Huancane to Cusco: Back on The High Road

After experiencing the slightly insane tuk tuk land of Juliaca and getting my Peruvian ingress stamp in Puno, I head back to Huancane and immediately backtrack towards the border to intersect Cass and Michael’s route up near Ananea and get back into the mountains.

After skirting the open-pit gold mining operation at Anenea, which sadly mares the magnificent view of Rinconada, I make a late afternoon drop down into a seemingly bottomless canyon.

An Incan stone stair trail winds down from the top until they run out at the edge of a steep washout, which nearly swallows me alive. While I barely manage to get my bike across on the first traverse, the second traverse for the rest of my gear sees my sleeping bag end over end down seventy five yards below me until thankfully coming to a precarious rest one small stone away from going the remaining two hundred yards to the bottom.

As the gorge walls drain the remaining light of the day, I hack my way down through tall grasses and small bushes to the road below and let out a sigh of relief as I roll into the thermal baths pueblo of Kuyo Kuyo and plunk down for the night on their astro turf soccer pitch. The thermal waters fill multiple pools for the locals to enjoy and also turn the turf into a sublime full size heating pad.

Beautiful Incan terraced fields lead me down the rest of the way to Cuyocuyo in the morning before I start the slow steady climb back up the opposite side of the valley towards Patambuco.

A bit of pavement transitions into a rocky old road that switchbacks up to a cut in the rocks at 4400 m and opens up to a magnificent descent

Quiet lagoons dot the Cordillera Carabaya subrange.

The following morning, I drop down into Huanjollo where I get ushered into the schoolyard for a plate of food and a prime seat at the 24th of June festival to watch the local kids battle it out on the field. 'Pink' dominates the show with a hat-trick and sends me off with a solid handshake and bright smile.

Just out of town I follow a quiet old road up towards a reservoir before wrapping along the edge of a series of valleys on single track, no track, and a old road heading out towards Valle Hermoso.

As late afternoon light begins to do its thing and termperatures drop, I huddle behind a tiny windbreak for the night.

I finish the final few hundred meters to the pass the following morning and soak up some sunshine on the backside past a shallow lake reflecting cool morning blues.

 

A wonderful descent continues down into the hay field textured pueblo of Carrizal.  It’s an early fatbike hour with the local kids before I hang a left and begin a long, gentle climb up alongside an old Incan road towards the afternoon’s pass. 

Afternoon clouds fill in and follow me up from behind.

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More serene nameless alpine lakes on the other side of the pass.

A frosty morning outside Crucero has me plug into the RRP as I washboard along the valley floor 

before staying on the road up and over Abra Queracucho at 4875 m and descend down into Macusani. 

Outside of Macusani, I drop down along a stretch of pavement past Allin Capaq, the tallest mountain in the Cordillera Carabaya subrange.  

Before turning off onto a quiet dirt road winding up through the capital de la papa nativa organica, Tantamaco.  

An extended fatbike hour which sees the town drunk repeatedly offer to sell me an Alpaca for cheap and a long almuerzo allows the skies to clear a bit as I wind my way down towards Aymana.

A sublime route thus far gets even better as I ease up towards losing my 5000 m virgintiy the following morning outside of Aymana. What starts off in a swirly snowstorm opens up to freshly dusted peaks on either side of the road.  

A step, final pop takes me up to 5125 m. I pay my respects to Pachamama with a splash of coke and a package of chocolate wafers, and sit atop the pass bathing in the cool silence of the day.

A short traverse along the left side of the valley brings me to a jeep track winding down towards the sun drenched valley floor dotted with snow cups.

 I move through slowly with multiple stops turning back to admire the Vilcanota Range. 

After a night in a hospejade in Pinaya, I climb up to Lago Sibina Cocha for ripple-less morning solitude. Stunning.

Peru is shaping up to be as epic as I'd imagined.

After lunch soaking up the mid day warmth of the sun, I ease up and over Abra Jahuaycate at 5070 m on a little used jeep road. 

and descend into a fantastic valley ringed with snow dusted peaks and sleepy valley floors dotted with alpacas. Magical.

Rounding the corner down below, I get my first real glimpse of Nevado Ausangate which stands at 6384 m; the snow star in Incan mythology.  Cass and Michael's route loops counter clockwise around the backside before linking back up to the road down to Pitumarca.  Running short on time for my rendezvous with friend Sonia in Cusco, I have to leave this on the table for the moment and make my way towards Cusco. 

A pleasant two day ride on a series of quiet paved roads with a final dirt road descent down to 3600 m brings me into the cosmopolitan city of Cusco after having spent the better part of two weeks bouncing along the Peruvian cordilleras between 4200 m and 5000 m.  I missed a touch of the route in Bolivia before the border and about half a day outside of Macusani.  But every pedal turn I took along it's length was magical.  It's a great bikepacking route with a mix of single track, abandoned roads, short stretches of pavement, a few hike-a-bikes, sublime mountain range vistas each day and tranquil pueblos not used to seeing gringo's on fat bikes.

ROUTE:

Huancane - Cojata - reconected with Cass and Michael's Tres Cordillera's route in Ananea - Pitumarca - Acomayo - Rondocan - San Juan de Quihares - Puna Cancha - Cusco

Thanks again to Michael and Cass for offering up the GPS files and brief route description.  Look for a full route write up soon to come on bikepacking.com