Happy Trekking

Date: 6th February – 13th February 2013

Where: Villa O’Higgins – Lago Del Desierto Camp – El Chalten – 4*Luxury Ditch – El Calafate

Distance: 7561 to 7740 miles

Somehow we dragged ourselves out of bed and managed to make the 7km to the boat for 8am along with 11 other cyclists. This tourist trap carries unsuspecting cyclists one way across Lago O’Higgins for the small fee of 40,000pesos (about £60). For this pricely sum we were dropped in the middle of nowhere at the bottom of a big hill. We pushed and pedaled our way up with the emphasis on pushing, but in a couple of hours we were at the top. On the way we since learnt that we passed 20,000km traveled since Cancun in Mexico (including buses, boats and about 12,000km of cycling) at some point on this stretch. We’ve certainly seen some views, but none prepared us what we saw at the top. Mt.Fitzroy turns out to be a huge granite monolith surrounded by pointy spires and cascading glaciers. To say the view was amazing, even from this distance, would be a huge understatement. We were all flabbergasted, and promptly sat down for some early lunch. The 4WD track now rolled along nicely another 7km all the way to the official border between Chile and Argentina. A quick biscuit-stop and we were ready to enter Argentina for the fourth time.

A lot of kit leaves the Carretera Austral

A lot of kit leaves the Carretera Austral

Leaving Chile for the fourth time

Leaving Chile for the fourth time

A sudden lump of granite awes us: Mt.Fitzroy

A sudden lump of granite awes us: Mt.Fitzroy

All that pushing may just have been worth it!

All that pushing may just have been worth it!

Reaching the border crossing, just before the real fun began

Reaching the border crossing, just before the real fun began

Coincidentally, yet another 7km lay before us. This time it was going to be tough though. The 4WD track immediately became a 2WD track, where both wheels are one behind the other. At times it resembled little more than a footpath. We rode where we could, but after some close encounters with the ground (read: crashes), we decided on solely pushing. Pushing over bridges, pushing through ditches, pushing in ruts, so much pushing we were close to breaking down. Biscuits were shoved in mouths, unspeakable words were spoken, legs were scratched, but finally we reached a view out over our destination: Lago del Desierto. What a view! Mt.Fitzroy was now framed perfectly by the valley with the blue lake in the foreground. Exhausted, we stopped to take it all in. Then stiff legs walked/stumbled/fell down the final kilometre to the lake-shore and to all the other cyclists who had already arrived.

An inauspicious start: Geoff in the bushes (foot and head circled!)

An inauspicious start: Geoff in the bushes (foot and head circled!)

Off along the forest footpath we go

Off along the forest footpath we go

Going was slow, especially when the dreaded ruts appeared towards Lago Del Desierto (Right)

Going was slow, especially when the dreaded ruts appeared towards Lago Del Desierto (Right)

The view was rewarding though in the end

The view was rewarding though in the end

A hard day ends with a splendid view

A hard day ends with a splendid view

A certain someone forgot to reset the alarm, so we found ourselves crawling out of the tent to view the famous sunrise over Mt.Fitzroy. We staggered back to bed and just about made it onto the 1pm boat, which took us over to the other side of the lake. Just 40km of ripio lay between us and ice cream. Nothing would stop us now, and we powered into the town of El Chalten where M&M treated us to 1/4kg of ice cream each, devoured without second thought. That evening both our buttons popped off our trousers, but we didn’t care, we were in civilisation once again…for now.

Up early for the sunrise (L to R: Mt Poincenot, Mt Fitzroy, Cerro Torre)

Up early for the sunrise (L to R: Mt Poincenot, Mt Fitzroy, Cerro Torre)

Geoff recruits yet another unwanted pet

Geoff recruits yet another unwanted pet

Cycling beneath a giant on the way to El Chalten

Cycling beneath a giant on the way to El Chalten

El Chalten boasts itself as the capital of trekking in Argentina. It isn’t wrong as far as we’re concerned. Lots of one-day or two-day hikes are possible to reach spectacular views, making it the lazy-trekker’s paradise. We aren’t exactly lazy, but equally we aren’t exactly trekkers at the moment. After a rest day we dragged our weary bodies up to the top of a hill called Loma Del Pliague. Condors continiously flew over us towards a panorama of the Fitzroy range with clear veiws of all the peaks. Our minds loved it, but our bodies regretted it the next day, with knees aching all over. Somehow we got on the road, and ran straight into a headwind. Now this was most irregular, since we had been told that we would fly out of El Chalten with the tailwind that blows all year. We chose the one day it didn’t, so not wanting to fight wind for the day we turned tail and went for another hike. This one took us up to Lago de los Tres right beneath Mt Fitzroy. Unfortunately by the time we reached the Lago, the granite was all but obscured by cloud, but we could still imagine the bulk above us. As we sat eating lunch on the terminal moraine it started to drizzle, so we left. More rain began to fall, so we descended quickly back down to the town. That night we went out for pizza in Restaurant Patagonicus. It was probably the best pizza we’ve had all year.

