Bikepack Ausangate; finally, to Cusco.

(The following account dates from way, way back in September… Much has happened since then, including a return to New Mexico, and an exodus to Ecuador. But before I can play catch up, this post concludes my attempts at dirt roading the length of the Americas, 2009-2014).

Erstwhile at While Out Riding…

Pitumarca – Ausangate – Upis – Tinki – Cusco

Onwards from our Cusqueñan Railway Adventure, Miguel and I turn our Pugsleys mountain-wards once more – towards Ausangate, the headline attraction of an Andean sub range 130km south east of Cusco. Ausangate’s reputation precedes it – the hike that encircles this 6384m peak is reputed to be amongst the most beautiful in the country – up there with the very best of the Cordillera Blanca and the Huayhuash.

And my expectations are certainly met in full. I can imagine no finer finale to this journey across the Americas. The two day bikepack that skirts its south eastern flank encapsulates everything I love about mountain bike touring – it’s remote, challenging, heart-wrenchingly beautiful, and features some of the most sublime singletrack I’ve ever ridden…

Thanks to both KB, author of Hiking and Mountain Biking in the Sacred Valley, and fellow fatbiker Kurt for the inspiration in riding this memorable route.

If you would like to keep up with where I am between tardy blog entries, I keep my While Out Riding Facebook page more regularly updated – along with posting extra photos and gear ponderings. You can find it here. Occasionally, I pop some pictures up on my Instagram feed. And if you haven’t overdosed by then, I’ve also started a While Out Riding Tumblr edition, focusing on photography. 


In preparation for the mountains ahead, we spend the night in Pitumarca, dining on roast chicken, and filling our boots on fried egg and avocado sandwiches come morning. Then pavement peters out to dirt…


… on a road that proved surprisingly busy, thanks to the rambunctious election campaigns unleashed across Peru. In an ear-bleeding call to arms, they rouse sleepy villages with their megaphone-blaring roll calls, brazenly repainting them with their political slogans.


Thankfully, it’s not long before we’re leaving it all behind…


… to be joined by more reserved road companions.


Up, up…


… and up.


Like clockwork, afternoon clouds converge.


They pelt us with pebble-sized hail that has us seeking shelter under a makeshift tarp, where we’re bombarded beneath the plastic sheet to the soundtrack of cacophonic drum roll. Yes, the rainy season is truly here.


But this is what fat bikes are for, right?


All is forgiven, as we continue our climb on singletrack.


A steep and sludgy trail whittles down to gorgeous singletrack, but Ausangate remains shrouded by mist, offering only brief glimpses of what lies in store.


Given the weather, we decide an early camp at the foot of our first pass, sheltering out of the wind behind one of the stone houses in the petite farming community of Ausangate itself.


A windy night ushers in morning, and with it, wall to wall blue skies.


We offer salutations to our neighbours the alpacas.


Cuddly fellows. If I could catch one.


And throw some scraps to our canine friends. White Dog.


And Black Dog. Both are handsome hardened Peruvian mutts, of the kind that generally take chase. After coaxing them over, Mike showers them with attention. From their reaction, we suspect it could well be the first time they’ve ever been petted…


Out comes the coffee sock, in preparation for the climb ahead.


Looks like the alpacas have already had theirs.


Oh yes… and there’s that view.


And this is the lady who owns the house behind which we camped. Note full sized sheep stashed casually in shawl…


After a short heft, we’re back on the bikes. Choose your own trail…


They’re all good.


Well… most of them.


Hefting a bike up a 5000m pass is one way to clear out the lungs. We pause every couple of hundred metres to ponder the daunting task ahead.


But when we crest it… What can I say?


Perhaps the most gorgeous descent I’ve enjoyed in all of South America.


A veritable gem.


Frozen in time.


Señor Miguel, of Yorkshire, England. It’s been a delight to ride with you, compañero.




Past lakes, like Puma Cocha…


… to our second pass, Arapa Apachi, which hurdles us over to Upis.


