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  Topic Name: Bikepacking Bolivia: Illimani - Qusima Cruz. on: July 23, 2012, 11:26:59 PM

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« on: July 23, 2012, 11:26:59 PM »

Better late than never!

This trip was almost 3 years ago but a recent inquiry from Cass reminded me I never got around to any kind of writeup. I got all nostalgic and started starting at the photos again. Yep, gotta share it.

The big picture: I was in Bolivia for a month meeting up with my girlfriend Julie who had been traveling through Peru. This would be my second bike trip in Bolivia and my third in South America. I could easily keep going back every year. The potential for adventure biking in much of South America is staggering especially Bolivia. With the short window of time, instead of hauling down 2 bikes, I brought a duffel bag full of camping gear, bike bags, clipless pedals and 2 pairs of 26x2.25 marathon extreme tires... we rented bikes from Gravity in La Paz and did a warm up acclimatization loop out of Sorata. I posted that trip on this forum when we first got back.

After our warmup near Sorata, Julie and I scrounged for beta on a bikepackable route in the Cordillera Real. We met a fellow named Travis Grey (Andean Epics), and he described a route that skirted the sides of Nevado Illimani dropped 10,000' down, then climbed back up, traversed the Cordillera Qusima Cruz and ended up a few hundred miles later in Cochabamba in the low lying planes. All this drawn out on a National scale map where 1" = 50km. He had done the route solo in 10 days a few years earlier and made it sound like no problem. Turns out Travis is a supreme bad ass, we would learn this over and over again.

A little more info was needed and we eventually ended up scoring another hand drawn map from another local that knew the area well... She described the enormous climb out of the Rio La Paz canyon without any water and just shook her head at the thought of biking.

I checked into an internet Cafe in La Paz and tried to commit google maps satellite images to memory, following faint lines a key question mark was revealed when a pivotal right hand turn was found at 14,000' taking abandoned tin mining roads around Illimani... hand drawing more maps and committing the screen to memory - it would have to do. Feeling moderately comfortable with navigation for about the first 2 days away we went!

Getting out of huge Latin American cities is not my favorite past time...

So we hired the brother of our guest house owner to give us a ride out of La Paz.

A bit of climbing, then a cobblestone descent to Palca. Illimani looms in the background. We spend the next few days skirting right below the mountain.

The outskirts of La Paz have geography similar to Bryce nat. park. The local downhill crowd has some amazing lines all over Muela del Diablo back there.

We missed a turn and descended into Palca, we could have saved ourselves some climbing but we got the chance to plow down another meal of fried chicken, french fries and cokes.

The mid day sun was oppressive. We pushed a solid hour out of Palca on the cobblestones before heading out on the road that passes over the Cordillera Real to Chulumani.

A bit of evening Llama rush hour.

higher still, green fading to brown.

good night llama's

Our first night out at around 12,500', for some silly reason I opted to bring a synthetic bag and a pad too thin. I never slept that great due to the freezing night temps and rock hard ground. oh well next time I know better. Other camping gear notes, BD mega light, XGK stove burning gasoline.

Our morning greeters,

If there are llamas around I'm happy, I just love them so I was very happy here.

We peddled up and found the key right hand turn onto the abandoned mining road that I had spotted on Google maps. The road was still in surprisingly good shape and we kept grinding past 14,000'.

Cresting a small pass we headed down past a few settlements. Llamas and potato patches.

Pretty soon the road ended at a small landslide. Poking around we found a singletrack around it and kept riding. It was pretty clear now why there were so few vehicle tracks on this route thus far!

I just about shat myself when we rounded this corner. I was "beyond" stoked to be up here riding this path. 21,000' mountain right in our faces.

For the rest of the day we climbed and descended glacial moraine ridges at seemingly arm's length to the glaciers.

many times you could see trails climbing up into the rocks and spot mine shafts where miners hacked tin ore from the rocks at over 15,000'
we were just lucky enough that they made decent roads...

These 2 boys we surprised as they were swimming in a pool of glacier melt water. Once they saw us coming they jumped into their clothes and ran over to say hi. The older one's name was Ernesto and they were in charge of 36 llamas and 12 cows foraging in the area. Their home was about 1,500' vertical below us. They raise them tough out there that's for sure.

more llamas!

