We’ve come a long ways since my last post. It’s not that there haven’t been stories to tell, but the Carretera Austral is probably the most popular long-distance cycling route in South America. Its trajectory is well documented. The route becomes particularly stunning south of Villa O’higgins, the terminus of the Carretera Austral. Here we boarded a boat for a four hour journey down a great glacial arm of Lago O’higgins to the start of a trail leading over what is surely one of the most spectacular international passes in the Americas, to El Chaltén, Argentina. Somewhere along the way we crossed parallel 49, and into South America’s Canada (Southern Patagonia), with all its most dramatic scenery.
After getting our exit stamp from the Chilean police, we rode 15km up a steap track to quiet camp spot in the woods, where we spent two nights. That allowed us to spend a day scrambling up a 1800m peak for views of the Southern Icecap – a whole range buried by ice, oozing glaciers, dropping bergs, and pulling down mountains. I’ve been on big Coast Range glaciers before, but I’ve not seen so many, so close together.
From our camp spot the track continued another 8 km to the actual border, from where the track became a narrow, snaking trail. This trail is legendary among cyclist on the Carretera Austral for being torturously difficult. I can imagine how uncomfortable those three hours of pushing a heavy touring bike down a narrow trail might be, snagging front panniers on every bush and dragging through every deeply eroded section. But my bike is relatively lightly loaded, and boasts 29″ by 3.0″ tires. Equiped with a Surly ECR, I rode the entire thing, in 48 minutes. Arriving at Lago del Desierto, we got our passports stamped into Argentina, and waited for a second boat to take us across this second lake. Briefly. Learning that we would pay double the price by paying with Chilean currency, we decided we’d show them by riding the 12km track along side the lake instead. That would show them…
Six hours and zero photos later, we arrived at the other end, having carried, lifted, dragged, shoved, and grovelled our bikes over 12km of the least-flat lake shore ever. There was no trail. There was what happens in the absence of a trail, when enough people, cows and horses want to go somewhere: a poorly marked, infernal, animal trail qua bushwhack. The Tantalus Traverse in a Day was considerably easier. We arrived in El Chaltén, famed among climbers for the nearby granite towers Cerro Torre and Fitz-Roy, the next day quite hungry.
El Chaltén is a scenic place:
Then we hiked the other way.