The Ausangate is a fun day run in the Cuzco area that can be combined with the Vilcanota. Access is easy via the paved road between Cuzco and Sicuani. You will cross the river 13 KM past Cusipata and the turn off is nearby at the town of Checacupe. Follow the side road up the canyon to the town of Pitumarca and then take the left fork up another 10-12 KM until the river disappears underground. The put is high at 3815 meters. The river bears the same name as the 6384 meter Nevado Asaungate it drains.
Our first descent was made on April 6, 1998 and the river had only around 300 CFS. In speaking with locals we learned that the volume never gets much higher but it does fall throughout the months of May-October. The season then appears to be November to April. The initial stretch is very steep with some easy, boat-scoutable class 4+ and 5- rapids. From Pitumarca down to the confluence with the Vilconota (3515 meters) the river is 7 km of very gentle class 2-3 with a class four rapid below the bridge at the town of Checacupe. The total run drops 300 meters in 17 KM and can be run in less than 3 hours.
The upper part of the river serves as foot access to Nevado Asaungate (also spelled other ways such as Ocongate) where the Qoyllur Rit’I festival takes place. This magnificent snow covered peak is known as “Estrella de Nieve” or Snow star and it is here that once a year upwards of 50,000 indigenous people gather to pay homage to the mystical mountain in both Pagan and Christian ceremonies. Like the Haj to Mecca, the pilgrimage to Ocongate is something the Indians of this part of the Andes must complete at least once in their life.
Our descent coincided with Semana Santa (Easter) and brightly clad pilgrims were marching up the banks of the river to Ausangate as we eddied and boofed our way back to the Vilcanota.
If you do this run, while you are setting shuttle, it is worthwhile to stop into the Church in the town of Checacupe. The architecture is beautiful with a great collection of Frescoes.