Here Comes The Sun & Other Paganism: Quilcayhuanca – Cojup (again)

The agony of waiting for the morning sun and the ecstasy when it pops over a hill are accentuated in the Cordillera Blanca. The sun is so hot and we’re often so high that the difference between sun and shade is staggering. We plan camp spots based on where will get get warming rays first, then sing ‘Here Comes the Sun’ to goad it out of hiding as we shiver over the camp stove. When it appears we’ve been known to whoop and dance. Then an hour later we’re sweating and cursing that bloody sun. A few years of high altitude journeys has done nothing if not make pagans of us; it’s hard not to dabble in some sun worship these days.

With a good weather forecast and a companionable ray of sunshine in the form of Alex the Austrian we spun our bikes up into the hills. After a night at The Hof we set off bright and early for Quebrada Quilcayhuanca…

In Quebrada Cayesh.

Under blue skies the flowers are beginning to bloom.

In Quebrada Cayesh

Will this make the clouds disappear? These days we try anything…

Gazing at the flanks of Nevado Cayesh

We bow down to Cayesh…….


Quebrada Cayesh

……giver of tasty water…….

A friend in Quilcayhuanca

“Why are gringos such weirdos? Why don’t they give me some decent food? I’m fed up with instant noodles! After all I barked at the cows and kept them away all night!”

Crossing Paso Huapi (5080m)

Pike and Messner, descend from Paso Huapi…

Ranrapalca (6160m)

Bloody-eye Ranrapalca keeps its cloudy bonnet on…

Pucaranra (6160m)

Around here they worship the Apus. Mountain Spirits….

Chinchey (6220m)


Pucaranra (6160m)


Nevado San Juan (5840m)


Palcaraju (6200m)


Palcaraju (6200m)


Lupins and Palcaraju (6200m)

…I think Neil does too…




Soggy Scraps (a compilation of trips in wet season)

As we knew it would be, March and April in Ancash was spent pottering about, often accompanied by the squelching sound of wet boots. Heading out into the hills for short trips on foot and bikes, hoping to strike lucky with some clear skies. Occasionally we won, more often we didn’t.

We learnt the importance of waterproof boots to combat boggy pampas and getting up at the crack of dawn to avoid afternoon showers. The peaks were somewhere behind a wall of cotton wool; when they did appear for a minute or two we were reminded of their allure, their magnitude, their beauty.


Carhuaz cuy market

The weather has no effect on the Carhuaz market. Rain or shine those cuy keep on breeding, and the campesinas keep bringing them down in sacks from the villages twice weekly.

Carhuaz market

The original expandable backpack. Lightweight and versatile it’s perfect for a sleeping bairn or for carrying produce back from market.

Carhuaz market


Carhuaz market

Every single person in this photo is holding a sack of cuy! What if they revolted, escaped, and ran amok round Carhuaz centre? Run free little guinea pigs, run free!

Huandoy South

As Haz got stuck in at the cuy market,  Neil embarked on a day ride to Musho. Huandoy South soon regained its ‘favourite peak in the Blanca’ status.

In Quebrada Raria

We waded the pampas of Quebrada Raria, wishing we’d worn wellies like the locals, and stealing the odd glimpse of Nevado Mururaju.

In Quebrada Raria

All the Blanca peaks are laden with snow at this time of year.

In Quebrada Rangracancha

…and the red bromeliads are out in force, clinging resolutely to steep rock faces.


One lovely morning Haz went out in search of singletrack. That’s Huascaran top right.


A popular route with the Huaraz Riders, as she thudded down yet another flight of stairs she wondered if perhaps a bike with some sort of suspension would’ve been a better idea…?


…..nah! There’s nowhere LHTs can’t go!

Vallunaraju from Pashpa

Meanwhile Neil scouted the entrance to Quebrada Ishinca.

Vallunaraju and Cochapampa

Cochapampa wouldn’t be such a bad spot to hang out for a while…

Moss in Bosque Ishinca

With no mountaineers around, he had the mossy quenual forest all to himself. Well, apart from the fairies of course…

Moss in Bosque Ishinca



Quebrada Uquian, above Olleros.

For reasons that can only be put down to crap planning, we set off to trek the Olleros – Chavin route for a third time. The views on this trek don’t compare with most others in the Blanca; but the meandering river through Quebrada Uquian is always a joy to wander along.

Quebrada Uquian


Descending to Chavin

These rocks are good too. We thought we’d been quite subtle, photoing these ladies from a distance with our small camera. Till we looked closely at one of the shots and realized all except the mule were staring right at us….

On the way to Quebrada Huantsan

After 3 aborted attempts, we ran out of time and had to head to Carhuascancha despite bad forecasts. We’d been looking forward to this quebrada since seeing the sheer number of lakes in it on a map.


…but four overcast days meant we didn’t see much. Huantsan poked its head out just this once…

Gazing at the east face of Huantsan

It was a frustrating game of hide and seek.

Fungus near Huantsan

Though we’re not really sure how the peaks are faring, the fungi were doing well.

