Peru’s Great Divide: Gear


The Peruvian Andes are quite hilly (to put it mildly), and it didn’t take long to learn on our first jaunt here in 2010 that it’s best to carry as little as possible. The luxury on the Great Divide route is the scenery, so we got rid of all our luxury items of kit and this is what was left: just under 15kg each. All fitted neatly into 2 rear panniers with the tent strapped across Neil’s rear rack. 

Harriet’s Packing List:


Haz's clothes for our bike trip through the Peruvian mountains

Inov8 Terroc trail shoes
Rab Shadow Hoodie
Helly Hansen Lifa Warm LS top
Sport Ancash Football Shirt
Rab MeCo 120 Tee. The best wicking layer I have found.
Haglofs Mid flex 3/4
Rab Powerstretch leggings
Brixton Cycles Socks. Yeah Rasta!
Bridgedale Merino Hiker socks
Rab MeCo briefs. I hate to wear cycling shorts, but with only one type of underwear I get chaffing on seams. Switching between 3 different types I don’t get any problems.
Lowe Alpine Dryflo briefs
M&S Knickers
M&S Bra
Shock Absorber Bra
Mountain Equipment G2 Ultimate Mountain Pant – windstopper. If I were just cycling in Peru (and not on a longer trip with mountaineering) I would switch these for windstopper leggings.
Rab Latok Jacket – eVent. Once again this is overkill for Peru but you do need a good waterproof at all times of year. I would prob get a Goretex Active shell.
Rab Latok Gloves. Mountaineering gloves are a must for soggy descents from high passes.
Rab Powerstretch gloves
Alpaca Hat, made in Rapaz. Drop by their weaving factory on your way through.

Camping Gear
MSR Whisperlite International Stove with expedition service kit.
Fuel: Bencina Blanca which is widely available and of excellent quality in Peru. Another good choice would be an alcohol stove particularly if you are heading to Bolivia too.
MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set
2 Sturdy Hunza Crockery Spoons
Thermarest Prolite4 Sleeping Mat
Nalgene 1l bottle
Mountain Equipment Snowline 700 Sleeping Bag in Exped dry compression bag, This bag is rated down to -17C (if I were only cycling in Peru I would take one that goes down to -5C instead)
Rab Silk Liner
3 x Exped dry bags, 1 for clothes, 1 in front bag, 1 contains my kitchen

Biking Stuff

The contents of our tool kit

Long Haul Trucker (bought as a complete bike) w/ Brooks B17S Saddle, Cargo Tubus rack and On One Mary handlebar
Ortlieb Back Roller Panniers. The seam of one of these failed en route and was repaired by a cobbler.
Rucksack lid front bag
Sigma Cycle Computer
On One Toe Straps
2 x Podsac webbing straps
Giro Savant Helmet
Park Spoke Key
Tri-hex key
Sigma Sport Multitool. Wouldn’t be my 1st choice but was the only one available in Istanbul in 2008.
Blackburn Mammoth Pump
Leatherman Wave with broken screwdrivers – whoops
Screwdriver, see above.
15mm spanner, for pedal removal when pushing or carrying bike.
NBT2 cassette remover
Chain Breaker
Park Tyre Levers
Patches and rubber solution
1 x Inner Tube
Replacement brake pads
Grease, tiny Pot
Duct Tape
Electric Tape
Spare gear and brake cable
4x Spare spokes
Random screws, powerlinks and spare chain links


Victorinox Wee knife, mostly for the little scissors.
Toiletries – Suncream, Moisturiser, Lip Balm, Sun Lip Balm, Wet Wipes, Toothbrushes, Toothpaste, Comb, Contact lense solution, (bought sachets of shampoo whenever we took a shower)
First Aid Kit
Canon HS240 Camera
Garmin Etrex 30 GPS
Contact Lenses
Petzl Tikka 2 Headtorch

Neil’s Packing List

The contents of Neil's panniers

Specialized Tahoe Cycle shoes
Nepali special Crocs
Rab Powerstretch Fleece
Nepali special 3/4 shorts
Helly Hansen Lifa Warm LS top
Nepali special long sleeved t-shirt
2 x Bridgedale Merino Hiker socks
1 x Briefs
Madison cycle shorts
Rab Powerstretch leggings
Mountain Equipment G2 Ultimate Mountain Pant, windstopper
Mountain Equipment Kongur Jacket, Gore Tex Pro-Shell
Nepali special micro down jacket
Montane Resolute Mitts
Rab Powerstretch gloves
Brixton Cycles cap

Camping Gear

Integral Designs MK3 tent, Mountaineering tent that wouldn’t be our first choice if just cycle touring (it’s bright yellow, for a start).
Thermarest Prolite4 Sleeping Mat
Nalgene 1l bottle
Alpine Designs 4 Season sleeping bag, in Exped dry compression bag. Once again this is overkill for this route – a 2 season bag would do.
Rab Silk Liner
Assorted Exped dry bags

