After a night in a hotel in Puerto Natales, I took the bus onward to El Calafate, back in Argentina and from there straight onto another bus to El Chaltén. In hindsight, I’m happy with my decisions not to cycle this stretch through the pampa, against the relentless winds again. Only the stretch between El Calafate and El Chaltén on the routa 40 is much nicer as I anticipated, and there I regretted it not to be on my bike.
Approaching El Chaltén, I had my first views of the magnificent and iconic Mount Fitz Roy, named after the Beagle’s Captain Robert Fitzroy.
While I was completely battered from the bus ride and wanted to take a rest day the day, the weather was brilliant again. That’s an opportunity one can not let by here, so at 07:30 hrs I was walking out of town already into the norther section of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares towards the ‘Lago de los 3’ trail. This is a trail of about 10 kilometer (one way) leading you up to a lake at the foot of Mount Fitz Roy. To my surprise, I was almost alone on the trail. The last kilometer is steep and a bit harder, but the rewards is awesome and the pictures speak for themselves.
I do get it on my nerves of all this people who nowadays have to pose with outstretched armes in front of every natural attraction, as if they discovered or created them.
On my way down, I crossed busloads of people climbing, struggling up. It was a good decision to leave that early. I’m surprised to see so many people, twenty years my junior who are sitting along the trail, panting, totally exhausted. People are even more out of shape as I thought.
Luckily, about two kilometers on the way back, I can take a right turn to a trail which connects the hiking trail to Mount Fitz Roy to another trail, the day hike towards Cerro Torre.
It was still pretty early, so I decided to do both trails in a day. On the connecting trail of 8 kilometer, I only met one couple and one single hiker. It’s an easy trail along few lakes. Very beautiful and inside the forest, so you’re pretty sheltered from the high winds.
On the trail towards Cerro Torre, there’s no protection for the wind anymore, which blows with enormous forces right in your face. I headed on but really quickly the white clouds which covered the famous peak became darker and darker, the already storm like wind fiercer and fiercer.
I decided to turn back, as this would lead to nothing. I couldn’t see anything of the peak, and wasn’t eager to continue in the rain or snow.
Amazingly, I still saw people totally unprepared going on towards the Cerro Torre, carrying no rain gear, without decent shoes. And then they are surprised they have to be rescued.
Around 4 pm, I was back in El Chaltén, having hiked 30 km and 1.800 altimeter.
Saturday was a rainy and windy day which I used to do an oil change in the Rohloff hub and book my ferries on the Lago del Desierto and Lago O’Higgins. I skipped the famous and touristy Perito Moreno Glacier, but only because I had a boat trip to the O’Higgins Glacier in mind.
Sunday was a real warm and sunny day again, so I retraced my steps towards the look-out point of Cerro Torre. How lucky I am. Some people sit in El Chaltén for a week and never get to see a thing, and here I am sitting in a t-shirt looking at these spiky Andean peaks against a blue sky, drinking pure water from the streams floating down of them.
Late Sunday, I got the message I urgently had to go to the people from ‘Exploradores’, where I booked my ferries. It seemed the ferry on Lago O’Higgins had a serious problem and would surely not run again until Christmas. A big bummer. There’s a second, smaller boat doing the trip, but their website still shows sailing schedules of last year, and it’s not clear whether and when they would go to the O’Higgins Glacier. I booked my transfer online. The people of ‘Exploradores’ office did a really great job in tracking me down, calling all the hotels, hostels and guesthouses in town until they found me, in order to advise me the ferry broke down and give me my money back.
On Monday I cycled the 40 km from El Chaltén towards Lago del Desierto. A beautiful gravel road, many times in bad condition. But the scenery makes up for it. I stop at a beautiful waterfall, cycle between snowy mountains, cross rivers, along lakes, ….
On the way down, I got interviewed by a friendly Italian lawyer who writes in his spare time for a cycling magazine. Again I posed for a few pictures 🙂
On all my previous trips before South-America, I only got interviewed once for the local tv of Nong Kai in Thailand but now it’s one after the other.
At 16:30 my ferry leaves for the one hour crossing towards the Northern edges of Lago del Desierto.
