The Grand Finale – wow

We have been blown away by the vistas of the Cordillera Blanca, and our circuit of Huascaran has been an amazing way to finish. The loop (Carhuaz return) is approx 200km and close to 5000 vertical metres (which incidentally took us into the stratosphere) and the first 90km is baby bottom smooth paved road. We did it in an anti clockwise direction, crossing the paved Punta Olympica pass thru to the town of Chacas. We had our first whole day of rain on the trip so we sat it out in our tent at the bottom of the climb to Punta Olympica.

It was worth the wait as the mountain views the next day on the climb were superb. With the paving of the road they constructed a 1.3km tunnel to avoid the top 200m to the pass. Because of the fresh snow from the storm the day before we hitched through the tunnel instead of riding to the old pass. It was a treat to descend 1400m on the smooth scenic paved road to Chacas.

Chacas was unaffected by the 7.8 earthquake that killed 70,000 people in 1970. Huaraz was all but destroyed and another village Yungay, on the same (western) side of the mountains got completely buried in a matter of minutes when it was hit by a huge avalanche of rock and mud after a huge block of ice was dislodged from Huascaran. Hence the villages on the eastern side of the range are more traditional in the tiled roofs and narrow streets.

From Chacas we enjoyed the climb over a 4000m pass through small villages. As has happened before when meeting locals, the older mamas want to take the gringa mamacita (jo) home with them. I think they feel sorry for me! I also got a cry of “Que bonito su vestido” from a women outside her house – she had taken a liking to my colourful top and skirt.
We stayed in Yanama – distinctive for its brand new, very modern Church. It would have blended with other Gaudi architecture but not so well in a Peruvian village.

The best view was saved to last. The 4700m pass called Portachuelo was blasted through the rocky head wall and the views to the north and south peaks of Huascaran and Huandoy with its overhanging granite face took our breath away.┬áThe ascent road had been very rough, and it didn’t improve on the gazillions of zigzags down to the valley floor. Because the road is used a lot we expected a better surface.

We set up camp at the Cerro Pisco base camp and after lunch went up to the stunning Laguna 69. Next day we made it back to Carhuaz through steep granite walls and then productive agricultural land. Above Yungay it was sobering to reflect on the mudslide that tore through and destroyed the town and killed 18,000 people. The only survivors were those who made it to the higher ground of the cemetery, ironically.

Back in Huaraz we just have one day to pack up before the road and air journey home.. Legs get to have a big ol’ rest..


Llamas in sunglasses in Huaraz’s main plaza
Young entertainers at a wedding we biked past
Breakfast goodness in a quinoa drink at the market
Huascaran dominates the early climb
Cerro Contrahierbas and the switchbacks up to Punta Olympica
Storm has passed and clear skies for the climb to Punta Olympica. The large south-east face of Huascaran is our backdrop
Wind cloud over Chopicalqui
Gotta love the smooth surface for a change
The heavily glaciated cerro Contrahierbas
Alan in the back of the hitch thru the Punta Olympica tunnel
On the eastern side of the pass, the notch is where the old road goes
The understated plaza of Chacas, each corner had a series of beautiful stone carved images which come into their own with evening lights. Another feature of this town were all the wood carved balconies
Leaving Chacas
Very old church, replaced by new church below
And the new one..
And the very new bizarre church in Yanama
Country roads..
Que bonito su vestido – or ‘love the skirt’
The peaks at sunrise from Yanama
Hey donkey..
Another great campsite
Perfect reflections on way up to Portachuelo
North peak of Huascaran peaking over the head wall
Final switchbacks…
To the spectacular Portechuelo
Huandoy – what a dramatic south summit
In front of Huascaran’s south and north peak
View down the descent valley
Huascaran and Alan
Chopicalque, Huascaran and the wiggly road down
Descending the wiggles, Laguna 69 is below the peak on the right
Laguna 69 (needs renaming!)
And again..
Biking back to camp after lake walk
The stunning granite walls of the lower canyon
Looking down on the remaining face of the Yungay church and the cemetery. The new town has been built further right
The very busy plaza of Carhuaz
Picking chickens at the massive Carhuaz Sunday market