Gina found a trail on Google earth and only a few weeks ago we realized that it was part of the Inca Trail. Despite it being considered a hiking trail and us still being in the tail end of rainy season, it sounded like just the adventure to kick our ass back into shape after a two week cycling hiatus. I remembered an old blog post I had read by Joe Cruz who had done it on a fatbike a few years ago, knowing it was possible made it easy to dismiss the nay-saying locals.
The route is one of the tougher routes we’ve done, still not topping our experience near Suárez in Colombia though. It involves a lot of pushing, a lot of mud, and if I’m honest I think it would be much more enjoyable by foot. Still, if you’re a cyclist with a keen sense of adventure, it’s immensely beautiful and incredibly enjoyable. Just don’t expect to get anywhere fast.
A late start from Victors place in Alausi, we made the climb up to Achupallas relatively quickly. Both of us feeling refreshed from a two week break, God himself couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces. Despite being paved, the way was lovely and we were treated to some beautiful cloud inversion along the route. Achupallas itself is a small town nestled up high in the mountains. We stopped for a browse at the Saturday market and for some snacks, before setting off on the Ecuadorian Inca Trail towards Ingapirca.
Starting off, we made our way up a dirt road. Just ask the locals for the trail to Ingapirca. After a few kilometres of dirt road, the trail narrows to something more suitable for a horse. It’s a game of on and off the bike as the terrain changes from rideable dirt to big rocks more easily walked. About 4 or 5 kilometres out of town we found a small trail running down to the river with flat patches of grass to set up camp. It was a beautiful camp at roughly 3800m, I’d highly recommend anyone doing this route to try and spend a few hours in Achupallas and then head up in the evening to this spot. In the morning the track became more difficult with a lot of pushing and pulling the bikes up and over rocks and tussock. I tried my own route, cycling up the valley which was marshy and just as slow. Higher up the valley there were various animal tracks one could follow, but they were all so wet that it was quicker to walk than to try and cycle. The weather turned as we climbed up to the 4300m summit forcing an early and exposed camp (only recommended if you’re very confident in your tent). In the end we were glad we stopped there as the next day didn’t turn out as easy as expected.
When we awoke the worst had passed. My gps showed our route climbing the ridge on the left and then steeply descending into the valley below. This is roughly the route we took, and the few rideable kilometres up top were totally worth the pushing and shoving through deep mud. Alternatively, there appeared to be a route which gradually descended from the right side of the valley instead of climbing up the ridge like we did. I expect this would be easier, but haven’t done it so I can’t confirm it. The steep descent we took was tough as there were many occasions where the bike couldn’t fit or would slip and pull us down with it, I decided to try and walk my bike downhill through the tussock. It’s a tough go, but as long as you can confidently pick up your bike you’ll be fine. Once down in the valley, there is a lake which lies about 3 kilometres ahead. The trail picks up on the left side of the valley and gradually climbs. In the beginning it is possible to follow the low grass near the river, but eventually you are forced to climb back up to the track. Mud up to the knees is not uncommon here, at least in mid April when we attempted it. The official Inca Trail runs to Ingapirca, but we decided to merge off to a road on the other side of the lake which leads to El Tambo, where another trail awaits! As we couldn’t see a trail that connected the Inca Trail with the road, we followed the trails to old ruins, from there we went over the hill on the right hand side. From here you should be able to see a small bridge over a river draining from the lake. Make your way down the hill through the tussock, walk towards the lake and turn left to cross the bridge and head towards the Rangers hut where you’ll see a dirt road begin.
Route info: view/download GPX route here
We would definitely consider it more of a hike with your bike. I personally wouldn’t want to try it with a heavy touring rig, racks are sure to get broken. Both Gina and I busted a tooth off of our large chainrings due to some pretty rocky descents. If you can’t comfortably lift your bike then this ain’t the route for you. There is lots of water along the route as well (needs filtering), apart from the swamps you’ll be walking through streams are plentiful. If you’re ambitious and well acclimatized, you could probably get this hike section done in a day, and two days from Achupallas to either Ingapirca or El Tambo is reasonable.
Camp about 5km out of Achupallas
Climbing up the valley
Bikes up at the summit
Happy to be up top!
4350m, a windy night in our fortress
4400m single track!
Making slow progress
Stuck in mud