Descent to Arcata

Tolconi to Huacullo (altiroute part 1)

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Two hundred kilometers of riding above 4500 meters? Count me in! (Actually, above 4490m but hey, don't fret about it.) This is a first part of my really-high adventure (although technically I already started the kilometre count after Caylloma).

July 8

After a breakfast in the village my plan is to finish the ride to Arcata. In other words, with 30 kilometers to go this should be an easy day. (There is no really a point in camping on the climb after Arcata). The route starts with an initial, not very steep, climb of about 150 meters which opens some good views.

Day starts with a rather unimpressive sight
A bit of climb opens better views

Then the grades turn into really gentle category as the road slowly climbs to today's pass with the height of 4860m. Still, at this altitude even gentle climbs aren't really easy.

The road fortunately isn't steep
Cycling towards the flattish pass
There are more snowy mountains around ...
... and some of them are even spikey

After finally climbing into the pass a very nice descent follows. It can be mostly characterized by lake views as I pass around a bunch of them with sizes ranging from small ponds to huge water dams.

On the descent to Arcata I pass by some large dam. Unfortunately, it is mostly hidden from the views
While I don't get to see the big dam there are other alternatives ...
... and some of them are big as well

I know that the end of descent is near when I spot a bridge over a big lake/dam. This is the lowest point of the whole 200km alti-route which I am taking. After I pass the bridge it is only a bit until Arcata village where I plan to spend the night (despite the fact that it is still quite early).

With 4990m of altitude this bridge is the lowest point of a 200km long alti-route
Final hundreds of meters to Arcata

Arcata is a small village. In fact, it is smaller than I expected. Fortunately, it looks like the (above-)altiplano Peruvian standard is to have hospedaje practically in every village. This time it is combined with a hardware shop and to my surprise it is pretty warm inside. After I am safely accomodated I start my usual walk around the village. It is decently nice with a distinct church. And as I am learning, there is no working restaurant around (though there is at least one restaurant sign :-() So, instead of a restaurant I manage to get a room delivery -- I convince the hospedaje owner to cook for me.

July 9

Today is a day with a hard climb. This is mostly because I am extending my 4900+m maximal altitude from Bolivia to almost 5100 meters above the sea (5085m if I wanted to be precise). I first pass around a pretty dam and observe distant flamingoes. A bit later I observe not-so-distant viscochas.

Last views of Arcata
The day starts with a climb along a nice dam
Dam above Arcata
It seems that flamingoes like it here
I unexpectedly pass by a graveyard

Then the road leads me to Mina Arcata. I need to register at the entrance and they let me in. Then I continue through the mine and as if it wasn't cold because of the wind I am rained on from sprinklers around the road (it makes sense to keep the roads wet so that the things doesn't get too dusty with all the passing mining trucks). A bit later and I even get my own car escort. I pity the guy though because my progress is super slow and he needs to stop every 10 or so meters to wait for me.

After I finally exit the mine (where a nice guard gives me a chocolate) the road gets terrible. Not because of the surface (which is quite ok) but because of the gradient (which is 10%+). I end up just pushing my bike through most of the subsequent kilometer or two.

Mountains around Mina Arcata
I can finally step on pedals instead of pushing
The big rock in the middle seems a bit out of place
This place seems to be suspiciously flat. Maybe it was a part of some lake?

With the supersteep part done, I sit down for a lunch. Then the last 200 meters of climb remain to conquer. These are with some really wonderfull views.

Lunch break is at a very beautiful spot
The scenery keeps changing
Climbing towards Abra Arcata is tough but the views are worth it
A bit steeper part

When I finally get to Abra Arcata the other side of the pass isn't bad either. As a starter there are snow-covered mountains.

Hmm, I should look back more often
Abra Arcata reveals that snowline isn't that far from here

The descent goes through a long and beautiful valley. Snow, colored volcanic mountains and green grass come all together to form something breathtaking. Then, surprisingly, in the middle of nowhere I come across a whole regiment of football-playing joungsters. I mean, shouldn't this be a place with almost no people around? The remaining short descent leads me into beautiful wide green valleys with lots of sheep and alpacas grazing around. I finally reach the "lowpoint" -- a bridge at altitude of 4570m and start a very gentle climb.

