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Fri 14 July: rest day

Caraz market

Plaza de Armas

We strolled as far as the unexciting Tunshukaiko ruins.

Notes: There is currently no ATM in Caraz, but banks are willing to advance cash against credit cards. Nor is there a supermarket. Excellent fresh foods may be bought from the market, but their range is narrow.

In spite of these drawbacks it is a pleasant relaxed town, unspoilt by the 1970 earthquake, and with a warmer climate than Huaraz.

We thought Los Pinos the best place to eat (though we didn’t get to try Chamanna), while the huge portions at the Punta Grande were more than welcome. Café de Rat is a friendly gringo hangout, and Alberto who runs Pony’s Expeditions downstairs is a cyclist who is happy to give advice.

Sat 15: day ride to Cashapampa (2950m) (60km, 1250m ascent)

N. Santa Cruz

Cashapampa is at the foot of the Santa Cruz valley, a common trekking route. We rode up to it partly for interest, partly for acclimatisation, and in part to see whether the valley had any cycling possibilities.

It was a pleasant climb with good views of Nev. Santa Cruz along the way. Cashapampa itself swarms with biting flies, and the Santa Cruz trail is no place for a bike. We ate a picnic and returned to our hotel.

Notes: the route is shown on our Huascarán map. You head north from Caraz, turning right at gps=0191284 9003150 and again at gps=0174170 9037082. There are food and drink stalls at Cashapampa and an entry booth for the National Park.

Sun 16: Caraz – L. Parón (4200m) (34km, 1950m)

Parón valley

A signposted road leaves Caraz to the east (but this is the last signpost you will see). There are several junctions as the road climbs through villages, but there are usually people around to ask the way. There are fine views of Huascarán through one of the side valleys. Antash, a simple village of mud bricks, is particularly attractive, and was enlivened by an Inca band playing traditional music in the square. We stopped and listened while eating a memorable snack on the zigzags above it.

A little further on was a more puzzlesome junction: a fork at gps=0196154 9000336 (2850m) where we flagged down a taxi to confirm the route (which was to keep left). We had to persuade the driver that we’d rather cycle than travel by taxi or even bus.

Views from L. Parón

The next village – Parón – is also the last, as the road enters a classic U-shaped valley soon afterwards. We stopped for lunch on a flat-topped boulder at about 3450m.

The road surface becomes poor as the route makes staggered zigzags up the valley, only improving when it opens out near the top. We were both suffering from light headaches owing to underacclimatisation.

There is a refuge at the lake owned by an electricity company. Camping is permitted in its grounds,and campers are allowed to use its bathroom. You have to ask the couple who man the refuge, who must lead a lonely life and be grateful even for gringo company.

Notes: the campsite is on the rim of the lake. The couple at the refuge are willing to guard bags, but expect a tip.

Camping may be possible between the village of Parón and the start of the U-shaped valley.

Mon 17: L. Parón – Caraz (35km, 50m)

N. Caraz

We walked along the path on the northern side of the lake, taking photos before the clouds made their (rather early) appearance. Then we hurtled down to Caraz for lunch.

Tues 18: Cordillera Negra killer loop (93km, 2500m)

Traditional houses

Huinchos ascent

Panorama

Puya Raimondi

The old road from Caraz to the Pacific coast climbs the Cordillera Negra steeply through Pueblo Libre, crossing the watershed at a place called Huinchos and descending more gently through Pamparomas. A newer variant climbs slightly less steeply through Huata to the north, meeting the old road at a junction (El Cruce) on the western side of the watershed. Nothing could be more natural for a cyclist than to combine the two roads into a loop. Wisely we chose the new road for the ascent.

We made an early start and rode north out of Caraz, crossing the Rio Santa at the Puente Choquechaca (2100m) and starting the climb. A single sign indicates that it has some standing as a cycle route. The surface is beautifully smooth for gravel, and the small villages are unselfconsciously attractive. There’s plenty of water in streams and irrigation channels, and a variety of crops being grown.

We stopped for photos at about 3550m, and the climb became steep a couple of hundred metres higher. Up to this point we had made good progress, but Colin now started demanding rests.

One of our aims was to count the hairpins, and we agreed that in order not to loose count we would call out the numbers to each other in Spanish. So the campesinos looked on bemused as we shouted ‘cuarenta dos’, ‘cuarenta dos – ¡si!’. There were 65 hairpins on the climb, a further 53 in descent. We had three philosophical discussions on the definition of ‘hairpin’.

Fields

The pass, not very distinct, is at 4340m. The road loses 150m curving round to El Cruce, gaining half of them back on the climb to Huinchos. You see a valley dropping precipitately to your left, and this is the way down. (A turnoff straight ahead is not shown on any of our maps, and presumably leads to the village of Shutu.) The view reaches across to the Cordillera Blanca (likely to be covered with cloud in the afternoon), but the most striking feature is a sequence of impossibly steep fields on a flank of Cerro San Cristóbal.

Many people come to Huinchos to see the intriguing Puya Raimondi plants which dot the landscape there.

On descent the road soon turns to bad rubble, giving way in turn to fine sand, and there is no running water. But when the sky is clear the views may be spectacular.

Notes: there are no facilities on the route besides water. Camping looks possible high on the Huata side. The ride took 11 hrs, of which 9 hrs 20' were spent in the saddle. Seven hours were taken by the climb from Puente Choquechaca to the first pass, of which 5 hrs 45' were spent riding.

Weds 19: rest day

We loafed around Caraz. We met Gregg Bleakney and Harald Müller, transAmerican cycle tourists who had followed our tracks up the Santa valley and seen our names in the Hostal Huascarán register. We discussed our plans and they decided that they would take the same route as us across to the Callejón de Conchucos.

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