My original plan was to camp near the Argentinian border post, where I’d have spectacular views of the back side of Mount Fitz Roy. It was too cloudy to see anything now, and as I understood the little ferry I booked to cross Lago O’Higgins would go on Tuesday ‘somewhere in the morning’. There wouldn’t be any more crossings later this week, due to the upcoming bad weather. I could not do otherwise than start the famous and hard crossing towards the Chilean side in the evening. The Argentinian border guards were surprised I was still taking that stretch on so late in the day.
This must be one of the most peculiar border crossings in the world. The Argentinian immigration sitting down at the Lago Del Desierto, the Chileans at the Lago O’Higgins. From the Argentinian side, there’s only a mule trail going steep up towards the pass, separating both posts. The path is often a gully, one meter deep and just as wide only. The first part I have to unload most of my backs, go up and down a few hundred meter to carry the first load, come back down to pick up the second load, bring that up, come back down to collect the bike and push that up again, so doing the stretch five times. Luckily, it’s mostly dry, but at some parts I got some drizzle.
I push and push, carrying my stuff over rocks, through another gully, through several larger and smaller streams, through a muddy swamp, until at 22:00 hrs, half an hour after sunset I pitch my tent on a flat part in the middle the trail. I guess there’s no chance at all anybody will come through here at night.
I wake up at 6 am. I’m about one kilometer from the pass and the official border. Just before this border, there would be better camping opportunities on a nice grassy field.
Crossing this border also means my seventh Argentinian / Chilean border crossing this trip, and also my third crossing of the Andes range.
The Chileans luckily made a ripio track up to the border, which makes the going a lot easier. It’s again a glorious day today and looking back, I still have some sights of the back side of Mount Fitz Roy in the distance.
Despite the many photo stops I take, I still arrive with the Chilean border guys down at the lake around 9:30. It seems I’m just in time, as a small boat approaches the jetty at Candelario Mancilla, as this place is called.
I’m the only person present, but soon seven other cyclists and a bunch of hikers descent from the campground which lays a bit above the jetty.
The Captain told me today he doesn’t do any glacier trips, as he has to bring some solar panels to a farm further down the lake.
He’ll be back around 2 pm to bring us to the other side of the lake.
Apparently, the boat is allowed to take 16 passengers only. We are eighteen people. Everybody seems to have their own reason to justify why they could board the ship instead of others. Even those (most of them) who had a booking for the other company which doesn’t run. They were stuck here since five days already. The weather was too bad on this side of the Andes to run the boat.
A group of five French cyclists seems to be really arrogant about their ‘right’ to take this boat. The female part of an Austrian cycling couple starts crying a bit, and suddenly they earned their right to be on board as well. Emancipation, equality and feminism only go that far apparently…
As the boat doesn’t make a trip towards the glacier today, and the captain promised to do another run tonight around 7 pm, I decided I did not want to be part of this unsympathetic bunch for a few hours on a small ship and instead enjoy the local scenery a bit longer on this side. A French hiker kindly gave up his place on board as well, to make space for the crying Austrian girl. The male part of this Austrian couple asked me ‘What currency do you pay in Belgium ? ….’
I thought I heard it all in my life, but apparently ….
Needing a few ‘real’ rest days, I pitched my tent a few kilometer outside Villa O’Higgins. Luckily, the weather was bad, So all the more reasons to stay in the tent to read and rest, without having the feeling I should be on my bike 🙂
O’Higgins Lake is called San Martin Lake on the Argentinian side of the border (Both O’Higgins in Chili and San Martin in Argentina were important independence heroes for their country, living and fighting at the same time as the famous Bolivar ).
The lake has a very irregular shape, with eight arms, four in each country. With a maximum depth of 836 meter, it’s the deepest lake in the Americas. The lake’s surface is at an elevation of abt. 250 meters, which means the bottom at some parts is at almost 600 meter below sea level !
The lake is fed by multiple glaciers of the huge ‘Campo `de Hielo Sur’, the Southern ice Field.
Route: Ushuaia – Tolhuin – Rio Grande – Radman – Cameron – Porvenir
Being at ‘The End of the World’, I now turn my wheels 180 degrees and cycle back towards the equator and turn my back to Antartctica. A good feeling.
