Calla Calla Pass – Leymebamba to Balsas (92k/16,868k, +4800ft)

(July 1 – written by Dave) (posted on July 2)

We made it over Calla Calla Pass today.  And what a pass it was.  The going up was not as hard as we thought it might be but it went on forever, or rather, it went on for 29k.  There were no downhill bits, just steady climbing for 4.5 hours.  We had a couple stops but mostly we just plodded along at 6.5KPH.

3600 meters - yeah 2


At about 11k we could see the top and it looked like it was a long ways off.  At 18k we started to get mixed dirt and asphalt.  From there to the top we had more dirt than asphalt but the dirt was mostly smooth, slowing us only a little.  Traffic was non-existent and best of all, the weather was stunning.  We woke to blue skies and had them all day.  We picked up a few clouds in the afternoon but barely enough to be noticed.  It was a blue ribbon day.

Our road 5

The road we came up

Morning sun 2

Nancy in the morning, yes the road is that narrow and no, there are no guardrails

Morning sun 1

One more just to show the blue sky

Sunday laundry

Laundry day in the Andes

Outhouse with a view

Nice house at about 3,000 meters.  Note the outhouse with a view.

Andes view looking back at summit

On the back side – the summit is just to the left.

We reached the top about 11:45 and took a few summit sign photos.  This is the first summit sign we’ve seen in forever.  From other blogs we are pretty sure that the sign reads short of what people with proper GPSs read so we are calling it 3601 and a new trip record.  It was very windy on top and a bit chilly.  We put on our rain coats and headed down the other side for a sheltered spot to have lunch.  Lunch was taken with remarkable views of the Andes as far as the eye could see.

Bridge on desent - dangerous

On the way down – bridge with rebar sticking out – nice

Andes view going down 4

Andes view

Andes view going down 2

That’s our road going down

Andes view - the top of our pass up there

Looking way back up at the summit

Andes view 1

It gets more green as we go down

Andes view - lunch stop

Nancy doing yoga just below the summit – at lunch

Andes view - home sweet home

Home sweet home in the Andes – no idea how you reach this house

From the top to the bottom, the road drops 60k.  And in 60k the grade never drops below 3%.  Most of the time it was 5-7%.  It took us almost 3 hours to descend the entire pass and not just because I was taking too many photos.  The road was basically a single lane ribbon of asphalt cut into the hillside of some really steep mountains.  There was very little guardrail and many, many sharp and twisty corners.  We could often see the road way below us but had to be careful not to get overly fixated on looking, keeping our eyes on the road right in front of us was paramount.

Our road 4

Our road again – hope that the breaks work!

Our road 3

Nancy zipping ahead again

About half way down I was given the hurry along as Nancy was concerned about us making it to the bottom in time to get 20k back up the next pass and our intended campsite.  I got the message but couldn’t hold her wheel on the downhill, she was on a mission.  As we went down, the heat came up.  By the bottom we had stripped down to shorts and short sleeve shirts and it was downright hot.  I read over 40 on my bike computer at one point – quite a change from the top.

At about 2:30 we stopped at the junction of the next pass and the town of Balsas.  We were super hot and it just didn’t feel like the ideal time to be heading up another big climb.  We made a spot decision to get a room and call it a day.  We got instructions for Balsas from a local policeman – it is 1k off the route and was supposed to have a hospedaje or two.

Balsas church

Balsas church

Balsas door of the day

Door of the day – we ate dinner here, going through the side door.

The 1k started with an uphill and made us glad to be calling it a day.  Balsas is a rough town.  Not much to it really.  It’s down on the river with massive rock canyon walls making it a real heat trap.  We found all 4 hospedajes and none of them were overly nice.  We picked out the best of a rough lot, Hospedaje San Critobal, and tried to get checked into in.

The woman running the place lives down at the end of the street and I had to find her, get her to come up to the hospedaje and clean the room before we could get our showers (cold showers never felt so good).  The room is a “don’t touch anything” room but it will work for a night.  There is a fan but no AC – I expect AC doesn’t exist in this part of the country.  For other travellers, San Cristobal is the only hospedaje in town with private bathrooms.  It is lacking mozzie screens over the door but we made due – see below.  For $9 USD, you get what you pay for!

Dave special fly screen

Got pegs and a bath towel, got fly screen – no problem

Tomorrow we start with a 40k climb before a 12k descent.  We are planning a very early start and hoping that it cools off a little tonight.  We should have left earlier today if we wanted to get out of the canyon this afternoon.  Tomorrow, we won’t make the same mistake.

8 thoughts on “Calla Calla Pass – Leymebamba to Balsas (92k/16,868k, +4800ft)

  1. Wow what a pass! Great pictures and I like today’s door. The picture of Nancy doing yoga is great. Good luck with an early and cool start tomorrow!

  2. Congratulations on hitting a new high point. The photos are spectacular. I can see why concentration is so important when you want to check out the views and stay safe. You are providing excitement every day as I follow you vicariously.

  3. Whew! Pretty skinny road, but did you see any vehicles? Thanks for the picture of the Door of the Day! I’m thinking someone must furnish all those double doors as they all look so alike! Only the tough could exist up there and they probably don’t leave the ‘home place’ often. You will have nice memories!

    • We had a few cars but honestly, who would drive that road. Maybe one an hour. And they have to drive slow because if they don’t, they’ll fly off the road as well. So, for such a narrow road, it was fairly safe traffic wise.

      People living in this part of Peru try to live off what they can grow/raise. They go to the store but only for basics and things like building materials. It is the same temperature year round so snow is not an issue but the rains and road wash-outs can be. If you run out of food and the road is washed out for the season, you go hungry…

  4. Wow. 3600 meters=11785ft. Maybe those folks with GPS held them at waist level instead of on the ground for 3601m.

    You folks are amazing.

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