Page Contributor(s): Ties Arts, Bussum, Netherlands; Bryan Kevan (BMK Framewerckx), Berkeley, California; Jelmer Brinkman,Lent, Netherlands
Cycling Punta Olimpica, Peru - one of world’s most epic bike climbs.
Ride 52 kilometers gaining 2,327 meters at 4.3% average grade.
Climb summary by PJAMM founder John Johnson.
After the Death Road, this is the most epic bike climb I have ever ridden. What makes this climb so outstanding is it’s scenery, challenge, hairpins, glaciers, and finish at one of the highest paved roads in South and North America. The climb finishes in Parque Nacional Huascaran, a Peruvian national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Generally, the grade is mild on this climb, although there is a brief steep stretch at mile 17 in the village of Llipta.
Climb begins in Carhuaz, Ancash Region of Peru.
We stayed in Huaraz (population ~120), a hub for hiking and climbing in the Cordillera Blanca Mountains which are near the town. This mountain range is part of the Andes Mountains, and includes several peaks over 6,000 meters (almost 20,000 feet), along with 722 individual glaciers. This is a beautiful and awe inspiring area.
One could also consider staying in Carhuaz (population ~7,000) which is the start of our climb. Carhuaz is the capital of Peru’s Carhuaz province. The town’s name means “yellow,” which is the color of the broom flowers that cover the hillsides in season.
This is a rural climb through farm and grazing land some of the way.
As of December 2021, you will need to hop a creek to follow the standard route to Punta Olimpica. The SAG vehicle would take the dirt road on the right a few hundred yards before the river; that road connects with the main road after a mile or two - beware the dirt road is very narrow. Here is the bypass of the river along the dirt road.
Views on the way to and passing through the small village of Llipta at around miles 5-8.
Photos from miles 8 to 11.
There are a couple sets of hairpins before we enter the park around mile 13.
First set of hairpins - mile 12, before entering the park.
Entering the national park at mile 13.2.
This Peruvian national park was established in 1975 and consists of 340,000 acres. The park is in the Cordillera Blanca, the world’s highest tropical mountain range, which extends about 200 miles and is part of the Andes range. There are over 700 glaciers in these mountains, most of them in Huascaran National Park.
Huascarán National Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
“Situated in the Cordillera Blanca, the world's highest tropical mountain range, Mount Huascarán rises to 6,768 m above sea-level. The deep ravines watered by numerous torrents, the glacial lakes and the variety of the vegetation make it a site of spectacular beauty. It is the home of such species as the spectacled bear and the Andean condor” (read more here).
This glacially formed valley reminds me of the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park and the meadows of Yellowstone National Park, both with meandering waterways (Yellowstone River and meadows is remarkably similar). This valley is simply stunning and the entrance to a spectacular climb through hairpins in sight of some of the most scenic and highest peaks in Peru.
Aerial view from the beginning of the major hairpins at mile 19 looking southwest.
Sam rides up the hairpins with Ulta Valley as a backdrop.
Views of the Ulta Valley and of a small glacial valley to the north (photos upper middle and right).
Signs and cattle at the beginning of the hairpins at mile 19.
29 hairpins over a nine mile segment.
Views of the amazing Chopicalqui Mountain.
At 6,354 meters (20,846 feet) above sea level, Chopicalqui is one of the highest peaks in the mountain range. Huascaran National Park is situated in the Cordillera Blanca, or the “White Mountains”, and the photos above make it clear how the mountain range got its name! Chopicalqui is a challenging favorite for snow hikers.
The main concentration of hairpins - 7.3 miles at 5.2% beginning at mile 21, topping out at 15,514’.
Because of the altitude (15,000’), the configuration, and the surrounding scenery, this is one of the greatest sets of hairpins in the world.
Nevado Ulta as seen from the upper hairpins of the Punta Olimpica climb.
Nevado Ulta is another Cordillera Blanca mammoth of a mountain, this one topping out at 5,875 meters (19,275 feet) above sea level.
We ride in sight of and towards the glacier just above Laguna Chacllacocha over the last third of the climb.
There are 600 glaciers and nearly 300 lakes in Huascaran National Park.
Nevado Poroguingua - 18,805’.
Beware of dogs on all bike rides into the mountains of Peru. We did not have any close encounters on Punta Olimpica, but there are many unleashed dogs along paved roads in Peru and they can be vicious - we recommend bringing a stick or club to hold above your head to deter dog attacks - this worked for us except on one occasion on Punta Callan.
Photos of and near the finish of the climb.
Bottom center photo - finish just around the corner, top left.
One of the highest paved cycling finishes in the Americas.
The Punta Olimpica tunnel is said to be the highest tunnel in the world.
Our dear friend and photographer Javier Chacon of Bogota, CO.
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