Biking Stuff
Long Haul Trucker, w/ Cargo Tubus racks and On One Fleegle handlebar
Ortlieb Back Roller Panniers
Giro Savant Helmet
VDO MC1.0 Cycle Computer
On One Toe Straps. Didn’t use much on this route
2 x Podsac webbing straps
3 x Spare spokes


And here's what's in the front bag

Assorted chargers and cables
Rechargeable batteries, AA and AAA
Canon 1100D SLR Camera
Garmin Etrex 10 GPS
Steripen Classic
Contact Lenses
Petzl Tikka 2 Headtorch
Nexus 7

Puna 9: Gear

This is simply a list of gear that we carried on our Puna 9 trip, biking to and climbing 9 of the highest mountains in the Andes. Note that when we are just cycling in the high Andes we carry far fewer things – less than 15kg each – as this makes the cycling infinitely more enjoyable. I apologise to those who find gear exceptionally dull however we know that it’s useful or interesting for those planning similar trips. For parts 1 and 2 we had to carry everything but for parts 3 and 4 we returned to Fiambala afterwards and were able to leave things like front panniers and unnecessary clothes behind.

Harriet’s Packing List

Leaving Llullaillaco

Inov8 Terroc trail shoes – These are rubbish for cycling.
Rab Shadow Hoodie – Love the hood because it fits well under my waterproof and helmet.
Helly Hansen Lifa Warm LS top – Much better than Icebreaker which can be cold at high altitude due to inferior wicking qualities.
Rab MeCo 120 Tee
Haglofs Mid flex 3/4 – Much more than a tight Pike pays for some shorts but I love them.
Rab Powerstretch leggings – These are simply a cocoon of snugly goodness.
Mountain Equipment G2 Ultimate Mountain Pant – windstopper
Rab Latok Jacket – eVent
Nepali special Down Jacket
Rab Latok Gloves
Rab Powerstretch gloves
Mountain Hardware under gloves
Alpine Designs Down Mitts – Only ever worn these on my feet and on my Nalgene bottle.
Alpaca Hat – Made in Rapaz
Bridgedale Merino Hiker socks – Cheap but not very good.
Bridgedale Summit socks
Brixton Cycles Socks
Helly Hansen Lifa dry leggings
Rab MeCo briefs
Windstopper buff
Shock Absorber Bra
Lowe Alpine Dryflo briefs
Original Buff

Camping Gear
MSR Whisperlite International Stove with expedition service kit – Much better at coping with South American fuel than Primus Omnifuel.
MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set – These will outlive me.
2 Sturdy Hunza Crockery Spoons – YEAH HUNZA!
1 Sea to Summit X-Mug – Used to measure doses of oats and potato (not for drinking out of as it leaks).
Thermarest Prolite4 Sleeping  Mat – I would go for a Prolite Plus another time or maybe an eggbox-type roll mat.
MSR Pocket Rocket Stove – Used on mountains and as a backup.
Nalgene 1l bottle – I like it when it is full of hot tea.
Mountain Equipment Snowline 700 Sleeping Bag in Exped dry compression bag
Rab Silk Liner – Standard shape
Assorted Exped dry bags – We put food, clothes and all sorts of things in these.
8 litre Ortlieb water bag
5 plastic pop bottles

Biking Stuff
Long Haul Trucker (bought as a complete bike) w/ Brooks B17S Saddle, Cargo and Tara Tubus racks and On One Mary handlebar
Ortlieb Back Roller Panniers – A bit holey now but replacements are awaiting us in UK.
Ortlieb Front Roller Panniers
Sigma Cycle Computer
On One Toe Straps – These death traps were quickly removed.
2 x Podsac webbing straps – Useful for lashing stuff to the bike and lashing the bike to me.
Park Spoke Key – Always buy Park!
Oil – We’re not fussy so we take what we find.
Toothbrush – Our most used tool.
Tri-hex key
Sigma Sport Multitool – Wouldn’t be my 1st choice, but was the only one available in Istanbul in 2008.
Blackburn Mammoth Pump
Leatherman Wave with broken screwdrivers – whoops
Screwdriver – See above.
15mm spanner – For pedal removal.
NBT2 cassette remover
Chain Breaker
Park Tyre Levers
Patches and rubber solution
2 x Inner Tubes
Replacement brake pads
Grease – Tiny Pot
Duct Tape
Electric Tape
Epoxy Glue
Spare gear and brake cable
4 x Spare spokes
Random screws and spare chain links
Giro Savant Helmet

Mountaineering Stuff
La Sportiva Evo Extreme boots
Grivel G12 Crampons – Bought 2nd hand in Mendoza.
Petzl Summit Ice Axe
Osprey Ariel 65l Rucksack – Not my first choice but it was a steal!
Leki Makalu Ultralite Poles – Bought 2nd hand in Kathmandu.

