Salkantay Sallqa Epic
Salkantay Mountain at 6271m is the highest peak in the Vilcabamba mountain range of the Peruvian Andes. The name Salkantay comes from the Quecha word sallqa, which means savage, wild, uncivilized. This is a fantastically appropriate name for this epic ride.
The Salkantay Trek is another alternative to the classic Inca Trail (which comes from the East near Ollantaytambo) to Machu Picchu. It can be hiked in as little as four days, as long as 10 days or if you go by bike like we did, finished off in one day. This map from one of the tour operators provides a good overview of the hike and area (it’s inverted so N-S coordinates are reversed but you get the gist).
Interestingly the main sundial at Machu Picchu points North to the Southern Cross constellation during the rainy season when the constellation lies directly above Salkantay’s summit. This alignment shows the Inka’s reverance towards Salkantay and their belief in Salkantay’s control over the weather in this region. I asked another South American from Colombia why the Inka didn’t build temples like the Aztec and Mayans did. He said it was because they believed the mountains housed the spirits/apu of the gods. Salkantay is a prime example and when it chooses to show its face one can see why.
There are two places you can start your hike or ride. One is in the town of Mollepata, 98km from Cusco. If you’re hiking from Mollepata you will hike to Soraypampa at 3870m where there are also private accommodations; not normally available to general public. However, because Diego seems to know just about everyone in the tourism industry in Peru, via Holy Trails MTB we were able to secure these private accomodations for use at the luxurious Salkantay Lodge, Mountain Lodges of Peru.
Staying in Soraypampa allowed us to save an hours drive from Mollepata and allowed us a good night sleep in comfort in the Mountain Lodge. There are also places you can camp but weather is frequently inclement at this elevation. It was below freezing in the morning and rained overnight so if you do camp; prepare accordingly.
Salkantay Lodge, Mountain Lodges of Peru
We had to delay our Salkantay ride by one day since the gods decided to make it rain on the day we planned to go. Fortunately there are rides to do on these delay days in the town of Curahuasi and Abancay so we weren’t left sitting around. It’s nice to have contingency plans and locals to show you around who know alternatives!
On the morning of our ride on departing from Soraypampa we met our porter Victor who loaded up his horses with our bikes. We took the advice of our local guides to conserve as much energy as possible for the ride and let the horses and porters do the work for the 5km, 750m hike from 3870m at Soraypamp to the pass at 4650m. This hike took us 1.5hrs. While doable under ones own power it’s not a trivial undertaking at elevation. On another note, the popularity of the Salkantay trek has allowed the people who have lived in this area for generations to prosper from the tourism opportunities. This includes the horses carrying our bikes and their owners! At the end of the day it’s a personal choice how you want to accomplish the Salkantay trail but to us, this was Soles/money well spent.
Victor’s porters. Victor is the main man in this area.
We start our hike to Salkantay pass
Alberto of Peru Outdoor Experiences expiencing the zen of 4150m elevation.
Victor the man on his Mustang
Salkantay views kept disappearing so we got whatever pictures we could get before it disappeared for good as clouds rolled in
Horses beat us to the pass at 4650m
Top of the pass was cloudy but amazingly not as cold as you would think for this elevation in Peru
It turned out that we captured practically the only weather window for the next two weeks; with credit due to our local guides; their patience and a bunch of blessing from Apu Salkantay which allowed us to do this ride! The first leg of the descent from the pass was 6km to 3920m which was through alpine and a legitimately technical trail (although wide due to use). Following the alpine section the next 12km to 2750m was wider since it went through more towns so saw more use from the local communities. These sections are also shared by the horses and porters who supported the trekkers so were relentlessly technical and due to the previous days rain, a tad muddy. The weather closed out for us as soon as we got to Abra Salkantay pass – a shame as the views of the backside of Salkantay and Humantay (a mere 5473m massively glaciated peak) are reputedly impressive
To give one an idea of what to expect; train for this descent by doing three top to bottom Whistler bike park laps with head-sized boulders replacing berms and rollers. We were happy to be on our bigger bikes (Shar – Pivot Firebird; Lee – Cove Hustler; locals – Devinci Spartans) for sure on these sections.
Diego Enduring Salkantay
Top section was quite technical and fun with distracting scenery and lack of oxygen.
We stopped whenever other horses or trekkers came by. This is their home and their livelihood and they deserve that respect.
800m down; another 1200m to go – for the first leg
This is the lower technical section which was wider, rocky and rough. No room for mistakes; concentrate and work that bike and suspension
Looking back from whence we came.
The next 11km; 780 m descent was on single track that the horses did not use so was much more flowy and less technical. It had a decent amount of climbing but is a blast. It’s obviously a different world and animal then the Salkantay-Humantay alpine. The trail drops from cloud-forest jungle to pure tropical jungle with steep banks demanding concentration and Rio Sta Teresa churning below us. Just what one needs to complete the ride!
Jungle single track. No horses, no jank.
The final 15km and 670m of descending was on the road through the lower communities. We finished our ride in 6 hours at the town of Santa Teresa and the Cocalmayo Hotspring. Total time including the hike and resting was 8hrs.
Meanwhile, Wilberth, our tirelessshuttle driver is driving 265km to pick us up on the other side. He beat us by 30 minutes just in time to get us to Hotsprings and deliver the cold beer. Ahhhhh.
Finish at the Cocolmayo Hotsprings!
Shuttle vs Ride/Hike route. You’ll need to hire a shuttle unless you want to spend 4 days road-riding back to Urubamba from Sta Teresa.
Dinner and breakfast at the Salkantay Lodge
Trailforks Ride Log