I slowly made my way out of Parque National Tierra del Fuego back towards Tolhuin, stopping briefly in Ushuaia to buy provisions. A couple had a chat with me in front of the super market and I was asked for an autograph for the first time in my life. I camped a night before the Passo Garibaldo at an ‘designated free camping area’. As was to be expected at a place like this, it’s littered with empty plastic and glass bottles , plastic bags, toilet paper, tins, food residues and the corps of a dead dog.
Before reaching Tolhuin, one can take a small ripio road that leads through a forest along the banks of Lago Fagnano, Tierra del Fuego’s biggest lake. There are several nice spots to pitch a tent. Better to avoid the weekend, as it’s also a place where local people come to bbq, which must come along with drinking, throwing empty bottles around and car stereo’s at maximum level, arriving and leaving cars with removed sound reducers.
Today, I got sunshine, two snow storms and lots of wind.
I stayed a second night at the Casa de Ciclistas in Tolhuin. On my way down to Ushuaia, this was the place where I met the first other cyclist since Trevelin. Bad night of sleep this time. I shared the room with an Argentinian young cyclist who was one of these guys who prided himself on “spending no money at all” (which basically means living on everybody else’s back). He stayed everywhere as long as he could ‘for free’. He was already three nights in the Casa de Ciclistas. I think he stays everywhere until they kick him out. He doesn’t buy anything in the bakery, but goes asking old stuff for free. His main diet is eating the leaves of the Dandelium. Even cows don’t eat these leaves.
He also rings at farm houses along the road and asks if he can ‘buy’ some food, counting on the fact they’ ll give it for free, etc, etc, etc…
Then Gerard arrived. A 70 year old French guy on a recumbent bike. He looked very fit and has a great tour coming up. But …… Gerard snored louder as all the Mirages jets from the French army combined.
After a sleepless night, I retraced my steps into the interior of Tierra del Fuego. First I had to do 20 more horrible km on the busy RN 3 with it’s speeding madmen, brainless drivers.
Once I was on the ripio road RP 18, it was quiet. Except for the wind. Again, I was into riding single digit speeds all day. I was freezing to death when I was speaking to a friendly German couple in their Mercedes Unimog who travelled the length of the American continent the last four years, I was sweating, battling in my rain gear against the wind, I am producing two liter of snot a day in these conditions, which is damn annoying to get rid of, wearing thick gloves, but …. I was having a hell of a great time, as I was where I wanted to be and I could look around to these small trees with there special forms, overgrown by liches, listening to the wind, or to some music sometimes.
All that in stark contrast to riding the national roads in this country, where one has to watch his little rear view mirror 75% of the time in order to avoid being killed.
The sun came out yesterday evening and the wind got down completely all night.
The days are getting long this far south as summer is approaching. Sunrise is around 5 am and it sets a bit before 22:00 hrs.
By the time I got on the bike again this morning , the wind was out in full force again. I stopped at Estancia Los Cerros to replenish some water. After the estancia, the road makes a 90 degrees bend, and so does the wind. It’s again a very, very hard day in the saddle. The short cut I was hoping to make near estancia Ruby, north to the road that leads to the Radman / Bella Vista border was fenced of, which was a disappointment because now I had to make the whole detour via RN 3 again. I pitched the tent about 10 km before RN 3 near the edge of the forest.
Can you believe it !?
After battling the last 100 km against the wind from Tolhuin to come down here, I’m starting today with a tailwind. This is terrible news, because after only 9 km, I’m turning on RN 3 to do some shopping on the outskirts of Rio Grande, before make a more or less u-turn on the ripio road west towards Porvenir. Turning west, so again against the wind.
There will be no possibilities to buy any provisions for the next 350 kilometer.
I filled up my water bottles at the police post at the corner of RN 3 & RP B. The dirt track goes up and down all the time between 20 & 95 m asl. Nothing too bad but there’s this one constant, that brutal, violent head wind. Just like the two previous days, I manage to cycle the 60 km I planned to do but I am completely, and I mean completely exhausted by the end of the day.
The dirt tracks RP 9 & RP 18, just south of where I’m now are going through forests, but now I’m in completely barren land again. Not one single tree. Grasland with not a single bush growing higher than 30 cm. No shelter, not to take a break for lunch, nor for camping.
