A really tough but absolutely amazing day!
Trip Start Oct 16, 2012
136Trip End Apr 20, 2013
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We packed up our things, said goodbye to the rangers and paid our park entry fee of 5 soles ($2) per person. Even though he knew that we intended to camp in the park for the night, he told us to only buy a one day pass, otherwise it would be 65 soles per person. I appreciated that he so obviously bent the rules for us to save us from having to pay 13 times more
The road was gravel and slightly dusty and made its way into a wide open valley, with a river in the middle and mountains on either side. It reminded me a lot of New Zealand, as the landscape and even the tall grasses seemed so strikingly familiar. There were occasional flocks of sheep, or a herd of cattle, and tiny houses made from straw, and stone walls sprinkled the landscape, which would remind me that I was somewhere much poorer.
We slowly plodded our way up through the valley, towards the ridge of two mountains, which sat at 4800m. As the road was gravel it was slow going, as we would desperately search out a smoother part of the road and try to avoid the larger rocks, which would easily knock us from our bikes. It was tough going, but we would entertain ourselves by quickly looking into the distance for a glimpse of a snow capped peak.
The rangers had offered us some eggs in the morning and I had suggested that we take them for our lunch. So into my tuperware box, went 6 boiled eggs, to enjoy with half a loaf of bread. It turned out to be a disaster, the eggs had bashed against each other over a morning of gravel road riding and were barely recognizable as eggs anymore
We set off again sucking on some dried leaves, that the ranger and a local lady had recommended to us in the morning. It tasted like green tea and were meant to help with acclimatising to the altitude. Kory and I had both coped with the relatively rapid ascent well so far, but I was definitely noticing that the air seemed thin and was taking big gasps of air even when we were resting.
As we finally crested the ridge we were rewarded with spectacular views of an alpine meadow surrounded by huge snow covered peaks. The scenery was breath-taking and I felt privileged to be surrounded by it, which I don't think you would often have the chance to see without hiking for days. The road descended into the meadow and as we turned each corner we were swamped by another huge mountain, with glaciers slinking down the side. I counted that I could see 12 snow covered peaks around me at one time, it was incredible.
As we climbed back up to another ridge, of approximately 4800m again, the heavens opened and we were caught in a hail storm
We arrived at the top of the ridge and whilst we were amazed by the beauty of the mountains, we were more surprised to see the highway in the valley below us. We had almost cycled through the whole National Park and were almost back into the real world. We both instantly decided to camp where we were, to be able to enjoy one last night in the mountains, in the quiet beauty of the park. We saw a flat(ish) area and as we had only seen two cars all day we deemed that it would be quiet/safe even though it was visible from the road.
We quickly had the tent up and dinner cooking on the camp stove and were able to enjoy the mountain vistas as the sun was setting for the day. It was magical and we couldn't believe how lucky we had been to have such fine weather to enjoy the amazing views.
We climbed to almost 5000m above sea level on this day, which I will try to put into perspective for anyone who has no idea how high that is. The highest mountain in the UK is Ben Nevis, which is 1344m high. The highest mountain in Western Europe is 4807m. For my Kiwi friends, you all know that Mount Cook is 3754m. For Kory's family who know the Rocky mountains well, the highest one there is apparently 3954m high. So you can imagine the tallest mountain you have seen in Western Europe, NZ or the Rockies and then add on quite a bit....and we cycled it!