Bikepacking in the Blanca

Bikepacking: backpacking with a bike. Somewhere between mountain biking and cycle touring, bikepacking comprises overnight trips on singletrack and testing dirt roads. Though a conventional cycle touring setup with panniers is possible, it makes carrying and pushing more difficult, so a world of gear geekery has sprung up – a new amusement for Haz to immerse herself in.

Inspired by some of Cass’ exploits, we embarked on a week-long circuit in the southern Cordillera Blanca. Armed with a tarp for shelter and no stove, all gear could be snugly squeezed into back-rack dry bags and frame bags. Oh so different from our last ventures onto trekking routes, lugging 25kg of kit over 5,000m Ladakhi passes.

Revelling in the freedom our steeds’ new setup afforded we pedalled, then pushed, the trails from Olleros to Chavin. As is often the case on such trips, overcoming poor mental preparation was our biggest hurdle. Unanticipated dreich weather toyed with our fragile little minds on the unexpectedly long push to Punta Yanashallash.

Later, an unused road above Chavin provided gloriously steep climbing up onto inhospitable puna, where basic adobe thatched huts were the norm and oilskin ponchos de rigeur. Completing our loop to Huaraz was the fabulous and popular ripio to Pastoruri, on a variant which involved carrying bikes through ichu grass into Quebrada Queshque.

An interesting experiment, soon repeated on a one-nighter to Quebrada Rajucolta, but there’s still much work to do to refine our carrying/pushing techniques!


On the jeep track to Sacracancha

On the jeep track to Sacracancha. From Olleros to this camp there’s a rough jeep track that’s all rideable. Then the pushing begins.

Into the driving rain

Into the driving rain. Our new setup ran like this: rear dry bag (sleeping mat, sleeping bag, tarp), frame bag (extra clothes, waterproofs and tools) and front bag (Osprey pack lids, filled with camera and miscellaneous important gadgets and notebooks). All worked quite well, except the weather wasn’t playing ball. Those of us who saved weight by leaving waterproof trousers and big gloves at home had some uncomfortable moments. The first 2 nights under the tarp it snowed on us too. Not in the plan!

Punta Yanashallash (4,700m)

Reaching 4700m Punta Yanashallash after hours of pushing. On this push into a headwind and driving rain, we questioned what the hell we were doing. Then the sun came out, the descent was just about all rideable, we found cable TV in Chavin to watch Muzza win Wimbledon. All was well with the world again.

The steep climb above Quercos

The steep climb above Quercos. After the excitement of the Wimbledon final we left Chavin late and ascended the dirt road towards Huallanca. 18km (including some downhill) later we camped, having climbed over 1300m. At an average of 7%, this was our second steepest daily climb ever.

H Pike preparing our delicious tuna sandwich dinner

Light setup = no stove. Delicious tuna sandwiches replaced the usual pasta dinner. We were pretty bored of bread by the end of the week.

Nearing Abra Contonga (4,600m)

Nearing 4,600m Abra Contonga. After the pass was a short section of uncompleted road, which explained why the previous afternoon we’d only been passed by poncho-ed horsemen, rather than the usual fleets of Hiluxes.

Young shepherd near Huallanca

A young shepherd near Huallanca. Watching him trying to herd his flock across a wooden bridge was the highlight of our day. Sheep can be quite stubborn, given the chance.

Young shepherdess near Huallanca

The lad’s sister.

Buenas Carreteras Para un Peru Mejor

‘Buenas Carreteras Para un Peru Mejor’. Peru has a strange appetite for political graffiti. Usually it’s houses splashed with party logos or politicians’ names. I can’t remember who was claiming credit for this lovely paving above Huallanca. They’d painted a big old sign about it though.

Back on the ripio

Back on the ripio and the road over Huamanripa and Huarapasca to Carpa. If you’re in the area, you could do far worse than pedal this way. It’s a good’un.

Into the snow

Particularly after a fresh covering of snow.

Cycling past the Cordillera Huallanca

…making all those Cordillera Huallanca peaks whiter than usual. This range tops out at about 5,300m, so not much permanent snow on display.

On the road to Huarapasca

On the road to Huarapasca (4,800m). Zero traffic, good surface, happy cyclists.

One of the few remaining road markers

40km of quiet dirt to enjoy before the paving begins again.

At Pastoruri

A swift detour to camp at Pastoruri. The road ends at 4,950m – as far as we know it’s the highest in the Cordillera Blanca.

Descending from Huarapasca

Descending from Huarapasca. Nevado Huarapasca providing the usual Blanca backdrop of snow and glacier.

And still descending from Huarapasca

A sinuous section before we reach the Puya Raimondii.

