Mountain biking in the Cordillera Blanca

Diesel exhaust blasts us as we push our guides’ Toyota van through deep loose dirt on a gold mining road high in a remote area of the Cordillera Blanca near Huaraz, Peru. We are late to meet our arriero, a burro driver who has walked two days with his animals in order to transport our mountain bikes to a 16,000-foot pass and an epic first descent through a remote valley. We push the van 500 feet in half an hour. The driver of an enormous dump truck carrying gold ore smiles as he waits to pass.

Andean Subaru: Who needs a roof rack?

Huaraz is Peru’s equivalent of Kathmandu. Our guide, Brian Lazar, had been leading mountaineering trips in this sublime region of 20,000-foot plus peaks and scoped out the approach routes in the desert-like rain shadow of the Andes for this first mountain bike adventure. The payoff? Lazar and local guide Julio Olaza lead us through daily 8,000-foot descents on dirt roads and chakinani (a.k.a. singletrack).

Each day we descend on trails traversed for millennia by shepherds and farmers. We are scolded by a brightly dressed Quechua woman, barely four feet tall, for disturbing her flock. A stooped-over man with a leathery face collects firewood and straps it to his back. Pigs tied to fence posts lie in the middle of our path as we wind through villages with tiny homes constructed of mud bricks. The locals seem to ignore the nylon-clad aliens on bikes who’ve invaded their villages.

On our return to Lima and its monotonous urban sprawl, our bus driver is hopelessly lost. He calls a cab to lead us to our hotel. The cab gets lost and stops to ask a policeman for directions. Brian, normally the epitome of cool, is losing his mind. Everyone’s blood sugar crashes. Four hours late, we find a Chinese restaurant open at midnight.

To see a photo essay from this trip go to elevationoutdoors.com