First off, to allay any sense of panic, I haven’t just been for an impromptu cardiac operation in a Peruvian village. The title refers instead to the term we assigned to our latest escapade in the Andes; crossing the mighty Cordillera Blanca three times via three different high altitude passes. A rather pointless endeavor in many respects, all stemming from a classic case of indecision.
Broadly speaking, the plucky cyclist looking to haul himself (or herself!) over this beast of a range has two epic routes to deliberate over: the mostly paved Punta Olimpica (4900m) or the dirt Portachuelo de Llanganuco (4760m), both legendary. Like excited kids in a sweet shop who are told they can only choose one item from the juicy selection on offer, it was an impossible choice; we wanted the whole damn store. Tackling both passes would however, effectively bring us back to where we’d started and, with future progress depending on us being on the other side of the range, this wasn’t exactly ideal. What we needed (obviously) was a third pass. Significant Internet scouring later and we’d unearthed a potential contender. It had no name, in fact there was barely even a path, let alone a road, leading over it, but it had been successfully tackled by a combined team of Bicycle Nomad and Joe Cruz three years ago. Their account of it wasn’t exactly encouraging, with “never again” and “5-7 hours of pushing” featuring, but we decided to give it a crack anyway.
And thus, ‘Operation Triple Heart Bypass’ was born. A truly epic few days riding ensued and for anyone out there in need of some extra motivation to ‘jump ship’ and ride the Andes for $10/day, look no further than this post (although maybe gloss over the last day…).
It is better to be a little over-bold than a little over-cautious
– A. Cherry Garrard
# 1 Portachuelo de Llanganuco (4760m)
# 2 Punta Olimpica (4900m)
#3 The Pass With No Name (4750m)
Saving the hardest for last, ‘The Pass With No Name’, was somewhat of an unknown quantity and optimistically we were hoping for the best. Surely it’s rideable? Maybe they’ve put a road in now?
All in all a bit of a suffer fest, but as always with these endeavors it made the cup of tea at the end of it all the sweeter. A strange justification I’ll admit, (“why not just buy better tea bags?” I hear you say) but at least we were now on our desired side of the Cordillera and could start to enjoy some time off in the Gringo outpost of Huaraz. Actual coffee, Wi-Fi, shops with more than 10 items, it’s all here….
Sam’s account can be found here.
Pomabamba to Yanama
GPX file saved here (Note: track stops a few km before Yanama as the battery died, but you get the idea)
From Pomabamba instead of taking the ‘main’ road via Piscobamba we opted for a lesser-used, scenic route west of the river via the village of Lucma, which rejoins the main route 15km or so before the Yanama turn off. Both options involve a fair bit of climbing and it’s hard to tell which would be faster.
Distances from Pomabamba:
- 25km to Lucma (quite a climb to reach it)
- 39km intercept ‘main’ road
- 46km to Llumpa (last stop for supplies)
- 55km to Yanama turn off (2500ish m)
- 77km to Yanama (3300ish m)
Punta Olimpica & Portachuelo de Llanganuco
Relatively straightforward, see www.andesbybike.com for more info.
“The Pass With No Name”
GPX file of our route from the Chacas paved road to Macara is saved here. Basically you’re linking the two valleys of Juytush and Honda.
We used Bicycle Nomad’s route notes here, but additional distances etc are as follows:
8km up the road from Chacas (west) take the steep dirt track leading up to the left as soon as you reach the first collection of houses. The track then loops back on itself before following up the Juytush valley (quebrada).
Distances from turn off:
- 4.5km – take left fork across river via small wooden bridge, pass through gate and small farm
- 8km – reach entrance to vaqueria. There was a fence across the road so we had to use a small gate in the stone wall a bit to the side.
- 11km – double track ends at a landside, technical singletrack starts and then stops shortly after. At which point you need to climb a few meters to the left to pick up the old trail. This is where the first pushing starts.
- 13km – path forks, take left, cross river and follow edge of plateau round to furthest waterfalls. Partly rideable.
- 14.5km – commence steep push up beside left most waterfall (bloody tough in places)
- 15.5km – reach top of waterfall and the start of another plateau. Partly rideable before commencing steep slop up to the pass
- 17km – last camping (where we camped, 4500ish m)
- 18.5km – top of pass (4750ish m)
- 23.5km – reach dirt road after tough descent, all pushing (there may be a more direct way down than the route we took)
- 60km – reach Marcara
Discalaimer: This is a very tough route, best suited to lightweight masochists. Heavily loaded tourers will find it an absolute nightmare, even impossible.