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Sunchuli Pass

“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.

BOLIVIA FACT SHEET

  1. Bolivia is one of two landlocked South American countries (the other is Paraguay).
  2. Independence was achieved in 1825.
  3. The country is named after Simon Bolivar, famed Latin American leader of Independence.
  4. The official languages are Spanish, Quechan, Aymara, and Guarani.
  5. Geographically, a little more than half the country is considered Llanos (plains), the other main geographical features are Andean, and Sub-Andean zones.
  6. Bolivia has established a rights for Nature / Law of the Rights of Mother Earth.

 

Notable Features/Locations of the Sunchuli Pass Route

 

  1. Cordillera Apolobamba: high mountain range in the Southern Andes, near the Peru/Bolivia border. Active mining region.
  2. Altiplano: extremely high plains, sitting at around 13,000 feet. Known as the “Tibet of the Americas”, La Paz is the only major city in the arid area.
  3. Charazani: start of the SPR. Pre-Incan ruins can be found near by the small village of Chari, just outside of Charazani. A hub for the Kallawaya, a small group of people with a rich healing culture.
  4. Pelechuco: midpoint of the SPR. Founded by Jesuit Priests in 1560, it’s surrounded by geothermal activity.
  5. Curva: finish of the SPR. Municipal hub for the region.
  6. Ulla Ulla National Reserve: sitting at 13,000+ ft, the 2000 square kilometer reserve was designated UNESCO biosphere in 1977. Home to approximately 12,000 indigenous Aymaras live here.
  7. Lago Suches: located below the mountain of Machu Such’i Qhuchi at an elevation of over 15,000 feet, the lake is 14.2 square kilometers. Contains a type of pencil catfish in it called the Such’i which is parasitic and allegedly capable of swimming up a urethra.

SUNCHULI PASS ROSTER

Sunchuli Pass Crew Member #1: James Crowe – Whistler, British Columbia
Sunchuli Pass Crew Member #2: Kyle Von Hoetzendorff – Portland, OR
Sunchuli Pass Crew Member #3: Daniel Wakefield Pasley – Portland, OR
01
Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion

Stable as a rock and ideal for bulky but light items like your sleeping bag, clothing, camp shoes (e.g. sandals or Authentic Bolivian Slippers). Load heavier items close to the seatpost.

02
Specialized Fat Boy

Clearly the right choice: comfortable even during (and after) a day of Jurassic Period washboard roads, highly functional even when fully loaded, and it descends like Hermann Maier.

03
Porcelain Rocket MCA

The main compartment is good for high volume gear, while the smaller zippered pouch is perfect for oft-accessed goods. E.g. tent, sleeping pad, clothing; snacks, phone, camera.

04
Porcelain Rocket Frame Bag

All the heavy stuff goes here, like food, stove/kitchen, tools, water.

05
Fork Storage

Anything cages lashed to the fork legs are useful for additional gear carrying capabilities. Combine with PR stuff sacks and pack heavy objects here.

06
Acre Hauser

This is a stuff sack for your back: water (3 liter capacity preferable), active layers, accessories, snacks, book, sun screen, first aid, tools, etc.

FIFTEEN FYIs

  1.  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.
  2. 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.
  3. If you’re like us, when looking for hotels 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. To mitigate Bolivia’s TTM (Trash, Turds, Mud) problem, carry lots of quality antibiotics.
  8. Know Spanish, at least some of it.
  9. Bolivians 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. I know you know this, but this is a cash society. Outside of La Paz, be prepared to pay for everything in cash.
  13. 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.
  14. The movie Avatar is based on Bolivia, if it’s not a well know fact, it should be.
  15. The Cordillera Apolobambas are closer to the moon than they are to sea level. Hey, facts are facts.
Packing List

Food

  • ITEM QUANTITY SUGGESTED
  • Dehydrated Meals 1/day Mountain House, assorted—Pro-Pak is preferred
  • Instant Oatmeal 2/day Personal preference!
  • Bar #1 2/day Clif Mojo
  • Bar #2 2/day Clif Squeeze Tubes (banana coconut and margherita pizza)
  • GORP 3oz/day Bulk aisle
  • Candy 3oz/day Haribo Gummy Bears
  • Chips 2oz/day Kettle Salt & Pepper, pre-crushed
  • Hot Cocoa 1/day Swiss Miss
  • Coffee 3/day Stumptown
Packing List

Clothing

  • ITEM QUANTITY SUGGESTED
  • Bibshorts 1 Specialized SWAT
  • Overshort 1 Mission Workshop The Stahl
  • Gloves 1 Specialized BG Ridge
  • Socks 3 Icebreaker Merino
  • Shoes 1 Specialized RIME Expert
  • Helmet 1 Specialized S3 Mountain
  • Shell 1 Mission Workshop The Meridian
  • Puffy 1 Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer
  • T-Shirt 1 Mission Workshop Linear Merino
  • Riding Hat 1 Bolivian Tapestry Cap
  • Rain Pants 1 KUIU Chugach NX
  • Underwear 2 Icebreaker Merino
  • Long Underwear 1 Icebreaker Merino
  • LS Baselayer 1 Icebreaker Merino
  • Camp Hat 1 Warm beanie
  • Camp Shoes 1 Bolivian House Slippers
  • Liner Gloves 1 Wool or synthetic
  • Camp Shirt 1 Comfy Cotton Tee
  • Camp Shorts 1 Lightweight and quickdry
Packing List

Gear

  • ITEM QUANTITY SUGGESTED
  • Seat Bag 1 Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion
  • Frame Bag 1 Porcelain Rocket
  • Handlebar Bag 1 Porcelain Rocket MCA
  • Backpack 1 Acre Hauser
  • Hydration System 1 NON-leaky
  • Mini-tool 1 Specialized EMT PRO MTB
  • Patch Kit 1 Rema
  • Tubes 2 FRESHIES
  • Tire Levers 2 Whatever you got
  • Bottles Lots Whatever you got
  • Mini Pump 1 Specialized Air Tool Flex
  • Spare Parts Assorted Chainring bolts, bailing wire, spokes, pliers, brake pads, nuts & bolts, tire boots, zip ties, etc.
  • Tent 1 Snow Peak Lagos
  • Sleeping Bag 1 Mountain Hardwear Phantom (30°)
  • Stuff Sacks Several Sea to Summit EVAC (you need at least one waterproof sack for your sleeping bag!)
  • Sleeping Pad 1 Therm-A-Rest NeoAir X-lite
  • Knife 1 SOG
  • Headlamp 1 Snow Peak Mola with NEW batteries
  • Cup 1 Snow Peak Ti
  • Spork 1 Snow Peak Ti
  • Bandana 1 Make sure it's broken-in!
  • Teeth Stuff 1 Dentist recommended
  • Book 1 My Struggle by Karl ove Knausgaard
  • Lighter 2 Bic
  • Sunscreen 1 High SPF and waterproof, get the fancy stuff
  • Lip Balm 1 Something with SPF
  • Sunglasses 1 Oakley Frogskins
  • Repair Kit 1 Homemade with sleeping pad patches and needle+thread at least
  • Sharpie 1 Roll some Gorilla Tape around it
  • Wet Wipes 1 soft pack Small, soft, moist, angelic, essential
  • Water Filter 1/2-3 people Sawyer Squeeze, don't forget the blackflush syringe
  • Soap 1 Dr. Bronner's
  • Stove 1/2-3 people MSR Whisperlite International
  • Fuel Bottles Variable MSR 30oz
  • Cord 50ft Paracord
  • First Aid 1/2-3 people Homemade