Thursday, November 24, 2005

Getting high in the Cordillera Blanca

The only person to conquer Portachuelo de Llanganuco at 3:00 p.m. on November 24, 2005, Timtraveler basks in the glory of his achievement. (But who was there to take this picture???) Minutes later, the site became a virtual parking lot as two westbound trucks and an eastbound truck, each carrying loads of passengers, converged here. The male members debarked to relieve themselves by the roadside. (I'm not certain what the female passengers did.)

Awoke at 4:00 this morning, feverish and head-achy, my mouth parched. As I lay there, I felt my heart was working too hard, beating too fast. I could easily work myself into a panic, I thought. I couldn't sleep. "It's the altitude, and in time I'll adjust." These Peruvian wool blankets are just too good. I was way too warm under the two provided.

In the early-morning sun, Anne, Aki, Motsu and I took group photos with our bikes. Anne and I then had breakfast (Aki and Motsu cook their own meals.) Into town to pick up a map of the region that Anne recommended. Decided to first go up Llanganuco pass today, then, if there were time, go on to Cañon del Pato.

Biker dudes and dudettes at the "Las Retamas Hospedaje": Anne "Anna Moto Diva", Timtraveler, Motsu and Aki. We were comparing budgets. During this journey, Anne and I both expected we would spend roughly $50 per day*. Aki and Motsu are operating on $20 per day - for the two of them! (*UPDATE: An analysis done in March 2011 showed my actual on-road expenses were about $103 per day!)

I drove north passing the boulder-strewn washes where the landslide had buried the town of Yungay in 1970. A memorial stands in the new town just north of the debris field.

In Yungay, I left the highway and picked up the dirt road that heads deep into a canyon. I was not accustomed to dirt, having not done much off-road riding since Alaska's Dalton Highway. But standing up on the pegs for maximum control, I soon acclimated to the rough road.

At the entrance to Parque Nacional Huascarán, I paid the 5-Sole entry fee and paused to have a soda, chatting and joking with the few folks selling souvenirs. It was very quiet and relaxing in the mild afternoon sun.

A bus arrived, and this was my cue to get back on the bike. I didn't want to be behind them, eating their dust. After a few miles, there were stretches of sand where the road passes along the shores of Llanganuco and Orconcocha Lakes. Another surface to reacquaint myself with.

Climbing the mountain in continuous hairpin loops, my confidence increased. Soft, powdery dirt and large stones were collected in each of the turns, but the bike crawled through with little difficulty (though as I got higher up, the engine "lugged" more than usual at low r.p.m.) The clutch grew spongey up around 13,000 feet until finally I was virtually shifting without it, just rolling on the throttle a bit and popping the transmission into gear. I guess air bubbles in the clutch hydraulic line grow larger at altitude, until they become big squishy "balloons" in the line, much more plastic than the hydraulic fluid that should be occupying those lines.

The Llanganuco pass road winds past 6,354-meter (20,846-foot) Chopicalqui and 6,768-meter (22,205-foot) Huascarán (Peru's tallest peak)

Huandoy's four peaks

The notch atop the 15,640-foot pass, Portachuelo de Llanganuco.

I believe this cluster of peaks is Yanapaqeha, on the eastern side of Portachuelo de Llanganuco

Atop the 4,767-meter summit, an amazing panorama surrounded me: snow-covered pinnacles in all directions. I felt dizzy and uncertain of myself. Climbing around on some boulders was surprisingly challenging. I couldn't trust my footing.

This photo just doesn't convey how precarious it can be driving these mountains. And then these crazy people ride on top of vehicles???

Trucks like the yellow one, can't make many of the turns in one sweep and must stop and back up to get through it. Those guys up top are (for those who remember early-Disneyland) getting a real "E-Ticket" ride!

Peru's tallest peak, Huascarán (south and north summits on the right), and standing at 15,640-feet, possibly Peru's highest motorcyclist (at this particular moment.) That's Chopicalqui on the left. It's past 3:00, and time to scurry back down the mountain. It will take two hours to reach the valley floor (at least in the preferred way.)

Memorials at one of the many treacherous hairpin turns on Llanganuco pass.

Simon said that when crossing passes, he always tries to reach the top by 3:00 p.m. Later in the day, the weather can turn. It was pretty warm today; nothing like coming over the pass last night. But the afternoon turned very hazy, a remarkable change from the crisp, clear morning.

Huascarán's south and north peaks

It looks like others follow the same advice Simon gave, as between 3:00 and 3:30 the summit became "congested" with vehicles. I paused to take photos, but didn't linger long. It was a good two hour drive back down to the 9,000-foot valley floor, and I didn't want to be riding off-road in the dark.

The return ride always seems easier than the ride out. But this one proved strenuous. After hours up on the pegs, my back and shoulders were knotted and the balls of me feet were aching. The steep descent didn't help matters. If I had planned properly for this ride, I would have first raised my handlebars slightly to allow an easier reach from the standing position. I was pretty fatigued by late afternoon.

Rolling back to Huaraz on luxuriously-smooth tarmac, I looked back to catch an amazing view of Huascarán, its snow-capped summit glowing in the sunset.

Driving back to Huaraz, I happened to glance over my shoulder and catch this awesome view. Imagine living in a valley surrounded by such magical peaks!

Joined Anne and David at Simon and Beatrice's "Chillie Heaven" restaurant tonight. Our hosts whipped up some excellent shrimp and chicken curry. But I excused myself early to go off to bed and rest my aching body.

The taxi to town cost 50 centimos (about 15 cents!), the return trip three Soles (about 90 cents). Taxis and mini-buses are vital transportation for most people outside the big cities. They have to be reasonably-priced.

A cold night. I went directly to bed.


Anonymous said...

Nice're looking good for an ole man...Phil

Evan said...

Oh! Is Tim in the photo? I have to double check, because the SCENERY is so amazing!!

timtraveler said...

Intentionally taken from a distance. Close-ups are too revealing.

timtraveler said...

Thirty-seven is not that old.

(Gee, I wish I were thirty-seven.)

timtraveler said...

5 comments (moved here due to consolidation of posts):

Gen Kanai said...

That is a TREMENDOUS photograph!

timtraveler said...

Of a TREMENDOUS landscape! Thanks!
(Where are you writing from?)

Genevieve said...

Very scary road there, but it is an awesome photo!

timtraveler said...

You're bringing back distant memories as you comment on the archives! That seems so long ago now!

Genevieve said...

I know the feeling -- but of course, it really has been a long time since I saw any of this country (1980-82). Your posts have brought back a lot of nearly-forgotten memories for me, trust me!