(113) The great Divide Pt 2
The last few days had been tough, really tough and yet some of the most amazing scenery I had seen. I was however really tired and losing weight fast. I needed a day off but where I was wasn’t the place to have one so I needed to keep going over more mountains until I could find somewhere I could rest. The question was where?
Monday 15th June
Sleeping in a restaurant was the last thing I had expected but the bed I had was so comfy and added to that my sleeping bag and I was so snug. The lady got up around 6.45am and started in the kitchen while I pulled up the extra blanket and enjoyed the warmth of my bed. I got up around 8am and packed away my things being still hungry I ordered the same as I’d had the night before. While I sat in the restaurant area checking my things I noticed two hummingbirds doing some sort of display. It was fascinating to watch as they shot up in the air hovered and dropped back to the trees.
By the time I was fed and watered it was just before 9am with the sun still working its was down the steep mountain side and trying to light the valley. I was on the road by 9 but with the lack of hard shoulder I had to stop from time to time to let trucks past. With one eye on the road and one on my mirrors I kept climbing towards the turn off where I would be free of traffic.
The railway line clinging to the side of the mountain
The road climbed steadily with the odd switchbacks and a railway that crossed the pass with it. I had read a little further on would a pass and also the highest passenger station in the world with the junction just before I knew I would miss it but I did get to see some of the mine trains clinging to the edge of the mountain. As I climbed I reached the mining town which didn’t look much but the mountain they were working on looked incredible.
The mines here go down 4km
It was all colours with roads zigzagging everywhere. I got chatting to a worker who said they extract copper, iron and platinum. Although I suspected gold as well if iron was being extracted. He also told me the mine went down to the same level as Lima which would be 4,000 metres. It was hard to think it went down that far knowing what it looks like to look down 2,000 metres from a pass and just couldn’t imagine a mine that deep. I set off again and soon reached the junction where I would need to turn off. It was another ripio road but this one was in great condition. It felt cold with the wind and with clouds getting thicker I just hoped it didn’t snow again.
Looking back to the highway and the mine with all its colours
Mining trucks were heading back to one of the many mines
The road was good with a nice gradient up to Abra Antacassa took me up to 4,880 and looking back with all the colours you could think of was incredible. It felt good getting there just after one giving me plenty of time to get to Marcapomacocha.
Abra Antacassa 4,880m
I started the descent and with mining trucks coming up I slowed to let them pass. I reached a bend to see a mountain appear in front of me that looked incredible. Covered in snow that lead to a glacier surrounded by different coloured rock and grass was mesmerising.
As the clouds moved across the sky it left amazing shadows and colour changes
The valley opened out in front of me and I slowly descended sticking to the left. It felt cold descending and every time I had a small climb my legs protested. I was
shattered and just wanted to stop. I was still a few miles from the small village and a small climb.
Finally the descent into town
I kept stopping to regain my energy but I’d had enough for the day. I kicked myself up the backside and climbed the last 100 metres past the dam and into town and found a place to stay. I had wanted to go a little further but I needed to rest now. The last seven days I had ridden 260 miles and climbed over 10,000 metres most of which on gravel roads. I had wanted either one or two days off before this section but not finding anywhere I just needed to carry on. I picked up a few bits in town and went for dinner in the locals restaurant.
My hotel for the night which was a bit tricky getting my things up the narrow stairs
It was good home cooked food that I needed but I also needed to sleep for another big day tomorrow.
Tuesday 16th June
I got up around 7.30am wanting an early start but the truth was I was exhausted. I hadn’t been stopping for dinner as I was always under pressure to get over the high passes and down to a height that would be warmer allowing me to sleep better. I wasn’t sure which was the worst evil but what I did know was I was losing weight because of it and weight and fat I needed. I loaded my bike and set off out of the village around 8.30am having had a cooked breakfast. It was around 10 miles to Yantac with a bit of climbing but it was cold with a grey cloudy sky that made it worse, I felt so tired making every hill feel hard and every down hill slow. I reached Yantac and stopped for another meal as it would be the last place for about 100km to have food cooked for me so I made the most of it. I left feeling full and happy in my head that I was putting something back in but all it seemed to do was give me indigestion. The climbs kept coming along with the headwind although neither were big which helped and so I slowly peddled on into another world.