Victorinox Wee knife – Mostly for the little scissors.
Toiletries – Suncream, Moisturiser (you need tons of this on the Puna), Lip Balm, Sun Lip Balm, Wet Wipes, Toothbrushes, Toothpaste, Comb, Deodorant, Contact lense solution
First Aid Kit
Canon HS240 Camera
Garmin Etrex 30 GPS
Contact Lenses
Petzl Tikka 2 Headtorch


Neil’s Packing List

Heavy Pike bike

Neil is one of those people who finds gear exceptionally dull, so hasn’t cooperated much with this post. This is what I think he’s carrying:

Specialized Tahoe Cycle shoes
Nepali special Crocs
Rab Powerstretch Fleece
Nepali special 3/4 shorts
Mountain Equipment G2 Ultimate Mountain Pant, windstopper
Mountain Equipment Kongur Jacket, Gore Tex Pro-Shell – I like this apart from the crap Velcro on the cuffs.
Nepali special micro down jacket – love
Montane Resolute Mitts – good, except hard to grip Leki poles when using both inner and outer glove.
Rab Powerstretch gloves
Mountain Hardware under gloves
Alpine Designs Down Mitts (never used)
Nepali special Fleece Hat
2 x Bridgedale Merino Hiker socks
Bridgedale Summit socks
Icebreaker Mountaineer Socks
Nepali special thermal leggings and top
2 x Nepali special long sleeved t-shirts
1 x Briefs
Craghopper pro stretch trousers
Madison cycle shorts
Rab powerstretch leggings
2x Buffs
Helly Hansen Lifa Warm LS top – love it
Brixton Cycles cap – fits under helmet, love it (thanks Pete!).

Camping Gear
Integral Designs MK3 tent – Great tent, though the poles bent too easily.
Integral Designs tarp
Thermarest Prolite4 Sleeping Mat – Like, though not thick and warm enough for what we do.
Nalgene 1l bottle – Don’t really like. It doesn’t leak but always drips when you fill it and I find I often spill liquid all over me when I’m trying to drink out of it.
Alpine Designs 4 Season sleeping bag, in Exped dry compression bag
Rab Silk Liner, Standard shape
Assorted Exped dry bags
8 litre Ortlieb water bag – Leaks, so I don’t like it.

Biking Stuff
Long Haul Trucker, w/ Tara and Cargo Tubus racks and On One Fleegle handlebar – LHT has served me well, but is the wrong bike for what we do now. Love the racks, which have stood up to all manner of road surfaces.
Ortlieb Back Roller Panniers – Like, though after 4 years the clips have all begun breaking.
Ortlieb Front Roller Panniers
VDO MC1.0 Cycle Computer – Don’t particularly like. The altimeter loses about 10% on climbs, stops working in the rain and in the wind makes up crazy figures.
On One Toe Straps
2 x Podsac webbing straps
3 x Spare spokes
Spare Marathon Extreme Folding Tyre
Giro Savant Helmet

Mountaineering Stuff
Asolo Sherpa boots – The only comfy boots I’ve ever owned.
Petzl Crampons
Grivel Munro Ice Axe
Osprey Aether 70l Rucksack – Don’t like – comfy but not nearly hard wearing enough.
Leki Makalu Ultralite Titanium Poles – My oldest bit of kit. 2005 till who knows when.

Assorted chargers and cables
Rechargeable batteries, AA and AAA
Canon 1100D SLR Camera
Garmin Etrex 10 GPS
Contact Lenses
Petzl Tikka 2 Headtorch
Nexus 7

Puna 9: Food

Delicious peanut butter lunch near Paso Socompa

Food has played an essential part in this trip. On our first trip to the Puna we didn’t put much thought into it beforehand and ended up eating mush for weeks. This was incredibly bad for our (well, mostly Haz’s) morale and meant that by the end we were very eager to return to civilization. This time experience taught us to eat better when we’re up top. Below is a list of all the food we carried on the various parts of this trip and an outline menu. But first, here are a few things we’ve learnt along the way:

Salami, salami, salami (and maybe a bit of olive oil)
Salami is packed with calories and is incredibly morale boosting. Take as much as you can carry! We really looked forward to our salami and mash meals as they broke up the pasta monotony. Olive oil is also very high in calories and much improves instant mash. Look out for sensational, and cheap, local olive oil in Fiambala.

Christmas lunch on El Condor

Angel hair pasta is gross!
At altitude water boils at a lower temperature and as a result pasta takes much longer to cook. It also cooks more unevenly, going mushy on the outside while remaining hard in the centre. It’s worth buying the more expensive brands of pasta, such as Lucchetti, as they don’t go as mushy. Pasta shape is also important. You need something that cooks fast to save fuel however angel hair, which cooks the fastest, ends up a squidgy and incredibly depressing mess. The shape known as espirales in Chile and tirabuzon in Argentina is our favourite.

Dry veg in the sun
This is like witchcraft! Take 1kg of carrots, slice it finely, leave it in the hot Andean sun for a few hours (watch out for the afternoon winds) and you end up with a few hundred grams. Throw the dried veg in with your pasta water and watch it grow back.

