The group is tired, long travel and intense riding is showing on the faces of our crew, nothing a little music can't cure. At the pass we pour out of the combis as do the jams. The mood quickly changes from sullen to hyped as we ready to drop off the backside of the mountain toward a community called Yanamayo. The trail is amazing and we revel in every minute of the “choose your own adventure” trail shredding. The combis wait at the roadside below to shuttle us back to the pass. This time to drop the front side, toward the community of Patacancha and eventually Ollanta.
Abra Patacancha singletrack is formed by foot and livestock, line options are endless, the air fills with hoots and hollers of joy as we experience this trail for the first time. Llamas look on in disbelief at our pack of Enduroites. Still well above tree line, we are easily seen, shortly we come upon a young woman and her siblings who have set up a trailside mercantile. All goods hand dyed and woven from alpaca. Our group picks up a few gifts for loved ones before pushing on. We’ve been invited to take comida at the community of Huilloc but still have a few thousand feet of descending ahead of us.
In Huilloc we'd been prepared a traditional Andean lunch starting with a regional tortilla and local salsa, followed by a plate of oats and veggies and a warm soup. A combination of the long miles and purity of ingredients once again made this one of the best meals we've ever had.
Refueled and refreshed, there was of course more trail to be ridden. Just minutes above our lunch spot was the Pumamarca trail head and the opportunity for another 1000 ft of descending that not only featured multiple Inca sites but also dropped right into Ollantaytambo.
No Hike, No Ride – Inti Punku
Today was to be the biggest and most rewarding of our entire trip. On the docket, a 4000ft ascent to the site of Inti Punku, the Sun Gate. No need for the combis as we'd be pedaling out of town and up to the mountain peak. The word pedaling is used loosely as 90% of the journey would be hike-a-bike, due to direct nature of the route. I'd personally been looking forward to this adventure for quite some time. The site itself is amazing, 1000 year old guard post with geographical significance during the solstice and featuring 360 views of the surrounding Andes and the Veronica glacier. Along the route is an Inca quarry, an open tomb and a massive Inca pool used to irrigate the fields.
We descended from Ollantaytambo, toward the Urubamba river crossing the train tracks where protesters were attempting to block a train using massive boulders and fiery stumps. The protesters gave us no resistance, only applauding our technique on the rocky trail that lead to the tracks. From here we pedaled along the river, climbing slightly over the next 30 minutes before starting the push to Inti Punku.
As we we reached the halfway point, temperatures changed from mid 90s, dropping into the 50s with a light and welcome drizzle, this rain actually lifted our spirits, way better than laboring in the 90s.
We took a short rest break at the area of the open tomb. As the story goes this is the resting place of an Inca that was well liked and well traveled, thus choosing to have an open tomb so he could receive visitors in the afterlife. At one time there were actual human remains but has since been raided. No pictures please.
We push on, one foot in front of the other, savoring the rare chances to actually pedal our bikes when the trail relents. Off in the distance we can begin to see the outline of the Sun Gate.
I was concerned that we would expend all this effort to achieve the summit, only to be socked in by clouds. Pachamama (mother nature) wasn't going to allow that to happen. As we rounded the final corner, the clouds dissipated and we received a full view of Inti Punku with the Veronica glacier in the background, it was amazing and short-lived. We took the opportunity to get some great group photos before tackling the 4000ft drop back to town. And what a descent! Filled with flowing singletrack, some of the rockiest trail and steepest pitches thus far. As a group we were elated with our accomplishment, a pretty massive ascent to an amazing Inca site, with amazing sites along the way… another super satisfying day in the Andes.
Machu Picchu – You call that a rest day?