Uturuncu Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

10.8 mi
4,600 ft
8.1 %



Well, what can we say . . . this was an experience like no other.  If you ride your bike to the Uturuncu Saddle and then hike to the top, you will have accomplished something only a handful of cyclists/hikers have done.
8.1% average grade -  58% is at 5-10%, 25% is at 10-15%, and 2% is at 15-20%.  The steepest 500 meters is 12.9% and the steepest kilometer is 11.2%. 

See more details and tools regarding this climb's grade via the “Profile Tool” button.
Roadway:  Dirt and volcanic ash.

Traffic:  Zero.

Parking:  Not an issue - you must have a guide for the climb.
Provisions:  None on the ride and barely any in Quentena Chico, the tiny village at the base of Uturuncu Volcano. 
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This is one of the most remote bike climbs in the world.  See our Full Summary for more details. 



Difficulty: Strenuous



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Sep 1, 2022
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 1
Sep 1, 2022
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 1
Started closer to Quetena Chico than route on PJAMM, our climb up was about 23 kilometers. We made it to 18,400 feet only to find the ‘road’ was completely washed out, oh well… it was our top, and it did not detract from the experience. If you are looking for a guide reach out to me, we made a friend on Death Road who is a professional guide in Bolivia. Here is the Strava activity https://www.strava.com/activities/5116128318
Feb 6, 2024
Hi, I'm Tristan from Ottawa, Canada, into ultras, preferably off the beaten path. I have started researching the possibility of doing Uturuncu next spring (2025) and am thinking a local guide would be a nice plus. Your post mentions you've met one in Bolivia. Might he be available? I'm also unsure if I should target landing into Chile then driving from San Pedro to Quetena or straight into Bolivia. Any info you have would help my thinking and prep. Thanks.
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Uturuncu - climbed by PJAMM 9-23-17

Ride 17 kilometers gaining 1,402 meters at 8.1% average grade to elevation 5,753 meters (18,877’)

Well . . . what can we say . . . This was an experience like no other . . . If you ride your bike to the Uturuncu Saddle [1] then hike to the top, you will have accomplished something only a handful of cyclists/hikers.

The three of us intending to ascend the highest road in the world trained quite differently for the challenge. Brad did the standard road climbing to prepare plus slept in an oxygen tent for over 400 hours within 3 months before our trip.  John trained via bike climbing and running his stairwell at work. Will prepared by doing 300-400m ascent sprints on a 40# ancient mountain bike from sea level.


  The Butterfield Method  


 The Johnson Program  Copyright symbol - white background | This is a copyright sy… | Flickr


We made things harder than necessary on ourselves by spending 3 days getting to and climbing the highest paved road in the Americas which is in northern Chile near San Pedro de Atacama.  This resulted in us driving a full day to the Bolivian/Chilean border, camping overnight at the border, taking 4 hours to get across the border in the morning, driving a full day to our climb, then doing the climb and begging our way across the border back into Bolivia for a 120 mile ride on impossibly rough dirt roads to Quetena Chico at the base of Uturuncu.

It was not easy getting into Chile in a rental car . . . but it was worth it!



The three of us each came down with food poisoning within 24 hours of each other and we ended up camping at 15,600’ about 2 hours from Quetena Chico freezing and in survival mode. . . but, hey, that’s all part of the Great Adventure, after all!



 After a cold night at 15,600’ we were ready to rock it!


Hmmm . . . it doesn’t look that tough from here!

We got to Quetena Chico around noon and it appeared deserted.  However, you knock on a door which opens and results in a gesture directing you to another structure which then results in direction to another and soon enough we had gas, a guide and a place to stay the next night (we were low on Bolivianos and so were intent on camping the night before our push up Uturuncu).  There are 7 certified guides ready, willing and able to help the Uturuncu adventurer achieve his/her goal for 450 Bolivianos...problem was, we had only 200 Bolivianos (7-1 exchange rate; $28 USD).  Well, we were in South America, after all, so . . . let’s barter.  We had (a) camera gear and 3 Garmin inReach GPS communicator/trackers, (b) a $100 bill that no one had theretofore expressed any interest in and (c)  an offer from John to send $1,000 on his word and a handshake upon returning to the states. Fortunately, our ultimate guide, Clemente and his friend exchanged bolivianos for the $100 USD!


 The town initially seemed deserted . . . but . . . .    


Start knocking on a few doors . . .

And the town comes to life - gas, lodging, guide and food are all available.



That night we camped in temperatures down into the teens (we had to knock ice off our tents in the morning), but were ready to roll at the crack of dawn.  We were a bit pressed for time and low on food, so Clif Bars and frozen refried beans were to be the fuel for our effort to climb on bikes to 18,887’ . . .


 Frozen refried beans . . . nice prep John!


Only 5,800’ to the summit!

Due to circumstances beyond our control (this is really true - we are not just making this stuff up so as not to look profoundly stupid) John’s mountain bike did not make it to Colombia so he gamely (??!) made a go of it with his Specialized Roubaix (33mm rears/32mm front) and Will with a Specialized Diverge (38mm front and back), both bikes having 34 chainring and 42t cassettes.

Due to sandy conditions and small tires/bad gearing (and nothing to do with the altitude Pinocchio | Long nose Pinocchio wooden doll by Bartolucci ...)


Will and John pulled the plug at 3 miles/4.8 km.



Brad, who was the younger, stronger, better, more trained, less stupid of the group (Specialized Crux with 40mm front and back and 28t chainring and 42t cassette made a successful go of it - making it to the top on what is essentially a converted road bike - an unbelievable and truly amazing accomplishment.  Brad did have to walk a fair percent of the last portion of the climb, but still a super human effort and exceptional achievement.




From the saddle, we trekked the .4 miles 709’ at 30.8% average grade to Volcan Uturuncu Summit . We all made it, with

 John bringing up the rear with his patent-pending 19,865’ ascent method (100 baby steps, bend over and take 20 breaths, then 100 baby steps, 20 breaths, etc . . .Walking Baby | Donnie Ray Jones | Flickr


The longest .4 miles trek ever!




 Brad, being...Brad... did it his way: summited in mountain bike shoes!!



 Pre-day climb meal = Cup-O-Noodles


 Post-climb meal = Llama stew ala Chef Will

Highest 10 Roads - Uturuncu #1!  (this has since been overcome by higher roads in Tibet and India).

[1] The “low” spot (18,887’) between 2 peaks of Uturuncu