I first tried to pitch my tent today after 57 km in a gravel pit. The first spot I saw today that could give the tiniest bit of wind break.
After inserting the second pole in the fly sheet, I just couldn’t hold it anymore. The tent was like a parachute. No way it would hold out a full night. I stuffed it back in it’s stuff sack and continued cycling again.
It was passed 7 pm already.
On my gps, I saw there was a river a bit further on, but I had zero hopes there would be some trees along it over here. But again, I was so lucky this time. I saw it from the hill top already. Just before the river a small shed. I could only hope that one way or another, I could enter it.
It appeared to be a solid corrugated iron structure, three walls, open on the lee side. I think it’s used to shave the sheep. Perfect flat concrete floor, and 100% sheltered from the wind. It felt like the Hilton to me.
Outside were some wooden beams I used to pitch the tunnel tent on the concrete floor. The storm was banging the walls of the structure violently. Made a nice vegetable curry with a heap of rice. Fell asleep by 9:30 pm. I’m back to nights of 11 hrs of sleep.
It required all my courage to leave my perfect shelter this morning. It was a great day though, blue sky and reasonably warm. From the first meter, I battle against the storm again. It’s like constantly climbing a high col. For the last 200 km, and the col will go on for another 300 km.
At km 44 and 52, there are small ‘forest’ where it would be good to camp.
At km 56, there’s an abandoned house where you could probably sleep. I spend the night in a small chapel, about 5 kilometer before the border. I still had a lot of vegetables and sausages the Chilean customs would take from me, so decided to spend the night before the border.
A nice German couple traveling in a Jeep decided likewise and showed up in front of my chapel just as I was reading a bit in the sun.
I covered 37,73 km today. That took me 4 hours and 24 minutes of riding time, which is at an average speed of 8,57 km/h. Says enough, I’m afraid
But ! It gives me a lot of time to look at the landscape. Only two cars passed me today.
Oh, I saw my first two condors today. Biiiiiiig !!!!!
The formalities at both the Argentinian and Chilean side went without problems. I wasn’t even searched this time by the Chilean customs. They wouldn’t have found anything. I carry no fruit, vegetables, honey, meat, dairy products, nada. All that’s left to eat the coming days is in powder form or in tins.
If needed, it would be possible to sleep inside at the Argentinian border post. They’ve got some sort of ‘recreation center’ there. You can take water as well.
There’s something strange going on at the Argentinian side of Tierra del Fuego.
All the cattle in the field are bulls. Everywhere bulls. no cows.
Normally it’s the other way around and you only rarely see a bull.
Outside the Chilean border control, I opened my passport to check what stamp they gave me. I forget the Chileans always put a little paper inside which you’ve got to present at the next border post. A wind gust blew the paper away, to the other side of the road. By the time my bike was on it’s kick stand, the paper was behind the fence I had to climb now in front of the immigration. I ran through the field behind my paper until I was almost back in Argentina.
The winds are crazy.
When you want to eat a cookie, by the time your hand reaches your mouth, the cookie is blown away and you end up with just a few crumbs between your fingers. The coffee you’re trying to drink is blown out of your mug.
My clothes are literally being blown apart.
Today was a tough day again. I didn’t make the 60 km I should have done.
Made 56,20 km far today, and I rode a little way back when I was on top of a hill and saw the trees stopped for a while. It took me some time to clear a space in the forest, which was full of fallen trees, branches and thorny bushes I had to remove. The little saw on my Swiss Army knife comes in very handy here. I’m pretty good sheltered from the hard wind, which makes a lot of noise in the trees just above me but doesn’t really impact the tent.
I always liked forests a lot, but since Patagonia, I love them.
I fail to understand why so many people find it boring to ride for days on in the forest, like f.e. in Scandinavia or Canada. I really like doing that. The trees give you shelter from the wind if it blows hard, from the sun if it burns, the forest smells good after it rained, but it smells good as well when it’s really hot, it makes it easy to hide away for wild camping, there are a lot of animals you can spot. It’s also much cooler in the forest on really warm days.
Anyway, I think there’s not enough forest in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.
A hard days work, and I managed an average speed of exactly 10 km/h today. Better then yesterday, but I’m here in my tent, totally wasted.
