The Salkantay traverse

We left Abancay with our eyes fixed on the Salkantay, a 6271m giant with an equally named pass at its feet and a 4630m mark on it. This was our way to the Machu Picchu, not the most common, but certainly the most beautiful!

We were eager to cycle so we covered 70km and 1500m the day we left, we soon started the dirt road up to Mollepata to find out that no bikes are allowed to go to pass (something we had read, so we were actually taking risks here). However, they allowed us to continue with the normal entry fee to the park (also hikers pay this) and at the same day we got to Soraypampa at 4000m.

The decision

We found a super cosy room to stay and decided to stay there for that night in order to save time with the packing and unpacking, since we were leaving the following morning very early. Plans changed when it was raining the following morning with low fog, we thought it made no sense to go up without the views, that’s what had made us come in the first place. That afternoon the sky cleared up and we had a small hike to a lake with amazing views, it had been the right decision!

We could see the sunset light on the Salkantay with no clouds and this was outstanding!

On the morning we left, the skies were still clear but some tiny clouds were playing with the mountain, growing as the day was passing.

Somehow we lost our fuel bottle, necessary to cook, where could it be? Maybe in the room? Maybe lost on the way due to a bump? Gerard decided to go to the place where we had slept and back, only to find out that the bottle was truly lost. We didn’t have more time to lose so we quickly continued our way up the pass, which was an unrideable single-track.

Who are the donkeys?

While riding up we saw some donkeys fully packed with backpacks and food and gringos passing us with a tiny daypack.

A bit further away, when we were just 300m below the pass, we decided to dismount the bags from the bikes and assemble them to the backpack (or put them inside in Gerard’s case). The track was totally unrideable at that point, full of stones and way too steep. It becomes a lot easier to move all the loads to the back and push a ‘lightweight’ bike. When we were ready to start pushing three Peruvian guys stopped to chat with us regarding our bikes. They had carried 3 bikes for some US guys that only wanted to do the descent. This felt like the new form of colonisation, paying almost nothing to the locals to do for them all the difficult part of the adventure.

We believe that anyone who wants to do the Salkatay descend should as well strive to climb it, and we act accordingly.
Because of this last two experiences we started talking and making our thoughts on the impact that tourism has, on how money is spent and the different ways of consumerism. We didn’t quite like their approach, paying a misery to three local guys so that they do the dirty job in order to enjoy the way down is something we wouldn’t feel comfortable with. We believe that this is a new form of colonisation where money buys people, where consumerism tourism pretends to keep offering all the comforts.

Snow at the pass

When we were arriving to the pass, it started snowing. It was a cold and exhausting moment but the epicity of it was giving us a boost of energy.We managed to get over it and made it to the pass. As a reward, the sun shined as soon as we had our feet on the pass. We couldn’t see the summit, but the views were still amazing.

We were not alone, it’s a touristic trekking due to its proximity to Machu Picchu and Cusco. The astonishment of all the other tourists with our achievement was obvious and some even came to congratulate us. We did feel proud, but it was time for the real thing, a 3000m descent starting with single-track. It was so great to ride this technical trail down surrounded by snowy mountains!! The views were really powerful!

The two descent versions

Gerard enjoyed the entire descent very much, jumping over some of the rocks and avoiding the biggest ones but for Ariadna… This was not so easy, she hadn’t made many descents before and obviously not this technical. Moreover, the wear and tear of energy from the climb just made it more difficult.

Besides the initial part where rocks were way too big to ride, the rest of the descent was a blast! I kept a close eye on Ariadna because she was not confindent enough to try most of the parts, so when I saw an easier one I told her to dareGerard
Gerard kept repeating me to try it, he said that I would learn with it. I left the bicycle and I started crying. I saw the eternal descent and that I would had to do it all on foot, he said that I had to strive … Like I hadn’t done that until the moment!!! The situation overwhelmed me.Ariadna

We had a nice conversation about effort, learning and personal limits. It is obvious that this trip is at a novice pace and that as such, we need to take it easy. On the other side, it is also true that we are riding technical singletrack at 4000m with loaded bikes and this is in no-way an easy entrance to biking.

The road was quite rocky but at one point it became a softer path, with some large rocks that we needed to jump but perfectly cyclable. So, we advanced faster and Ariadna enjoyed it a lot.

The happy ending

We had been going down for hours, I often had to set a foot on the floor to avoid falling but I was doing progress. At some point the route became softer and I started feeling more comfortable. The gentle descent came, a path that was quite steep and had some drops but with fewer rocks. With the time I felt more confident, I dared to try stretches that I did not see clear and when I surpassed them the motivation kept rising. Without expecting it at all, I really enjoyed the descent! Ariadna
I was really happy o see Ariadna rolling over some small drops that the path had after the conversation we had had some hours before. This part was a flowy trail, easy to enjoy and we both did enjoy it a lot! However, we had to be careful with the possible fall on the sideGerard

We reached a jungle zone, a brutal change that we liked a lot. The road was full of fruit trees and we took a couple of paltas (avocados) that we found on the ground, fairly big and heavy, somewhat green but we could eat them in two days!

There was little to go to Santa Teresa but it was becoming dark and we decided to stop and sleep in a house that was in the middle of the road. The woman invited us to a mate and we ate bread with egg before going to sleep. The insect level was a lot bigger than what we were used to!
The next day we went to Santa Teresa, where we spent three days, it was our basecamp to visit Machu Pichu, an impressive ending.
The Salkantay traverse, 100% recommended!