Climbing 4500m In Los Cuchumatanes

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A glimpse from above at an upcoming climb

In planning our route into the Guatemalan Highlands, I underestimated just how big these mountains are. The Cuchumatanes are the highest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America with the highest peak, La Torre, reaching over 3800m. We climbed at total of 4517m in four days before a breathtaking 1500m descent into Huehuetenango.

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Five days cycling from Nentón to Huehuetenango through squirrely dirt backroads of Los Cuchumatanes

After recovering from our recent battle with intestinal parasites, we set off from the nondescript pitstop town of Nentón and began our first 1000m climb through Los Cuchumatanes. This was the longest and most technical climbing we had done so far. Whilst we faced steeper and longer sections in later days, the rugged, washed out terrain on this climb had us both pushing our bikes in a few sections.

In addition to the punishing climbs and breathtaking views, we also experienced some amusing scenarios along these mountain roads. Jenny has written about these in a separate post here.

For those interested in the routes and stats, you can see maps on Strava at the links below. Our daily distances are unusually low, owing to the difficult terrain and higher elevation gain.

  • Day 1: Nentón to Cojnal (14.4km, 1115m climb) — map
  • Day 2: Cojnal to San Miguel Acatan (20km, 855m climb) — map
  • Day 3: San Miguel Acatan to San Juan Ixcoy (33km, 1375m climb) — map
  • Day 4: San Juan Ixcoy into Los Cuchumatanes (25km, 1321m climb) — map
  • Day 5: Los Cuchumatanes to Huehuetenango (37km, 366m climb, 1500m descent) — map

Day 1: Nentón to Cojnal

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As we started climbing east of Nentón, we realised it was just the beginning of five long days of climbing.

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Unique terrain of the  foothills to the Guatemalan Highlands

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Even after daily rain showers, this is the only mud we saw riding up from Nentón.

Day 2: Cojnal to San Miguel Acatán

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Back on the road towards San Miguel Acatán

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One of many stream crossings, this one had a mysterious fog rolling through

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At the top of a 500m descent down to the river before the last big climb to San Miguel Acatán

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View of the impending climb from above, before heading down into the valley

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close up of the final climb to San Miguel, 500m elevation gain in about 3km

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tight switchbacks reinforced with stones and cement to withstand the heavy rain showers

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halfway down with some very hot disc rotors

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We were both thankful for our hydro disc brakes going down these switchbacks

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If you squint you can see Jenny cruising down the final switchback before the river crossing, our designated lunch spot – the big climb towers imposingly on the other side.

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And the climb began, with countless switchbacks, each one seeming steeper than the one before

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Jenny put on a brave face; this was only 20% of the way to the top

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And she managed to ride a fair bit of it!

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The perilous winding road, about 40% into the climb

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I managed to ride the entire climb without any pushing, but the extra touring weight required several stops to catch my breath.

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Jenny tackling another spaghetti turn, the switchbacks of the earlier descent visible in the background

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Wow, we came down that (top), and up that (bottom) and now we’re here?! No wonder I am hungry again!

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Finally, we made it to a hotel in San Miguel Acatán. What better way to dry off than with a cockfight towel.

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Okay, maybe this one is even better.

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Best hotel blanket ever.

Day 3: San Miguel Acatán to San Juan Ixcoy

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The first hairpin after a long, straight 600m climb

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Completely destroyed, yet equally satisfied upon reaching the summit at 2915m, after 1100m dirt road climbing

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Little does she know I’ve just checked the GPS and realised there’s an annoying final 50m climb around the corner.

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The sun tried to break through on the hill, but then it went back to the drizzle

Day 4: San Juan Ixcoy to Los Cuchucatanes

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Cooking some quick noodles whilst trying to keep warm and out of the rain at 2900m

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We escaped this massive downpour in the nick of time about half way up the 1250m climb

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Buckets of rain falling on lonely tiendas

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We started our trip with fairly extravagant homemade sauces and stirfrys, but more recently we’ve been resorting to quick noodles and plain pasta with salsa.

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Reaching the 3400m summit of the 1250m climb – Los Cuchumatanes, Huehuetenango

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We ducked into this tiny comedor at the summit for some caldo de pollo and coffee to warm up our frozen digits.

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The inside of Flor Esmeralda is even more rustic than the outside.

Day 5: Los Cuchucatanes to Huehuetenango

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The sunshine was a warm welcome after pitching the tent in bitter cold pouring rain the night before.

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Sunrise at 3400m in Los Cuchumatanes

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Stealth camping sunrise at 3400m in Los Cuchumatanes, Guatemala

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Thanks to Lucas for the Seal Skins which kept my feet warm and dry in my otherwise wet shoes.

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Back on the road and rolling over the plateau before the descent into Huehuetenango

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The turnoff heading up to La Torre, the highest peak of Los Cuchumatanes at over 3800m; we decided to give it a miss after all the climbing in the past 5 days.

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At the top of the 1700m descent into Huehuetenango, a blanket of clouds awaits us.

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Just before going down into the clouds at around 2700m

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After passing down through the clouds we were still almost 1000m above Huehuetenango.

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