Drying veg in San Pedro de Atacama

Re-use your pasta water
When water is scarce on the Puna, throwing away your pasta water doesn’t make sense. We use ours to make pasta sauce with soup powder or if we are using a pre-made sauce then we save the water in a Nalgene bottle to make our porridge in the morning.

Drybags make great air tight Food Containers
We like to store our oats, mash, bulghur, trail mix, and noodles in roll top dry bags or zip lock bags. The food takes up less room like this and you don’t end up carrying lots of rubbish around.


Our Menu

100g of oats each (usually made into porridge) accompanied by 500ml coffee. We only took 80g each during Part 1, but upped the ration when Neil complained he was being starved.

Either bread, wraps or pitta with chorizo, jam, peanut butter or dulce de leche.
Or 125g each bulghur with chorizo/salami, garlic, oregano and olive oil.
Or 1/2 pack Fruitigran biscuits each.
Or Hogareñas wholemeal crackers with dulce de leche, or cheese spread.

Either pasta with soup powder. Laced with parmesan, garlic, oregano and merquen to taste. (This is the lightest meal option, and so the one we most commonly ate. We came to dread it.)

Or instant potato with chorizo/salami, garlic and olive oil.
Or instant noodles (however, these are not on sale in Argentina, and Chilean instant noodles are worse than any we’ve ever tasted.)
Or pasta with a pre-made sauce (heavy, but we carry a couple as a treat).

Chocolate (we gave up on this after the first stage as it kept melting in the desert).
Trail mix (half peanuts, half raisins).
Biscuits (Don Satur bizcocho is best as they don’t crush easily and are chocka with calories).

We usually consumed 3.5-4 liters of water each per day. This was calculated as follows:

0.5l coffee
0.3l porridge
1.5-2l during day
0.5l tea
0.7l supper

Food Carried (between us)

PART 1 (17 days)


2.7kg Oats
1.6kg Tortilla wraps
1.8kg Pitta bread
1kg Bread
1kg Peanut butter
0.5kg Blackberry jam
1kg Bulghur
1kg Chorizo
4kg Pasta
1.6kg Instant noodles
1kg Instant potato
4 sachets tomato soup
3 sachets mushroom soup
3 sachets pre-made pasta sauce
1.3kg Chocolate
1kg Peanuts
1kg Raisins
1.2kg Sugar
250ml Olive oil
20 Cedron teabags
20 Earl Grey teabags
0.1kg Instant coffee
0.1kg Parmesan cheese
0.4kg Milk powder
1.5 bulbs garlic
Sun dried carrots and mushrooms

TOTAL 28.5kg. (For Americans, Liberians, Burmese and old people this equates to about 63lbs.)

PART 2 (8 days)


1.6kg Oats
2kg Bread
0.4kg Crackers
0.75kg Dulce de Leche
1kg Bulghur
0.3kg Salami
3.5kg Pasta
4 Sachets Instant Soup Powder
3 x 150g Tomato Puree
0.1kg Chocolate
1kg raisins
1kg Don Satur biscuits (Taste like pie crust and are full of calories)
1 bulb garlic
0.2kg Milk Powder
0.5kg sugar
20 black teabags

TOTAL: 13kg (29lbs)

PART 3 (15 days)


3kg Oats
2.5kg Bulghur
4 x 250g packs Fruitigran
6kg Pasta
8 Sachets Instant Soup Powder
3 x 340g Premade Sauce
1kg Instant Potato
600g Salami
1kg Peanuts
1kg Raisins
7 x 210g 9 de Oro Biscuits(Similar but inferior to Don Satur)
250ml Olive Oil
1.2kg Sugar
400g milk powder
Black tea
Apple, honey and cinnamon tea (AMAZEBALLS!)
100g Instant Coffee
3 x Fruit powder drink
1 tin tuna
1 tin sweetcorn
100g Mayonaise
Herbs and Chilli Flakes
1 Bottle Cider (For the carabineros)

TOTAL 21.5kg (48lb)

We learnt the hard way that foxes can open or rather rip into dry bags. Jonson reccommends that if you leave food depots you dig a hole, line it with rocks, place the food in a strong bag in the hole and then weigh down with rocks.

PART 4 (18 days)

3.5kg Oats
1kg Bulghur
6 x 250g Fruitigran Biscuits
0.54kg Spreadable cheese
6 x 250g Crackers
7kg Pasta
3 Pre-made Sauces
11 packs soup powder
1.5kg Instant Potato powder
0.9kg Salami
1kg Peanuts
1kg Raisins
7 x 210g 9 de Oro Biscuits
0.5kg Walnuts (Luxury Snack)
1kg Sugar
Black Tea
Mint Tea
100g Instant Coffee
400g Milk Powder
250ml Olive Oil
Herbs and Chilli Flakes
Dried Carrots and Squash

TOTAL 24.5kg (54lbs)


Puna 9: Part 4b – Bonete and Veladero

As the condor glides it’s 30km between Pissis and Bonete, the Andes’ third and fourth highest peaks. By road it’s more like 600km. But one of the advantages of the easy angled, rolling Puna is that it’s possible to pick a route between two points from satellite pictures and then just go cross-country. There’s no danger of encountering a raging, unfordable river or an impassable ravine.