The strip to the left was a pale green band of rock then the yellows and reds from the mine to the right were incredible
It frightened the life out of me and I would have laughed at myself for jumping so much but I was tired and my legs hurt. After reaching the pass of Abra Alpamarca at 4,710m I new I would be above 4,500m for about 40 miles so I wanted to cross a couple more so I could get down to around 3,700m where it would be warmer.
Abra Alpamarca 4,710m
With time ticking I headed for the second pass and dropped to a concrete aqua duct with a road next to it. I followed this for a few miles which felt amazing riding on a pretty much flat road which is almost a rarity in Peru until it reached a river where the climbing started again. After reaching high point I dropped to another road and the next push to the second pass.
With the sky’s looking blacker the more I pushed on the more I wondered whether I would make the third. The colours of the rocks were incredible but with a grey sky hiding the sun their true glory would be masked. I reached the second summit around 3pm which should give me time to descend and make the climb the other side but moving between the mountains in front of me was a thunder storm.
The next pass went right through the gap in the middle of the photo
As I descended I wondered if I could get in front of it but the more I dropped the closer it got. I looked for a place to camp and managed to get the tent up and everything in the dry before the main down pour. It lasted about 45 minutes before the sun started to come out and dry anything that had got wet. I thought about trying to get over the pass and down but I was tired and maybe someone was trying to tell me to stop and rest.
With the sun out I could relax in a warm tent and enjoy a good tea
It was nice in the sun and a good time to wash rather then the usual standing naked shivering in luke warm water after the suns set. With tea on the go and a hot cupper in hand I sorted my things before the sun set. Being just under 4,700 metres it would be a cold night unless I was prepared. I just hope this extra rest does me good. I can’t wait for a rest day.
Wednesday 17th June
Even before I fell asleep I cold feel ice in the fly sheet. I was however snug in my my sleeping bag and with a down jacket on a little to warm. In fact as the night went on I had to remove my socks and down jacket to cool down. I knew though at some point I would need to put it back on as the hours before sunrise are normally the coldest.
When the sun did rise it was hidden behind thick cloud making the cold start colder. It did clear by the time I’d had breakfast which should have been a yogurt and chocolate balls which I’d been looking forward to but unable to find the yogurt I made do with bread and jam while the fly sheet was drying.
With the sun out the colours became more viberant
The view from my camp and the descent to the start of the pass which goes right in front of the red mountain
I cleared the tent finding the yogurt which annoyed me as I had eaten the chocolate balls and got ready to go. I still felt a little tired but the extra rest had done me the world of good. I set off down to the lake and rode around it to the start of the next climb to the pass and as I did a truck full of miners pulled up and wanted a picture.
It was really great to meet these guys
They asked me lots of questions about my ride so I asked them a lot of questions about the mines. They were really nice guys and made a change to not seeing anyone all day. I rode on and reached the Abra Mio at 4,760m just after 11am and started the descent down to 3,710.
The road down was ok but with washed out gullies and large stones I had to be careful. The scenery was as good as ever and the further I dropped the more animals I came across. At one point I rode slowly into a large flock of sheep when a lamb ran up to me and tried to suck my rear pannier.
The mum looked quite embarrassed her son thought an ortlieb pannier was its mum
Continuing on the descent the rock formations and the scale was amazing
It did make me laugh and with the mum looking at me as if to say I’m it’s mum and anyway you look nothing like a sheep. I lifted the lamb over my bike and on to the side where it’s mother was. It eventually got the hint and ran off with its mum. After riding on down switchback after switchback I reached the turnoff and started the climb. It was really steep at first but levelled out enough to remain steep enough to gain height but not to steep to be really hard.
I put some music on and climbed mainly in first gear up what was basically a track surrounded by high vertical rock faces and blue flowered hillsides with cows and donkeys grazing.
By 2pm I had climbed 600 metres of the 1100 I had to climb but with the sky’s getting thicker with dark clouds I pushed on. I stopped now and again to grab a few biscuits to keep my energy up but I was feeling pretty good.
These rock outcrops were around 1000 metres above the ground
With 300 metres left to climb a crack of thunder echoed through the mountains and could see it was coming my way, I knew I had to get over the pass before it hit otherwise I would freeze.
