(92) where rainbows are made
After a hard but beautiful ride along the pan american highway next to the Pacific Ocean and having the chance to watch the stars close up, It was time for the pass we had been worried about. Having only climbed to 3,000 metres a few weeks previously this one was going to be a breathless 4,779 metres and starting from sea level. With only the odd image from google earth we knew very little about this pass and the secrets it held but knowing what I know now it was one of the most colourful, magical and stunning places we have ever been.
Having each other to share this experience will stay with me forever and will make me appreciate more of what is around me!I I hope you can do the same!
Sunday 18th march
After a lazy lay in but needing to get up before the sun poached us in our tent we got up and had breakfast before loaded the bikes. With Time on our hands we headed out into this town of Vicuna to get some food. It was so hot as we looked around town so we picked up ice-creams and arranged to meet up with Hueting who would be our warm showers host for the evening. He was a really nice guy and with him having to do some more work before we continued up the valley, we relaxed by looking around this pretty town at all the nice things we would like to buy but just picking up the few extra bits we wanted to get over the pass.
After a couple hours and agreeing on a meeting point we rode out of town and on up the valley towards the pass. We rode through this stunning valley of high rocky peaks and pisco grape plantations all of which made the most of any spare land.It was incredible how the road wound its way around peak after peak light a massive maze using the river as a guide.
riding along with the mountains getting higher
flowers bordering the pisco vineyards
As we rode through this amazing scenery met a czech couple who had been staying with Hueting the previous night.
They were a really lovely couple and a good help as to what the pass was like and where we could access water. We waved goodbye hoping we would meet again and went on stopping to pick up wine and ice-cream at a small shop. with it not being to far on to Hueting’s house we made ourselves at home and opened the wine. As we prepared tea and brought in our bags Tim spotted Huetings telescope. With a bit of knowledge on how to set them up, tim took it outside to set it up along side the dinner table and sat as the sun set and the stars appeared in there thousands. The sky was truly spectacular and with no moon for a while we got to see even more stars. Hueting was great company and even though we’d had a short day we were exhausted. With the climb proper tomorrow it was time to hit the sack ready for a long day.
The moon starting to light up the mountains
Monday 19th march
The alarm went off at 7.45 and with a monster pass ahead we dragged ourselves out of bed. Our bikes were loaded and we thanked our host for a great night. We got down some breakfast before rejoining the highway to see a thick layer of cloud moving up the valley. We had seen this type of cloud before and had always brought rain within a few days. This was great for the local people who hadn’t had any for almost 5 years but for us just for the next couple days could mean the difference between being allowed to cross the pass or even being stuck at altitude.
rain clouds looking like they could make our lives difficult
At a little under 4,800 metres any rain would fall as snow blocking the road and closing the border crossings and so not wanting to hang around any longer we got on our way. We rode on enjoying the view but wanting to get our heads down and cover as much distance as we could.
If we could pass the border control we could take our time knowing if it did snow we would have enough to survive but what we didn’t want is to be turned back. As we climbed so did the river following the road like an obedient dog, this gave us the peace of mind about access to water that we needed not only for cooking and drinking but was important to fight the onset of altitude sickness.
As the road wound its way slowly and gradually up the valley we were rewarded to a stunning spectrum of all different coloured rocks as the mountains climbed sharply on each side rising above us over 2,000 metres.
With the sky behind looking like it was raining in the valley we slowly rode on and as we climbed luckily for today anyway the clouds started to clear leaving a blue sky and a temperature of around 25degrees, but with the onset of winter we saw the local farmers making there way back down the valley.
here they come!
Although a great temperature to ride in we had a slight tailwind making it feel like there was no wind making us feel hot. As the time went on and feeling hungry we spotted a great place next to the river to have lunch and relax. We were both feeling tired and managed to take a nap. Tim saw something shining in the soil and we figured it must be very fine flakes of gold due the huge red iron ore mountains it was a perfect place to find it.
Sharon filling up from one of the glacial fed steams
After finding a few flakes it felt like we would have to spend along time there to make any money so we decided to ride on to the border. We were making good progress on the good road stopping for a short break and riding on to the check point. The officers at the border were very nice and told us that the border was closing in 5 minutes. We stamped out of Chile, filled our water bag and let the guards have a go on Tim’s bike. All they could do was laugh at the weight of the bike’s and shake their heads but for us it was nice to see them as kind people doing their job and having a little fun.
