Villa O´Higgins to Puerto Natales, Chile (1-20-09 to 2-4-09)February 8, 2009
After a relaxing and social rest at Hostal Mosco in Villa O”Higgins with lots of other bikers, we hopped the ferry with 8 other bikers and loads of tourists across Lago Villa O”Higgins, a 30 mile long spectacularly turquoise lake. From it’s south shore we tossed our gear on a horse and rode, waded and swam (at least Ralph and the camera got to swim while crossing a creek) our way crossing back into Argentina at the crest of a shallow pass, catching some sweet single track on our empty bikes – haven’t done that in too, too long! We took another ferry across Laguna Desierto and camped in the trees next to a neon turquoise river (reminiscent of lava lamp turquoise). After a rain-soaked night, we pedaled to El Chalten, catching some incredible shots of Mt. Fitz Roy as the clouds lifted. We were also able to test our submersible riding skills because large sections of the road were flooded.
In windy, touristy El Chalten (hoards of backpackers come to trek around Fitz Roy) we camped at a campground among more tents than we have ever seen in one place, all hunkered down behind fences, hedges and trees to hide from the strong Patagonia wind. Mind you, we grew up in North Dakota, so we are used to wind. But Patagonian wind – now that’s wind! It is not uncommon to get steady 60 mile/hour winds! Trees and bushes all grow with a permanent tilt to the east.
The next morning we left town heading toward El Calafate on the Argentinian pampa. We once again had wonderful views of the Fitz Roy range. We’ve seen a mountain or two on this trip, but Fitz Roy is the most spectacular peak so far. The whole range looks like the readout of a seismometer during a major earthquake. The pinnacles are light gray granite with 3000′ – 4000′ sheer vertical cliff faces – unbelievable! They are surrounded by one of the largest ice fields in the world, the Campo Heilo Sur. Back out on the pampa we saw loads of hawks, a few eagles, a fox, some wild llamas and Patagonian emus. The emu is of the ostrich family, is gray and stands 2′ to 4′ tall at the back (toss in a couple more feet for the neck), and can rocket across the pampa 3 times faster than we can bike.
At the municipal campground in El Calafate we ran into Matt and Jamie, two bikers that started in Prudhoe Bay several weeks after us, and that we first met in Peru three months ago. It’s surprisingly a small world in the biking community. We had several days of R&R, and also viewed the Moreno Glacier nearby. The Moreno Glacier is one of the most active glaciers in the world, advancing an average of 6½’ per day! It has moved across a large lake, dividing it in two. Since it is so active we could hear it crack and pop frequently and saw several large chunks calve off into the turquoise water below. The glacier face is at least 50′ tall, is comprised of a multitude of 10′ -20′ tall pinnacles of white ice/snow above a light turquoise/white ice base. Add in the towering snow-capped peaks surrounding it and you have a spectacular photo!
The Torres is a mecca for trekking. The campgrounds at it’s base are full of backpackers getting ready to depart or returning from 1-2 week treks around the park. Also a number of bikers park their rigs, put on hiking boots and hit the trails. We have found that while biking toward and around the mountains on our journey we are more than content admiring them from camp. We never get the same awe inspiring views hiking as we do approaching on our bikes. At the Torres campground we re-met Matt and Jamie and two new German friends. The six of us biked around the eastern side of the park. We were fortunate to have clear blue skies – something that doesn’t happen very often in the park – to view the incredibly beautiful peaks as we rode. We camped at the Pehoe campground with a stunning view of the peaks before leaving the park, taking a rolling dirt road to Puerto Natales, a small, friendly fishing port.
At Puerto Natales we took a couple days off and actually slept in a bed for a change. Our friends opted for the campground which became a hopping place as more and more bikers rolled in to camp. We had a barbecue one night with 12 other bikers doing anything from 2 week to 2 year trips. We even met a couple from Missoula that are planning to climb Aconcagua, South America’s highest peak (23,000′+). He is an Adventure Cycling employee. Coincidentally, the founders of Adventure Cycling did the Alaska-Ushuaia trip in the 1970s (an amazing feat since mountain bikes were really not even invented yet, so they made their own!), and were the inspiration for Ralph to do this trip. Back in the early 1980 s´, while students at MSU in Bozeman, we went to a slide show presentation of their adventure, and from that day Ralph knew he HAD to do this trip! It only took him 25 years to raise two children, raise enough money, and most importantly, talk Pat into joining him. Pretty fast wouldn’t you agree? Once again we were blown away by the coincidence of all the chance meetings of people we have connected with in the distant and recent past on this trip.
From here we will travel across the windy pampa for the last 500 miles of our trip toward Ushuaia, the finish line! Stay tuned!
Bikin’ on. Ralph and Ralph