The summit just after the hail storm
As I grew closer to the summit the storm got closer to the point when I rode in the opposite direction on a switchback it would start hailing on me. With a few hundred metre to the top the hailstones started in full force. I wanted to be over the top and had heard that on one of the summits it got really muddy. As I started the descent the other side I realised yep it was this one.
The mud was like glue stopping the wheels from turning and blocking the mudguards
It had hailed just enough to turn the road into sticky clay which brought me to a standstill and even though I was going down hill. Having to clear it from my wheel a few times I finally got going and reached a river where I could get the worst off. It was everywhere but with the little time I had I got off the worst of it and pushed on. Once I had cleared the muddy section and climbed up onto the side of the next mountain the descent became clear.
Looking back to the next incoming storm
How I love mud
With the sun now going down I headed down what was like a good farm track with no big stones, holes, gullies or deep gravelly bits and was incredible. I could descend at speed on the side of the mountain with the valley dropping away far off to my left.
After about an hour of fun I reached a village and rode through hoping to get to Huancahuasi. It didn’t look that far away in the GPS but by the time I reached the turn off it was dark. I reached Pilcoy and asked if there was a place to stay but with a nowhere and Huancahuasi only 4-5km up river I thought I would just push on in the dark and get there. The road wasn’t steep to start with then I entered a massive narrow gorge and the sound of water thundering down to the right of the road was incredible. As I climbed the road became really steep as it negotiated it’s way up and over and around the many waterfalls. I just wished I could have seen it in the light but knew i was doing the right thing. After half an hour I reached a small village and found a place to stay. With my bike in the room I asked if there was a shop. The owner sent me off with their four year old girl and on the way I asked what stars were in Spanish. I think this distracted her as we were heading out of the village. I asked where the tender was and she pointed back to the village so we turned and went back. Once I’d got what I needed the owner cooked me tea and I even had a beer to wash it down. With thermal pools only a mile up the road I thought it would be a good time to take a day off and relax. I still had a few big passes to climb and a thermal pool with a break might do my legs the world of good.
Thursday 18th June
Waking up knowing I had a day off felt great and knowing I was going up to the thermal baths felt even better. I pottered around for a few hours not really doing much when the owner told me she was on her way up there and would I like to join her. We set off with her daughter who was lovely and enjoyed me chasing her around and also her friend who found it hilarious she was with a gringo. We reached the baths where they stopped and set up camp to sell drinks to the locals while I set off for my soak. It felt amazing but with it being so hot it was’t long before I could only bare laying on the side and dangling my legs in.
You could even have your own private pool
It did however do me good to stop and relax, taking the time to watch a couple movies and do nothing. It was something I needed and was well overdue
Friday 19th June
Knowing I had a high pass to get over I got up early and packed away my things. Once I’d had a quick breakfast I said goodbye and was on the road by 8.30am. It had been so great to stop and have a break and knew I could have done with longer but with no internet and needing to work on my days off I knew I had to get going. I climbed up and past the thermal pools following the river until the valley split.
looking back towards the gorge
I headed north and continued to climb the steep narrow road that would bring to the small village of Rapaz high above the valley floor. At this point I had climbed just under 800 metres reaching 4,000m and still had around 950 metres to go.
From Rapaz although I would drop a little the road became much better and had probably only just been graded and rolled. I put some music on as I knew I was going to be in the saddle for a little while longer before I reached the summit. Although it remained fairly steep the road condition helped until I reached 4,600m where I turned off for the mine. With the clouds building I thought I was going to get wet when I heard an almighty crack of thunder. I immediately jumped out of my skin as it was so unexpected then saw black smoke rising from behind the mountain feeling a little relieved that it wasn’t thunder and so started the last push to the summit through the numerous switchbacks.
Abre Rapaz 4,950m and a rainbow off the incoming snow storm
With soft sand and large rocks it did make for slow going but I reached Abra Rapaz at 4,950 metres at 2.15pm. I was so pleased I had started early as it gave me plenty of time to get down and into Oyon. As I had read in some notes I dropped in towards a mine and met by loads of trucks.
I was told this was a tiny mine
They were all really friendly but I did get the impression they didn’t want me there. I swiftly climbed out the other side and arrived at an 8ft high gate that looked locked. I sized up the fence but on closer inspection I saw that it wasn’t and passed through.