Bike hiking to Quebrada Queshque

And then we head off-road again. On Google Earth the terrain looks easy, and herein lay the problem. Gentle slopes = cows can go anywhere = no paths = slow going.

An alternative technique

To carry or to push? Carrying is quicker, but the 25kg bike kinda breaks your back.

Riding again

Riding again, past Acococha’s tranquil lakes. Then came an after-dark dash back from Catac to Huaraz on the main road. Won’t be repeating that again.


And then into Quebrada Rajucolta…


Into Quebrada Rajucolta

Above Macashca, heading for Nevado Cashan.

Throo the poo

Throo the poo. Well, that’s what I was expecting when I set up the shot. The pat was firmer than expected.

In Quebrada Rajucolta

Cycling out of Quebrada Rajucolta.

Can't resist a good boulder

Can’t resist a good boulder.

Lichen in Quebrada Rajucolta

Some lichen to evidence the nice clean air up in these quebradas.

Descending from Laguna Rajucolta

Descending from Laguna Rajucolta. Huantsan – the highest peak in the southern Cordillera Blanca – looming large.

Pushing out to Quebrada Shallap

Then we detour off road again. Pushing out of Quebrada Rajucolta and into Quebrada Shallap.

Carrying out to Quebrada Shallap

The going gets a bit trickier; the pushing becomes a carry.

11 thoughts on “Bikepacking in the Blanca

    1. Neil and Harriet Post author

      If only some frames could be magically teleported to Huaraz we could get Arturo to cannibalize our LHTs and build us up some Trolls!

      Grimacing is an essential part of bike riding, so I’m told!

  1. David Geddes

    Hi, your site was shared onto my FB yesterday, and I’ve been through it since with some admiration for your trips, planning, perseverance and photography. You must both be as fit as a butcher’s dog. I’ve travelled extensively and worked in the Nepal Himalaya myself so many views chime strongly. Don’t understand why with such fine journeys, well recorded, the hit counter is so small on your site, and really can’t get my head round ( as someone who has used his career as a stepping stone to every next trip) how you afford so much time away! Anyhow thought I had better leave a note of just how much I have enjoyed your photoblogs, from here in Wester Ross, Scotland, where mountain bike tour trails are extensive but not manicured. – David Geddes

    1. Neil and Harriet Post author

      Hi David,
      Thanks for the comment – glad you’ve been enjoying the site! We’ve had some great times in Nepal with the wonderful scenery and friendly mountain folk. For biking though we think the Andes are far better than the Nepal/Indian Himalaya, which is why we’ve been spending more time out here recently.
      We saved up when working in the UK, and money goes a long way when cycling/hiking in the Andes and Himalaya. Food’s our major expense, and there are only so many £1 meals we can eat out here… We’ll probably be back in the UK for a while from next year – will have to come up to Wester Ross to check out the biking there!

  2. James

    Beautiful shots guys! My head likes the idea of bikepacking, but – as undeniably delicious as your tuna rolls look – my stomach gets nervous at the prospect. I could blame my resident colony of unfriendly bacteria, but I think the truth is that I’m just plain greedy…

    1. Neil and Harriet Post author

      Gluttonous tendencies? No worries – just eat 10 tuna rolls at a time, like we did! Bikepacking is great, as long as you prepare yourself mentally for the pushing. Any thoughts of ‘it’ll be an easy little jaunt up to the pass’ before you set off and it ruins everything…

  3. Pingback: Bikepacking in the Blanca (Peru) | Trails and Tours - Bikepacking

  4. Michael

    Hi Neil and Harriet,
    Interesting to not have much gear, which would in turn shorten journey time but I was wondering how you fixed the bike to your back in that picture, did you make a sort of frame backpack contraption? Loving those exceptional pics 🙂

    1. Neil and Harriet Post author

      Hi Mike,
      I attach the bike to my back with these webbing straps You have to be careful to attach them to the right bit of the frame so that the balance is right and put clothes in the framebag so that it is comfy. I also use these straps for lashing stuff onto the rack, a belt and for hamstring stretches.
      Our guide to hiking and biking this area will be out in January.

  5. Dan Mattison

    I’ve been following your routes and constantly been blown away by the routes you’ve found. We’ve been planning our own routes using google earth in hopes that we can find some awesome stuff like this. It makes me nervous as I’m hoping that most of the trails I’m finding will be passable by bike. Anyway, thanks for being such a wonderful resource. I’d actually e-mailed Neil a few years back about this trip but never had a chance to keep in touch. I hope that you guys might still be down there when we make it down!

    1. Neil and Harriet Post author

      Cheers Dan,
      I’m sure you’ll find loads of good stuff in the Andes as there’s loads out there! Just ask locals about singletrack as you probably won’t see that on GE…
      Enjoy the ride!

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