(July 21 – written by Dave)
It was hard to leave Huaraz and our lovely hotel, but the show must go on. Today we started a two day crossing of Huascaran National Park. We were both excited to see more of the park, if not a little apprehensive about the altitudes we were going to have to sleep at and ultimately cycle to. Plus the park road is all dirt and we didn’t know what shape it was in. So as you can imagine, lingering over a second coffee at brekkie was easy.
Brekkie at the hotel is supposed to run from 7-9AM. We didn’t push the 7AM start any of the other days at the hotel simply because we were sleeping in. Today was wanted to be first in the queue at 7 but my hopes that food would be ready were dashed when the cook rushed in just after 7 while I was putting things on our bikes. We were first in the brekkie room but food was pretty slow in coming. Oh well, it gave us more time to think about the altitude.
We had a 43k ride up the Santa River to reach the park turn off. We’ve been riding this river upstream for more than 4 days – by the time we crossed it for the last time, it was really not much more than a small stream. Sadly, for most of the 43k, the roadside was littered with rubbish, almost as thought it was the town dump. Much of the garbage was from building materials. It made for a less scenic ride than we’ve had in the past few days. We also road solo, but hope to meet up with some of our fellow riders in a few days. It just worked out that Nancy and I were the only two leaving today.
We stopped for morning tea in Catac, about 9k before the turn-off. We also filled up with 10 litres of water. That’s an extra 10 kilos to carry up the dirk road into the park but we didn’t think we’d find any water as far into the park as we were planning on riding.
The park road was pretty bumpy and a bit steep as well. About 2k in, we were wondering about the intelligence of our route choice. I let about 25 PSI of air pressure out of our front tires and that made a big difference with our ability to control the front end of the bikes. Before doing this, the front tire bounced everywhere. The road levelled a bit as well, plus in truth, we got more comfortable with the surface. It is always hard switching to dirt after a good spell of pavement riding.
This part of Cordillera Blanca range seems much drier than the area north of Huaraz. The landscape climbing towards the park was quite barren. Of course the distant views of the mountains were more than enough to keep us distracted when we weren’t staring at the next rock in the road.
It took us 3+ hours to go the 13k to the park entrance. We had a few steep sections where we had to push and we were both getting tired near the end. We arrived at the park entrance at about 4PM. We had heard that you might be able to camp in the carpark but negotiated with guy working the gate to camp inside the visitor’s centre walled courtyard (centre was closed – looks like permanently). The wind always comes up in the afternoon and today was no exception. Having the wind break was nice. There seems to be a pack of dogs living in the area and we had several visits over the course of the evening. They seem friendly enough but are sniffing at the bags a little too closely, looking for food.
We got the tent up and made dinner pretty quickly as at 4,200 meters, it gets cold as soon as the sun sets. We were done eating and in the tent ready for bed by 7:00. For such a short day, we were very tired – probably a combination of the altitude and the bike-a-hike ride in the afternoon. Sleeping at 4,200 metres is a trip record, as is riding to 4,200 metres. It’s hard to get too excited about the riding record however as tomorrow when we crest the highpoint in the park, we get close to 4,900 metres – nearly 16,000 feet above sea-level. We are both doing ok here at 4,200 so let’s hope that 4,900 is ok as well. Special thanks to our friend Fran – she suggested taking an aspirin before going higher. We did that today and it seemed to work.