Safely through with out being blown up
I went on and climbed the last bit to the ridge and descended on a nice road to a junction where from here the road was sandy and rocky which wasn’t a great surface to descend on. With a couple more short climbs out the way I dropped a little towards a few aggressive dogs one of which ran towards me from in front. I quickly thought of Amanda and so with my best growl I heading his way and chased him as he disappeared off down the side of the mountain which did make me chuckle. With loads of time I dropped slowly trying not to hit to many rocks or holes and tried to enjoy the scenery when I wasn’t concentrating on the road. I reached the town and turned off for the centre when I was told I had to go around due to building work. When I saw the road drop lower I decided I had done enough climbing for one day and chanced it.
It was amazing seeing the dust off all the trucks coming down the pass
The town of Oyõn in the distance
Luckily paying off I reached the centre and looked for a place to stay. With pretty much every hotel closed I went to the first one I saw and was shown to a lovely room. The owners were nice and the shower was very hot. All I needed was to eat and sleep ready for another big day tomorrow. It had been a good days climbing and again the views didn’t disappoint.
Saturday 20th June
Seeing as I woke early it felt pointless laying in bed as I wanted an early start. I packed my things and went downstairs for some hot water. When they brought out breakfast I knew then it couldn’t have been 15 soles for the night and must have been more like 50 soles. With nothing I could do about it now and to be fair it was a particularly good shower and comfy bed I took it as a lesson. I was on the road by 8.30am and made my way out of town towards the first pass but a water truck had beaten me to the road making the road a sticky messy.
I dropped at first before the road turned up the valley towards a few small villages where the truck hadn’t been. I knocked off the worst of the mud every few minutes and finally reached the junction where I turned off. It lead me up a narrow gorge with water running at speed to my left. It was great to look at but with the road being sandy and stony it was hard to get a good grip. Weather it was the road surface or just me but I was tired and felt tired all day.
The views were as good as usual with all the rocks seeming to be covered in glitter and couldn’t stop looking at them. I seemed to stop a lot to either regain my balance from a rock, a sand trap, have a biscuit or just rest but it did give me chance to admire the shiny rocks that lay everywhere.
Punta Chanca 4,850mts
The lake and the colourful mountains on the north side of the pass
The road down past the mine
After a lot of perseverance I reached Punta Chanca 4,850mts at 2.30 pm which gave me enough time to descend past the mine and climb up the next. With it being Saturday there was little movement in the mine which left the road clear for me to relax and look around. I dropped past the mine and on down through the green valley then climbed to a high point before dropping to a river crossing to begin the climb to the next pass. I knew the top would have great views as I could just see the top of a snow capped mountain every so often. The pass was frustrating as it would weave in and out of Combes but barely climb.
The snowcapped Huayhuash mountain
After a couple hours I did reach the summit of Paso-Pacomayo at 4,550 where I could see right down the valley with views of the huge snowcapped Huayhuash mountain to the right and various size peaks poking up from a valley that dropped way down further then I could see.
With plenty of time I started the long descent to Cajatambo which was lucky as the road was shocking with large rocks and sand meaning I wasn’t going to go anywhere fast.
The scenery was incredible but descending was hard work on the whole body. I reached a point about 250 metres above the town and stopped for some lunch.
It was good to stop and warm up in the sun but with it rapidly going down I needed to get on and into town. By the time I reached the town I was freezing cold, my wrists were killing me and was glad to stop. The first place I found had a nice room that was cheap and just what I wanted. I would have a long descent tomorrow followed by a big climb so I needed to rest. In a few days I would be back on the tarmac and although I’d had an amazing experience I was tired and losing weight fast. The divide was incredible but I was looking forward to an easier ride.
Sunday 21st June
After being woken in the middle of the night to say the bus was there and did I want it, however tempting it was I did wake up early to try and get on the road. For some reason even though I was ready I didn’t leave the village until 9.15am.
The climb before the drop into the abyss
If you look carefully just above the green fields there is a large blue bus. This picture shows less then a 1/6 of the pass on the other side just to give an idea of scale and there are no safety barriers
With a slight climb out and a few ups and downs I came to the main descent and slowly started to drop. It was a long way down to the river and the road I was on zigzagged it’s way around the contours deep into the valley below.
