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a day (or three) out with the pikes

CHILE: SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA — VOLCAN SAIRECUBAR — SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA

Harriet and Neil Pike are fast becoming legendary among touring cyclists for their incredible high altitude routes in the Andes. I have had the good fortune to encounter these guys, and spend time with them, in Huaraz and then catch up again in Uyuni but it is in San Pedro that I first get the chance to set off on a real adventure with them.

A day out with Pikes goes like something like this:

  • First, study your planet and look for the high points.
  • Next get on your bike.
  • Ride as high as you can.
  • Then get off and walk.

With these simple rules in mind, Neil and Harriet propose a three day trip from San Pedro to the summit of Sairecabur, a nearby volcano. Neil has identified a road up one side of the peak to some buildings used by researchers from Santiago University. Another track traverses the crater and drops down the other side. It looks rideable on the evidence of satellite imagery and that is all the encouragement that the Pikes need.

Overall, the logistics of the expedition are relatively simple. Food? Well, instant noodles will do — they’re light and you can eat them raw, if you need to. But don’t forget the chocolate and the soft drinks. Stock up on water. There is none to be had up there because any snow or ice is likely to be contaminated with sulphur from the volcanoes. And you might also want to check out information about the local mine fields. Then you’re ready to ride.

Harriet and Neil...

...in their element.

... heading for the heights. These guys are altitude collectors.

...

Towards the top of Sairecabur we come across Penitentes, weird ice formations that are only found in the high Andes.

The road, at the top is... steep... very steep...

... and has even the hardy Pikes off their bikes and pushing.

...

...

Camp is at 5540 metres, the highest I've ever slept, and I don't end up weathering the night so well. In the morning I stay in my tent to nurse my ugly headache while Neil and Harriet climb the remaining 440 metres to the summit...

... before we head on down again.

The vista revealed on the other side a the volcano is spectacular and revives my interest in life. Harriet, an exceptionally bold and fearless rider, takes the lead and speeds downhill on the loose volcanic shale. The lake below is Laguna Verde, in Bolivia, one of the 'highlights' of the Lagunas route I have just completed. The view from here is far superior.

The road Neil spied out on Google Earth undeniably exists but on the ground the going is pretty rough...

... and contains unexpected hazards.

We finally hit a road with a perfect hard packed surface and speed along confidently expecting to be back in San Pedro for dinner...

... until our way is suddenly barred by a deep canyon and we end up camping out for another night.

Morning has us back on the right track...

...

... which Neil assiduously records on his GPS...

... until finally we are spat out onto the highway at the mine field that welcomes you into San Pedro.

...

I have to mention here, apropos of nothing in particular, that after years of fruitless searching, I have finally, in the Pikes, come across a touring couple in which it is the woman who is the gear geek and does all the mechanical maintenance. Yay, Harriet!

For a Pikes-eye view see here.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Neil | December 30, 2013 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Assiduously. Like it! Thanks for taking the photos of both of us – I think we’ve got about 2 others…
    Gear and bike maintenance? Zzzzzz. It’s all about Google Earth and GPSs!
    take care
    Neil

  2. anna | December 30, 2013 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    I can drop a few photos of you both into Dropbox, if you use it.

    Happy Christmas and New Year! Eat lots!

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