El Chaltén to Villa O’Higgins

07/12/2017
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.

 

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El Chaltén
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The valley I would cycle through a few days later towards Lago del Desierto.
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The last bit up to the ‘Lago de los 3’ lookout.
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And what a reward, standing so close to one of worlds famous mountains.  Mount Fitz Roy (3.375 meter)

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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.

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The valley towards El Torre, covered in clouds, but stil spectacular.

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.

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Cerro Torre at the right left, Fitz Roy on the right.
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Cerro Torre (3.102 meter high)

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.

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The Italian cyclist.

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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.

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Lago del Desierto
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The one and only road between the Argentinean and Chilean border.
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The swamp you’ll have to cross.  Luckily, there are a few river crossing before and after this, so your feet are wet already, and you’ll get a chance to wash of the mud off later on.

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Camping on the ‘road’ between the Argentinian and Chilean immigration.

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.

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The Chileans have constructed a nice ripio road at their part of the border.
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They even construcred bridges, so no more wet feet.

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Eventually, I still got a nice view of the back side of Mount Fitz Roy, seen here from the Chilean side.
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First views to Lago O’Higgins.

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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 ….

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The little boat that takes you in a bit more than two hours to the other side.  The crossing at the middle of the lake was very, very rough, this little boat rolling and pitching to all sides.

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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 🙂

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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.

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Villa O’Higgins
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The Christmas stal at Villa O’Higgins.

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