Wanting to do a little more we left the border and started the long gravel road up to the pass. With new gravel recently laid it was a bit tricky to start with having to weave across the road to find the best bits but after a few miles and reaching 2,380 metres we were happy to stop and pitch our tent next to the river. As we sat to cook and pitch the tent we were just in time to watch the colours fade from the mountains and the light fade for another day and to see another night under at blanket of stars.
Tuesday 20th march
Shaz always enjoyed breakfast
After a great nights sleep the alarm went off at 7.30 with a chill in the tent. It was 7 degrees but knowing how fast the temperature would rise we had breakfast and got going. Starting at 2400 metres meant it was going to be a tough day especially as it was a gravel road but as always Sharon had a smile on her face.
Shaz enjoying a selfie
topping up our bottles with amazing water
What was great was the scenery. The pass was called paso agua negra but what it should have been called it the rainbow pass. The colours of the rock formations the steep scree fields and the tiny plants holding on to the steep sides were magical. We reached the lake just after 1pm and stopped to have lunch.
ready for lunch, just need something nice to look at
At first we sat in the shade but with a cold wind blowing we moved into the sun to warm. We rode on around the lake slowly climbing being mesmerised by the changing colours. As we came round a corner we came across a German couple on a motor bike. The lady was taking a photo when Tim said hello frighting the life out of her but soon got her breath back. They were very lovely and very nice to chat to. They had rented their motorbikes in chile which had made it much cheaper to tour.
We wished them well and continued on through the most spectacular scenery with deep reds greens and yellows all bleeding in to different colours as they merged was breathtaking.
The mountain colours were just unbelievable and we just rode through smiling and wanting to pinch ourselves. how could a place be so stunning we just felt lucky to have seen it and feel it.
with every turn it just got better
We passed our maximum height we had ever ridden on this trip at 3250 metres which was on the black mountain pass in Losotho, Africa but we still had a long way to go. With the sun slowly sinking below the mountains and our bikes feeling heavier as we climbed we reached a road marker at 3,680 metres and pitched the tent.
good place to stop
We were surrounded by huge pink mountains of which we thought must be gypsum judging by the way the dust stuck to everything. It was a beautiful spot but at this height the temperature was dropping fast. With a quick wash and lots of screaming in the glacial fed river we came back shivering, quickly ate our food and climbed into our little home and rested ready for the last big push to the summit.
Wednesday 21st march
We woke up to ice on the tent and the temperature gauge showing minus 3. We had been warm enough during the night though with our thermal tops on. With the sun looking like it would be a while before it lit our camp spot we decided to pack up and get on the road to find a warm spot for breakfast.
enjoying a cupper with the sun slowly warming us
We rode for about an hour and found a great spot next to a river. We got going once again and soon passed the 4,000 metre mark with hanging Glaicers clinging to the mountains behind.The thing that made it harder from here on was the last stream turned away from the track and so not knowing where the next source of water was going to come from we needed to fill our water bag. Adding 1o kg to a bike at sea level was hard enough but at 4,000 metres it was like strapping on a baby elephant.
As we slowly climbed through the ever thinning air and this ever changing stunning landscape we stopped to chat to a German guy who was camping at the side of the road doing research on permafrost which sounded interesting and had been in that pretty spot for 4 days! he admitted it was very cold at night making us happy we had camped much lower. The scenery continued to be stunning and we stopped regularly to take photos and get our breath back.
We were coping with the altitude well and the gradient was gradual which made for a pleasant ride but once over 4000 metres the altitude started to take its toll. stopping to get our breath back wasn’t a problem as if gave us even more time to admire the beauty of nature.
good place to stop for tea
Shaz was stopped by a motorbike rider who was one of 15 who passed us that day he couldn’t believe we were cycling and admitted his 1200cc BMW motorbike was starting to misfire due to the Altitude. Soon after we stopped for lunch at 4,450 knowing we still had just under 400 metres to climb Shaz started to feel the affects of the altitude a lot more and laboured up the hill at a slow pace needing to stop every 200 metres. It seemed to take ages to get to the summit with the mountains turning more and more red it was incredible.
