Cycling above the Clouds

Riding the Andes by Bicycle

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La Casa Rosa and the not-so-small matter of the Perito Moreno Glacier


El Chaltén borders the northern sector of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field (‘El Campo de Hielo Sur’). The Ice Field contains a ridiculous number of glaciers, and is a relic of the Patagonian Ice Sheet which covered all of southern Chile during the last ice age. It’s 350km long and an average 40km wide and is the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water. The area it covers is HUGE. The glaciers on the west side run out into the Chilean fjords and the Pacific Ocean and those on the East drain out into two enormous lakes (Viedma and Argentino) and eventually run out into the Atlantic Ocean. Over thousands of years, these huge quantities of melting ice carved out the rugged landscape we see in southern Patagonian today.

But first I had to get there….

The Perito Moreno Glacier – one of the many glaciers in the Southern Ice Field

The following morning I made my way out of El Chaltén. Looking behind me the whole mountain range was in full view (and this is only after the evening before, when I’d realised I had a perfect view of Mount Fitz Roy from the window in my bathroom after all that trekking up and down!).

The Fitz Roy mountain range in full view from the main road out of El Chaltén.

I was also feeling quite pleased with myself as the previous day I’d finally managed to find some plastic underlay from a local DIY store to go under my tent. I’d been suffering from water coming up through both the inner tent ground sheet and through the extra groundsheet footprint I’d already brought with me from the UK, as the ground is sometimes extremely waterlogged. Very small things make me very happy these days!

Winds like I’ve never known before

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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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