Sadly, cameras are stowed from here on, as an afternoon storm pelts us with mores rain and hail, leaving faces red and raw… But trust me, the riding remains as good as it gets…


From Tinki, just a 130km stint on pavement lies ahead to Cusco… And with my arrival there, the end of this adventure.

This is the end

For now, at least. There’s still a few more blog posts to come – some gear reviews, thoughts on touring on a fatbike, and some Patagonian reports that I neglected to publish. And plans are afoot for further adventures at While Out Riding, so please visit again.

In the meantime, I’d like to send out my heartfelt thanks to anyone who has helped me, in any shape or form, over the last five years. Thank you for checking in to the website, leaving comments, sending me pizza money, riding with me… Your kindness is enormously appreciated.

29 thoughts on “Bikepack Ausangate; finally, to Cusco.

  1. Mike Howarth


    You certainly know how to go out with a bang!

    What a beautiful adventure, one which will stayed ingrained in my memory for years to come. Big mountains, great company, and incredible riding.

    Glad to see some life in the old blog. You have creating an incredible and inspiring resource for many other cyclists in the Americas. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    See you up north!

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Thanks Miguel.

      It will be hard to ever better our shared ride in Argentina, Chile and Bo-li-via!

      Let’s pedal again soon!

  2. southwestbackcountry

    I trekked there in 2000, and have been awaiting this post for quite sometime. I had initially wondered if you had gone through from Sicuani/Qquehuar and Sibinacocha, but am impressed and psyched for you to have gone through there. Certainly a S.A. classic. Great pics.

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Thanks. I’d love to know if the whole loop is rideable… Certainly, there’s a lifetime of riding to go back for in Peru.

      In the meantime, I hope to have more opportunities to explore the beautiful South West.

  3. Myles & Miles

    Lying here festering in my pit back in England watching the drizzle patter the windows. I was in need of some motivation to face the day and do my ankle exercises. This post has certainly got the blood pumping again. An incredible selection of shots that show the Andes off to their best. What a ride! I now find myself sad I did not meet that lady who was able to carry full grown sheep on her back. I would have swept her off her feet and let her bring me fresh sheep to play with morning, noon and night.

    I wish you happy adventures for 2015 however large or small.

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Myles, for sure, you guys would have been a match made in heaven. I will send you her GPS coordinates.

      I wish your poorly ankle a speedy recovery, and look forward to seeing you in Blighty – or yonder – in 2015.

  4. Neil

    Well done Sr Gilbert – a beautiful post to round of an epic tour!
    And what a route to end it all on – Peru throws up more mind-blowing riding… I’m itching to know when you’ll be heading back there again – surely you can’t resist for long?
    nos vemos en Brizzol

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Well, I still need to finish the Peru Divide, right? I had to leave something to come back for…

  5. paul g

    Brilliant. This was my last stretch of serious riding in Peru as well, done on the advice of mr howarth, killer route and what a fitting way to wrap things up!

  6. Alex Ball

    It’s wonderful living through your words and images. I’m wishing i had a copy of the book you referred to to read up on before I left home, as I have no idea what to do in Peru, so i just bought the ebook. Are there any gps co-ordinates or track notes you would add? I hope to get a bit of Peru under the tyres in april-may after hitting the Patagonia and jumping up to Bolivia. Many thanks again, I hope to meet some fellow ‘packers’ on the road/offroad to travel with, I’m in Santiago for a few days before catching a bus to Puerto Montt and heading South if anyones reading 🙂

    On another note, do you still use Gaia GPS to lookup route options and help navigate?


    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      The book is great for inspiration. Unfortunately, we found a bunch of glaring inaccuracies when it came to distances and spot heights – Kurt and I had the same experience on a few of the other routes we followed. On the whole though, the route notes, though vague in places, are useful to have, and should get you through. We didn’t find a gpx track to follow (though there could be one online if you dig around) but I did use Gaia to help navigate – even if the basemaps for this area lack much detail. Most of it makes sense though, and we bumped into some locals who pointed us in the right direction on occasion. If you hit it in the peak season, there may well be some hikers around too.

