Windbreak at Maricunga

Copiapó to Salar de Maricunga

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Paso San Francisco is my next target. This is my second really high Andean pass, the first one being Paso Agua Negra. Unfortunately, I could not really finish the pass. Read on if you are interested why.

April 15

In the morning I am finishing last preparations for the next week of cycling. Most of it seems to be figuring out how the hell should I pack all the food and water on my bike. I hope to reach the pass in about 5 days but my weather forecast is showing rather miserable weather on the 4th day.

Fuel for one week weights a lot

I start relatively early and head to the industrial zone around Copiapó where the junction to the pass starts. There I am kindly informed that I should pack with a lots of fuel as the next possibility is about 470km away. Fortunately for me, my panniers are full of calories. Although there is still a problem with water -- for the past few days I am observing that I have about the same consumption as a car. Only I consume water instead of bencina. On a flat road I can probably go around 8L per 100km. But on the ascent it easily could be twice as much.

This tells you how far it is to the next civilization
Mining/Industrial zone after Copiapó isn't verry pretty

The morning is quite boring. Just mineral processing complexes and a constant buzz of high voltage line. But things are slowly getting better in the afternoon. Now I am slowly climbing on an undulating road through a wide valley. The mountains are getting higher. And more colorfull.

My company for a lunch. Hopefully not theirs lunch!
Slowly the views are getting better
If this car stand is some kind of an advertisement, I am not sure it would convince me buy it.

The main problem is heat. There is a bit of wind but unfortunately it is a tailwind of around the same speed as me. So no relief there. I am pondering about what a furnace would this be if I followed this route in the high summer (January-February).

The road undulates a bit
Steady climb in the heat

In the evening I ma passing aroud ruins of Puquois and push a bit further. I camp on a nice plain and I am quite happy with the day. I made 70 kilometers and climb over 1000 meters. The only problem is the water consumption which is much higher than I anticipated. Fortunately, right in the morning I am passing by a refueling option.

Ruins of Puquois

April 16

The morning surprises me with a wind. A headwind! I mean, what the duck? At least my camping stove now runs on bencina blanca so I have no trouble lighting it with a flint.

Packing the campsite

Five kilometers later I am passing by a posada and getting more water. Just a moment and my bike is heavier by damn 5 kilos.

The valley starts to get narrower
A silent observer

Then a rather steep ascent starts. Fortunately, it does not go forever and before lunch it is already a more decent grade. And the views are getting even more colorfull than yesterday. For a while I even have a tailwind.

Looking down the valley after a steep climb
Yellow on a dark grey makes quite a contrast

I have a lunch break at around 2200 meters. I really hope to get to at least 3300 meters by the evening so that tomorrow I would have only 1000 meters to climb.

Lunch break

After lunch the scenery gets quite interesting. I mean, green grass? Sheep? Even shy donkeys and horses? Here in a desert? Of course even grass does not help shielding from the Sun which again turns me into a perspiring device.

Patches of grass and horses are a nice surprise to otherwise dry views
There are donkeys as well
So I enjoy this rarely green part of the route

The green views doesn't last forever. Before long I am looking again at a standard desert. And the strong headwind starts again to make me more miserable.

The route I am following isn't very busy with traffic but it isn't completely empty. I am however surprised when a guy in a car stops me, chats for a bit and even gives me a bottle of water. Quite good of him. At least I do not need to rely on the mine people tomorrow.

There are many mysterious things on Earth. But one of the finest mysteries of today is a dog. A dog trotting in a desert. In a middle of nothing. For tens of kilometers. I mean, what is this poor fellow doing here and where is he going? As I said, a total mystery ...

By the evening the desert look is total. Naked rocks, gravel-like sand and nothing alive in the view. And I am choosing a rather fancy campsite -- I use a very big rock as a windbreak.

Before long and the views shift back to the standard desert
Camping behind a big rock

April 17

Without any reason my mobile phone went overnigh from half a charge to almost zero. I have no idea why, it must have gone mad. Fortunately, my solar panel can fix this problem. The forecast was also right -- the sky is overcast with high clouds. So far they aren't too dense but I expect them to do so over time.

What I need to do is to mentally prepare for a hard day. I still need to climb 1300 meters -- this is the same as yesterday expect that it is 1300 meters higher.

On my way I first pass a mining campanento. This would be a good place to get water except that (because of a friendly driver) I already have enough to survive the day. I am also enjoying views of more vegetation than I expected. And a bit of a tailwind helps me to make it faster to lunch which happens at 3500 meters.

