Once we found the trailhead to the Huayhuash, we were welcomed with a push above 15,400ft. The pain and climbing starts now.
Then we learned what hell is like: For hours we pushed our bikes up steep singletrack switchbacks. I could only think one repeating thought: step. Step after step, my arms and legs screamed. I still don’t know how I made it. I practically slept my way through the 5,000-foot ascent.
Today we should have started earlier. We suffered up and up and up on the steepest portion of the Huayhuash cirque. The second pass of the day was clearly not happening. The size of this pass was like nothing I’d seen, topping out at 15,437 feet. It was the highest I’d ever been.
The saddle was a knife-edge overlooking amazing switchbacks to the valley floor, a 3,000-foot descent. Storms chased us up and over the pass, and soon we were engulfed in clouds and hail. It was time to get down...fast.
Joey and Sam slashed their way down the mud and rocks as if they weren’t carrying any weight. I slid and struggled my way down. As the trail leveled on the hillside, the mud got deeper. Cows and llamas watched as we ran from the storm, soaked and covered in mud.
We found another abandoned shack, this one nicer than the last. This allowed us to dry out from our muddy descent. The sun came out briefly at sunset and we were back at full speed, ripping time lapses and videos.
Somehow I have forgotten the day’s struggles, the rain and even the gear theft from days ago. We have come alive in these mountains, and there is nowhere else I would rather be than right here, right now.
It was a 4am wakeup and we were riding by 6. The air was cold and thin, and the gear still wet from the day before. The pass of the day was long and mellow, covered in grassy pastures and cows. A lone cowboy watched us from the ridge high above—probably at 16,000 feet.
At 14,000 feet, the rain chills you to the bone in a matter of minutes. We had to keep moving all day long and condense our film breaks as much as possible.
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Sometimes it was easy to forget about the rain and let the overwhelming views take over. I couldn’t believe we were riding our bikes up there. Near the top of the pass, Joey and Sam noticed some grassy couloirs that were just begging for a first descent.
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I sat inside the chute hugging the wall, shooting wide, as Joey and Sam ripped this questionable line time and time again. This could have been a trip-ender if any mistakes were made.
We slashed across the next pass on tacky peanut-butter mud. Glaciers loomed off in the distant rainstorms, right where we were planning to set up camp.
The weather cleared as we finished the ride down to camp. I was shaken and took a few more little falls, then came into camp completely delirious. Not enough food or water. I was useless as we built the tent in the rain. We were camping at around 14,000 feet, above a turquoise lake. Siula Grande and others loomed above us at 20,000-plus feet.
The rest of the night was a blur. I could barely talk. My head was raging and I was shivering uncontrollably. I was scared—huddled in the corner with a bottle of hot drink and coca leaves in hand as Sam repeatedly reminded me to drink. They read the map and whispered about bailout options as I desperately tried to get warm. I was sure I was getting a fever, or worse: pulmonary edema. They watched closely and checked on me throughout the night as we endured a massive rainstorm with the sound of crumbling séracs echoing through the valley.