You know you’ve been in one place a bit too long when you get a shave upon arrival and need another before leaving. But following the Dean and Dang mantra of “leave no stone unturned,” I feel like I gave Huaraz a good run for its money. If rain wasn’t on the doorstep, I’d probably still be there checking off a few of the less technical peaks. The surrounding Cordilleras are a thing of beauty and definitely not something to rush.
However, the northern pull of the border beckons as I re-teach myself how to ride a bike and roll out of town, finding tiny parallel bits of dirt to enjoy the slower life.
Things get all winchy the following day as an easy spin back into the Blanca gives way to Punta Olimpica’s (4890 m) Andean stack of switchbacks. Cold morning rain turns to sleet and finally light snow as I crest the pass and lay down some fresh tracks. Sadly, I think, this is the last of the big passes in Peru and I turn back several times on the descent to take it all in.
Hands thaw slowly as I drop towards Cachas. With an abundance of wood in the hills, there’s a strong craftsman spirit as evidenced in doorways, balconies, and the interior of the church. Still fighting a bit of a cold from the Huayhuash, I shut it down early for the day and sit in the afternoon sun watching kids play soccer and families picnic in the grassy Plaza de Armas.
The next morning brings Pupash (4070 m), an easy long spin up a quiet valley and descent through a pine forest down into Yanama, arriving in time to enjoy the last of the days light.
As dawn breaks, I drop down to Rio LLacma and pick up the tail end of the Northern Cordillera Loop. Building heat throughout the day marks a distinct contrast from months of riding in the cooler altitudinous air. Even pigs seek out whatever sliver of shade they can find.
On my way up to Abra Cahaucocha, I roll through one remote settlement after another; the agrarian quality reminds me of Bolivia, with people operating at a subsistence level. This little guy couldn't resist giving El Gordo a once over on one stop.
The valley on the other side of the pass is spectacular with deep yellows and splotches of green spreading out across another huge Andean valley. Shallow at the pass, the valley steadily inverts until the bottom drops out into a seemingly bottomless gorge.
I stop short in Yanac as rain clouds build and spend the afternoon walking between showers around the town. Bisected by the main road, the rest of the town clings to the hillside in a type of Peru/Greece mash-up.
More of that Andean light and interlocking valleys...
The following day brings me down to Yuracmarca, where I bid a final goodbye to the Cordilleras and start heading north in earnest.
An afternoon long descent brings me deep into a canyon as I snake around massive interlocking slabs of rock through a blasting hot headwind.
A few tunnels offer momentary breaks from the heat.
After a night camped behind the Chuquicara polica station, I cut up through a second canyon towards Mollepata. The inhospitable environments where people work at carving out an existence never fails to amaze me. Mad Maxian towns like Galgada offer a cold Coke and a brief glimpse into life in the bottom of the canyon.
I take an alternate out of Mollebamba following an abandoned road up over a 4300 m pass; a wonderfully remote stretch.
White dusted roads abstractly wind through the Pampa on the other side
and long-ago glaciated outcroppings cup pristine waters.
In Cajabamba, I run into Justin Bill as he spots my bike from afar and we catch up on each others trips, gear, and his recent run through the Santa Rosa gringo gauntlet which still continues today minus the pueblo arrests, Concerned I might get a bit retaliatory, I decide to leave them alone in their odd little world and stick to the pavement under moody skies.
The Sunday market in San Marcos is all a buzz with the Peruvian version of their northern neighbor's Paja Toquilla. I inch my way through the crowd, stopping to sample every juice stall's offerings before making the final run into Cajamarca.
The canyon sections of the Caraz to Cajamarca Route have been entirely paved except for the section down close to the river, which I skipped by heading up to Pallasca. Coming up from Chuquicara, there's water in the village of Galgada and another tiny village a few km's before turning off to either the river section or up to Pallasca (neither spots are on Openmtbmaps). A woman in the tiny village sells cold soda's from her house if you ask. The river is nasty so I wouldn't count on getting water from it.
I took a longer alternate out of Mollebamba - essentially the eastern legs of the "triangle" if the original leg to Huamacucho is the hypotenuse. The climb to the pass is rocky and I pushed a bunch of it, but it's worth the effort. The upper valley connecting back to the main route is quite nice. Over two days, I think I saw about five people and no cars.