens of switchbacks before arriving at the beautiful Lake Llaganuco.
My original plan had been to cross the Blanca shortly after Huaraz but I had been feeling lousy since the start of the Santa Cruz trek and rest in Huaraz only seemed to make me feel worse. This opened up another possibility--a detour south to the Cordillera Huayhuash. This would delay the high pass for several days and allow me to get a taste of what is considered one of the best treks in the world. The road out of Huaraz climbed gradually, eventually taking me into some of my favorite scenery--wide, open grassy planes backdropped by snow peaks. I crested a 14,000ft. pass before turning on to the gravel road to Chiquian. As I rounded the first bend I caught my first glimpse of the Huayhuash Range. There have been many moments on this trip where I've arrived at a place and been especially glad I'd done so on bicycle. The moment I first saw the Huayhuash Range was one of those moments. I stopped many times on the descent to appreciate the views as the setting sun and changing cloud formations changed the appearance of the range. Chiquian is a friendly mountain town but with the recently improved mining road to Llamac it was no longer the base for treks into the Huayhuash and therefore gringos were, welcomingly, scarce. The next day the road continued to descend, eventually dropping to river level. I traveled downstream for a short while before climbing into the Llamac valley and heading upstream. The stiff climb was offset by the stunning views and friendly villagers. I had the rare feeling that I might be one of the first cyclists to tour this road.
I arrived in Llamac in late afternoon and found a pleasant, unspoiled(lack of electricity helps) mountain town. As I struggled to push my bike through Llamac's ancient cobbled streets I sensed a somewhat cold welcome in the stares of the townfolk. However, by night time this had worn off and I was being greeted by everyone. Gear rental was not an option in Llamac so I accepted the services of a guide/porter, a decision I would later regret. My guide, Nico, and I set off the next morning. We hiked out of the Llamac valley and into an adjacent valley. As the day wore on the snow-capped peaks that I had first seen from afar began to bear down on us. At the end of the day we had arrived at the Shangri-La-like Lake Juhuacocha. This campsite surpassed the site from the Santa Cruz trek not only for backdrop but also for sound--thundering avalanches brought the valley to life several times each hour. The objective for the next day was to hike up to an overlook which would award us with commanding views of the valley, its snow-capped peaks and the turquoise lakes that dot it. This is when I began to doubt the capabilities of my guide. The three and a half hour hike soon turned into a six hour scramble, most of it over14,000ft., as my guide tried to find the elusive overlook. We never did find the overlook. In exchange for this service I was paying him a daily fee, renting his backpack, buying his food, cooking his food, serving his food and housing him in my small tent. I was not happy.
As I had ridden from Huaraz to Llamac I was told repeatedly that it was impossible to go past Llamac on bicycle. The road ended in Llamac. The mountains were too big. The friend folks in Llamac thought otherwise. The road did indeed end in Llamac but a donkey trail continued to the next village where the road began anew. As part of my trekking "package" I had booked a donkey to carry my gear through this section. The day after returning from my trek I loaded my gear on a donkey and hit the trail with the donkey driver, again Nico. I thought I might be able to ride the trail with my nearly weightless bike. This was folly. I should have hired a donkey for the bike as well. After schlepping my bike over many rocky steps the sight of Pocpa was welcomed indeed. On the other side of town I happily loaded up my bike and bid farewell to Nico. I was free at last. The day turned into one of the most epic days of the trip. The mining road climbed steadily through increasingly barren and scenic landscapes. After 14,000ft. I had to stop regularly and bury my head in my handlebar bag to get the oxygen flowing again. Soon walking entered the cycle and after 15,000ft. I was no longer cycling. I walked(stopping to rest regularly) the remaining 500ft. of elevation gain to the pass at Cuncush. It was an intense moment, the views of the two valleys leading away from the pass overwhelming me. Since morning I had only seen two trekkers, several shephards and a handful of vehicles. I reflected on my fortune. The new mining road had opened up a beautiful piece of the world to bike touring but perhaps few would have the opportunity to share my experience. More mining and development were likely to follow and I doubted the area would retain the character I had been so lucky to witness.
The descent to Huallanca was steep and rough. I took a hard fall in the first miles and became extra precautious afterwards. The fall seemed to have knocked out whatever energy had remained in me after the climb--I found myself walking up every little incline. I was thoroughly exhausted by the time I arrived in Huallanca but the town's tranquil setting and its friendly populace lifted my spirits. I struggled to get out of bed the next morning, fatigue and soreness from the previous day's fall pleading with me to stay put. But I was on a schedule. The week before I had booked a flight home to the States to surprise my dad for his 60th birthday. I needed to be in Huanuco in two days to catch a bus to Lima, from where I would catch a flight home. This propelled me out of bed and on to the road. The road alternated between good and bad gravel, passing from one river valley to the next. Eventually the road was just plan bad--lots of rocks, often buried under an unprotective layer of dusk-like dirt. I arrived in Chavinillo well past dark, covered in dust, walking my bike. The next morning, feeling more fatigued but less sore, I mustered up the energy to get myself up to one last pass. There was a village at the pass and a fiesta in progress. I was approached by one of the revellers and asked to take some pictures. As a rule(and out of respect) I don't take pictures of Indians but this was an opportunity not to be missed. I hopped off my bike and joined the fiesta, camera in tow. I took a few pictures and was then invited to the dance floor, a piece of dirt in front of the band. I did a little jig to the music but had a hard time finding the groove. I suspected a healthy dose of the local brew would help but a 6,000ft. drop on a rough road awaited me. I said my thank-you's and commenced the descent. After several hours of hard braking I arrived in Huanuco. There I hopped on a night bus to Lima. The following night I boarded a plan to the States.
When I arrived in Minnesota I was exhausted, a condition which probably helped to ease the shock of going from remote Andean villages to the modern world. I first surprised my mom and then, in case the surprise party already planned wasn't enough, surprised my dad. The party was a grand affair and gave me the opportunity to get caught up with family and friends of the family. Spending time with my sisters and my niece rounded out the week. And then, just as quickly as I had gone from the Andes to Minnesota I returned to the Andes and the town of Huanuco.
|Distance||Elevation Gain||Flat Tires|
|Leg||232 mi/373 km||19620 ft/6437 m|
|Trip||13478 mi/21690 km||151 mi/243 km||17||