      But yes, I still definitely use Gaia and Google Earth – both great resources. My Pugs was set up with dynamo hub, so keeping my iPhone topped up was rarely an issue – the main downside of smart phone over a dedicated GPS.

      If you haven’t done so already, sink your teeth into, which will lavish you with more than enough ideas and information on the best parts of Peru for mountain riding. The Peru Divide is especially recommended – it comes complete with route notes and gpx files. And in case you haven’t heard, the Pikes (of Andes by Bike fame) have just published a book on hiking and biking in the Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash region – definitely worth grabbing a copy if you want to explore the area in detail.

      All the best!

  7. Brad

    Fantastic finish to an amazing adventure. Thanks for all the inspiring posts and beautiful photography. This blog has always been a great reminder of the adventures that await any aspiring cyclist.

    Wish you the best on your adventures to follow. The end of one only marks the beginning of another.

  8. Sam

    Cass, whether they be backyard adventures, or thousand mile overland treks, I look forward to riding along on your next adventure wherever it may be!

    Sam in Montana

  9. Logan

    Stellar ending to an incredible trip! I recall stumbling on to your blog ‘While In Researching’ for our pan-Am trip… definitely a game changer! Hope we can catch up and ride together one day.

  10. Jake

    just checked in for the first time in a year or so. Thanks for your epic journeys. Many times of inspiration.

    -jake in portland, oregon

  11. Montana

    Rad trip man, and this site is a great resource. Raced the divide last summer, and I’m looking to continue that line south next fall (but definitely not at race pace).

    Oh, and I know the blog isn’t dead, but long live the blog! Tumblring and all that stuff is fine and good, but words make the pictures better. Happy riding.

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Thanks Montana. The Mexico Divide won’t disappoint, I’m sure.

      Sadly work is eating into blog time… but it will bubble back to life eventually!

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Bike + gear + food was about 35kg. But that’s including a computer to work from, DLSR camera, cold weather gear, and everything I needed for a multi-year trip. And my Rohloffed Pugsley. So not exactly ‘bikepacking’ light, but pretty reasonable given how long I was travelling for.

      They’re front panniers, so not too big. I just carried light and bulky stuff in them when I could. I now have some smaller, more minimal Porcelain Rocket Micro Panniers. Ultimately, I prefer small panniers over wearing a backpack – and sometimes I posted them onwards when I didn’t need them. If I hadn’t been for the computer and camera gear, I wouldn’t have needed them. But the camera and computer kept me riding!

  12. Holly Borowski

    Hi! I’m heading to Peru this December and found your blog post while looking into some options for bikepacking in the area. This looks amazing! If you see this comment, I was wondering if you’d be willing to chat via email about your experience in the area and on this route? If so, I’d love to hear from you. Thank you!


  13. Conrad

    Hi Cass, a friend pointed me to your blog because she knew I had plans to bike the Ausangate trail – and what a find, I could spend a few days browsing here!

    Two questions if I may, about the Ausangate trail: I’ve got a fatbike myself, but some of my fellow travellers haven’t. Is it feasible (in dry conditions) on a normal mtb?
    And is there a terrain of permit-related reason why you skipped the detour along the Vinicunca (rainbow mountain)?

    Thanks again for the stories & pictures, great blog!

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Hi Conrad,

      Hi Conrad, You’ll a more detailed write up of the Ausangate trail here:

      And better yet, a nice gpx file of the most rideable parts of the loop here – recorded earlier this year, so more up to date.

      On hindsight, I’d recommend riding it in a anti-clockwise direction in line with the second gpx track. Also, miss out the very last pass to exit the route as suggested. There’s also notes on working in a side trip to the rainbow mountain.

      Any capable mountain bike is absolutely fine. The most important thing is to pack as light as possible and dig into those climbs! With acclimatisation and some tenacity, surprisingly little has to be pushed. It’s a fabulous, albeit challenging ride.

      All the best,



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