First part of the descent goes around these stone formations
The road then goes into this long valley
The descent is as beautiful as the ascent
Fascinating rock towers
The valley widens for a bit
I come by a bunch of to-be football stars
The views don't stop surprising me
A bit more down and alpacas appear

The gradual climb reveals another nice sceneries but it is slowly time to get a place to camp. Just before that I need to go for a big toilet. As there seems to be a constant trickle of herder's huts around I am in favor of finding a bit more "sanitary" place. So when I see a man in one of the huts I quickly make an inquiry. Well, it turns out that there definitely isn't any baño around. Actually, he doesn't even have a latrine and just tells me to "find some place".

The descent ends in a huge valley and I can start climbing again
The scenery keeps to be interesting
The climb is very gentle at first
As I pass around countless alpacas, some of them are trying to hide
A side-valley reveals more snow than I expected
As the day is closing I am scanning the scenery for nice camping site

July 10

I wake up into an incredible scenery. It is a total bliss to cycle this part of the road with nice snowy mountains in the backdrop. Then the road starts climbing a bit more steeply and turns into a side-valley.

Waking up in a beautiful location ...
... I set off to get closer to this incredible scenery
It's a pity that the road doesn't go closer to this majestic mountain
Looking back
In times like this I completely forget about the hardships of the route
The road starts to climb more steeply
Turning to a side-valley the views change from snow to more volcanic-type of mountains

The side-valley marks a start to a short but nicely-flat section which ends abruptly when the road starts to climb a side of the valley using a few steep switchbacks. The climb keeps me fully occupied with vischocha sighting and deep breathing -- some sections are steep enough that I decide to push for a bit.

I enjoy a bit of flat ride ...
... before the road starts another steep climb
I keep an eye out for vischochas sunnying on the rocks
When not in the Sun it can be certainly cold here
Uhh, did I really climb these switchback?

Fortunately, before long the climb is over and I end up in a rather flattish Abra Condorillo. The views from the pass are beautiful. Unfortunately, with the cold wind this isn't exactly a place to get a lunch picknick. I thus need to wait until I get a bit more down and out of wind. After the lunch I continue the descent just to break it with a an ascent to a highpoint.

Mountains around Abra Condorillo
Descent doesn't look bad either
The views keeps me occupied
I pass along a bunch of houses
Just to start another ascent
Riding through these mini fords is always a bet whether I will keep my shoes dry
A bit more and it will be descent again
Hills to my left seem to be surprisingly bare
Alpacas are again present

The final descent to Culipampa is fascinating with views of a big lake (or dam?) and snowy mountaintops. Culipampa is a tiny village or, more precisely, just a bunch of houses. While sourcing gaseosa from (the only) shop I chat with the locals -- I guess cyclists are quite a rarity here. After resugaring is done I say goodbye and set to finish the last kilometers of the day. These are mostly on a flattish/slightly descending terrain until I finally end up in Huacullo.

The final descent looks quite good
I pass by this nice laguna ...
... only to come by to even more amazing one
Lakes & mountains -- this is surely a nice way to end the day

Compared to Culipampa Huacullo is a bit bigger village. Needless to say, this doesn't mean anything as it is still quite tiny. And quite remote. Apparently place like this does not warrant investition into electricity network and so the only option for locals is to charge overday using solar panels and be quite strict about saving the current. Fortunately, one can find a hospedaje even here. As well as a few tiendas and a restaurant (though this seems to be real on-demand place with me being the single customer).

Route

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Download simplified GPX of a route here

Stats by activity:

Activity Distance
(km)
Ascent
(km)
Pedal rotations
(thousands)
bike 108 1.6 32
Stats by day:
Date Distance
(km)
Ascent
(km)
Avg. temp
(moving, C)
July 8, 2017 31.1 0.33 8.2
July 9, 2017 34.3 0.69 12.2
July 10, 2017 42.9 0.61 12.7

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 34.4
< 4 9.7 8.6
< 6 5.4 5.9
< 8 3.2 4.5
< 10 1.0 1.6
≥ 10 1.5 1.7

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