A day in Heaven...Mountainbiking the Death Road
Trip Start Nov 02, 2007
29Trip End Mar 01, 2008
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Well, you win some and lose some as they say and whilst the mining experience below was certainly memorable but for most of the wrong reasons, I'm happy to recount an experience which is memorable for all the right reasons!
Many people say a trip to La Paz is not complete without doing ('conquering?') via mountain bike the road from La Paz to Corioco .... aka 'the World's most dangerous road' or even more succincntly 'Death Road'. Initially we were sceptical as it is after all the wet season in Bolivia which cant improve your chances which sound slim to begin with, and we had already had a relatively average high-speed mountain descent in Tupiza a week or so earlier which was only about 12KM, so the thought of doing a 64KM trail which was infinitely more dangerous
didn't fill us with burning desire
However, sitting in a bar one night plotting our escape from La Paz we ran into a couple that had done it just that day and assured us we 'had to do it!'. Well, already mindful of our friend's disdain when we told them we went to La Paz but didn't do the Death Road, we pushed back our departure by a day, had another beer to talk it over, and then duly trudged off to the agency to book it.
I know that some of you reading this will have already done it, but please bear with me whilst i recount some facts about the Death Road ....
- the Inter-American Development Bank has officially recognised the road as the worlds most dangerous
- an average of 26 vehicles per year come to grief by disappearing over the edge
- in most sections the road is just a 3.2m wide dirt track ... about the same as your average 1-way dirt road with no run off ... although it looks infinetely narrower up there because in some sections there are sheer 600m drops with zero chance of surviving any miscalculation
- the worst accident occured back in 1983 when a flatbed truck disappeared over the edge with 100 passengers dying! Just a few years ago a bus went over killing 46 people and which was the catalyst for a rapid acceleration of the 'new' road connecting the two cities which is on the opposite side of the valley, and which is concrete and has proper safety rails etc (luckily, now when the tourists have to go back up to La Paz after having completed the ride, we take the new road instead of the old Death Road)
Benj and I certainly agree that it was one of the best days of our trip and the memories will last a lifetime
In terms of the trip itself, you start up at 4600m in a bleak winter icy landscape and drop a total of 3600 vertical metres over 64KM and finish in a steamy and tropical valley in the Yunga's area below La Paz. The first 30KM or 1.5 hours are asphalt roads and you just zoom down those as fast as gravity will allow ... for most of it we were
reaching speeds of 50KM/H+. It was exhilirating and topped off with lovely mountainous scenery with enormously steep valley's with tons of waterfalls etc. After a rather tough 3KM uphill climb (at about 3000
metres i can assure you any hill is a challenge!) we had a rest and then the 'real' Death Road began.
It was a perfect time to do it as there had been a recent landslide which had made the road inaccessible to traffic both ways, so we had the road to ourselves and didn't have to stress about traffic. So for the next three hours Benj and I bumped, slid, sped, bunney-hopped and cruised through some of the most breathtaking scenery we have ever seen
all so we were in extremely high spirits, and incredibly thirsty, once we finally made in down the bottom about 5 hours after we started.
So all in all a great experience and one i would recommend to all, assuming of course you choose a proper tour company to do it with. These days the road is almost exclusively used by mountain bikers so is getting 'safer' than the good ol days!