What a super day I had today.
Normally, the wind quiets down for a while overnight, but last night it just continued on and on. But the tent was perfectly sheltered. I woke up again to a blue sky, took my time in the morning, as usually and hit the road by 11 am.
Near Russfin, I washed my clothes in the river. The weather was good enough to have them dry by the evening. The stretch between Russfin and Cameron is the most beautiful part so far, coming from RN 3 (from RN 3 to Tolhuin is equally beautiful). I ride through long valleys, going up and down. Good camping opportunities between km 81 and 79.
I entered the village of Cameron to replenish water. Although it’s a village of moren then 200 people, there ‘s no kiosko, no panaderia, nothing. The village is at a beautiful bay, sheltered between some hills, but they managed to make it an ugly place, and are continuing to make it uglier with the new houses they’re building. I don’t understand, if they’re building something new, why they can’t make it a bit nicer.
I reached the ‘Bahia Inutil’, the huge bay in the Strait of Magellan. The English wanted to make a port here, but because the water is so shallow, they called it ‘Useless Bay’. Nowadays, they would send in some dredgers and make it useful.
From Cameron …. I had a tailwind !!!
The gravel road meanders along the bay, up and down over the hills. So beautiful. the sun shines, temperatures of 16 degrees. The only thing missing to make the day really perfect, is some good, spicy Thai food and a beer.
About 20 kilometer before I reach the penguin station, I start to look for a place to camp, but it seems I missed my chance. Nothing there that would give sufficient shelter in case the weather turns bad overnight. The wind blows straight from the Cordillera Darwin and picks up over the bay here, so can get pretty violent.
Just before the penguin station, there’s a sheltered place in the downhill on the right side near Estancia 3 Hermanos. There’s also an emergency shelter on the left side, in which I retreated.
Should’ve pitched the tent instead. The bed in the shelter is terrible.
Went to the penguins first thing in the morning. The penguins here at the tip of Baja Inutil are the King Penguins. With their average height of 90 centimeter, they are the second largest penguins after the ‘Emerald Penguins’, which are only found on Antarctica. The King Penguin lives here, in the Sub-Antarctic. With 126 units and a few new borns, this is one of the smallest colonies on earth. There are about 1,5 million King Penguins on earth. Much larger groups live on the Falkland Islands, Sandwich Islands, some Islands south of Tasmania and New-Zealand and the biggest group, about a million, lives on South Georgia, a bit to the east of the Falklands.
It are very funny creatures to observe.
Morning and first half of the afternoon, the weather was brilliant again, even really warm. I had a head wind again, but it wasn’t hard. Just outside the ‘Pinguïneria’ I had a nice long talk with three Germans traveling in a mini-van. I also had a talk with an Italian motor traveler, a group of an American & three Italians and a Dutch-Italian couple. A very social day today 🙂
Traffic really picked up from the Pinguïneria, which resulted in a much more destroyed ripio road with a lot of washboard and loose gravel.
Man, man, man, how did I suffer today.
Where I had yesterday an easy day with only a very light headwind, and the day before even half of the ride a tail wind, today it was full head on again. Many times I couldn’t go faster then 5 km/h on the flat and I had to push many an uphill. I averaged 9,14 km/h on a 41 kilometer day.
The wind blows strait from the Andes, over the Strait of Magellan into my face.
The views were good, but nothing too spectacular. Much less traffic, probably because the ferry between Porvenir and Punta Arena doesn’t run on Mondays.
Pitched the tent in a field. I’m not very happy with the shelter I have, so fingers crossed for a quiet night…
Once I left the little canyon where I pitched the tent, I realized it was much better sheltered as I anticipated. The wind was torturing me all the final twenty kilometer into Porvenir. The road seemed to go up and down endlessly.
Arriving in Porvenir, 450 out of the last 470 km have been on ripio.
Here, I take the ferry to Punta Arenas, leaving Tierra del Fuego island after 25 days.
From Punta Arenas, I’ll find a way to get to El Chaltén or directly to the Carreterra Austral at Puerto Yungay.
I’ve been riding over 5.000 km in South-America now, of which a couple of thousand against relentless head winds over the pampa, without shelter for me or my tent.