This is the road I will be taking down to the valley floor
I could feel the temperature rising and the sound of insects became louder. I had seen the odd dead snake on the road which was a good indication I was getting lower and warmer, reminding me I needed to be careful.
The mine entrance is the tiny hole next to the road on the right
I passed a tiny mine that was on the side of the road and so I stopped to ask the workers what it was for. They were very nice and told me it was for platinum and with out any freebees I said goodbye and headed on. The road from the village was much better and allowed me to keep a nice speed without killing my wrists or my back. Once down near the river the road followed it down stream and on through a narrow canyon. It was incredible to see the colourful rocks rise up and out of sight but with huge rocks in the road that had fallen it wasn’t a place to hang around.
Making my way towards the narrow canyon with large rocks that have fallen from high above it wasn’t a place to hang out
I reached the junction where I crossed the river around 1pm after dropping for about 35 miles and turned off onto the less used road. It was not only hot but a grader had been through spreading loose sand and chipping. It not only made it hard to ride through as I sunk in but with the heat and weight of the bike hard to stay straight.
The road followed a different valley up to a bridge slowly climbing with a few ups and downs until I could see where the road climbed up the side of the mountain. Even from where I was down by the river it looked impressive.
It was incredible the difference climbing in the shade
I reached the bridge which was around 1,200 metres and started up the long climb knowing it wasn’t going to get done if I just looked at it. The road was sandy and steep to start with but soon the gradient eased and I could get in to a rhythm. As I climbed I went round one bend when something caught my eye. I wasn’t sure at first what it was but then saw it move. It was a snake all be it a small one about the thickness of my index finger and 3/4 of a metre long. It was soon out of sight and reminded me I must start checking my shoes. With the mountain now obscuring the sun climbing became easier with it now a little cooler. As I got higher I could hear an engine labouring but with nothing in sight I pushed on towards where the road went around the edge of the mountain. As I neared the bend I spotted something in the road that looked like a young tarantula catching an insect.
It was incredible to see and know he didn’t want to eat me
Along with a few other strange insects I had seen that day I knew I had to be careful. With a few more hairpin bends and the sun slowly going down I knew I had timed it right to get to Llipa. I climbed the last few metres into town and asked for somewhere to stay. I was pointed in the direction of a municipal hotel at £3 for the night and then had to use the guys phone for a light in a shower as the hotel water was off. All I needed now was to eat and with the only women in town who cooked playing volley ball I joined in until she had got something ready. By the time I had eaten I was still hungry but with nothing else in this tiny village I brought some biscuits and went to bed.
Being around 50 miles from the main highway and two big climbs to go I was almost in a place that I could chose what I ate and how much, I just had to stick at it.
Monday 22nd June
Although my room was nice the fact the mattress was new and still had it’s plastic on firstly was noisy when ever I turned over and second it seemed to make me sweat which wasn’t that nice. I woke around 7am but wanting a bit longer to rest I waited until 7.30 to get up. Today I had two climbs of around 1,000 metres with a descent in the middle. I went to fetch my bike which took longer then it should’ve due to the key not working and finally set off around 9am. The road out of the village was so steep making it hard to keep a straight line and the road up to the old village that wasn’t any better which got really steep on the bends where there is normally a build up of gravel.
However steep these roads were it was incredible they were there in the first place
Sticking at it and battling the heat I slowly climbed above Llipa and on to another small village of Rajan. As I climbed up through the village I spotting a tiny shop with a donkey outside and thought it was a good time to stop for a cold drink and rest. Two cold drinks later and a couple packs of crisps which are a rarity in the mountains I set off again for the last part of the climb before I descended.
Looking back down to Llipa and the green that surrounds it
The road didn’t go over a pass but stuck to the hillside rising and falling, going in and out of Combes but as a reward for my hard work I was presented with the view of the snowy Huayhuash mountains that would normally be hidden if I wasn’t so high.
