“Is this fun?” I think to myself stopping briefly to gasp on Ausangate’s thin air and ponder the value of my efforts.
Stopping means no forward progress so I quickly get back to work and continue to haul my laden bike up the steep grassy slopes. I feel slightly dizzy due to my lack of good acclimatisation but, at last, I am closing in on the first of three main passes that all hover around the 5000 metre mark.
Two German girls that I have passed previously rest at the top, they are on the fifth day of hiking and their Ausangate circuit is nearly at an end. It feels good to have some brief company but the news isn’t good. This is the easy section, they warn me, it’s only going to get harder. They stare in disbelief at the existence of a bicycle in such a place. We say goodbye and I quickly speed past them as the path starts bending steeply downhill and the tides turn. Suddenly it’s good to have a bicycle. The mighty presence of Ausangate’s snowy peak starts coming into view and my previous question is immediately answered. “Yes it is!!”.
Getting to the start
But before all that I have a 700 metre elevation gain from Pitumarca in my way:
(This also is the road up to Rainbow mountain so during certain ‘peak’ hours there are a handful tourist vans.)
I’ve never charged someone for passing in front of my home so it is with some surprise that the next morning a gold toothed farmer comes running over to charge me 20 sols for the community that I have just passed. I protest. I’m certain the community will see none of it; without any ticket or ID this man could be anyone. I don’t want further hassle so I concede to giving him my pocket change (3 soles) which proves to be enough to peacefully go on my way.
(Note: This happens on the main settlement on the east side before the grassy climb up to the first pass)
Unfortunately Paul was robbed of his bicycle at night whilst camping at the Upi’s hotsprings (miraculously found later covered with leaves in a ravine!) on the Northwest side of Ausangate. So I plan to make absolutely sure that I camp nowhere near Upi. However, for some inexplicable reason I manage to time it perfectly so I am passing the Upi’s hot springs as the sun sets. The very situation I hoped to avoid is staring me in the face and I stubbornly push on up the second pass into the dark. (When I say push on, I literally mean push). I find a spot over the ridge to the left of the 4700 metre pass.
Since it’s so close, the following day I hitch back up from Pitumarca on a tourist bus for 5 sol with Swiss cyclist Rachelle to climb the touristy Rainbow mountain. Our progress up the mountain is closely monitored by an audience of inquisitive llamas.
(The photo above is an alternative less touristy route entrance that heads north to meet the main track up Rainbow mountain (after 45 minutes or so). It can be found just after the last town before Ausangate. It should be reasonably obvious where this is from a topographical map).
Extra information on biking round Ausangate:
Ridden from 15th to 18th November 2016, it only rained / hailed briefly a couple of times, the rest of the time I enjoyed good weather (fortunate for this time of year). This circuit forms part of the Tres Cordilleras; another route designed by the unstoppable Gilbert / Dammer combo. It took just over three days and three nights up and back to Pitumarca but was only two and a half days of actual riding. (The third day turned into a half day whilst chatting to other hikers). I had all my kit with me including laptop etc and my bikepacking setup was slightly on the heavy side – I had planned to continue on the Tres Cordillera but didn’t in the end due to time.
Next up: Flat roads to the north side of Lake Titicaca and the route into Bolivia