Nevado Salkantay figures prominently in the Machu Picchu trekking scene, with five day treks starting out of Sorypampa. Day one brings one up close and personal with Nevado Salkantay before descending down into the jungled remains shrouding Machu Picchu. Still eager to see Salkantay, I make my way from Cusco to Sorypampa where I leave my bike and hike up to the Pass for the day.
I arrive as loaded pack horses are taking a brief break to the side while guided groups proceed to take multiple "air-jump" and "arms spread to the world" selfies. If you have the arm span of MJ, fine. But you, Mr. Jack Wolfskin, sorry, knock it off.
A brief side trip to an overlook above the turquoise watered alpine lake at the base of the glacier, brings "jumpless" tranquility.
The following morning, I head up to another emerald lake just above Sorypampa at the base of Nevada Tucarhuay. Headspace.
Other than a road stretch into Cusco at the end of the Tres Cordilleras route, El Gordo has seen very little Peruvian pavement. Unfortunately I'm not so lucky with the connection from Cusco to the southern start of the Peruvian Great Divide. I try to ply the locals for a "supposed" back road link between Mollepata to Choquequirao but there's a bit of handwaving and gesturing that says it's not possible, so I drop down to the Abancay Highway and catch-up on past RRP podcasts.
White line purgatory finally abates a bit past Santa Rosa as I begin one of the multitude of climbs and descents famed on the Peruvian Great Divide. Stitched together by Neil and Harriet Pike of AndesbyBike, the Divide crosses upwards of 20 passes over 4000 m along the spine of the Cordillera de Los Andes running from Santa Rosa to Huaraz through multiple tiny Andean communities. An instant classic of squiggly dirt lines.
Barely into the first day, I enter Sanyaca and Louisa (in red) peels out of her family compound to as if I like chicha de maize, a ferrmented maize drink and staple of Peru. A bottomless cup of chicha is thrust into my hand along with a bowl of mote y queso as we chat away. Wonderful generosity, kind-heartedness, and a chance to expand both of our horizons.
Further up the road before Abra Millamar, two couples whistle me over. As I approach, I think they are having a picnic and find it strange that a cow is lying on the ground near them under a blanket. Closer inspection reveals a severed head and various cow parts sliced up and ready for transportation. They ply me with whiskey; one shot for each eye and a follow up shot for good measure before I settle back into climbing.
The following day brings quite dirt roads winding upwards towards Abra Putongo; some well worn,
others less traveled.
I spend the night in Putongo and make the rookie move of camping in the main plaza. Fifteen kids gather round on hands and knees with an additional eight adults taking in the ensuing “excitement” of watching me put up my tent and cook pasta. The fun continues into the wee hours with donkeys, dogs and horses all stopping by to check on me. Bleary eyed, the next morning, I skirt the edge of the valley dropping down to Rio Pampas, which carves its way through the seemingly only flat section of Peru.
A twisty, descent of nearly 2000m feels more like dropping into New Mexico with Dr. Suess-esque plants hanging from tree limbs and temperatures increasing with each switchback.
The bottom arrives at the structurally questionable suspension bridge spanning the Rio Pampas and leading into the tiny pueblo of Anta.
I swap queso fresca weight for water weight while watching Anta's pigs, chickens, donkeys and cows come and go before a late afternoon wind back up the otherside of the valley towards Abra Tucuccasa at 4500m.
Peru's "veins" are still a bit "open" when it comes to gringo's. Diego and his primo in Pomabambo remind me of a Pema Chodron quote that says something to the extent that "there's always sun above the clouds." Good little dudes.
Squiggly lines to set up another 2000m climb.
Leaving the dryer southern end of the Peruvian Great Divide, Abra Ritipata is a nice long gentle climb back up to 4500m. Mineral rich peaks roll out as far as the eye can see.
A quick swing through Licapa for refueling and its back up into those windy mountain roads I love best.
Andean traffic jam.
I camp at the base of the climb up to Punta Caudalosa Chica and awake to a frosty, cloudy morning with Andean rays streaming through any opening they can find.
Looking backwards off the not so "chica" Punta Caudalosa Chica at 4990m.
I make short time of the final climb up Abra Huayraccasa at 4870m, which winds up through the tracery of mining roads running up every valley wall. Over Huayraccasa, it's a quick nearly 50k drop into Huancavelica.
Cusco – Mollepata - Sorypampa – Salkantay - Abancay – Santa Rosa – Soros – Vilcashuaman – Cangallo – Chuschi – Totos – Paras – Licapa – Huancavellica
From Mollepata, I took a nice dirt road up high, paralleling the Abancay-Cusco highway, but eventually I’m forced to drop down to the highway from Huamampata Baja. Supposedly, there is a way to get all the way from Mollepata to Choquequirao on dirt, but the locals told me it was closed.
Peruvian Great Divide:
Special thanks to Neil and Harriet Pike for stitching together the Peru Divide.