Spend time in Huaraz and the trekkers flocking to the mountain city namedrop Huayhuash, that snowy peak filled range just to the south. The trekkers go out for a 10+ day hiking route there. Cyclists tend to spend some time kicking back and then setting out for Peru’s Great Divide route, a high altitude remote dirt road network effectively linking Huaraz to that other mountain capitol farther south, Cusco. But before you know it, you’ve spent a month staying put sleeping in a bed, resting from the exertions of the last leg and working on side projects.
A month off the bikes calls for a little something something special to get going again. Maps record a thin black line leading to a red one ending with a dotted black line offshoot. So theoretically a route exists, dirt roads to the start of the Huayhuash trek and after getting over a short section of trail, mining roads should link up the villages on the eastern side of the range before coming back west to the main Divide route. Uncommon sense says this would be a good idea, a bikepacking opportunity to test new bike setup iterations and a chance to explore even more of Peru’s back roads. The Divide route promises the latter too; in the mere year since the Pikes pioneered the route it’s well on its way to becoming a Panamerican classic. But the size and scope of Peru’s mountains means that however many cyclists ride through, there will always be more unexplored dirt roads taking you wherever you want to go. So Paul and I set off looking for some.
Route notes and photos, taking you over one pass of the Huayhuash trek to rejoin the Divide Part 1 at Oyón:
Llamac, entry town to the Huayhuash trek. Taking a bus there from Huaraz avoids paved highway riding between Huaraz and Chiquian.
Stage 1: Llamac to campsite. From Llamac, ride up the valley to the campsite area at the base of the trail to Cacananpunta (Huayhuash pass #1- the only pass on this route). 22km+/- a little, 900m elevation gain. Very straightforward.
Stage 2: Cacananpunta.
From the campsite area, hike up the trail to Cacananpunta. Emphasize hike. For this section your bike has become a glorified backpack. The trail up to the pass is half rock staircase lifts, half steep uphill bike pushing. Is your bike light enough to pick up and carry? Great, you’ll be doing a lot of that. A certain smooth-tongued dirt cyclist blogger glosses a little over the sheer amount of bike manhandling you’ll be doing on the Huayhuash climbs. Don’t be fooled. It’s the kind of hard that leaves you swearing in the moment but memory afterwards turns into magnificence. Personally, after just doing this one pass I would leave Huayhuash for hiking and look elsewhere for bikepacking.
Stage 3: Cacananpunta to Queropalca.
From the Cacananpunta pass, spot the dirt road along the river in the valley below. Ride the trail (yes, actual bike riding for sections of the descent) down to a low point by the river, cross over and jump onto the dirt road. The Huayhuash stint is now over, and taking a right on this blissfully perfect dirt road sends you careening down to Queropalca. Hospedaje, restaurants, and stores await.
Stage 4: Queropalca to Oyón.
Easy to follow roads the whole way, small towns every 15-20km unused to seeing gringos but very hospitable. Roads more than likely to be muddy or energy-sapping rock strewn. If your tires were wide enough for Huayhuash they’ll be wide enough here. Towns, from Queropalca to Oyón: Queropalca, Santa Rosa, Paracsha, Antacolpa, unknown town after Laguna before pass, mine at pass, unknown town after pass, Oyón. Roads mostly appear on OpenStreetMaps from Queropalca, or anyone in the villages can direct you where to go.
After Antacolpa, climb up the road to peak out at Laguna Launcocha. Stunning lake situated in valley, ringed by off-the-grid homesteads. Horses a more common form of transportation than bikes, motorcycles, or cars. Road is cut a ways above the lake, so hard to get down to camp by the shore, but plenty of open areas around the road as you make your way around the lake. We had constant on/off light rain the whole way through this valley, turning the road into a complete muddy mess. After leaving the area all that’s left between you and Oyón is a tough slog up to snowline at the 4700m pass, with mine traffic all around the top. Descend to Oyón for hot showers and internet. Congratulations. Welcome to the Divide.
Our timeline: Day 1 Llamac to campsite, Day 2 campsite to Queropalca, Day 3 Queropalca to Laguna, Day 4 Laguna to Oyón. Great roads to ride from Queropalca to Oyón; bikepacking Huayhuash best left only to the masochists. Quite possibly the dirt road up from Llamac connects somewhere with the dirt road to Queropalca, but that’s for the next interested party to find.