Bikepacking Salkantay, Peru

Into the bare teeth of the mountains again — Salkantay a formidable presence at the end of the valley — freezing gusts and spiteful peltfall against taut tent walls the night before, before a 4am quieting misting full moon frame, looking up willing and speaking across space. With the sunrise I’ll set off alongside horse burden porters and a few late season gringos with carbon fiber telescoping sticks, fascination mystification skepticism.

This trek is proffered by Cusco mountain walk hawkers as a more difficult alternative to the famous Peruvian Inca Trail. I have motives intrinsic and ulterior for it, I turn north off of the Abancay-Cusco highway, ascend for two hours to Mollepata to ply it bikepacker style, aiming to connect to my index finger plan on the dot labeled “Santa Teresa.”

A Peruano guide eyes the fat tires, Revelate setup, “you have a stove?”, nods, laughs approvingly, says there will be difficult spots. Luminescent pinpoints in his eyes suggest approval.

From Mollepata I finally find the parallel to the road singletrack, pushing lost with misgivings along an aqueduct until a gray septuagenarian astride a lanky mare trembles, mumbles, “up, yes, up, it just winds higher.” I arrive Soraypampa late afternoon with curtains of rain wrapping around me, enough for today.

Ride push drag, I’m alone with echoes of “just a little more, until the top.” Three hours of steep traverses, up the seven snakes to the 4,600 meter pass. The descent is lowspeed picking through boulders concentration, consumes skills honed elsewise, avalanching through eco zones.

Rocks drops pits of donkey hoof pocked mud, babyheads sideways drift brakefade. Soon the tilt goes proper Peruvian, I’m on track to lose six thousand feet off the deck, a dirt doubletrack along the rio Huamantay into a jungle, oversized leaves and biting bugs and tendriling branches.

Two days hard riding, a capable bike mandatory, jaw set to finesse and concentration.