Colca Canyon 1

The first day’s track of three to Colca Canyon and back
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We’re headed over a high corner of the altiplano. This will be my fourth time. The elevation profile – we top at nearly 16,000 feet
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It’s a late start because of the military parade. We climb the cactus covered hills out of Arequipa. Alvaro’s bike is the all-new 2014 1200GS, watercooled and packing 135hp. He painted it a metallic brown before taking delivery, it’s sharp. A twenty-mile surround of Arequipa is dust and dirt – climbing out of it is a relief

As the chart shows we’re climbing constantly

Past 20,000 foot peaks

At about 14,000 feet vicuna are grazing on tough alpine plants. They’re extremely beautiful animals. Leaner and more athletic than llama or alpaca

An exotic landscape that can change rapidly. But the consistent thing is how vivid the color and definition is in the clear air at this altitude

We round a corner and incredibly, there’s a huge marsh and a small pond

It’s very cold

Up against a small hill there are ancient walls. Everywhere we’ve been in Peru there are ancient abandoned settlements at high altitude, and always near water with the exception of outside Nazca. A flock of long-beaked birds patrol the shore for whatever passes for food up here


I disturb them with as little fuss as possible to see them in flight. Oh well, it’s worth the shot

Ducks with huge blood-red feet chasing each other

Further along are more of the giant Andean geese

A huge escarpment with hoodoos stands alone. You see a unique feature here for a few minutes and then everything changes. The constant is the intensity of the sunlight

With a small village at its base. Being a sea-level city boy I really haven’t given a damn about UV or other hocus-pocus radiation talk but everything up here is fried

Nearing the top

The landscapes are huge. Those cliffs are miles away

At the summit are huge clumps of Raoulia and little else

In no book have I seen such gigantic specimens. They must love the baking. Alvaro and I talk about the effects of being at 16,000 feet. The climbers I know of following this blog will laugh at the relative lowness of this but you do feel it. I bring it up now because I wandered off to get the below picture through the soft sand aways and by the time I was back I was noticeably shorter of air when I climbed back on the bike

On the descent we see huge herds of llamas in the valleys. The higher we get the more we see. Click to see them

Giant black bluffs on the western slopes. The road ahead cuts across the lower flank

Down much further villagers wait for rides. Alvaro talks with them while I take photos. It’s interesting watching a Peruvian businessman from Lima chatting with his countrymen from the extreme opposite social environment

Then we can see the first village in the valley below, thirty miles away from the Colca Canyon

The good fast road down

Under a stone arch announcing the village of Chivay. We pass through three villages with these arches in this valley

We stop for lunch snacks

And head into one of the most beautiful valleys I’ve ever seen (better pictures taken the next day)

And around the river becomes oasis-like

Terraces everywhere built by centuries of Incans

The road turns to dirt and we head down the valley to the town of Yanque. It’s still the volcanic base rock that turns to dust instantly

And park the bikes for the night. Lucinda is not well


One Comment so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Loving what we have to look forward to in the spring. Almost feels like you are pre-running the route for us so thanks! Hope Lucinda is over her illness.

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