A Goodbye to Perú Through the Ausangate
Photos and words by Ryan Wilson
For my final stretch through Perú (for now), I jumped onto the instant-classic route that Cass Gilbert and Michael Dammer founded one year prior (http://www.bikepacking.com/routes/tres-cordilleras-boliva-peru/), with a few tweaks. The highlight of this area is unquestionably the circuit around the 6,384m aka 20,945ft wall of rock and ice known as Apu Ausangate. The majority of which is pure backcountry single track through seemingly endless glacial peaks and pristine lagunas.
Unlike the slightly more agonizing (yet spectacular) push through the Cordillera Huayhuash in central Perú, I found the Ausangate to be far more rideable with a fully loaded bike. There is absolutely a ton of pushing involved, and undoubtedly some self-questioning regarding why the hell you got yourself into this (or like bikes in general), but that question is often quickly answered by a towering mountain view or a perfect section of rideable trail.
The Ausangate is absolutely packed to the brim with idyllic camping spots, so if you plan on visiting this area I would definitely recommend packing an extra day’s worth of food, so you don’t feel like you have to rush through. There’s nothing worse than getting to the perfect spot, and feeling like you have to keep going because there are a couple hours of daylight left, and you’ve got to keep going to hit a schedule.
It’s worth noting that people live in these mountains, tending to their alpaca herds, and commuting via these trails. There is somewhat of a history in the Ausangate of people waking up in the morning to find that their bike or the stove they left in their vestibule has disappeared. I was warned by a couple of mountain guides that I crossed paths with to make sure that I’ve got my bike secured at night (Note: I always wrap a strap from my seat bag support into my tent and clip it around something large like a pannier or backpack anyways). With that said, I had no issues whatsoever, and all of the locals were very friendly, helpful, and excited to see someone coming through on a bike.
After descending from the final pass around the Ausangate, the route continues along quiet dirt roads, over sky-scraping mountain passes, and through small villages virtually untouched by tourism. These are some of my favorite places in the country. One of these towns is the village of Phinaya, which sits at a lofty 4700m aka 15,420ft, and is flanked by a handful of 20,000ft peaks (it’s worth a side trip down the dead-end road toward these). Phinaya is also home to possibly the highest “hotel” I’ve ever spent the night in. They didn’t have electricity, but they did have about 40 wool blankets on the bed to help battle the frigid nights. That’s just about enough blanket weight to make it feel like a small elephant is lying on you while you try to sleep.
Eventually the route runs into the border of Bolivia, though the “fun” of dealing with getting a Bolivian visa has to occur at a larger border crossing, so that meant hitching a ride to the bustling altiplano city of Juliaca, and crossing the border near the southern end of the tourist trap known as Lake Titicaca.
To close my time in Perú, I really can’t say enough good things about the experience of riding a bike through these areas. The endless string of high mountain passes and often unforgiving weather always ensure that the going won’t be easy. However, the welcoming people, rich Incan history, spectacular scenery, and seemingly unlimited supply of quiet dirt roads and trails truly make it a bikepacker’s paradise in my eyes. Not only did this place make me fall for the Andes, as the location of my first true long distance “tour” it gave me a new appreciation for traveling by bike in general. It’s a place I’ll undoubtedly return to in the future, and dive even deeper into its remote peaks and valleys.
My Route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/22712313