While places like Torres del Paine, Perito Moreno Glacier and Mount Fitz Roy should be highlights, in the course of the last weeks, I was dreading more and more the prospect of going there.
The roads between these place are busy with trucks heading to and from Punta Arenas and with the brain death car- and especially minibus drivers for the tourists between these places.
Driving into Torres Del Paine would undoubtedly be a magical thing, if I wouldn’t have to be concentrated 150% all the time on the road, watching my rear view mirror every other second to check on upcoming traffic. Concentrated on the road, i.o. on the landscape. I spoke with several people in Ushuaia and also the last days near the Pinguinerïa. Tourists who told me they were in Torres del Paine last week. They tried to make reservations for the campsites four weeks in advance. All but one were full already.
So that was over 5 weeks ago. I don’t stand a chance of finding something, and when I heard there stories of congested ‘hiking trails’ with actual traffic jams …. no, that’s not my thing.
I would hate every single second of it. I don’t make reservations months in advance to pitch my tent somewhere and I definitely not going to stand in line to see a mountain like I’m in Disneyland. And it seems that what’s this region has become: the Disneyland of the Andes.
That may be highlights for people who are transported down here by plane or in buses, but I’ll find my own highlights on quieter, more genuine places.
14:00 hrs. The ferry leaves Porvenir with only a few minutes delay.
Once we leave the sheltered harbour and enter the Strait of Magellan, you feel the forces of the wind and the waves on the ship’s hull. We can’t be more then a kilometer or so on the Strait when the Captain announces the port of Punta Arenas is closed due to the strong winds and we have to return to Porvenir.
I felt that gale all morning and find it strange the ship left at all. I guess they contacted Punta Arenas only after we departed.
I saw another freighter taking our place at the only ramp in the little harbour, so I’m curious whether we’ll go on anchorage, or that ship will have to leave again.
Swinging the vessel in the Strait of Magellan felt like a dangerous operation. We had to turn 180 degrees and took full wind now, and getting in the current. The ship was rolling heavily left to right. Fantastic !
I was keeping an eye on where to swim to in case we would capsize and wondered whether I would be able to swim back to the shore in this ice cold water. I doubt it. I’m already freezing in an outdoor swimming pool in summer in Europe.
But I needn’t swim; we entered the port again all right.
The little freighter was send back to anchorage and we could come alongside.
Most passengers left the ferry and drove the long detour to Punta Delgada, where I crossed last month on Tierra Del Fuego. Hopefully for them, this much shorter crossing will be operational.
An hour after we were back in the port, the Captain announced a new departure was scheduled for 19:00 hrs. Many passengers were gone already. Two rather fat and older ladies in their late forties came to sit next to me. Like many of these people that are gifted with the talent to sleep anywhere at anytime, they soon dozed off. One of them snored like a pig, with her mouth wide open. I stared at my Swiss knife…
At 18:00 hrs, it was announced the weather was still to rough, and earliest departure was foreseen for 07:00 hrs the next day. We were send ashore, not allowed to spend the night on board. The little harbour is five kilometer outside Porvenir, and I didn’t feel anything to cycle back there, get up the next morning at 4:30 am in order to leave the hotel by 05:15, to arrive back in the port by 06:00 hrs (when you apparently needed to get your ticket stamped with a new date). The little terminal ashore remained open, which I shared with a fat Chilean guy who missed a couple of front teeth. He snored like a mammoth.
Around 22:00 hrs I saw how our ferry went adrift. The ropes couldn’t hold it anymore. They tried to lower the anchor, but to no avail. The vessel took full wind from the side and was blown to the opposite shore rapidly. They managed to get control just in time and bring the ship back to the quay.
The departure next morning was again delayed from 07:00 to 08:30 hrs, but then finally, off we went. This is an old Greek ferry, built for the Mediterranean. I wonder whether it is suitable for crossings on the rough Strait of Magellan, more than 35 kilometer wide between Porvenir and Punta Arenas. Crossing the Strait took about two hours.
I spent only a couple of hours in Punta Arenas, which actually seemed to be a rather nice town. The bus company didn’t make any objections on me carrying my bike on the bus. Riding that road between Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, I was glad I wasn’t cycling it. Too much traffic.