Camping for the night at almost 15,000'. It was chilly. Julie is really into eating veggies when traveling. Me not so much, give me cheap pasta a slab of butter and I'm happy. Half her frame bag held that bag of carrots, onions and fava beans, that with some bad tuna and coca leaves keep her going and going Smiley

We both woke up with a bit of unease about what the day had in store for us. We had made our way around much of the mountain and knew the massive descent to the Rio La Paz was before us. But for now we savored the thin alpine air.

After a short climb we found an initial descent. Many paths criscrossed the area so we spent a bit of time scouting out the choices.

Descending switchbacks, Really fun riding here.

The semi abandoned mine, Mina Uriamani.

dropping down further we intersected a traveled road and a little village perched on the mountainside.  The huge descent into the canyon was looming and Julie was on edge about starving out in the desert. Rightfully so. We found a little tienda and stocked up on crackers, cookies and incredibly stale bread. School had just let out and we were the source of gringo jokes and attention for a bit.

and down we plumeted.

with a dry camp and no water for much of the next day I stocked up big time on water. This is not the most stable place to hold 10L but it worked ok for going downhill. Even though there was a river at the bottom it flows brown with sediment and drains all of the city of La Paz - enough said on drinking that.

The mega switchbacks out of the canyon into the Araca valley.

bombing down and leaving Illimani behind.

Julie was genuinely scared of what we were doing. "this landscape is going to devour us whole" were her words at one point. The only advice I could give was to take it one piece at a time and that we had decent provisions to give it a good push. Extremely few vehicles travel this road, we were guessing a weekly buss from La Pas but not much else.  We hit the valley bottom almost 10,000 feet lower than we camped the night before. A hot and dusty wind made camping not so fun. Our strategy was to get going at 3:00 am to beat the heat and gain as much elevation as possible. flap flap flap went the megamid all night. I probably slept an hour, then the alarm went off. It's go time.

We started ticking off the steep switch backs from the river by headlamp, everything was about gaining elevation. We were lucky enough that the surface was in fairly good condition and made for easy grinding away 500, 1000, 2000' the sun came up as we made our escape from the Rio La Paz.

Just when we thought we were doing well we punched through a notch to see this, an 800-1000 descent followed by a wall to climb. Thanks roadbuilders...

Julie, feeling it at the top of that. Hot now...

something happened right around here. We made some breakfast and patted ourselves on the back at what we had just come up. There was a fertile valley across from us and Julie's fears of death in the desert were eased for the moment. We turned off "mission mode" started touring again and took the time to smell the flowers.

The Araca Valley, entrance to the Cordillera Qusima Cruz. One side of the valley here is fertile which receives melt water from the mountains, everything else is desert. The river in the middle is the obvious dividing line. We had beta that there was an eccentric character named Don Hans that lived in Araca somewhere. He lived on his Hacienda and had a guest house that he would put up climbers, scientists or whoever made their way back there. Turns out Araca is really spread out, once we crossed the bridge it was still 2 hours of climbing and pushing up steep and rocky tracks to find his place.

We were stoked to find it, we had no idea we'd be ending the day taking outdoor showers and devouring piles of potatoes and pasta.

live is good! notice the 4 empty bowls and the size of the one in front of me still.

The man Don Hans himself. Born in Bolivia with German father. Don Hans could rebuild a transmission with one hand, while repairing a radio with the other all the while talking about climate change, politics and mastodon reproduction in the same sentence. He just killed us with his searsucker outfits and general demeanor.

part 2 next.
« Last Edit: July 26, 2012, 10:31:26 AM by Eric » Logged

  Topic Name: Bikepacking Bolivia: Illimani - Qusima Cruz. Reply #1 on: July 24, 2012, 12:49:17 AM

Location: Daisy Hill, Brisbane Australia
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« Reply #1 on: July 24, 2012, 12:49:17 AM »

Thanks Eric. No, really, thanks. Just got in from the commute, all the while thinking of future trips, read the thread - yep that's what it's all about!

Amazing where riding a bike will take you...

  Topic Name: Bikepacking Bolivia: Illimani - Qusima Cruz. Reply #2 on: July 24, 2012, 02:24:31 AM

Location: Cumbria, England.
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« Reply #2 on: July 24, 2012, 02:24:31 AM »

Quality stuff...a proper adventure!

- The seasons blow away but the love is just the same -

  Topic Name: Bikepacking Bolivia: Illimani - Qusima Cruz. Reply #3 on: July 24, 2012, 08:23:20 AM

Location: Horgen, Switzerland
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« Reply #3 on: July 24, 2012, 08:23:20 AM »

thanks! can't wait for more!

