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Note: the main range of the Cordillera Blanca is fairly narrow, bounded by the Callejón de Huaylas (Rio Santa) on the west and the Callejón de Conchucos (combining several rivers) on the east. In the ’80s the Peruvians built two dirt roads across the range, one passing Huascarán to the north, the other to the south. Together they make an irresistable target for cyclists. The route is shown on the attached map.

Thurs 20 July: Caraz – Yurac Corral (3800m) (45km, 1720m ascent)

The circuit begins with 13km on tarmac from Caraz to Yungay. There is a magnificent view of Huandoy a km short of Yungay, but the sun rises behind the mountain so photographs are best on a cloudless afternoon. We bought a picnic lunch in the market.

Huascarán

Huandoy

L. Orconcocha

Cycle tourists

The route now starts climbing to the Lagunas Llanganuco on a reasonable dirt road passing through several villages. There are many excellent views. Huashao at 28km has a restaurant and a tourist gift shop, and there is an agriturismo soon after where you may be able to eat or to stay.

Having food with us, we stopped to eat it in pastures near a junction. The road is now nearing a narrow U-shaped valley, and makes a kink round a lateral moraine. You soon come to the Park HQ where the officials relieve you of 65 soles per head for any visit of longer than a day.

The road deteriorates and starts climbing more steeply with occasional zigzags. Views are limited to the cliffs on either side. At the first lake (Chinancocha) is a tourist recreation zone (which we ignored), but the road levels off and its surface improves. The second lake (Orconcocha) is barely any higher. At its far end is Yurac Corral, an established campsite.

Gregg, Harald and their companion Wauter turned up as we cooked our dinner. We were pleased to see them, and hoped we hadn’t put a foolish idea into their heads, since they hadn’t had any chance to acclimatise.

Fri 21: Yurac Corral – San Luis (3130m) (98km, 1800m)

We rose early, expecting a long day.

Portachuelo ascent

View down

Portachuelo

Yanama

Shrine

The Portachuelo de Llanganuco pass is visible from the campsite – indeed it looks deceptively close.

The climb proceeds up tight zigzags with wonderful views. Gregg, Harald and Wouter were riding together a little below us. After 3 hours we came to the pass (4740m). We paused for photos and plummeted down on the other side where the gradient was gentler. Occasionally we stopped to look back. Nev. Yanapaccha, which had been an impressive pyramid from the pass, took on the appearance of a spike.

Time passed and the road refused to lose altitude. We started to worry. A lying map had told us that Yanama was 62km from Yungay, but the true distance was 82.

We passed a restaurant at 3600m, climbed a little, resumed the descent, zoomed past the picturesque village of Challuá, and at last arrived at Yanama at nearly 2 o’clock. We had a hasty beery lunch.

So far we had covered 51km with 1000m ascent. In spite of our haste we spent a few moments enjoying Yanama’s calm elegance. The whole of this side of the range is delightful, unspoilt by earthquakes or mass tourism. The architecture is colonial, sometimes Tuscan in feel. Tin rooves are almost unknown.

Back on the bikes we tore down the Yurma valley to Puente Llacma (2260m), then (on a new road) followed the Rio Chucpín to a bridge, after which the gradient settled down to steady ascent. Roadside shrines added to the Tuscan feeling. We were both very tired and the light was failing: it was with deep relief that we at last arrived at San Luis.

Notes: camping is possible at around 4250m on the ascent and at many places between the pass and the restaurant at 3600m. There is accommodation at Yanama.

The hostal at San Luis is perfectly acceptable. It advertises 24-hour attention but you have to bang on the door and may well not be heard.

[Nov 2011] There is now a wide choice of accommodation at Yanama, and also a road linking it directly with San Luis over a 4000m pass. I’m not sure if the restaurant at 3600m still exists.

Sat 22: San Luis – high camp (4200m) (46km, 1620m)

We give ourselves the luxury of a late start. From San Luis the road descends though villages to a bridge over the Rio Chucpín, and then makes an undulating course as far as a second bridge, leaving itself a tiring climb to Chacas where we had lunch.

