Five days on the Carretera Austral and one day crossing into Argentina have brought us to El Chalten, Argentina. Some tough riding with one of these days mostly on pavement and the other five entirely on gravel.
Day One – Cerro Castillo
Refreshed and energized from a rest day, we brought our bags out, had breakfast and then set off from Coyhaique. The first half of the day had fewer trees and second half we crossed over some hills and down into Cerro Castillo. The last 12km was on a tough enough dirt road to give us a taste of what was to come.
A few more of these shrines along the road. I’ve seen “San Sebastian” similar to Argentina. This one is entirely red, but not sure if it is Gauchito Gill or just a red shrine.
A photo of some of the more open areas. We had a stiff wind that made things colder, but fortunately mostly a tailwind in the morning and mixed in the afternoon.
After 50km we turned more towards some lower hills and climbed through valleys to the other side of these mountains.
We crossed into a national park with signs warning us to be careful with “huemel”. Ahead in the photo were two other loaded touring cyclists, we saw more of them in this section of the Carretera Austral.
Lunch van nicely situated near the 75km mark along the river. A welcome sight.
Another low pass to climb over.
Snowfields and water falls along the way.
A descent of several hundred meters on the other side including this winding road.
Getting closer to Cerro Castillo.
Small village of Cerro Castillo. Stopped for a coke here and then onto the gravel road.
Camp at last.
Here I met Linda and Mike Stuart. They have a well-written blog (Gone 4 a Ride) about their journey through South America and elsewhere. They were a month or two ahead of me in Bolivia and hence I found their blog notes very useful to learn stopping points and road conditions.
Day Two – Puerto Tranquillo
Today was our first full day on gravel. I decided to pace myself and ride to lunch and take the bus into camp. The first 20km were particularly tough as there was just enough road construction to dump loose rocks on the road. However, as photo above shows, also beautiful cycling.
26 kilometers and start of some climbing over these hills.
This touring cyclist was from Greece.
This guy had started walking in Puerto Arenas in southern Chile. He said he was going “north”. I asked “Alaska” and he laughed and said probably not quite that far, though he was clearly setting up for a long run/walk. You can also see the hint of dust clouds as we had these raised up each time vehicles came past. There were considerably more vehicles on this part up to Cochrane.
Another great spot for lunch. I decided to take the bus from lunch.
We camped just past this small town of Puerto Tranquillo.
Nice lakeside camp area.
Day Three – Cochrane
Today and tomorrow were advertised as some of the toughest days on the ride. So I planned out to ride half days on these days. The bus was full leaving to lunch so I wasn’t the only one, though I decided to cycle the first half and get a ride into lunch.
Great winding little road along the lake.
Lupines along the river.
Lots of snowcapped peaks.
Road works were starting here. One of the first steps is to erect the sign telling people construction will occur over the next 1440 days (five years), so it will be a while before this is improved and in meantime, likely to be a bit tougher with more loose extra gravel.
Photo of the two lakes.
Road works will be starting.
Raising some dust.
Beautiful lunch spot again.
Missed second half of the ride, but it went along a beautiful section of the Rio Baker.
Day Four – Puerto Yungay
Another advertised tough day with 131km on gravel and nearly 2000m of climbing. After lunch today, the lunch bus would start driving around to Argentina, so today I opted to ride to lunch instead of from it (so I wouldn’t keep them waiting for their departure). It meant a shorter ride of only 53km but still pretty cycling.
Starting one of the climbs.
One of the homesteads along the way.
A lot of waterfalls here.
Long views along the road.
A section with particularly tough cycling on the rocks after this.
Please use tire chains.
Puerto Yungay wasn’t big and a big portion seems to have burned down.
We camped on the beach next to where our ferry would depart the next morning.
Cyclists chilling at end of a day ride.
Day Five – Villa O’Higgins
Today turned out to be a late day of cycling, mostly because we didn’t get on the ferry until 10am and on the other side just before 11am. I cycled the full distance and ended up being the last cyclist into camp (getting an ovation, but feeling slightly embarrassed).
Photo above is our ferry ready to load. The morning started out with sun on the tent but in the morning it turned to a light drizzle.
On the other side and ready to ride. There were many fewer cars here since only four ferries per day (during high season) and some of these didn’t even have cars on them. We did have twenty-some cyclists and two support vehicles with one already departed evening before.
At 16km I fell and scraped my knee. It was relatively flat with a slight banked curve. The gravel thickened and before I knew it my front tire slid out and I was on the ground. Fortunately, only a scraped knee, sore elbow and palm (and fine the next day). After checking everything out, back on the bike and cycling again.
On our way to Villa O’Higgins.
A lot of climbing between the 20km and 45km points. This seemed to be a memorial to soldiers that lost their lives including the last entry for a pilot.
It looks calm, but a considerable wind picked up here.
Getting close now…
Made it in between 7:30pm and 8:00pm. Dinner had been served, but otherwise still more than an hour before sunset. Glad I could cycle the full distance today even if it ended up being later.
Day Six – El Chalten
Wow! A great ride today with several different parts: (a) short 8km ride to the ferry (b) three hour ferry ride (c) overland pedestrian only crossing from Chile to Argentina (d) another ferry ride (e) another 36km of gravel road cycling.
A bridge on the way to the ferry.
Loading time, bicycles but no motor vehicles.
We passed this iceberg on the lake.
At least three waterfalls here.
And we’re off! The riding in Chile wasn’t too bad as it was a jeep road. Some steeper climbing to start.
Stop at the passport office after 1km to check out of Chile.
Example of the road in Chile, all reasonable riding though occasionally steep short hills.
Argentina border, now the fun begins. Unfortunately, I was busy enough having fun that I didn’t get many photos.
Some single-track that wasn’t too difficult to ride.
There was more soft mud here than it looks. Fortunately, also a river that I forded at the far end to wash off my shoes and socks.
It was a slow walk for much of the single-track including some narrow well-worn sections. I saw a few cyclists with loaded panniers struggling to go up the other direction and didn’t envy them as a good portion I also ended up carrying my bicycle.
In the distance is Mount Fitz Roy.
Cyclists relaxing outside the Argentinian police/customs station. Fortunately, all made it in time but we did have a wait for the ferry.
On the other end, I slipped leaving the ferry and nearly dropped my camera in the water. Caught it just in time. Otherwise, a slow cycle to El Chalten, though still made it just before dark.
Town of El Chalten with other side of Mount Fitz Roy.
One of the tasks for a rest day is to get laundry done. I found at least four laundry places in town, many trekking shops and many hostels, guest houses and hotels. This is a destination area for many hikers.
We have three rest days in El Chalten before our last 11 cycling days + 2 rest days going to Ushuaia. It is already windy here and I expect it to be windy throughout. One rest day is camping in Torre del Paines, so not sure how many photo updates I’ll get before we reach our end as wifi is also rather flaky in these towns as all the tourists try to use it at the same time. Otherwise having a run ride.
Absolutely stunning pictures! Enjoy!