Is was amazing to see and watch it disappear as I dropped and reappear as I climbed. After a little climbing then a long descent to the start of the second climb around 3pm I knew if I was going to go for the top it wouldn’t be in day light. I reached a small village that wasn’t on my map and asked if I could buy something to eat. After being swiftly shown to a building in the square with the door open I was then brought two pieces of fish and rice. It was just what I needed and would save me cooking. Once I’d finished I thanked them and headed up out of the village only to then have to ride back because I’d left my glasses behind. The road from here was gentle with few steep sections allowing me to cover the distance and climb. With the sun getting lower on the other side of the mountain the shadows now getting much bigger with the white peaks of the mountains almost glowing. Wanting to reach the top I rode on watching the white peaks turn orange then slowly fade into a pale grey.
Slowly losing light the sun made sure I was left with something amazing to look at before night fall
The road continued to climb on with a few steep bits that I could only see with my lights on. It was still fairly bright under a quarter moon and thousands of stars but I couldn’t quite make out the sand traps and knowing there was a thousand foot drop to my right I knew I needed my lights and thought it was wise. With about a hundred metres of height gain to the summit I spotted a good place to camp and decided to call it a day. Still fairly east facing it would be a good spot for sunrise to dry the tent and get a good view of the mountains in the morning. With the tent up and everything inside so I didn’t have to worry about snakes or spiders I made my way to a small waterfall to wash. It was freezing but so refreshing which was just what I needed. With a short climb tomorrow followed by a descent to the highway it would mean the end of the great divide which has been so tough but I will look back with a smile pleased I had done it. I now can’t wait to get my things back that I sent on so I can wear clean clothes again.
Tuesday 23rd June
Not bad for a morning view
As the sun rose though the sun soon turned my freezer into an oven so I took the fly sheet off to have breakfast. I was not only 9 miles from finishing the great divide and getting back onto Tarmac I was also 9 miles from completing 23,000 miles since leaving Norway and again would feel strange on my own.
Last climb before the descent to the highway and the end of the ripio
Conococha and the end of this tough section back on tarmac
With little climbing left as I had done pretty much all of it yesterday I set off on the short climb where the landscape opened out into a wide flattish valley with the Cordilla Blanca mountain range rising up in the distance. With a short climb I reached the last high point and descended to the road. Over the last two weeks I had ridden 520 miles of dirt roads and climbed 20,545 metres and crossed I think 14 passes.
23,000 miles in the bag and the end of the great divide
It had been incredible but the sight of the Tarmac was amazing. I set off into a headwind just to make sure it wasn’t to easy and took the road for Huaraz. With a slightly down hill other then the odd climb here and there I was flying and it felt amazing. The snow capped mountains were mesmerising and before long I had ridden 40 miles before dinner and only had 22 miles to go. Deciding to make the most of a small town and it’s restaurants I had the usual menu and set off for Huaraz. I couldn’t get over how easy Tarmac was and having averaged around 1,500 metres of climbing a day any hill felt like nothing.
By the time it was 3.30pm I had covered 62 miles and looking for a hostel. It took a while to find one with internet but after searching a while I found a clean comfy one with bathroom and good internet. After a nice long hot shower I went out to treat myself to a meal and a couple beers. I couldn’t believe how far I had covered on the map because of the Tarmac and wondered how much more dirt roads I will need to do but for now I was here to rest, eat and work on my blog.
I was so pleased to get to Huaraz and have the time to stop. It had been two and a half weeks of some of the toughest cycling only really comparable to Lesotho and yet it had been incredible. With only having time to eat one meal a day and sometimes not even that so I could get over the high passes safely had meant I had lost a lot of weight to the point I was worried.I knew once I had finished this section that I would recover but would I have enough fat to get me there. There was however something incredible about this route and I think being on a dirt road had something to do with it. Riding in places I wouldn’t normally tour with very little or no traffic, having to lift my bike over fences along goat tracks had put me deep in the middle of an incredible world with just the sound of the wind, the odd sheep, llama and of course the thunderstorms but there was a real sense of grounding and being at one with the environment around me. Tarmac is incredible but with it you loose so much that would normally line the edges. Imagine being on a country lane then compare it to a highway and you’ll get somewhere near. Add to that snow capped mountains so steep I couldn’t work out how the snow held to its face, then to look deep into a valley so far down the wide river below looks more like a piece of black cotton. With the bitterly cold wind with flakes of snow hitting me on the back and the side of my face. Yes I was cold but I felt amazing. to be here having climbed over these passes and look at the world was incredible and the only thing I wanted was to share it.
Thanks for reading xx