From the north side of Pissis we wound our way into a shallow quebrada, then pushed, and at times carried, our bikes for a day and a half to a 5650m pass. The descent led us into a valley so pristine and remote that we could well have been convinced it had never before been trodden by man. Except that we were continually coming across footprints in the sand from a group of Poles who’d made a rare ascent of Bonete from the north the week before.

Another day and a half of pushing saw us reach the 4×4 tracks to Corona del Inca, and these we followed to the base of Bonete. The summit morning was bone chillingly cold, but at the top the sweeping panoramas made up for numb hands and frozen noses. All the pushing had sapped our energy however, so we were sluggish on this climb, finding it more tiring than any of our previous ascents.

The following day we took a poorly planned route, which needlessly crossed many ridges, to the base of Veladero, the last of the peaks on our Puna 9 adventure. By this time our energy had returned and in the morning we climbed quickly from a 5200m camp to the Inca ruins on the summit. Our ninth successful ascent this season! All thirteen 6400ers on the Puna climbed!

Two months ago we thought our chances of achieving this ambitious goal were slim, but some good acclimatization, plenty of sweat, and a bit of help from Pachamama with the weather, and we’d done it! And, more importantly, we’d enjoyed it too. No disillusionment, or wishing we hadn’t set such an arduous goal.

Nonetheless, on the two day cruise down to Villa Union we couldn’t help feeling glad that we were done with the inhospitable Puna for now. No more mushy pasta or drinking of dish water. It was time for ice cream and steak, wine and a shower. A bit of a rest and then more plans to return to this incredible area will no doubt begin to be hatched.

But that’s for the future. For now it’s time to begin our journey back to Huaraz and that other Andean love of ours – the Cordillera Blanca.

The push from Pissis to Bonete begins

The push to Bonete begins easily enough. Arriving back at our bikes from Pissis high camp at 16:00 we push for a few hours from 4400m to a camp at 4600m.

The push from Pissis to Bonete

In the morning the gentle push continues.

The push from Pissis to Bonete

This 20m descent into the valley which goes right up to the pass we’re headed for is the only time in the day and a half of pushing that we’re not climbing.

Pushing up to a 5650m pass on the eastern flanks of Pissis

The going remains easy to 5000m. Then the gradient steepens, the terrain becomes more rocky and it takes us all afternoon to get up to 5300m and our next camp.

The going gets steeper on the way to Bonete

As usual on such terrain, Pike soon begins ferrying kit, while Haz continues struggling up with backpack on and loaded bike.

Pushing up to a 5650m pass on the eastern flanks of Pissis

This section was a bit of a pain. Nacimiento and Walter Penck in the background.

The push to Bonete

But eventually it becomes easier. By this time we were tired though, so soon after this shot we camped…

Taking a break from the long push to Bonete

…but not before a last look back at Laguna Negra, and the big peaks near Ojos del Salado.

No lack of water on the push to Bonete

In the morning it’s easy again. Though we’re still carrying 11 days of food our kit isn’t that heavy as we don’t need to carry any water. Plenty of that, in its various forms, around.

The Laguna next to the 5650m pass between Pissis and Bonete

By the 5650m pass is this lovely lake. L-R: Tres Quebradas, Tres Cruces Sur and Cerro Solo.

The pass at last!

We finally reach the pass, and mark it like dogs. Well, with a spare spoke and some of Jonson’s ribbon, anyway.

Descending towards Bonete

The descent isn’t tricky. Bonete looms ahead, but we have to veer west for the rest of the day, to find a way up toward Corona del Inca.

Water collecting on the way to Bonete

There’s plenty of water on this side too. We collect some a few hours before our next camp.

Pushing to Bonete

Then continue the push round some green lakes. Lots of sand on the south side of Pissis.

Pushing to Bonete

Nearing camp…

Camp between Pissis and Corona del Inca

…which has great views of the snowy south side of Pissis.

In the morning it threatens snow

The weather since we left Fiambala had been perfect to this point, but on day 9 we wake to ominous clouds. We pack up camp quickly, to try and get to the 4×4 tracks to Corona del Inca before the snow arrives.

Past the penitentes, then up to Corona del Inca

We descend into this valley, overlooked by penitentes.

Pushing upvalley to Corona del Inca

Then begin the 300m climb, which takes the entire morning.

Pushing up towards Corona del Inca

Back the way the clouds continue to look threatening, but to our surprise no storm ever arrives.

Ferrying our kit up to Corona del Inca

The top section to the 5500m pass is steep, so we’re ferrying again. First the kit…

The steep push up towards Corona del Inca

…then the bikes.

Nearing the end of the 3 day Pissis-Bonete push

Then it flattens off, and but for a few quebradas we have to descend into and then climb out of it’s easy enough to the 4×4 tracks.