Threatening clouds over Huaraz's quebradas

Back in Huaraz we continued to stare at the skyline, wishing and hoping the rain would stop so we could get out into the hills and enjoy our final month in Peru…

The Murals of Huaraz

Here’s some of Huaraz’s best street art:

(Yeah we know it’d look cooler with our bikes leaned against the murals, but we couldn’t be bothered to drag them round town.)


Face in hat.




This is our fave. Labourers round these parts always wear these wicked hats.




Alien woman near the big gringo square.


A Picasso.


Won’t even pretend to interpret this one.




Hope the bici got away…










Near our hostel in Soledad.


Some political graffiti.






A gory one. Don’t worry, killing bulls at bullfights is illegal in Peru.


This dude is in Olleros.


Some more political graffiti.

Huaraz street art

Don’t think this one’s around anymore – the photo is from 2013.

Some slightly more bizarre Huaraz street art

A weird one.

Hanging out with Mary in Huaraz

The classic: Pete and Mary hanging out at her polleria.

Back in Black

The Negra had been on our minds for a while. We’d never really ventured up and over its spine, despite many short forays onto its lower slopes. A three day circuit from Recuay to Huaraz via Aija on steep dirt roads put this right.

If only all the stupid dogs in Peru would morph into lovely, relaxed pigs...

If nothing else, cycling polarizes the animal world for you. Pigs fall into the ‘good’ category: nothing flusters them, not even passing cyclists. If only all the dumb dogs in Peru would morph into friendly porcines…

Frame bag essential contents: Inca Kola and Sublimes

Frame bags filled, we’re ready for the climb above Recuay. Plenty of healthy calories packed into this Kola and Sublimes combo.

Climbing above Recuay

The Negra’s looking lush at this time of year. The Blanca? Enveloped.

The climb to Abra del Huancapeti

The Peruvian zigzag leads us to the top.

Nearing the Huancapeti mine in the Cordillera Negra

…and we’ve just the odd mine 4×4 for company.

Nearing Abra del Huancapeti

Moody skies too…

En route to Abra del Huancapeti


Abra del Huancapeti - 4580m

You know you’ve become a Peru veteran when you cease to find pass names like this side-splittingly funny.

Descending to Aija

We negotiate the mine scarring near the pass, then descend through the clouds to Aija.

A standard Peruvian shop, in Aija

The standard Peruvian shop. Soft drinks, potatoes, gas and urea. Get it all here.

Drying laundry in the Peruvin rainy season

The tatties will probably be ready before the washing is dry. This is March, after all.

An old Aija house we liked


Aija door and balcon


Motocyclist, sandwiched by a donkey leading a cow

Now this was fun. Donkey leading cow on a rope up the street. But they’re not heading the way their owner wants them to, so a helpful motorcyclist sprints after them and herds them back. Unfortunately the donkey decides to go right of his moto, and the cow left… A couple of dogs in audience too, for a change.

Looking from the Negra to the Blanca, in rainy season

Some sheep enjoy the gloom. All very Scottish.

Nonsensical sign at the Barrick Mine in the Cordillera Negra

Our plans were thrown up in the air on day 3 when the road we’d planned on taking turned out to go through the Barrick gold mine. Entry by written request only. Surprising that the world’s biggest gold mining company can’t find anyone literate enough to cobble together a better warning sentence than this…

Time for a route change

Time for a route change. Not until we’d read all the entertaining signs and chatted to the security guard though. He had lots of great tales about battles with local campesinos who aren’t too happy at having had their water supply polluted by the mine activities.

A Nepali road in Peru's Cordillera Negra

Our descent to the valley floor brought back memories of the Himalaya. This is classic Nepal, post-monsoon.

Climbing in clouds

Cycling in the Cordillera Blanca in wet season can be a thankless task. Muddy roads, afternoon rains, impassable torrents and a blanketing of clouds all conspire to complicate riding. The clear blue skies of July seem a long way away in a drizzly March.

A 2000m, 50+ switchback climb from Caraz into the fog led to a damp camp whose location was something of a mystery to us. But set an early morning alarm and your efforts may just be rewarded…


Our ride from Caraz got off to a faltering start. This was the bridge we were intending to cross over the Rio Santa. Turns out it won’t be built until later this year. But there’s an old bridge a few hundred metres downstream…


Unfortunately it’s looking a bit unstable at this time of year. As even the locals weren’t risking crossing, we headed back to Caraz to cross the next-closest bridge, which added a couple of hours to our ride. (This turned out to be a good decision – when we passed this old bridge two days later, it had collapsed; and falling into the raging Santa at this time of year is unlikely to have a happy ending.)


For most of the climb into the Negra we could barely see past our front wheels. But at 4000m the clouds cleared for a bit, and we caught this view of a shamlet perched on a hillside.


No hillside too steep to cultivate!


We set up camp in the rain, just off the road. We didn’t really know where we were. But at 0600, all became clear…


Santa Cruz – Caraz – Huandoy.





A lone puya raimondii. The hillsides at Winchus boast the largest stand of puyas anywhere, apparently.




The paved climb gave way to an upward traverse on dirt. The views only improved..







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