Gaping at Cerro Torre

Gaping at Cerro Torre

Panoramic views from Lago Viedma all the way to Mt.Fitzroy

Panoramic views from Lago Viedma all the way to Mt.Fitzroy

Condors framed against Cerro Solo

Condors framed against Cerro Solo

The magnificent Mt.Fitzroy mirador

The magnificent Mt.Fitzroy mirador

A cold lunch at Laguna Los Tres – Mt.Fitzroy invisible in the top half of this photo

A cold lunch at Laguna Los Tres – Mt.Fitzroy invisible in the top half of this photo

Good pizza at last!

Good pizza at last!

In a growing trend we took our second rest day in El Chalten following our treks. We are getting physically tired now. We did absolutely nothing this day, it was heaven. The next day however we cycled 120km with the tailwind to the luxury ditch. This 4* accommodation had been recommended by another cyclist traveling North, and all we can say is that it was definitely a ditch! Here’s to hoping we don’t have to spend another night somewhere like it! We left it as soon as we could the next morning and made it to El Calafate with only a couple of minor points of note: Firstly Sarah complained of her wheel feeling funny at one point, and we found her rim had cracked…everything is wearing out now! Secondly, the last 30km were into a strong headwind. We’ve definitely reached the Patagonian winds we’d heard so much about now.

Leaving Mt.Fitzroy behind

Leaving Mt.Fitzroy behind

Crazy clouds fill the skyline

Crazy clouds fill the skyline

The luxury 4* ditch

The luxury 4* ditch

Early morning and ready to go

Early morning and ready to go

Sarah’s broken rim

Sarah’s broken rim

From here we’ll be visiting the Perito Moreno glacier and then pushing on South through the pampa to Puerto Natales through some notoriously tough sections of headwind. We’re going to need lots of snacks!

We’ve been warned…Patagonian wind!

We’ve been warned…Patagonian wind!

8 responses to “Happy Trekking”

  1. youjustpedal says :

    During the crossing, who swore the most?

    • Geoff says :

      To begin with Sarah, but then I suffered a critical biscuit shortage before the final downhill and soared into an unassailable lead 🙂

  2. Anderson Lima says :

    Really nice pics … We nned to be there next year … Good Luck from Brazilians Ironmen …

    • Geoff says :

      Hey Ironmen, great to hear from you! Thanks for the good luck wishes. We’re now about to leave mainland Chile from Punta Arenas for Tierra Del Fuego and yet more wind. You should definitely do the Carretera Austral and cross over to El Chalten. From El Chalten southwards the pampa is tough, but then I guess, so are you! We’ll get in touch when we near Brazil 🙂
      Geoff

  3. Matthijs and Martine (M&M) says :

    Dear cyclefriends, we did enjoy your company very much and without it we would have cursed eachother to … on the terrible trip from Villa O Higgins to Lago del Desierto. When you are in The Netherlands do not hesitate to contact us: a bed, breakfast and diner will be served in exchange for a new cycle story.
    Relax on your cruise home and keep trying to live your life the way you want it.
    Sincerely yours, Martine and Matthijs

    • Geoff says :

      Thanks M&M,
      We appreciated every inch of the way we traveled together too. We’re sure to be in touch when we get back home, see you in Ushuaia in only a few days! Same offer goes for the UK wherever we end up!
      Geoff & Sarah (GAS)

  4. Drew says :

    Hi guys, quick question. Were you able to find places to purchase gas canisters for camping stoves (jet boil, etc) while on the carretera austral? Or is white gas the way to go?

    • Geoff says :

      Hi Drew, We had benzina Blanca (white gas) for our stove. I would think Punta Arenas has most things if you’re starting from Chile, and the other end is right next to Mt.Fitzroy, so lots of mountain climbers, and hence gas canisters. No idea the most popular type though I’m afraid. Good luck, take a fly swatter 🙂 !
      Geoff

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