Camp by the 'road', near Corona del Inca

These we reach late in the afternoon, and descend for 5km to a camp at the base of Bonete.

Early morning coffee treat

In the morning we enjoy a coffee treat. Probably need to try and clean that Nalgene bottle a bit better…

A tricky section for the 4WDs, near Bonete

The 4×4 track isn’t in great condition in places. Not quite sure how the vehicles get through this bit.

Cycling the Rio Veladero

Though there’s lots of sand around, the wet bed of the Rio Veladero makes for a harder, rideable surface.

River-riding to Bonete

So the 10km to where we leave the bikes at the base of Bonete doesn’t take too long.

Outrunning the Rio Veladero

The stream dries up every evening, then starts up again in the morning as the penitentes begin to melt. Here we are outrunning it…

High camp on Bonete

After leaving the bikes, it’s a four hour walk up to this high camp at 5700m.

Warming hands at 6300m on Bonete

In the morning we’re climbing in a shadowy gulley for a few hours. It’s bloody cold, so we detour a bit off route to warm hands in the sun.

Heading for Bonete's summit pyramid

Above 6300m there’s plenty of snow, and as we’re tired from our bike push we climb pretty slowly. The 1050m from high camp to summit takes 4h45.

Reaching the summit of Bonete (6770m)

But the weather is excellent, and just after 11:00 we’re on the top. Veladero and Baboso are in the distance to the south.

Looking north from the summit of Bonete (6770m)

While to the north is the northern summit of Bonete, and more distant is a snowy Pissis.

Descending from the summit of Bonete (6770m)

Then it’s time for another descent to our bikes.

The walk to Veladero

In the morning we set off to make a high camp on Veladero. The route we choose is a rubbish one, needlessly climbing over and crossing 3 ridges. We arrive at a 5200m camp in mid afternoon.

The interminable rock and scree on the climb up Veladero

In the morning it’s windy, but we climb up the scree and rock slopes on the NE side of the mountain, which are protected from the icy westerlies. Camp is 1200m below the summit, but less than 3km away in a straight line. Constant 45-50% slopes make for a fast climb.

The summit of Veladero (6420m)

In 3h30 we’re on the last of the nine summits of our Puna 9 trip. Great news!

Inca ruins on the summit of Veladero (6420m)

But it’s not a first ascent. Though rarely climbed these days, there were enough Inca ascents to build these ~12m x 12m walls up there.

Descending to the bikes, near the base of Bonete

Getting back to the bikes near the Rio Veladero makes for a long day.

Descending to the bikes, near Bonete

But it’s very pleasant, and we’re in good spirits, being pretty chuffed at having made it up to all our summits.

The morning's a windy one...

The morning’s a windy one. Plenty of sand in our breakfast porridge.

Leaving Bonete, and the Puna

But south of Bonete the road is in good condition, and we can ride all the 23km down to the paving by Refugio Veladero.

Guess which way the prevailing winds go in these parts? This is the east side of the sign...

In Fiambala we came across a cyclist who didn’t believe in prevailing winds, which we thought odd. Take this sign by Laguna Brava as an example. This is the east side of the sign…

...and this is the west side

……and this is the west side.

Drink break near Laguna Brava

It’s blustery as we skirt round Laguna Brava, but by now all the tough stuff is done.

The Pircas Negras road

And soon we’ve over the Portezuelo de la Laguna, and descending from the Puna.

Colourful hills near Refugio El Peñon

The colourful section to Refugio El Peñon is spectacular.

Colourful hills near Refugio El Peñon

We’ve cycled this section of the Pircas Negras road four times now, but that’s not such a bad thing.

The excitement of a Grido ice cream after 15 days on the Puna

But still we’re glad when we get back to civilization. Grido ice cream all round! Then it’s time for some bus madness to get back to Fiambala to rest a while and pick up some kit we’d left there.

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Puna 9: Part 4a – Pissis (a traverse)

Cycling to high mountains on the Puna is the best preparation we know of for making an ascent. It renders the trip as a whole far tougher and longer (though more rewarding), but by the time you reach the base of a peak legs and lungs are strong, and most of the hard work is already done.

The 90km dirt road ride to Pissis was typically challenging, but also a joy. Colourful lakes dotted the landscape, and old friends like Nacimiento and Walter Penck hovered on the horizon to the north. On arrival at the foot of the Andes’ third highest peak we were feeling good, so decided to try a traverse of five of the mountain’s many peaks (the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th and 8th highest – which are the most prominent summits when approaching from the north, as almost all climbers do). This idea had first been suggested to us by Corax in 2011, but the idea had never manifested into an attempt. When it was again raised by avid Atacamist Bruno Baschung in an email before we left Fiambala we felt our current fitness and acclimatization levels meant it would be silly not to go for it. As far as we know the traverse has only been achieved twice before, so we were excited at the thought of such an undertaking.