It was amazing how a road could be cut out of the side of this massive red scree field
Getting close to the summit!
finally at the top but what a ride!
With a few areas of soft sand and the odd steep section to push our lungs and heart to the limit we finally reached the summit 🙂 and we took some pics. We were so pleased to have reached this summit and Sharon was beaming from her achievement she was amazing!!
For some reason the sign was wrong but we didn’t care we had made it up the highest and longest climb either of us had done before !!
Arriving at the summit at around 4pm was amazing with the light casting stunning shadows but the temperature was already dropping. It was going to be a very cold descent with parts of it already in the shadows. We were gonna have to get a move on to get as low as possible so the temperature wouldn’t get to low at night and would warm up faster in the morning. Although the pressure was on the scenery this side was just as amazing along with the added extra of the remains of a glacier.
The road dropped steadily into a valley which levelled off at around 4,300 metres and continued out of the high peaks and a way from the Andes proper. As we descended we were passed by a few 4×4’s heading to Chile and couldn’t believe it when we saw a few driving with oxygen masks. looking at all the monuments at the top it looked like it wasn’t the first time the altitude had taken its toll and this pass wasn’t to be taken lightly.
It was gonna take a while to drop down to this road but we were going to be rewarded
As we dropped the colours started to change
With the mountain side being so steep we had to travel quite a way before we would return on slo
As we went on the temperature continued to drop and the shadows became longer and bigger, we weren’t losing much height as the valley levelled which worried us. wanting to get down to around 3,600 metres was our goal knowing it would be around – 10 but any higher and already shivering wouldn’t help us if we stayed any higher. Tim had to keep stopping to pump up his back tyre but with the ripio improving our speed increased but with the sun almost set and the valley in complete shadow we needed to find a good spot to camp and cook.
At 3,800 metres we finally found a good spot to camp after collecting less than clean looking water. With the tent up in record time we cooked in the porch as the temperature dropped and wrapped up hoping for a good nights sleep.
Thursday 22nd march
It had been a cold windy night up on the mountain but being below 4000 metres made it more bearable. Knowing we didn’t have to get over a pass today allowed us a lay in and with it still hoovering around zero we waited until the sun lit the tent before getting up.
It took longer then usual at get going as Tim had to locate the puncture he had in his back wheel that had been causing him problems the day before. With the offending piece of wire removed and a new tube put in and the old one put in the bag of ones to fix we continued on down through this amazing valley. It was interesting to have different rock on this side if the mountain which instead of reds, whites and orange. They were purple ,black greys and greens.
We followed a different river this time formed by the same cloud but landing on a different side of the mountain and ending up in different oceans. This one was less clear picking up different minerals slowly turning it to a green. We soon covered 20 miles and now on a rough Tarmac we reached a police checkpoint.
riding away from the mountains
They were nice guys giving us water to continue to the border. Riding on it would be another 25 miles until the border but with a good steady down hill we reached the border by 1pm. Once stamped out and enough water to make a cup of tea we rode a couple miles away from the border to have lunch. It was a great spot taking in the green valley the surrounded the river and the 5,000 metre peaks of the Andes.
It was another 40 miles to San Jose but with the light tail wind we had been treated to and the down hill we rode on thinking we may just make it. The road was good going as we travelled at speed to a large reservoir and a small town but as we got to within 5 miles the wind turned into a fierce headwind. Almost stopping us in our tracks we pushed on at around 5 mph slowly making headway towards the end of the dam and a small mountain range.
stunning rocks on the way to the dam
Sharon being pushed off balance by the fierce wind
The rock formations were stunning helping us take our minds off moving slowly. We climbed a small rise around the front of the dam and into a narrow gorge. It took us by surprise with high stone walls and a road that was cut into the steep sides. With the wind whistling through the valley it was tough and almost impossible through the narrow cuttings.
We slowly followed the valley and as the sun got closer to the horizon the wind began to drop. It was the chance we needed and so we got within 4 miles of the town picking up water at a mining company then finding a good spot off the road. It had been a good day even though we started after 11 we managed to clock up 68 miles.
With higher passes ahead we were now confident we were fit enough to tackle more and knowing how amazing the last one was we couldn’t wait until the next one. For now though we were shattered and we lay in a little home happy of our achievements and feeling so lucky we’d had the chance to experience such incredable beauty together.
Thank you for reading x