Majestic mountainbiking in mesmerizing mountains! That was what I was looking for and that’s what I found in Huaraz. At 3100m, caught between the Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca which contain the highest mountains in Peru, this city is the mecca for climbers, trekkers and mountaineers. But Huaraz has a trump card that is often overlooked, yet it is indissolubly connected with mountains: mountainbiking. There aren’t many companies offering guided trips or multi-day trips with mountainbikes. Some research and a small survey around town led me to one person who appears to be the pioneer of mountainbiking in the Huaraz region. His name: Julio Olaza. His mountainbiking company is called Chakinäni (Quechua for single track), but his name is much more well-known in Huaraz.
I make an appointment with him to discuss my plans for a multi-day mountainbiking trip of at least four days. I get a load of information on different one day rides and options for multi-day trips. He’s a sincere guy who doesn’t push me to the most expensive option, but gives me different options and I can compose my own trip. We appear to be on the same wavelength when I explain him that I am not interested in doing only downhill. Most mountainbiking companies mainly organize trips that consist only of downhill. That is not what I define as mountainbiking, I believe climbing on some strenuous uphill cannot be missing in a decent mountain ride! I can see in his eyes he likes these words. I immediately feel this is the guide I need to do the mountainbiking that I like. But there is still one problem, i.e. a multi-day trip with camping would be too expensive since I am on my own and have to carry all the costs. Normally this means that it is impossible for me to do such a trip unless I can find a group of people to join me. But the mountainbiking trips of Julio are far from standard trips and I find flexability to be the keyword of his policy. He offers me the interesting option to do five trips in different parts of the region that always end in Huaraz where I can sleep in the hostel. This way I can keep the costs down and enjoy a warm shower and a good night’s sleep. The five proposed trips sound really exciting so it’s an easy decision. I’m happy like a child, because I’m getting what I came for, five days of mountainbiking at high altitude between the highest mountains of Peru, or even of the world, allowing some exageration due to enthusiasm.
The first day Julio planned an excursion to the Cordillera Negra from where you have the best views of the dozens of snowy peaks of the Cordillera Blanca. A car drives us to the starting point at an altitude of 3900m. The ride is everything what you expect when you jump on your bike: singel track, cross-country, climbing, fast downhill and technical slow downhill on rocks and steep narrow paths. Climbing to heights of 4100m offers breathtaking views, partly due to the lack of oxygen at this altitude, but mainly because of the amazing scenery. After a difficult climb a well-earned short stop gives me not only the chance to catch my breath, but also to take some pictures of the stunning mountains on the other side of the valley. I could easily sit there for hours looking at those white gods, but my legs are also eager for more. After some hard parts, Julio evaluates how I’m doing and asks if I’m up for more. It’s clear that he wants me to have a good time and make the trip a challenge for me. I always have the option to return to Huaraz if I’m getting too tired, but if I want more, Julio pulls another white rabbit out of his hat and finds some new trails to keep our height in the mountains or to climb some more. He knows all the trails, even the narrowest ones. Some of those are old Inca trails and some are not even trails at all! Julio is not afraid of some offroad, even if this means cycling on rock formations or going down steep slopes. I get the spectacular and challenging cycling I wanted in an incredible environment. Sometimes it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road and don’t stare at the mountains. The long and technical descent is a real treat, I’m enjoying every second of this trip, it even gives me goosebumps. Cycling five hours, just long enough for me before I get too tired.What a day! I can’t wait to see what Julio has planned for tomorrow.
It’s impossible to describe the five different cycling days, this would take too long. Each day was packed with different types of cycling, never a dull moment.It was always challenging, just the way I love it. I never knew what was going to happen next, because when we were cycling on a wide gravel road, Julio could suddenly ride over the edge on a single downhill single track, invisible from the road. Sometimes we crossed some improvised bridges or just cycled through rivers to cross them. Even though we always started from Huaraz, we never cycled a road twice, because there are so many options. Huaraz lies in the center of five valleys. Julio compares it to a hand: Huaraz is the palm and the five valleys are the fingers, running away from Huaraz through the high mountains. This makes it possible to have different views every day and see new mountains every day. Boring is an unknown word in this place. Mostly we drove by car to the starting point in one of the valleys and then made a long ride through this valley and if I felt fit enough we climbed over a small pass to the next valley. If I wanted an even bigger challenge and test the condition, we just started cycling from Huaraz up the mountains, climbing for hours at a steady pace. Julio, being a cyclist to the bone, felt exactly what I wanted.
Although mountainbiking trips are mainly about the cycling and the physical challenge, there is also an undeniable cultural aspect. Julio always led me through small mountain villages where the real Quechua people still live, cycling in narrow alleys between their houses, crazy dogs and surprised lamas and donkeys. But we also passed some old Inca ruins and walls, and this is where Julio shows that he is more than just a mountainbiker, he’s a real guide! His spotless English gave me the opportunity to have some good conversations with him during the cycling, and believe me, he has some good stories!
If you’re in Huaraz and want to go mountainbiking, just remember the name Olaza and you’ll be in for some of the most stunning cycling in your life. This was definitely the case for me, the five most challenging and amazing cycling days in my life!
By: Arnout Willock.
He was an author of several scientific publications which were presented in international journals and conferences. Once his PHD was finished, it was time for something completely different. As he was always interested in adventure, he left Belgium for a year to explore other parts of the world.