Setting off from a 5750m high camp at 06:30 we were on Gendarmeria Argentina, the first and lowest of the summits, by 10:15. An icy tailwind then propelled us east through the soft snow, up and over the Main, Samore and UPAME tops to the 6800m Pissis East summit, which we reached at 16:30. Here the radiant sunshine gave way to snow clouds and we descended through light flurries for two and a half hours. Not until this interminable descent did we truly appreciate the size of this huge volcano.

We descended all the way to 5450m to avoid crossing the large glacier, whose few crevasses have tragically claimed lives in the past decade, then quickly climbed the 300m back up to our tent for a celebratory hot chocolate and a few handfuls of trail mix. It had been a good day’s work.

The following morning we retraced our steps to the bikes and began what we knew would be the hardest part of this 15 day excursion: the long push to Bonete…

En route to Pissis

After 5 days of resting and gorging in Fiambala we decide to set off again. Ideally we’d have liked a few more days of recuperation, but after some enormous storms while we’re in town the forecast for the mountains suddenly turns good. Hay que aprovechar! Having cycled the Fiambala – Coipa road a few times before, Jonson gives us a lift up the paving to the Pissis turnoff. Here begins a pleasant, and quite steep, 1000m+ climb.

Laguna Aparejos

The route is a beaut, with plenty of lakes to pedal past. This is Laguna Aparejos.

Signpost, Puna style

Signpost, Puna style. It’s the only one all route, but the distance is accurate enough.

Cycling past Laguna Celeste

In a couple of hours we’re on the shores of another picturesque lake, Laguna Celeste. (As an aside: The power of the Lonely Planet always interests us. A whole chapter in the Bolivia book about the Sud Lipez lagunas, and the area is chocablock with jeeps and dust. Just a throwaway sentence at the end of the absurdly short Catamarca section of the Argentine tome means days of solitude. This province gets about 4 pages in the Argentina book – we’ve spent over 4 months biking and hiking in this, our favourite of Argentina’s 23 provinces. The scenery in Catamarca is just as spectacular as in the Lipez, more so, we think.)

Climbing above Laguna Celeste, on the road to Pissis

From Laguna Celeste is a short climb to the ‘Balcon del Pissis’, a wonderful viewpoint over the Pissis massif. For this area it’s a comparatively popular tour to do by jeep – usually receiving a couple of tourist vehicles a week on day tours from Fiambala.

Cycling to Pissis

We reach the the Balcon late, but have enough time to cruise down the zigzags to Laguna Negra before camping.

Pissis, early morning

And in the morning we’re blessed with this view of the Andes’ third highest peak. The 5 summits we plan on linking as a day walk are clearly visible from here (all the snowy tops in the shot except for the much lower, flatter peak on the left).

Pissis and Laguna Negra

The hour we cycle round Laguna Negra is unforgettable.

Cycling to Pissis

And the surface is excellent too.

Pissis and Laguna Negra

Many of the lakes in this area contain high concentrations of arsenic. The flamingoes don’t seem to care.

Pushing to Pissis

The 90km of tracks from the paving to the base of Pissis are in pretty good condition for the Puna. It’s not in the same league of difficulty as other routes we’ve taken previously (those near the Salar de Archibarca and Volcan Peinado spring to mind), but there’s still a bit of pushing to be done. About 5km in total, though much of this is due to the fact we set off with 18 days food and have all our kit on the back of our bikes. This means we’re doing huge wheelies (of the ‘front wheel ends up vertically above your back wheel’ type) when the gradient cranks up. Still, this poor weight distribution is worth it as it means we can leave our front panniers in Fiambala – we really don’t want them for what’s to come.

Dominated by Pissis

By early afternoon on the third day we’re nearing the peak. The five summits ringing the large glacier begin to dominate the horizon.

Collecting water from the Rio de Quebrada Ancho

Water isn’t such a problem on this route, and we carry a maximum of five litres each. This is Pike refuelling with some slightly salty, slightly wormy water from the river in Quebrada Ancha.

Climbing to Pissis high camp

We dump our bikes at 4400m, then walk a couple of hours past the usual basecamp which has a few friendly, but shattered-looking, Argies in it, to a camp at 4700m. In the morning it’s a pleasant walk up to a 5750m high camp.

Pissis high camp (5750m)

We have the camp to ourselves and while away the afternoon drinking hot chocolate and listening to Conrad Anker being interviewed on Desert Island Discs. Love that Kirsty Young. Nacimiento and Incahuasi are the peaks to the north, on the left of the shot.

Leaving high camp on Pissis

In the morning we wake at 04:15, planning on leaving at 05:30. But toilet trips at 05:25 lead to the conclusion that it’s too cold and windy to start yet, so we go back to sleep for another hour. At 06:30 we finally get going.

