2022/11: San Antonio de los Cobres - La Poma

  Stage 2022/11 [SA011]

San Antonio de los Cobres - Abra del Acay - La Poma
(Ruta 40)

53 mi / 85 km
1200 Hm (garmin edge 1000)    max. Altitude:  4950m







Cycling Ruta40 Abra el AcayFor the steep climb to pass Abra el Acay, we organize a transfer with a four-wheel drive vehicle. Hector, our driver, picks us up at our accommodation in the morning and drives us up to the top of the pass. On the way, Hector describes his experiences here at Abra el Acay and shows us the places where he was occasionally able to observe a puma. Not exactly reassuring information.       
Cycling Ruta40 Abra el Acay.   At the top of the pass Abra el Acay at 4895m we make a photo stop, then our transfer ends. The altitude of 4895m is record-breaking: if you are looking for a highway that leads over an even higher pass, you have to go to the Himalayan region. Otherwise there is no higher mountain pass on this globe. A few meters behind the top of the pass we unload our bikes and luggage from the back of the car and set off. It's not just motor vehicles with combustion engines that suffer from a loss of performance here at this altitude. I also feel affected by this.     
Cycling Ruta40 Abra el AcayYou shouldn't expect a rushing fun descent up here. The Ruta 40 is regularly maintained in this area, but remains only accessible to four-wheel drive vehicles. From coarse gravel to corrugated washboard and sand, the road offers pretty much everything you don't need as a cyclist. But no matter how challenging the Ruta 40 may be in this area: the beauty of the landscape makes up for all the effort!
Cycling Ruta40 Abra el AcayThe landscape is barren, the vegetation is sparse and the blue sky somewhat disguises the fact that it is quite cool up here. Nevertheless, we make good progress and drive curve after curve towards the valley.   
Cycling Ruta40 Abra el AcayIt is the beginning of September and there is still ice on some slopes along the side of the road and the road is also frozen over in places. In addition to boulders, sand, washboard and gravel, we also have to deal with a layer of ice. Yes, the water is still frozen up here, but things get even more unpleasant: wherever we have to deal with water as we continue along Ruta 40 downward from Abra el Acay, it will no longer be frozen. And you shouldn't hope for warm springs here, the icy slope proves the opposite.   
Cycling Ruta40 Abra el AcayThe Ruta 40 winds its way along the mountains down into the Valles Calchaquíes, named after the Rio Calchaquí river. The landscape is not as colorful as on Ruta 40 north of San Antonio de los Cobres; up here it is rather monotonous.  
Cycling Ruta40 Abra el AcayFrom the top of the pass we cycle steadily downhill, but anything above walking speed is not possible here. The loose rubble on the road causes the front wheel to lock when we brake and due to the steep slpoe the brakes are in constant use.  
Cycling Ruta40 Abra el AcayWe have to cross the Rio Calchaqui several times. We stop in front of the ford and discuss where we want to cross the water. Water depth and the nature of the ground are important factors; the shortest route is not always the best one. Before crossing we put on our rain pants and take off our socks, because wet shoes are unpleasant enough, so who needs wet socks?
Cycling Ruta40 Abra el AcayDespite all the discussion and planning before the crossing, things usually turn out completely differently because at low speeds on the coarse gravel of the river bed you can no longer control the direction of the bicycle. Then all you have to do is keep your pace, don't hit any hidden boulders and definitely don't come to a stop! Getting off in the middle of the stream is not an option! Close your eyes and go through would also be a promising approach.  
Cycling Ruta40 Abra el AcayBut perhaps our discussions about the optimal route through the water are less about finding the best way. Maybe it is all about getting the confidence to get through this little adventure in a dry way. In total there are four notable fords that we cycle through on the way from the top of the pass to La Poma. Marion gets through these sections without any problems and proves that you can pass these tests with dry feet.  
Falko SchubeI, in turn, prove that wet shoes are sometimes unavoidable when driving through mountain streams and that driving with wet shoes is not as bad as feared. Wet shoes will get dry again. It just takes some time.  
Cycling Ruta40 Abra el AcayAs the valley progresses, the terrain becomes wider and the mountains become more colorful. Not only do the colors become warmer, the air also becomes noticeably more pleasant. In addition, the road becomes increasingly flatter and the proportion of oxygen in the air increases, which leads to a noticeable increase in performance in the legs.  
Cycling Ruta40 Abra el AcayIn the afternoon the landscape changes again significantly: we leave the section caracterized by barren mountains with reddish rock and get in an area with soft, rounded mountains and green vegetation. Here, too, we need to cycle through a ford, but the crossings are no longer as demanding as higher up in the mountain. Due to the lower flow speed of the river, the ground in the river bed is no longer as coarse as in the previous sections; here you tend to drive over muddy ground. For us it is now a pleasant cycling trip to our destination La Poma.  
Cycling Ruta40 Abra el AcayThe valley is now wide enough for the Rio Calchaqui and Ruta 40 to run side by side.  Below 3400m / 11150ft we also meet the first Cardón cacti, for which this region is known.     
Cycling Ruta40 Abra el AcayStrangely enough, the town of La Poma is not directly on Ruta40 but a little west of the road.  The first junction leads to La Poma Vieja, the historic town of La Poma, which was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1930. A kilometer further south is today's La Poma, a town with around 1,700 inhabitants and a limited but sufficient infrastructure for travelers. We ask for a hospedaje and quickly find one; dinner is also served there.