It has been almost 5 months here in Peru and just like any other long stay like that I had the urge to change country, scenery, and experience. Eventually, the constant up and down in the rain can get tedious and all these beautiful mountains and remote mines start blending together into something less exciting and interesting that they normally are. Ausangate, however, held the promise of not only snowcapped giants and rideable singletrack and it was just the start of another route pioneered by Cass Guilbert and the Dammer brothers (legends of south American bikepacking).
A short ride down the highway and a pleasant climb up a nice valley led toward the Ausangate trek. Only if it wasn’t for the looming clouds and impending rain.
Was it a mistake going in during the rain season? I managed to scrounge a quick lunch from a tourist buffet and when I went out a wet dog was waiting by my bike.
We were immediately friends, it was hard to tell who was wetter or who smelled worse.
He took my safety very importantly and made sure that the cows kept their distance.
He was not a big fan of water.
We made our way to the trail but all there was were few houses and half a bridge over a very strong stream. I carried the bike and the dog over the first part but the main part was just too strong. The roar of the water was demotivating as I scouted up and down with no luck. I went to ask a woman at the nearby huts if I can cross but she didn’t speak Spanish. She talked and talked but it was not Spanish.
It was late in the day but I needed to find a way across. Open street maps show a tiny trail heading up adjacent to the river and ending midway up. Perhaps I can cross further up and free for all it down the mountainside to the trail?
I met a man on a horse and asked him if he can take me over the river. He said he had another horse that can cross it but said there are two more bigger rivers further up. He also spoke very basic Spanish but on the bright side, I learned the Kechua word for river: “Mayo” as he kept repeating it throughout. Or maybe that was the word for “you are an idiot and you should go back”!!!
I told him we will talk tomorrow but I wanted to see where this old road up the mountain went maybe to a bridge? A river crossing looming over your night’s dreams is not a good idea. But I wasn’t alone in this, the wet pooch decided I was worthy of following and I decided he was worthy of getting carried across streams he cant jump over.
But just the sound and the force of the river was unsettling. Just being near it, it was a constant reminder of how powerful water can be…
(having encountered a group that lost 1 hiker on the canol trail, I was perhaps a little more respectful of rivers…)
In the fading light, I spoke to a shepherd who told me there was a bridge further up.
Just a kilometer or two in the dark across the pampa and I was far enough from the roaring water. I set up in the rain and me and dog ate decent pasta dinner with sausage and onion.
I woke up at the middle of the night to find about 4-5 other dogs near the tent barking at my buddy and him barking back. Just seeing their eyes glowing in the pitch black dark with the reflection of my headlamp was a little scary… but I know they were all dogs…
And the morning revealed a white wonderland.
sadly my alarm had no snooze, once shadow realized I was up it was time to run around and bark.
he and the other dogs had been doing circles around my tent all night.
Shadow was definitely not cold… I tried one time to get him under the fly last night to which his instinct kicked in and thought I was trying to kill him, so he ran away.
I spoke with a woman about directions but she didn’t speak much Spanish. Waving and pointing I think there was a trail over the hill.
Then I saw a ridge standing over the valley… worthy of a little detour
It was truly a dream ride, the views, and the sun. The kind where you keep stopping and hoping it will last forever.
Finally, a singletrack descends to where the main trail is.
And this mountain. I don’t know its name but it just looked so good with the fresh snow and the clouds and the sun.
While it didn’t rain, the snow melt surely added to this river but it was not all that bad. I crossed few times, one for my backpack and electronics, one for the bike, one for the dog…. and just because it was so much fun, one for the camera!
Then it was time to rest.
Dog was dry in the sun and pretty cool to pet too. He ran up and down chasing birds and vicuñas, sniffing stuff and sometimes I thought he left but he would reappear just behind me. I called him Shadow, Amigo and My Friend. We normally have 3 names, why can’t dogs have 3 names too???
There was even improved trail. I reckoned you can ridge a moto over this pass!!! Well until that river.
I kept pushing until late but a rather odd stone house caught my attention across a lake, it was a shelter and best of all clean enough to sleep in there in my tent.
Now if you looked earlier at the lady shepherd and she wore sunglasses. I didn’t. I didn’t wear my sunhat either that day. While it still remains a mystery, I think I was snowblind. I simply couldn’t open my eyes and look without excessive tears. I packed up but it was no good. I couldn’t travel today. I spent all day in the tent with my eyes closed alternating between coffee, hot chocolate, and noodles. Dog didn’t like noodles.
He liked to be outside, getting wet… probably thinking “human, why don’t you come outside??? it’s nice here!”
But also chilled indoors too.
that’s the roof dripping, dog didn’t pee on the floor
Now the funny part was that the rain/snow or the clouds never let up. I was camped at a lake in front of a giant glacier on the western side of Ausangate but all I saw was this (photo above)
A man showed up to charge me money for being here, as is the custom on popular tourist treks in Peru. We negotiated the 40soles to 10 ($3) and then I just invited him to hot chocolate instead. He told me to keep an eye on my shoes because people here steal hikers shoes. I told him I have the dog!!!
In the morning it almost cleared up. Dog and me waited for a bit but no luck. The fear of missing out was there, what if I never see the Nevado? But something has changed along the way, something like this would upset me before but no, not now. I was just passing by, riding, riding for the feeling. It didn’t matter if it rained or snowed or hailed.
“human… let’s go!”
Pooch was also riding for the feeling or for the food, who knows. I feed him well!
We traversed an amazing, relatively flat and surely rideable ridge. Great views but the clouds did not let up.
not sure which one is this one, not Ausangate. I rode hastily around some hot springs and houses, fearing someone might come out with a notepad and receipts to collect a fee and pushed for a proper pass, as somebody had his bike stolen overnight here.
Trail zoomed down ranging from improved trail to rideable to various states of mud and disrepair (still rideable on a fat bike).
A lake viewpoint caught my attention, it would mean no frost on the tent in the morning and dog was all like “well… whats for dinner?” So I set up camp here.
dog was good, no begging, no stealing (even when I wasn’t looking) The fair and strict code of the mountain!
It was below the snowfields and the glaciers. More ice and snow peeked through the clouds promising beyond real scenery…
We caught a little sunset but alas, it was all clouds.
And then you wake up in the morning and this is what you see!
No matter how many coffees or chocolates I could drink, the clouds didn’t want to go away.
A sensible trail let right up, promising at times to reveal all the ice
The pass was cold and I was more excited to ride down. Which at times was rather steep and the corners a little too narrow to turn without putting a foot down.
At a 4600m lake, a reminder that this remote trek is a donkey-mule-tourist bonanza in the summer.
The ride down was smooth and eventually roaded.
My friend headed off near a village. Maybe he didn’t want to run along, maybe he had a family,
maybe he didn’t want to adopt me
or maybe he was the legendary hero dog guide of the Ausangate circuit.
He who leads stray hikers across 5000 meter passes and roams some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Maybe his life is here where he can be of help. You would hear about him in a distant hostel or on a journal somewhere across the world wide web.
Is he real?
Or just the Shadow of Ausangate.
Maybe I’ll return one day to cut his nails and shampoo him.
Read more from Iohan at – http://www.bikewanderer.com/
Awesome, amazing photos! Thanks for the share!
A very nice article worthy of a mini documentary.