Heading for the main summit of Pissis (6800m)

After half an hour the sun rises and warms our backs as we climb up the steep scree and rock to the right of the glacier. At 6400m we move onto snow and head for the col between the first summit (Gendarmeria Argentina – 6690m, on the R) and the main summit (6800m). Before the col we make a bit of a boob and leave our bags at 6580m to climb up to the Gendarmeria Argentina top and back. Turns out that though this looks like a real summit from this vantage point, it’s actually got a prominence of about 5m, and it would be much easier to just go over the top, descend 5m to the col, then continue on to the main summit. We have to go back for our bags, which means an unneccessary 100m descent. Oh well…

On the Gendarmeria Argentina summit (6690m) of Pissis

At 10:15 we’re on the Gendarmeria Argentina summit. Pike (back to the icy wind) surveys the route ahead – R-L: Main summit, UPAME and Pissis East/Ejercito Argentino.

On the main summit of Pissis

We descend to our bags, then climb through the snow to the main summit. It’s often up to our calves, and in places is up to our knees, so we don’t arrive until 11:50.

On the main summit of Pissis (6800m)

To Haz’s delight there’s a cross to wield at the top. This is looking north, towards Tres Cruces, Ojos, Walter Penck, Nacimiento and Incahuasi.

Looking east to Pissis East from the Principal CAM summit of Pissis (6800m)

To the east lie our three remaining summits. Both UPAME and Pissis East look higher to us than where we’re standing…

Descending from the Principal CAM summit (6800m) of Pissis

There’s a nice fast, snowy descent from the main summit, before an undulating traverse to the Samore top.

Pissis summit number 3 - Samore (6700m)

…which we reach just after 13:00.


Then comes the bit we know will make or break this traverse. A 220m descent to a 6480m col, followed by a 320m climb to the UPAME summit.

Taking a rest on the climb to the UPAME summit (6800m) of Pissis

The snow’s tiring, but our cycling training means our legs are still working fine and we can climb at 200m/hr up to this fourth summit.

Taking a breather on the climb to the UPAME summit (6800m) of Pissis

We have an unwritten agreement when we’re on the Puna. Pike will break trail through the snow when we’re high on the peaks, as long as Haz lets him hide behind her when we’re cycling into the headwinds (light people go backwards when the Puna headwinds are howling). This day though Haz takes the lead every now and then to allow those chicken legs a rest…

Looking south from the UPAME summit (6800m) of Pissis

At 15:20 we make it to the fourth top, and know that now there’s nothing to stop us completing the traverse. As it has been all day the wind is cold and we don’t want to take gloves off for very long – just long enough in fact to take a few hurried, rubbish photos. This is looking south to our next targets – Bonete (L) and Veladero (centre).

The UPAME summit (6800m) on Pissis

Not far to go now – just over a kilometre in a straight line to Pissis East…

On Pissis East/Ejercito Argentino (6800m)

… which we reach at 16:30. The perfect sunshine here gives way to snow clouds, so we don’t hang around long. Pike scribbles our names on a bit of paper and puts them in a little tin which is stashed under the summit cairn.

Pissis East - the 5th summit, at 16:30

Summit number five. The three highest tops are virtually all the same height, with our GPS giving them as Main (6802m), UPAME (6804m), and East (6801m). We believe that surveys carried out in 2007 do confirm that the Main peak is indeed actually the highest, though it’s a close run thing.

Descending from Pissis East/Ejercito Argentino summit (6800m)

Then comes the long descent. Beforehand in Fiambala Jonson warned us not to cross the glacier, and with fresh snow around this seems like good advice. So we descend 1350m, down to the bottom of the glacier and snow at 5450m. Here we leave our crampons and ice axes, to be picked up in the morning, and begin the 300m climb back to our tents.

Back at camp

We’re feeling tired by this stage (though nothing like as shattered as on many cycling days this Puna trip) but our legs are still strong, so it’s less than an hour back up to our tent. Near our yellow little home we meet two tent loads of acquaintances and by the time our chats are over it’s 20:25. Soon the stove is roaring and the brews are on. Hot tea and warm handshakes all round. We’re happy that there’s no need for us to both squeeze into that sleeping bag Pike was carrying in case we had to bivvy!

Pissis Traverse Picture

The route: up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up.

Descending from Pissis

In the morning we have a lie in after the previous day’s 13h30 excursion with its 2000m of climbing. Then we amble back down to the bikes.

Dwarfed by the Pissis penitentes

En route are these huge penitentes – some over 2.5m high!

The 5 Pissis peaks we climbed the previous day

We take regular glances back to survey the peaks in the traverse.

A tragic reminder of the dangers of moutaineering

At base camp is this memorial to one of the mountaineers who tragically disappeared in the crevasses on Pissis’ glacier.

The best Puna present

Near the bikes we receive the best present you can get on the Puna: some tasty water. Jonson left it the day before, as he happened to be passing. Though we already have water with us, much of it is of the salty-wormy type, so we’re quite grateful.

Fox-proof bike stash

Five minutes later and there’s more good news: our food hasn’t been eaten by a fox. Not even the most cunning of creatures could get through our rock defences. We sort loads, piling all weight we can into rucksacks, remove pedals, then set off on the long push to Bonete…

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