Highpoint of the Cordillera Negra Peru
Published: March 22, 2019 by PICSPORADIC
The Cordillera Negra
Coñocranra 5150m (16,896 ft)
Our tires clamored along rough roads and for the first time in nearly 4 days of bikepacking we stopped climbing. At nearly 14,000ft there were massive landscapes at every turn. Chunky, morphic peaks rose on the horizon – their couloirs laden with mineral deposits. Everything here was the color of brown rust. Folded fault lines dipped into bottomless valleys. On el Camino Silencio we saw no one.
Gusts of wind bent the grass in waves -fluttering across the plains. When the winds passed the air would be left silent and still. Liz and I devoured the open space. I would ride ahead – pausing to take pictures and she would hopscotch me – pushing into the lead. She was doing much better here then in the desert below.
We were out of water and pushed the pace. We searched the landscape for lakes which we had on our map – but around each corner we would only find more vistas and dried expanses. We were on el camino silencio: a desolate stretch of road at 14,000ft with only had the odd furry Andean cow to keep us company.
Where is the Water?
Challenges in the Dry Mountain Range
Although we had only used the Steripen a handful of times it was becoming problematic – erratically flashing and not doing it’s job. I was charging the Seripen with my dynohub via USB. It would take hours just to charge it up to sterilize a single bottle. We carried the dirty water in water bottles on our forks, sterilizing it with the pen – before dumping it in our hydration bladders with the second filter. Our system was working but it was fragile.
Liz and I eventually encountered a seep of water on the side of the road. Droplets trickled out of a tuft of moss. It was the only spring for miles and the cows knew it – all around us were their pattys. After getting deathly stomach sick on other expeditions in Guatemala – we were using a double purification system which included inline Sawyer Mini water filters and the aformentioned Steripen portable UV filter.
Crossing the desolate and remote Cordillera Negra (black) mountain range. The vastness of the space – and size of these dark mountains made us feel small on our bicycles.
An Alpine Space
It was mid afternoon when we rode up to Laguna Coñocranra, a serene lake below a towering mountain of rock. All around us were ancient herding structures and stone walls, no one was around – only a few curious cows. Coñocranra is the largest peaks in the Cordillera Negra at 5150m (16,900ft) – but from our vantage at 14,500ft high it appeared small. I stayed to make camp and Liz went to go exploring – scrambling on the cliffs at the opposite side of the lake.
Coñocranra was a pristine oasis. Spring-fed water gurgled in channels through the Andean grass – feeding a diverse variety of plants and cactus. The only thing out of place here were the numerous cattle that grazed on the lake’s shore – Their fur grown thick from the cold nights spent at elevation.
An afternoon shadow crept across the lake and the temperature plummeted. Liz returned and we prepared dinner. With temperatures dropping we quickly put on every layer of clothing we had and went straight to bed! Part of my weakness on this trip was my old sleeping bag – which I pushed far past it’s rating of 40° F. That night our water froze.
The next day before we broke camp I climbed up to a neighboring slope to catch the first rays of sun – thawing out my body. I watched the light change and the shadows pull across the valley. After 5 days outdoors I felt a switch – and was content to simply watch the landscape change. So much time in the outdoors can be spent watching the light change.
We continued on the road – passing through a myriad of lakes all-the-while climbing. Our destination was a pass at 15,000ft – the last summit before descending down to el Cañon de Pato and the Callejón de Huaylas. We walked the bikes up the last bit of rocky road – steep and worn loose by four wheel drive trucks.
Winding roads of the Cordillera Negra zig-zagging down impossible slopes. |?
Up and Over
The slope was our final challenge after days of climbing with the heavy bikes. As I breathed the thin air hiking the load I yearned to see what lied on the other side. At over 15,000ft were still on mere sub-range and had yet catch our first views of the Cordillera Blanca: the highest tropical mountain range in the world.
Stars and full moon camping at Laguna Coñocranra – 4000m Peru
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