Most people come to Cusco to visit the mighty Machu Picchu, highlight of countless South American trips and dream destination for many. It’s therefore almost with a sense of guilt that I tell people I haven’t bothered to go and see it, but my visa clock is ticking furiously (4 weeks overstayed and counting) and to be honest my real interest lay elsewhere; the mighty Ausangate. This beast of a mountain lies just to the south of Cusco and its trekking circuit has been on my radar for sometime as prime bikepacking territory.
Time constraints almost meant this final Peruvian mountain foray didn’t happen, but Mike, one of the few to have biked this challenging route, did a good job of changing my mind. His words were somewhere along the lines of “best place I’ve ever ridden a bike”. A bold claim, but despite a bizarre episode of bike theft and the usual rainy season battering, I’d have to concur; it’s a true Andean epic.
Here’s how it went down:
The Bike Theft Saga:
Struck by a mix of disbelief and despair it took a few minutes to fully process what had happened; the single entity around which my whole trip is based had just been nabbed. A bit of a bugger to say the least! Camped in what was effectively mountain wilderness, with only a handful of small shepherd shacks around, this hardly seemed a crime hot spot, and having survived countless ‘dangerous’ metropolises, the irony of it all was almost laughable. Far from being in a laughing mood though, I started pacing around like a frantic mother who’s just misplaced a child, chasing down any roaming shepherd I caught sight of. Fitting the crazy gringo stereotype perfectly, the ‘have you seen my bike?’ question was met with understandable surprise. As expected, leads were fairly non-existent, with the ‘bad men who live high in the mountains’ generally being blamed, the almost certainly fictional characters that it seems are consistently the source of problems anywhere in rural Peru…
The hours ticked by and following a fruitless ‘house to house’ search I’d just about given up, when, by an absolute stroke of luck, I spotted the bike stashed down at the bottom of a small ravine. Half covered in foliage and nestled amongst rocks, it was barely visible, but there was no mistaking it. Some manhandling later and I was able to retrieve it, thankfully to find it full working order. Overcome with relief tinged with confusion, I didn’t hang around to try and unravel the mystery, instead packing up as quickly as I could and getting the hell out of there. A bizarre episode that could have easily changed the course of the trip and one I was pretty glad to see the back of…
All in all a pretty intense little adventure on a number of levels and a fitting ‘last hurrah’ in Peru before following more conventional routes to the border. With any luck, the next time I post I should have finally extracted myself from this incredible country and be in Bolivia…
GPX file saved here, although keep in mind there were a couple of points I strayed off route and had to correct course.
- 120km ish from cusco to tinke (all paved), basically turn off the main road at Urcos and start a 1000m climb up to a 4200m pass. I stayed in ocongate a few km before tinke with hospedajes, restaurants etc
- From tinke it’s a 15km steep dirt road (still under construction) to the Upis campsite at base of Ausangate (4450m)
- From there it’s up to Abra Arapa (4800m) then following the trail round the the back of Ausangate via the lakes (including a stream/river crossing), route finding can be tricky here. You then reach the second pass (4900m). Both passes are fine to push rather than having to carry the bike.
- From the second pass you descend to Laguna Ausangatecocha and leave the trekking circuit by following the valley down to your right. There are trails on the left side of the valley, although can be tricky to follow at times. For the Last couple of km there’s a dirt road. This takes you to the ‘main’ dirt road leading down to pitumarca. In total it’s about 40km from tinke to where you meet this road, then it’s 30km down to pitumarca and another few km of paved to reach the cusco-Puno highway.
Had I done the slightest research I would have discovered that this route is notorious for theft. In fact the only Trekkers I met had effectively been mugged for their sleeping bags and were thus forced to retreat. My advice would be to obviously lock bikes up together if travelling with others or attach to a tent pole so at least you’ll hopefully be woken up if someone tries to pinch it. The incident happened at Upis where the hot springs are. Also I recommend not leaving anything valuable in the vestibule of the tent, this is how my stove was taken in Huayhuash.