  Topic Name: Bikepacking Bolivia: Illimani - Qusima Cruz. Reply #4 on: July 24, 2012, 01:34:53 PM

Location: North Vancouver, BC
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« Reply #4 on: July 24, 2012, 01:34:53 PM »

thank you. loved it.

  Topic Name: Bikepacking Bolivia: Illimani - Qusima Cruz. Reply #5 on: July 25, 2012, 10:09:51 PM
Adam Alphabet

Location: Vancouver, BC
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« Reply #5 on: July 25, 2012, 10:09:51 PM »

Bicycle travel at its purest, inspiring.


  Topic Name: Bikepacking Bolivia: Illimani - Qusima Cruz. Reply #6 on: July 25, 2012, 11:48:02 PM

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« Reply #6 on: July 25, 2012, 11:48:02 PM »

part dos.

Our stay with Don Hans and his wife Juanita was too brief. We were caught up in go-mode and really should have taken a day (or 3) to rest a bit and explore the amazing countryside and craigy peaks within a day's walk from his place. Instead we left after a night, not quite recovered enough for what was to come.

The next day found us rolling along on a gradual ascent higher in the valley. Fun riding, lots to look at and everyone seemed pretty happy.

I want to see this guy show up at NAHBS, he'd clearly win top honors.

Illimani on the horizon now.

We ascended away from civilization and back up into the high country. The road was rough and abusive. We were both feeling pretty tired and unmotivated after climbing like 9,000' at this point.

We left the main road that kept climbing to a 15,000' pass to head back to a glacial lake on an old mining road.

to a killer campsite. Cold night above 14,000', but the views could not be beat.

evening tea, when in Bolivia, do as...

Hitting it the next morning, big broad mellow switchbacks to 15K'

Freeze this moment... this photo is why I go bike touring.

Julie feeling stoked at the top of pass #1. Some marginal weather was blowing our way and we did not know what was around the corner, if we stayed high or dropped down. No map at this point, no idea what was coming.

oh, another gigantic climb. ok, now about that black cloud?

The storm blew in straight off the nearby glacier and caught us with no where to hide. Driving sleet mixed with rain and gusting winds. We made it to what looked like an abandoned bunk house for miners that was all boarded and locked up but it provided the needed shelter to wait the storm out.

After about an hour it was like someone flipped a switch and the sun came out. We warmed up again by walking up a bit and picked up this black dog in the process. The pooch followed us over the next 2 passes and we can only think that we brought him to a better life or he does it every day...

Smooth sailing at over 15,500'

Once we crested the pass and could see what lay ahead of us, we were both a bit nervous. It was 4:00 pm and it gets dark at 6ish. We did not want to spend a cold night up this high and the route ahead only descended a short bit before a steady rise to an even higher pass far ahead of us. We had little options other than pushing on, a stiff and frigid wind blew off the glacier which made camping in the megamid a grim prospect.

Chasing the sunlight, we put the pedals down and pushed on.

Julie getting close to the summit at 16,400', we just wanted to get over and find a campsite at a lower elevation.

"can we please be done climbing now?"

Top of the pass at sunset. We put on every stitch of clothing for a very chilly bombing run down. We were fired up with the descent and the huge day we were about to put behind us.

Made camp at a beautiful lake in the dark and woke up to sun and blue skies. We lounged around and made seconds & thirds of instant nescafe.

From here we thought it was all downhill to the town of Quime, but one nagging detail was stuck in my mind. Quime is on the opposite side of the mountains than where we were headed. Ignorance is bliss, until we started climbing again that is. We'd find out later that every foot we dropped down, we had to gain again. Our legs were not thrilled about it either.

a typical tienda re-supply. You start to learn which sugar cookies are the best and which canned tuna is at least one notch above dog food. Julie get's her sugar fix on.

Abruptly the road hung a left and we started climbing again in the heat of the day. It was a dusty one and it took a while to get into it.

roadside company.

up, and up and up..

Things start to blur together here and fall apart. We reached a main road that links the Altiplano to the west with the Sur Yungas to the east and had to climb over another long rolling pass. The area was undergoing massive road construction. Julie was at her limit, too much climbing at too high an altitude with not enough recovery. We grinded along and the final hump was in sight. Once again we were fighting the daylight and evening chill. Again, camping up this high was not a good option with the temps and even if we could get over it was going to be dark on the descent and who knew what that held.  I looked back one moment and Julie was loading her bike onto a pickup truck. Done deal, I jumped in and that was that.

