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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!