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Rajucolta

It took us most of a day to get to the lake. At first the valley seems small and deceptively low, you pass though Macashca where someone local has painted murals in a homely naive style, then the valley widens and you see the tops of mountains. It's a little-touristed route and it was nice for us to get back to the same feel as the Conchucos. Gradually the habitation falls away and all there are are stone enclosures and huts of drystone walls and thatch roofs. The road which had started as a pleasant dirt road, has had long steep loose pushy sections.

Higher still, we got to the promised gate. We could pass the panniers through the gaps but carrying the bike was a tricky business over the stone wall at the side. A man came from a nearby house to check what we were up to; the permits were fine but we're surprised he didn't have a key to the gate to let us through.

Beyond the gate, it's a bit like paradise really. It is a glacial valley with a mountain, Huantsan, down the end, the road is nicely lined with stones and has done all its climbing. There is a perfect sort of stream and there are even bridges, there are pretty cows, but what dominates are the lupins, the heavenly purple-blue and perfume in the air. Near the end, there are buildings, not farms but something more organised, but now abandoned. There's a small house right by the lake wall, for the lake guardian. We went up the moraine to see the lake but camped by the buildings - a group of young Peruvians were camping too. The night was bright - it was near-full moon.

The sun rises behind the mountain and photos were tricky, as by the time the sun was higher, cloud was coming. Two minibuses - a Japanese photographic party. The leader said he'd been to Safuna many years ago, and showed us the photo of Rajucolta he had taken on a previous visit. We wanted to take one just as nice as his but somehow got the hat of one of his friends in the frame. Then bombed back to Huaraz in a desperate attempt to cram in as many calories before the next 4 nights camping.

Pastoruri

And finally, to finish the trip and finish ourselves off completely, we embarked on a ride in quite a different landscape that was to take us to something like 5000m. First some paved road, and easy riding to Catac and an early lunch. As always, the higher you get, the valley widens and we climbed to more of a level with the snowpeaks. Looking backwards, we could see the Cordillera and Huascaran, but near to us the peaks are isolated clusters.

Just as we approched the Pastoruri turn, we saw cyclists coming the other way - the first we'd seen this trip. The three guys were Brazilians, on a 4-year round the world trip but they'd already spent a year getting from Brazil to Peru, probably because they'd gone via every beach on the continent.

The Pastoruri road starts at Pachocota, which is nothing more than two rows of deserted-looking houses. Ahead, a snow peak in empty rolling golden puna. A taxi stopped and a well dressed couple got out, and started walking along the road, heaven knows where, because there is nothing but windswept puna all around. The road, and we were back to piste again, climbed gently. There were a few stone-and-thatch herders' huts and because it was so open we weren't confident about camping, and besides it was bloody windy. There's a Park checkpoint at a place called Carpa, and a visitor centre, with clean toilets but no cakes for sale. The woman in charge said we could camp anywhere around, and we holed up in a sheltered bank nearby.

We still weren't too well in the aftermath of the lettuce but we'd allowed for five days for the ride. We started ok for the next day but some steep hairpins stuffed us. There were things of interest on the way, signposted by the Park authority, who seem to have done a thorough job for what seems now a little-visited area. There is a fizzy water spring, several lakes presumably with notable waterfowl life, a large spread of Puya Raimondi and some very old rock paintings.

We reached the side road for the glacier about lunchtime, only a couple of km along this road, hard kms, but there are some shacks and a handful of local people serving potatoes and cheese. They said is was ok to camp there, but also that there was a camping place further up the track. The track was now virtually all a push since we were so tired and hungry, and the altitude something like 4800m. It is all moraine rubble here. We reached a lake. The GPS and surveys give it 4950m, our barometric altimeters 4750m, the usual 200m discrepancy which we have not been able to resolve. It is a nice lake, not far from the glacier which is really like a large snowfield – the mountain summit is not much higher and it is not a spiky mountain. The views across the valley to Huarapasca are more striking.

We strolled up the the glacier the next morning – we had it to ourselves – and hung around owning the place till mid morning. Then left, via the cheese shacks. The road crosses a pass after a negligible climb and puts you above a broad valley. The road more or less contours around the edge, under the summits of Huarapasca and Cajap. It is wonderfully remote. Then follows a ridge towards the last highpoint, which is terribly unspectacular for a 4.8k pass. Beyond it there is a striking black mountain, ridged like a fingerprint. Soon after, we were above a valley looking down onto a majestic sweep of blacktop.

Once on the paved road, some impressive triangular rock peaks flank another short rise to the road pass, then we hit unfamiliar and outrageous speeds of 55km/h. Lunch was way overdue - the last section of piste had been waterless. We stopped the first stream, which was the valley we'd looked down on, and we reckoned it the best bet for a concealed campsite. Nevertheless on a scale of 0-10 of crapness it was at least 8. The majestic sweep of blacktop afforded fine views of the valley so we pushed up through dense lumpy tussocks of grass until we found a patch not too sloping nor too lumpy and not too obvious. I refused to camp another night.

Conococha

After getting used to roughstuff at 5km/h, we licked through a 20km downhill at what felt like relativistic speeds and even the subsequent drag up to the 4000m pass of the day felt blisteringly fast. We weren't sure what to expect for views - though we knew Huayhuash wasn't far - and it was actually a nice surprise to see it swing into view. The Huayhuash massif is improbably high and steep, and the views stayed spectacular over the pass and across the plateau at Punta Mojon. Ahead we now had Caullarju across a lonely pampa and a long, fast, descent. The road bottoms out towards Conococha, the broad lake that is the source of Rio Santa, where a 300mph headwind became apparent.

There is plenty of food at Conococha village, especially if you like cheese. There is also accommodation advertised, but we had been told about a climbers' refuge that was hereabouts, which sounded a funky place to stay. At km131 there's an unmarked turnoff wending upwards into nothingness on the Cordillera Negra side. We'd been told the refuge was 7km. After riding for ages with no sign of anything happening I asked Colin how far we had come and he said about 1km. But we are used to suffering and despair and hopelessness, no holiday is complete without them, so we kept on, and actually apart from everything else it was quite a nice track to ride; crossed a 4300m pass, descended a very faint track and them saw a roof.

The refuge was full of climbers, from all over the world. One group was speaking arabic! We were about to give them a cheery Salaam alaykum when it occurred to us there were other semitic languages besides arabic, so instead we talked to another Brit, a climber, about hateful djinn-possessed MSR stoves.

Lunch

I'm afraid we must have turned 20 climbers into cyclist-haters as we crept over the creaky floorboards at dawn so as make an early escape. We wanted to be in Huaraz for lunch, and by lunch we had the three-hour variety in mind, and importantly we know how much this valley loves headwinds. We made Catac in good time, where there are sandwiches of excellent cheese. In Huaraz I hit the jackpot with the famous local Pachamanca, which is is not so much a dish as a vast tureen of meat and potatoes, maybe about three times the amount a greedy person would normally manage for dinner. I managed.

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