Crossing Parallel 49 (South)

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.

Getting a ride across Lago O'Higgins with Lorenzo.

Getting a ride across Lago O’Higgins with Lorenzo.

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Lago O’Higgins

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First view of the Southern icecap

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.

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A quiet track to Argentina. Monte Fitz-Roy, Cerro Poincenot, and Cerro Torre on the horizon.

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A photo of Panthea not on a bike!

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With some parokeets!

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Summit.

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Glaciar O’Higgins spilling off the icecap. Notice the height of the exposed moraine. Glaciers are shrinking.

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A pretty trail, and no sign of other people.

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…

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Bullwinkle on the trail to Lago del Desierto. One of the best mountain biking experiences of my life.

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:

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Cerro Torre; famously described as a “shriek of stone”.

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The harness that has been occupying precious space in my pannier for two months finally got some use. We crossed the climber’s tryolean to get a closer look at Cerro Torre.

We got close to the Torre Glacier at its toe into Laguna Torre.

We got close to the Torre Glacier at its toe into Laguna Torre.

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We got a little bit closer, and the Torre got huge.

Then we hiked the other way.

Valleys are nice too.

Valleys are nice too.

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The classic Fitz-Roy massif shot. Left to right: Aguja Saint-Exupery, Aguja Raphael, Cerro Poincenot, Monte Fitz-Roy (or Cerro Chaltén), Aguja Mermoz, Aguja Guillaumet (I might have those last two mixed up).

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2 thoughts on “Crossing Parallel 49 (South)

  1. Heya just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let
    you know a few of the images aren’t loading correctly.

    I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.
    I’ve tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same outcome.

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