The real work starts a few kilometers later. The climb to Cuesta Codoceo is steep. And there is lots of head/side-wind. I end up pushing the bike on many parts. But at least I have something to look at -- colored hills with salt deposits aren't on my standard daily menu. To break a bit from this misery I am cautiously observing an andean fox.

Salt deposits on the climb to Cuesta Codoceo
An Andean Fox I met on the ascent
Final meters to Cuesta Codoceo are windy

I reach the top at half past four by pushing the last few hundreds of meters. And now a I can enjoy the descent. Or can I? With the everpresent fierce cold wind the descent is comparable to enjoying Antarctica in a shorts and a T-shirt.

Yeah! And now down!
Descent side is a bit more colorfull
Foxes seem to like this place

But I can't complain about the views. These are really superb. And to warm me up even more I am meeting another two foxes. They really seem to like this place.

The the steep descent ends and I end up looking at the impressive Salar de Maricunga. There is only a dozen or so kilometers to make to immigration. But these prove to be quite tough. The wind now turns into a total sidewind and I am quite happy to be able to balance the bike.

Closing the distance on Salar de Maricunga

In the end I manage to get to the immigration. There they offer me to stay in a "guestroom" for stranded people and I am very grateful because of the windy situation outside.

April 18

The morning comes with bad news. The pass is closed due to "climatic conditions". Moreover, they do not allow me to stay at the immigration for another night. In the end, I have only two options -- either I take a ride in some mining vehicle back to Copiapó or I leave the immigration, presumably heading to the north.

Of course, I choose the second option. Although I am not happy at all -- it is impossible to convince the officers that riding agains this super-strong wind and camping somewhere is just a useless idea.

In the end what happens is that I end up pushing the bike agains the wind for a few kilometers. Then I spot a small hill with lots of stones. Knowing that there won't be better possibility to camp I settle for the place.

And then my day just starts. During the next three hours I am moving big rocks to form a windbreak. It is quite an impressive structure but it is still quite short of something that would pacify the wind. After I ascertain that building it even bigger would probably end up in a collapse, I finally set up my tent and get inside, preparing for a cold night.

The result of three hours of moving stones

April 19

The next day I am waking up into a totally clear sky. In the distance I can see slightly sugared hills. And it is really cold. I have -2 inside the tent until I open the entrance. It quickly drops to -4 and probably even less over time. The water inside the outer tent is frozen completely. And even water bottles inside the innter tent are slowly producing ice. The only grace is the Sun which, as soon as it hits the sky, starts to warm me up.

My plan for today is to go back to the immigration. I definitely need to restock with water. As a secondary objective, I want to see if the pass is open because I don't see tons of snow around.

The road to the immigration complex at Maricunga
Snow & salt

At immigration they tell me to wait about one hour for the Argentinian side to confirm the opening of the pass. One hour gets much longer and in the afternoon I am getting the information that the pass is still closed. But they at least they let me stay again at the complex for the night.

In the meantime I just chill out outside of the building on the Sun. And I am meeting a few people. First I am talking to a quite unlucky guy. He works for some mining company and needed to do something in the salar. Unfortunately, his car got stuck in mud and now he needs to wait for some big vehicle to help him out. Of course, the fact that now it is Easter weekend doesn't help with the potential help. I am also meeting a duo of guys who just wanted to visit Laguna Verde. But even they couldn't pass so the stay a bit and then return. To complete the visitors, a curious fox appears. It goes here and there but in the end settles up on the warm tarmac.

Curious fox around the immigration complex
Sunning on the tarmac ...

Notes for cyclists

Everything can be found at excellent Pikes'


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Download simplified GPX of a route here

Stats by activity:

Activity Distance
Pedal rotations
bike 182 4.0 58
Stats by day:
Date Distance
Avg. temp
(moving, C)
April 15, 2017 72.9 1.13 28.3
April 16, 2017 50.8 1.49 27.1
April 17, 2017 52.4 1.38 10.7
April 18, 2017 3.0 0.04 6.7
April 19, 2017 2.8 0.01 0.0

Elevation data

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(drag over a region to zoom in, right-click reset)

The next table is only for cycling activity.

Grade(%)Ascent (km)Descent(km)
< 2 63.7
< 4 41.4 6.7
< 6 14.4 2.2
< 8 3.9 1.3
< 10 2.0 0.9
≥ 10 3.2 0.7

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