Sunchuli Pass: Lord Nerd Beta
SECTION No1 Sunchuli Pass: Route Prospectus
We went to Bolivia because of the mines.
Everywhere else in the world roads go where roads go and trails go where trails go. There is very little confusion about which is which, and it’s clear where one ends and the other begins. Roads are wide, paved or graded, and maintained to some degree. Trails get rad. In Bolivia, because of the mines, the situation is more fluid.
If gold was discovered on the top of Mt Whitney, and California didn’t give a fuck about large scale mining and environmental stewardship because it was the poorest country in South America, somebody with three snow shovels lashed to the front of a minivan would figure out how to build a road to the top. Now imagine thousands of Whitneys, only 40% taller, steeper and more rugged. That’s the Cordillera Apolobamba.
That’s why we went to Bolivia. To ride a network of the world’s most ambitious, ludicrous roads. Roads that defy physics. Roads that weave throughout an ancient and venerable Alpine Wonderland that is currently transitioning into to Tolkien’s Mordor.
SECTION No2 Route Map
Bike Setup Art by Greg Davis
- 1. Clearly the correct choice for Sunchuli pass.
- 2. Comfortable even during (and after) a day of Jurassic Period washboard roads.
- 3. Highly functional even when fully loaded.
- 4. Descends like Hermann Maier.
- 1. Load the heaviest items closer to the seatpost for the best weight distribution.
- 2. Excellent for light but bulky gear; the Mr. Fusion is stable as a rock.
- 3. Ideas: sleeping bag, clothing, camp shoes (e.g. sandals or Authentic Bolivian Slippers).
- 1. Best for your heaviest/densest objects.
- 2. Ideas: food, stove/kitchen, tools, water.
- 1. The main compartment is good for high volume gear, while the smaller zippered pouch is perfect for all those easily accessible goods.
- 2. Ideas: sleeping bag, tent, sleeping pad, clothing; snacks, phone, camera.
- 1. You are always going to start a trip loaded heavily, so if possible lighten your backpack daily by moving weight on to the bike as food/fuel weight disappears.
- 2. Ideas: water (3 liter capacity preferable), active layers, accessories (e.g. gloves, hats), more snacks, book, sun screen, first aid, commonly used tools, rain shell, head lamp.
- 1. Everything Cages lashed to the fork legs are necessary for additional gear carrying capabilities.
- 2. Use Porcelain Rocket stuff sacks to hold any leftover dense/heavy items, like fuel and parts/tools.
- 1. Tape over them to reduce wear on your framebag.
FYI Basic/Assorted Tips
- Before you visit Bolivia you will need a Yellow Fever shot. You should know that this means putting Yellow Fever eggs into your blood stream. Neat.
- The La Paz airport is a Hot&High airport. This means that landing and taking off are extra challenging. Our research shows that American Airlines is the only international carrier that flies into La Paz, the story goes that AA execs were busy doing blow during the airport draft because they got stuck with La Paz. The airport feels like it was converted from a bus station, not necessarily desirable. The good thing is that their planes are old, like wall paper, cigarette lighter, and VHS tapes old, so the vibe, the whole experience, is at least consistent.
- If your like us, when looking of hotel’s in La Paz you will search for the place that CIA operatives, Mineral Barons, and Dignitaries –both foreign and domestic– choose to stay. But you don’t need to. Just stay where we stayed, Hotel Rosario.
- Our average daily elevation was over 14,000 feet. For perspective, the highest point in the contiguous United States is Mt Whitney at 14,505 feet. It’s so high, and therefore so special, compared to everywhere else in America it warrants a built-in mountaintop guestbook—generally speaking you climb up, sign the guest book, take a topless selfie and leave as soon as possible before the weather or an aneurysm or HAPE kills you. There were no mountaintop guest books in Bolivia, if there were our progress would have been greatly impeded.
- Water is abundant. There is water basically everywhere. Technically speaking, you can filter and drink it and survive. We didn’t. We bought and packed ALL of our water. Everywhere else in the world, once you get above a certain elevation, say 11,000 feet for example, the water is relatively potable and/or at least clean enough to filter. Not in Bolivia. No matter how high you go there is always a mine/agriculture/livestock/
human-latrine above you. There are small towns and campamentos everywhere you go, and almost all of them sell water. Note: sometimes the only water available will be pepsi flavored. Win some, lose some.
- To mitigate Bolivia’s TTM (Trash, Turds, Mud) problem, carry lots of quality antibiotics.
- Know Spanish, at least some of it.
Bolivian’s love drinks in bags – they have a storage vat full of your drink, it then goes bucket, ladle, pour in a plastic sandwich bag, include a piece of fruit, tie in and knot, and Bob’s your uncle.
- We thought Shoulder Season (April and May) was the period of time during the transition from rainy to dry season. That’s why we went when we went. It turns out Shoulder Season is the period of time during the rainy season when the precipitation fluctuates throughout the day—based on elevation, time of day, prevailing weather patterns, etc.—between rain, sleet, hail and snow.
- Laying down and/or sleeping at extreme elevation is painful and difficult. And, sometimes, impossible. It’s a lot like trying to fall asleep in the middle of a panic attack or five-minute mile. To properly prepare for a trip to Bolivia we recommend learning to sleep standing up.
- I know you know this, but this is a cash society. Outside of La Paz, be prepared to pay for everything in cash.
- While traveling it makes sense to separate your money and valuables into two different piles. One pile is For Steal; these are things you’re prepared to part with if it becomes necessary. For Steal things are to be kept on your immediate person and should be easy to access. The other pile is Not For Steal; passports, the bulk of your cash, cameras, your talisman, etc. Not For Steal things should be hidden in deep recessed places and kept out of sight.
- DON’T carry your water bottles on the outside of your bike or bags due TTM. Or else.
- The movie Avatar is based on Bolivia, if it’s not a well know fact, it should be.
- The Cordillera Apolobambas are closer to the moon than they are to sea level. Hey, facts are facts.