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It has been almost 5 months here in Peru and just like any other long stay like that I had the urge to change country, scenery and experience. Eventually the constant up and down in the rain can get tedious and all these beautiful mountains and remote mines start blending together into something less exciting and interesting that they normally are. Ausangate, however held promise of not only snowcapped giants and rideable singletrack and it was just the start of another route pioneered by Cass Guilbert and the Dammer brothers (legends of south american bikepacking).
A short ride down the highway and a pleasant climb up a nice valley led toward the Ausangate trek. Only if it wasn't for the looming clouds and impending rain. Was it a mistake going in during the rain season? I managed to scrounge a quick lunch from a tourist buffet and when I went out a wet dog was waiting by my bike.
We were immidiately friends, it was hard to tell who was wetter or who smelled worse. He took my safety very importantly and made sure that the cows kept their distance.
He was not a big fan of water.
We made our way to the trail but all there was were few houses and half a bridge over a very strong stream. I carried the bike and the dog over the first part but the main part was just too strong. The roar of the water was demotivating as I scouted up and down with no luck. I went to ask a woman at the nearby huts if I can cross but she didnt speak spanish. She talked and talked but it was not spanish.
It was late in the day but I needed to find a way across. Open street maps shows a tiny trail heading up adjacent to the river and ending mid way up. Perhaps I can cross further up and free for all it down the mountainside to the trail?
I met a man on a horse and asked him if he can take me over the river. He said he had another horse that can cross it but said there are two more bigger rivers further up. He also spoke very basic spanish but on the bright side I learned the Kechua word for river: "Mayo" as he kept repeating it throughout. Or maybe that was the word for "you are an idiot and you should go back"!!!
I told him we will talk tomorrow but I wanted to see where this old road up the mountain went maybe to a bridge? A river crossing looming over your nights dreams is not a good idea. But I wasnt alone in this, the wet pooch decided I was worthy of following and I decided he was worthy of getting carried across streams he cant jump over.
But just the sound and the force of the river was unsettling. Just being near it, it was a constant reminder of how powerful water can be...
(having encountered a group that lost 1 hiker on the canol trail, I was perhaps a little more respectful of rivers...)
In the fading light I spoke to a shepherd who told me there was a bridge further up. A bridge!!!
Just a kilometer or two in the dark across the pampa and I was far enough from the roaring water. I set up in the rain and me and dog ate decent pasta dinner with sasuage and onion.
I woke up at the middle of the night to find about 4-5 other dogs near the tent barking at my buddy and him barking back. Just seeing their eyes glowing in the pitch black dark with the reflection of my headlamp was a little scary... but i know they were all dogs...
And the morning revealed a white wonderland.
I spoke with a woman about directions but she didnt speak much spanish. Waving and pointing I think there was a trail over the hill.
Then I saw a ridge standing over the valley... worthy of a little detour
It was truly a dream ride, the views and the sun. The kind where you keep stopping and hoping it will last forever.
Finally a singletrack descend to where the main trail is.
And this mountain. I dont know its name but it just looked so good with the fresh snow and the clouds and the sun.
While it dodnt rain, the snow melt surely added to this river but it was not all that bad. I crossed few times, one for my backpack and electronics, one for the bike, one for the dog.... and just because it was so much fun, one for the camera!
Then it was time to rest.
Dog was dry in the sun and pretty cool to pet too. He ran up and down chasing birds and vicuñas, sniffing stuff and sometimes I thought he left but he would reappear just behind me. I called him Shadow, Amigo and My Friend. We normally have 3 names, why cant dogs have 3 names too???
There was even improved trail. I reckoned you can ridge a moto over this pass!!! Well until that river.
I kept pushing until late but a rather odd stone house caught my attention across a lake, it was a shelter and best of all clean enough to sleep in there in my tent.
Now if you looked earlier at the lady shepherd and she wore sunglasses. I didnt. I didnt wear my sunhat either that day. While it still remains a mystery, I think I was snowblind. I simply couldnt open my eyes and look without excessive tears. I packed up but it was no good. I couldnt travel today. I spent all day in the tent with my eyes closed alternating between coffee, hot chocolate and noodles. Dog didnt like noodles.
He liked to be outside, getting wet... probably thinking "human, why dont you come outside??? its nice here!"
But also chilled indoors too.
Now the funny part was that the rain/snow or the clouds never let up. I was camped at a lake infront of a giant glacier on the western side of Ausangate but all i saw was this:
A man showed up to charge me money for being here, as is the custom on popular tourist treks in Peru. We negociated the 40soles to 10 ($3) and then I just invited him to hot chocolate instead. He told me to keep an eye of my shoes because people here steal hikers shoes. I told him i have the dog!!!
In the morning it almost cleared up. Dog and me waited for a bit but no luck. The fear of missing out was there, what if I never see the Nevado? But something has changed along the way, something like this would upset me before but no, not now. I was just passing by, riding, riding for the feeling. It didnt matter if it rained or snowed or hailed.
Pooch was also riding for the feeling or for the food, who knows. I feed him well!
We traversed an amazing, relatively flat and surely rideable ridge. Great views but the clouds did not let up.
I rode hastily around some hotsprings and houses, fearing someone might come out with a notepad and receipts to collect a fee and pushed for a proper pass, as somebody had his bike stolen overnight here.
