Steep and Cold Haul Over 15,500ft Pass


The last thing you want to do when you know you have a climb ahead of you is to start the day going downhill. Leaving Maracapata I quickly lost hard climbed altitude with a long muddy decent. I didn´t realize exactly how far I´d be going up until I reached the Abra Pirhuayani pass at 4,725 meters.

Good thing I had my fill of brains the day prior because the climb out of Marcapata was to be the highest point of my trip. This was actually the highest point I have ever physically climbed to and higher than any mountain in the lower 48 states of the US. I knew there was a high pass along my route but didn´t realize until I actually saw the sign that this was it.

I unfortunately took few pictures and maybe two videos of this climb. Thinking back most pictures and videos of the entire trip were of times when I felt strong. The last thing I want to do when struggling is to stop and set the camera up. At any rate the landscape was barren and cold and rain followed me up for the first couple of hours. I had to alternate between pedalling the bike at about 3mph and walking the bike at 2.5mph. Eventually I became so dizzy I couldn´t hold a straight line while riding. I would space out and swerve across both lanes before pulling back to my side of the road. I figured this is was an inefficient method and dangerous if a truck passed by so I walked the last few miles to the summit.


I hitched a spare inner tube around my shoulder and around my seat post to put some of the weight of the loaded bike on my body instead of my arms as I walked it upwards. I was working hard enough where I didn´t get cold even with just the shorts and cycling sandals on. I kept a wad of coca in my cheek if for nothing more than a placebo effect.

The climb from 2300ft to 10000ft wasn´t nearly as taxing as the climb to 15,500ft even though my overall gain was less for the day. Also, the previous days ascent was spread of 40 miles where as this days ascent was 17 miles straight up. I watched the barometric pressure on my watch plummet to below 19 inHg and the oxygen content at that altitude left me reeling like a drunk. As I narrated a short video I noticed my speech was slightly slurred as well. It´s not all that unpleasant a sensation as I wasn´t suffering from the high altitude headache that is also common at these elevations.

That being said with only one night acclimization at 10,000ft I was not prepared to be working hard at this altitude. My resting heart rate at sea level has been in the low 50 bpm range but was now over 100 bpm when I lay in bed. This makes for a fitful night of sleep at best.

I put on all my clothes for the quick decent out of the snow and ice and with teeth chattering I didn´t have to touch the pedals for almost 20 miles to the town of Tinqui. By the time I went to bed (at about 5pm) I had a mild fever of 99 degrees that stuck with me for the next 3 days. I like high altitude adventures so my spirit was positive during this jaunt but this was physically the most difficult day of the journey so far.

From this point on there are hundreds of miles of high altitude passes and descents. The miles will go by slower and the effort will be much greater. However, the scenery is utterly astounding. The feeling of coming across a continent and watching the world change under your feet day by day is awe inspiring and humbling.

11 Responses to “Steep and Cold Haul Over 15,500ft Pass”
  1. Sweet photos! It’s amazing to see the changes in scenery over the last couple of posts. Enjoy the mountains and don’t get hooked on those crazy leaves…

    by Aaron
    on 19. Nov, 2009

  2. To keep on with my pattern of posting quotes:

    I now quote you: ” I am enraged with jealousy.”

    by ed
    on 19. Nov, 2009

  3. that’s amazing doug! take it slow – especially with the quick changes in altitude. make sure you drink plenty of water and eat too – i remember when ed and i climbed shasta i had to force myself to eat and drink. good thing you filled up on those brains!

    by amy gunz
    on 19. Nov, 2009

  4. I love how many comments include something about the brains. YUMMY!

    by sara
    on 19. Nov, 2009

  5. “I bet I can throw a football over them mountains!”
    - Uncle Rico

    by sara
    on 20. Nov, 2009

  6. You are all that is man!!!! Cycling shorts and sandals in the snowy mountains! Taste it!! Stay warm buddy!

    by Yost
    on 20. Nov, 2009

  7. 15,500! Didn’t we skydive from 14,000, that’s amazing. Guess I can’t complain about hills on my way to work anymore

    by Adam
    on 20. Nov, 2009

  8. amazing! and you were worried about this trip… you’ve crushed it.

    by GD
    on 21. Nov, 2009

  9. You are almost there…..

    by idario
    on 24. Nov, 2009

  10. What an amazing contrast to go from the dust, humidity, and heat of your trek through the jungle trek to the thin aired aerie of the Andean passes.

    Glad you are feeling at home in the mountians and a continuing feat of fitness in your accomplishments!

    by Ken
    on 24. Nov, 2009

  11. [...] is a rough elevation profile from Puerto Maldonado, in South East Peru in the Amazon basin, to Nasca which located on the coastal desert. The profile [...]

Leave a Reply