As part of the new website launch, I’ll be trawling through old posts and refreshing them with larger photos and updated text. I’m starting with a one of my favourite rides in the Cordillera Blanca, a loop from Huaraz to Quebrada Rajucolta.
Peru boasts massive dirt road touring potential. It’s vast and varied, with excellent access to re-supply points. Peruvians themselves are almost always warm and welcoming. Larger metropolises aside, it’s also a very safe place to travel independently. I spent several months last year weaving my way down dirt roads in north, reaching the Cordillera Blanca, where I settled in for some more in-depth exploration. Later this year, I hope to continue where I left off and push on down into Bolivia.
During the few weeks I spent in the Cordillera Negra and Blanca, I obsessed about exploring almost every quebrada in the area – each seemed too spectacular to overlook. My final quebrada foray may well have turned out to be the best of them all. In fact, if I had to recommend one mini-bikepacking trip in the Cordillera Blanca, this loop out to the little-visited Laguna Rajucolta would be it.
The reasons are threefold. Firstly, the views of 6300m Huantsan are magnificent. Next up, the singletrack is remote and testing. And lastly (particularly appealing to those who don’t revel in hours of bike portaging), it’s almost completely rideable – with just one relatively mild 40 minute hike ‘n bike to contend with.
Standard issue breakfast to kick of a bikepacking trip: porridge oats mixed with flax seeds, bee pollen, nuts, raisons and cinnamon. Delicious/nutricious.
On my ride out of town, I stock up on a handful of finger bananas from Banana Wheelbarrow Man.
A half kilo of tangerines…
And some fresh wholemeal bread from the Bread Ladies.
A chunk of cheese to see me through the next couple of days.
Then it’s time to begin the inevitable climb, riding out past the city cemetery, straight onto dirt.
Dirt and rocks, that is. For now, I’m back with the CST Caballeros. The loose, rocky riding in the Cordillera Blanca is hard on tyres, so I’ll eek out as much life as I can from them, before moving on to my new set of Geax Akas.
Rising quickly above Huaraz.
A change in vegetation.
After a short stint of climbing, the views open up, offering a fresh perspective on the avenue of quebradas – gorges – that have been so occupying my time these past couple of weeks.
You can see them clearly on this topo map too. Reaching out like the fingers of a hand, each quebrada leads to a lake and a massive glacial wall.
Then I find myself on little used, grassy track, heading towards Macashca.
In turn, this shrinks down to a narrow, loose gully…
Soon, I’m back in the Huascaran National Park again, altitude 4100m.
My companion at the park entrance.
And his buddy.
Quebrada Rajucolta comes complete with a ‘road’ built all the way up to the lake, and the 6395m peak of Huantsan.
Sections of it are under water.
Hm, where to camp. Decisions, decisions…
Plenty of mineral water to hand. No purification necessary.
Laguna Rajucolta, 4300m.
A small building by the lake houses an employee of Duke Energy, a US company that runs the hydroelectric projects in these parts. Hector invites me in for tea and a bowl of jelly – a Peruvian favourite.
A cold night ensues. As you can see, it’s only a short distance to get here, but they were hard-fought kilometres.
First light the next morning.
Me and my red nose thawing out.
My chosen spot.
Strong winds gust up and down the valley, so I anchor down the Tarptent.
Heading back out from whence I came.
A lingering look back.
Rather than backtracking towards Macacashca, I turn off onto singletrack again, following a trail that links me to Jancu, Quebrada Shallap and Pitec – without dropping down to the valley floor.
Rideable in places, it’s just a 40 minute hike and bike up from the river, which you can see down below. Not so easy with my fully laden bike – but do-able.
My super stiff-soled Shimanos are looking worse for wear, stripped of almost all their grip. Definitely need to rethink my hike ‘n biking footware choice.
ack in the saddle, riding across beautiful, lonely pampas.
And digging into supplies. Officially, I’m dairy free. But local cheese and ice cream have tested my resolve.
Just when I needed it, I bump into this lady herding cows to check directions.
Spongy under tyre.
How’s that for a trail…
A steep, rocky descent leads me down to Januk, home to these characterful thatched dwellings.
Then I’m back on more sublime singletrack once more.
Plenty of rockgardens keep me occupied, en route to Quebrada Shallap.
Skirting round beautiful dry stones walls.
Finally, I emerge back onto a dirt road at Pitec.
I spend the next couple of hours picking my way down to Huaraz, via some of my favourite singletrack I’d previously explored – and trying to uncover new trails.
Back in the city.
A block of chocolate cake from my favourite bakery sets me back less than a dollar. Perhaps not the best food for muscle recovery… but it sure tastes good.
The Need to Know Bit:
The whole loop is about 75km – depending on how you make your way down to Huaraz. It took me 7 hours of riding or so, plus intervening hike ‘n bikes, and routefinding.
I rode out of Huaraz via La Cruz, up past the cemetery, following singletracks towards Quebrada Pariac. If you stay on the left side of the river (rather than heading for Macashca) you can follow trails much of the way up to Laguna Rajucolta. Persevering up to the lake is well worth it, for views of 6395m Huantsan. From there, it’s simply a case of backtracking out of the park, and looking for the well defined trail to the right, just out of the park entrance. This will link you with Jancu (via a 30-40 min hike) and Pitec – almost all of which is rideable, and beautiful singletrack at that.
You can do it in a long day, but I always enjoy camping out – even if it means lugging round a bit of extra kit.
Better still, you could link up with ride with other quebradas in the area. There are plenty of boulders to hide a bike at the foot of Quebrada Shallap, if you fancy hiking up to the lake there. Or you could head into Quebrada Quilcayhuanca, a personal favourite.