Trail zoomed down ranging from improved trail to rideable to various states of mud and disrepair (still rideable on a fat bike).
A lake viewpoint caught my attention, it would mean no frost on the tent in the morning and dog was all like "well... whats for dinner?" So i set up camp here.
It was below the snowfields and the glaciers. More ice and snow peeked through the clouds promising beyond real scenery...
We caught a little sunset but alas, it was all clouds.
And then you wake up in the morning and this is what you see!
No matter how many coffees or chocolates I could drink, the clouds didnt want to go away.
A sensible trail let right up, promising at times to reveal all the ice
The pass was cold and I was more excited to ride down. Which at times was rather steep and the corners a little too narrow to turn without putting a foot down.
At a 4600m lake, a reminder that this remote trek is a donkey-mule-tourist bonanza in the summer.
The ride down was smooth and eventually roaded.
My friend headed off near a village. Maybe he didnt want to run along, maybe he had a family,
maybe he didnt want to adopt me
or maybe he was the legendary hero dog guide of the Ausangate circuit.
He who leads stray hikers across 5000 meter passes and roams some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Maybe his life is here where he can be of help. You would hear about him in a distant hostel or on a journal somewhere across the world wide web.
Is he real?
Or just the Shadow of Ausangate.
Maybe ill be back one day to cut his nails and shampoo him.
Rest day had been long due but the mining town of Oyon was not the best place to stop. We scored some "miner-priced" goodies from the fancy bakery and were off.
It was a big climb ahead and we passed by more mines. Interesting how they all have planted trees and rock sogns about caring for the ebpnvironment but when they shut down everything is just left to rust and rot.
Some switchbacks up I grabbed onto a slow truck and they stopped to let Sylvain grab as well. Perhaps the left side is a little harder and he let go, me I held onto one of the most unomfortable truck endings, also pedaling as I couldn't solely hold on with my hand. Luckily the guys stopped every 20 minutes to flip sheep back on their feet and let the sheep relieve themselves. Even luckier that the liquids coming out of the truck were not dripping to me...
Eventually the guys gave me a rubber loop to hold onto!
I had a good hour and a half basking in the half sun waiting for my friend.
The dark clouds came just when Sylvain did.
but wait, whats that on the rocks?
Then bam a mine with a big gate, a shepherd told us its on halt but there was still the looming danger of possibly getting turned back as there were fresh tire tracks.
I was looking around with excitement, such a view. I was about to ask Sylvain if he wants to camp here when I realized that good water may not be that easy to find.
instead we descended down to a much warmer attitude of 3900m and set up camp at the baseball court. A man said we should register with the Ronda but we just asked him to trow in a good word for us and let them know two gringos will sleep at the court. It was one of those rare days that the concrete was warmed up from the little sunlight in the evening and it didnt rain so we made dinner outside.
For the first time in a while, we descended down to 2900m, the valley from above looked big and steep yet the walls were covered with carefully crafted terraces to allow for farming (but it seems that now they are just pastures)
There was a good breakfast on the bottom of the valley and for a brief moment at 3000m we felt like supermen with all that extra oxygen.
Low altitude (2900m) donkeys with nice colorful earings
and it seems that the peruvian secret service has ears everywhere. I need to watch what i say about them burros and horses around here!
now the funny stuff is that the day before me and Sylvain had lunch at a junction, me thinking that this road would be some peruvian mountain super highway with lots of traffic and considering searching for a way across 2km straight line across a ridge that kind of seemed to have some sort of a trail or something... well. This was the road, highlighted as major highway on open street maps:
and at every valley where there was a stream, there was life, shy girls spinning alpacka wool and stone homes old and new amidst the typical stone fence corrals
and then there are our houses. I love roads like that that you can set up next to the road and not worry about cars or anything.
morning was spent pondering just how and why this road was build if there was nothing up there.
and then I saw two dogs and a sheep (????) run out of a little house to have a look at me. Then as I waited for Sylvain a little a man walked out and we talked. He lives here alone at 4700m while his family is in the bigger town way down. The houses are tiny but with a good reason, it warms up very well, I assume mostly by your breathing.
lima only 170km from here
the pass was unusually sunny and surprisingly not windy!
we went down on the long descend ocassionally getting slowed down by some mud. After looking at this funny little house Sylvain went on, I took a photo and it turned out there was a puppy waiting outside. Easy to miss!
I had to protect the little pooch while the chickens tried to rob him of his crackers. What bullies! Maybe that is why he is so skinny.
then some little alpacka showed up and started sucking on my nose and fingers
on the descend I keep swirling left and right like a drunk man, looking at the giant walls and their amazing textures. Seeming even much grander in the afternoon sun. The photos conver nothing, the videos neither. You need to look at this in person to appreciate the massive pieces of rock, the only place where the Alpackas cant venture!
After a good descent we chat for a bit and Sylvain is keen on exiting toward Lima from here. To be honest it had been a non-stop and not exactly easy ride and hike-a-bike from Huaraz. A gentle cruise down to lima seems like a good choice.
while munching on some tuna and transfering photos, I see a band of burros making their way up the valley
Me as well, with my visa time ticking down rather rapidly and many nameless passes ahead I wonder about the feasibility of taking a flatter coastal route. As the burros reach us, we shake hands, thats it! Rad to have company for the last 3 weeks but... as the mountains call John Muir......