Cycling above the Clouds

Riding the Andes by Bicycle


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Inch by inch, Lady Patagonia raises her skirts

I hadn’t really read ahead about the treks I could do from El Chaltén. In fact, my original plan was simply to relax and do nothing. But as soon as I got there it became very clear that the thing you HAD to do as the bare minimum was two walks up to ‘miradors’ (view points) to see Mount Fitz Roy and the valley behind it.

I only had one pair of shoes with me – my cycling shoes, complete with metal cleats in the base – and a pair of flip flops – so am not exactly kitted out for trekking, but I figured for a couple of short walks I should be fine.

Sometimes the Patagonian weather leaves much to the imagination…!

Would I get to see any more??

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Things that go whoosh in the night

We made it to the Argentinian customs on the north side of Lago del Desierto. It was pouring with rain and we hastily dropped the bikes and hurried into the small office to get our passports stamped and take cover. The jolly border official told us that we’d made it in time to catch the second ferry crossing all within the same day if we wanted.

Given the cold and rain outside, we figured that an hour or so sitting inside a closed boat whilst we dried off and warmed up a little would be no bad thing. Having said that, there ended up being no heating inside, and by the time we’d sat inside in wet clothes for the crossing, my face had turned white and my lips were blue.

We could see many small glaciers hanging from the mountains on both sides (we were now within the Parque de los Glaciares in Patagonia), but in a near-hypothermic state, I wasn’t too interested in opening the window to try and make them out through the descending mist.

We unloaded the bikes at the southern dock, by which time it was about 7.30pm. The Italians decided they wanted to ride the remaining 35km down the gravel road to El Chalten to get a roof over their heads. Rosanna and I were more of the mindset of pitching our tents and warming up as quickly as possible. But then we had a bit of luck.

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A border crossing unlike any other!

After an anxious 3-day wait in Villa O’Higgins, we were finally told by the boat’s captain that tomorrow the wind would be light enough for us to cross the lake in his small boat, to reach Candelario Mancilla 55km away. From there we’d make the infamous 20km border crossing from Chile to Argentina, where we’d then arrive at the northern shore of Lago Del Desierto to take a second boat and then ride the final 37km ride to reach El Chalten. The whole thing should take 2 days. Continue reading


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Reaching the end of the Carretera Austral

I set out from Caleta Tortel on a rainy day, not looking forward to having to retrace my tracks up the 26km of punishing gravel surface that I’d ridden up a couple of days before. Ironically though the rain seemed to help, highlighting the really bumpy bits and washboard sections with puddles, and holding the powdery surface together with the wet. I was feeling pretty happy when I got back to the junction and rejoined the Carretera Austral to make my way on the slower climb up and over the hill towards Puerto Yungay. From there I’d take a short ferry ride across to Rio Bravo. I was aiming for the 6pm boat, with time to spare (apparently there was a small kiosk with good empanadas at Puerto Yungay, and a pretty church). I’d heard I’d then be able to sleep in the refugio at the landing point of Rio Bravo on the other side.

It was still raining but the road over the hill was deserted and atmospheric in the mist.

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An unintended adventure

I didn’t take that many photos heading further south as the Ruta de la Madera was all within forests. I reached the town of Angol – the administrative centre of the region – and found a place to stay for the night. It was an odd town. This wasn’t on the tourist trail so the accommodation and eating options were a bit bleak and even though the town was surprisingly large, it was pretty characterless. Maybe it’s just because the sun wasn’t shining but I was glad to be moving on the next morning.

I’d reached the point where I’d need to start cycling inland and to cross the Ruta 5 (a motorway which runs much of the length of Chile, connecting north and south) to get to the ‘Los Lagos’ (The Lakes) region and eventually meet with my parents. I saw there was an option to ride down the busy Ruta 182 to get there, a single lane road with lots of lorries and no hard shoulder, or I could veer off onto what looked like it should be a pretty and undulating gravel road, winding past farms and small villages. The gravel section was only 35km so I thought it would be good practice in advance of reaching the Carretera Austral later on.

View from the top of one of the hills on the gravel back road, which I would later find out was not quite what it seemed…

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