(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.
… 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.