It turns out we made a very good call. Moments after getting in the cab we pulled up on an area with active blasting. Bolivian safety standards are hardly what they are in the states. With not much more than "knowing" what was about to happen. The driver put the truck in reverse and backed up about 1,000'. BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM. rocks fly, dust blows. We both mumer a holy shit and think about how this would have played out if we were on our bikes. not pretty.  

Our ride got us over the pass, once we dropped elevation a bit we unloaded and got back on our bikes. We made camp in the dark nessled with some bushes in the mist, we were out of the mountains and had started desceding into the Sur Yungas

More road construction!

We ended up in the town of Quime, nessled at around 9,500'. This was the largest town we'd been through after leaving La Paz and quickly got into some R&R.

One rest day turned into 2, filled with exploring the trails and nearby mines on foot and chilling. We stayed at nothing short of a "weirdo's" place, it was a nice spot and comfortable but the eccentric host made for some awkward moments to say the least. I'll leave it at that.

Our rest in Qumie slowly chipped away our motivation to continue the route to Cochabama. The route continued to descend into the tropics, then launch back up to 4000m to it's end. In my head I had some unfinished finished business from my earlier trip out on the vast openness of the Altiplano, and part of me wanted to show Julie the area that I grew a bit fond of last time around. We waffled and played grass is always greener... got on a 4:00 am buss leaving Quime to climb back to the high country.

a short part 3 next.

« Last Edit: July 26, 2012, 08:27:39 AM by Eric » Logged

  Topic Name: Bikepacking Bolivia: Illimani - Qusima Cruz. Reply #7 on: July 27, 2012, 09:55:52 AM

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« Reply #7 on: July 27, 2012, 09:55:52 AM »

Looks like an amazing trip! A real inspiration.

  Topic Name: Bikepacking Bolivia: Illimani - Qusima Cruz. Reply #8 on: July 27, 2012, 11:50:02 AM

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« Reply #8 on: July 27, 2012, 11:50:02 AM »

Great trip report, looks like a wild adventure. Keep it coming!

  Topic Name: Bikepacking Bolivia: Illimani - Qusima Cruz. Reply #9 on: July 27, 2012, 04:41:40 PM

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« Reply #9 on: July 27, 2012, 04:41:40 PM »


Rad trip, rad report! I've climbed down there a bunch, and have long fantasized about doing a bikepacking adventure in the area. Good on you for making t happen- and thanks for sharing the great write-up and photos!



  Topic Name: Bikepacking Bolivia: Illimani - Qusima Cruz. Reply #10 on: August 01, 2012, 05:56:50 AM

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« Reply #10 on: August 01, 2012, 05:56:50 AM »

Stunning photos and your biking companion is a real trooper.

  Topic Name: Bikepacking Bolivia: Illimani - Qusima Cruz. Reply #11 on: August 03, 2012, 05:13:05 PM

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« Reply #11 on: August 03, 2012, 05:13:05 PM »


Month of the year?

  Topic Name: Bikepacking Bolivia: Illimani - Qusima Cruz. Reply #12 on: August 05, 2012, 03:28:52 PM

Location: Las Vegas, NV
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« Reply #12 on: August 05, 2012, 03:28:52 PM »

Standing ovation here!  thumbsup


I should be out riding......

  Topic Name: Bikepacking Bolivia: Illimani - Qusima Cruz. Reply #13 on: August 05, 2012, 05:03:45 PM

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« Reply #13 on: August 05, 2012, 05:03:45 PM »

Thanks, this was early November down there.

  Topic Name: Bikepacking Bolivia: Illimani - Qusima Cruz. Reply #14 on: August 08, 2012, 06:14:26 AM

Location: Boulder, CO
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« Reply #14 on: August 08, 2012, 06:14:26 AM »

Inspiring, Eric. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  Topic Name: Bikepacking Bolivia: Illimani - Qusima Cruz. Reply #15 on: August 17, 2012, 01:34:04 PM

Location: New Mexico
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« Reply #15 on: August 17, 2012, 01:34:04 PM »

Dude! thumbsup thumbsup Very nicely done. Great write-up and pics. An inspiration!
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