Church

Chacas

Contrahierbas

High camp

Nev. Ulta

Chacas is nicest of the towns on this side.

Thus far: 23km, 640m.

The height we have gained is not wasted, as the road onward has been thoughtfully laid to follow the contours. A bridge takes us to the true left bank of the river which has changed its name once or twice since we last crossed it. This region must have been settled by Neapolitans: the village is Pompey, and Vesuvio is not far away down a side valley. There are good views of Nev. Paccharaju beyond it.

The climb now becomes steeper, and a return to the right bank is accompanied by a decline in road quality. The valley here is quite a broad 'U' with pastureland by the stream. An unmanned gate marks the National Park boundary.

The gradient and rubbliness ease off as the road makes steady progress up the valley dominated by the stately Nev. Contrahierbas. We pass a good campsite too early at 3850m, and the valley sides become steeper. We have our eyes on a small lake shown on the map above and to the south-west of L. Yanaraju, where the ground seems to be flatter. And the moment the valley starts to open out we grab the first patch of land we can find and pitch camp.

It’s a divine spot. Nev. Contrahierbas looms above while its glacier pushes far below. The cows which graze here were perhaps dogs in a former life and show a disconcerting friendliness. Best of all is the view in the morning when dawn strikes Nev. Ulta.

Notes: there is accommodation at Chacas. Camping looks possible near the boundary of the National Park and there is a good site mentioned earlier at 3850m on meadows at a stream junction. Our own campsite was at gps=0226409 8989212, and there are plenty of places a little higher.

Sun 23: high camp – Huaraz (3120m) (102km, 1310m)

Ulta

Descent

Another early start sees us on the road before the temperature creeps above freezing. The pass above us is the Punta Olímpica. The ride is quite steep, but we are fresh and the views inspire us.

We reach the pass after two and a half hours. Huascarán and Chopicalqui open out before us, but greyish clouds are already clinging to Contrahierbas. Colin has premonitions of bad weather and has no wish to linger. We reach the pass at 4890m and plummet down a set of zigzags to a hanging valley similar in shape to the one at Llanganuco but without the lakes. The clouds are left behind.

At the end of the hanging valley is another steep descent and a deterioration in the road. We leave the confines of the National Park and start to encounter villages. The road improves but restaurants fail to materialise. Eventually we arrive at Carhuaz at 2:30, having covered 66km with 720m ascent. We enjoy a very civilised lunch at El Abuelo.

We don’t shake ourselves until 4 o’clock. It’s 2 hours of functional tarmac riding to Huaraz, and another half hour to find the way to our hotel. We are staying at the Club Andino which is really quite luxurious, adding an essential relish to the pleasure of turning up grimy and exhausted. We celebrate the ride with Argentinian champagne.

Notes: it is possible to camp in the hanging valley. The Club Andino is 50m above the centre of Huaraz.

Observations: we did the circuit in 4 days because we’d planned it with insufficient knowledge and were committed to our schedule. Not only were the days hard, but we were forced to hurry through attractive areas. A 5-day itinerary makes much more sense.

day

 

from 

 

 to

 

distance

 

ascent

1

Caraz 

 Yurac Corral

45km

 1720m

2

Yurac Corral 

 Yanama

51km

1000m

3

Yanama 

 Chacas

70km

 1450m

4

Chacas 

 high camp

23km

970m

5

high camp 

 Carhuaz

66km

720m

Even this is hard enough. The first day could be shortened by starting from Yungay, or the last could be lengthened by continuing to Huaraz. You might be able to break the first day by staying at the agriturismo or camping near the junction where we had lunch.

It is a good idea to camp just before each pass. That way you cross it in mid-morning with the best chance of views. Some people (such as Beat Heim) have crossed from Chacas to Carhuaz in a day. This is a tough ride (89km, 1690m) which takes you across the Punta Olímpica at the least favourable time of day.

[Nov. 2011] The itinerary is a little kinder now that a new road links Yanama with San Luis.

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