The border crossing between Lago O’Higgins and Lago del Desierto has become a South American cycle tourists rite of passage over the years. It was something I had been aware of through blogs for a long time, and the closer we got to Villa O’Higgins the more we would hear mutterings about the route, the logistics and its various stages. What makes the crossing special is that it’s only possible on foot, bicycle, or horse (if you happen to have one with you); all in all the journey was two days of boats, bikes, hikes and plenty of friends, making this one of the most fun and unique border crossings to date. It would also mark the beginning of new unions and a new stage in the trip.
14th February – Villa O’Higgins to Lago del Desierto
Tent selfie taken the night before, we had been in high spirits, perhaps too excited to sleep as neither of us slept well. Six of us cyclists had slept at the port, embarrassingly Charmian and I were not ready when everyone else arrived and we were the last ones on to the boat. We should not have eaten breakfast before packing away the tent.
Lee eating oats; classic Seth photo face; Laura and Barbara, two Swiss cyclists who had begun in Lima.
Our bikes, they were the last on board so ended up with a nice view.
Leaving the port.
The Captain, Lorenzo (the boat also goes by the same name) had said the previous evening that the boat would be leaving an hour early at 7am as the forecast was worse for later in the day. It was a grey morning. This boat had only begun voyages a few weeks before and was undercutting the competition quite significantly, this journey cost us 33,000 pesos compared with 44,000 on the competitors boat.
Here we can be seen below deck looking happy and carefree before the waves became rough and seasickness kicked in. There were 14 cyclists on board and 3 backpackers – ahead of taking this boat during the previous weeks and days on the Austral we had met all but one of the other cyclists. There was Corine and Eelke (Netherlands), Cornelis (Netherlands), Moon (Korea), Lee and Seth (USA), Barbara and Laura (Switzerland), Paul (NZ/Switzerland), Mert and Claude (France/Denmark) as well and me and Charms (UK).
After around 3 hours we arrived at Candelario Mansilla. For the final hour the waves had become choppy and seasickness had struck for several of us; we had been sat with our eyes closed trying to pretend we didn’t exist. I don’t think I helped unloading the boat as I had to vomit.
It was time for us queasy land lubbers to load our bikes up.
Off we went.
Our boat headed back to Villa O’Higgins.
We initially followed the lake.
We got our Chilean exit stamps at the Carabineros outpost.
This section was mostly uphill and all rideable.
We left the hills and entered a fairly open stretch of forest. Just a little reminder that we were still in Chile even though we had stamped out.
Crossing an airfield.
Welcome to Argentina, again. It was around here that the single track and real fun would begin.
Charmian had been bitten by a mosquito the night before and her face had swollen quite significantly on one side.
Passing through the ridable sections of forest….
…. and the less ridable. Whilst negotiating this bog I got my feet wet, and was then able to tell Charmian the best way to go to avoid the same.
Anyone who has cycled with me will know that I am happy to go through a river or stream, so I had simply walked across just to the left of the picture, my feet were already wet whilst the others lifted their bikes over this ‘bridge’.
Trench warriors. For those of us without front panniers this was a lot of fun and mostly ridable; for those with them, it was a different story. Seth’s set up was perfect, with the stuff sacks attached to the front forks he had a more even weight distribution than Charmian and I, our weight was all at the back and our load too wide, something we would change for a future tour.
One of the wider trench sections, Paul’s backpack is normally attached to the back of his bike.
The moment that Monte Fitz Roy came into view. I asked Seth to make a face of wonder, awe and excitement, this is what I got.
It was during this section that a bottle cage that was attached to my fork became loose, got into my wheel, and snapped a spoke. We attached some tape to fix the remaining broken piece of spoke in place and planned to sort it that night.
Lago del Desierto and Monte Fitz Roy. Incredible.
Seth’s moment to sit in the circle and take it all in. Here we stamped in to Argentina and even though a boat was on its way to take people across the lake, we decided to stay put for the night as it was such an idyllic spot. Paul, Laura and Barbara decided to take the boat, little did we know that we would not get to ride with Paul again on this trip. All of the other bikers and backpackers arrived that evening.
Lee helped me to fit the new spoke at camp. Pictured is a cat sniffing Lee’s stinky armpit, kitty’s love BO.
That evening we sat on the edge of the lake and had what Seth called a dinner party, which involved us all sharing our meals. Also pictured is a backpacker from Switzerland who joined us.
15th February – Lago del Desierto to El Charito, El Chalten
Fitz Roy over from Lago del Desierto in early morning sunlight.
The cost of the boat to cross Lago del Desierto was 30US Dollars, which seemed crazy given that we could see the other side of the lake. The other option was a hike that we were told would take between 3-4 hours on foot and up to two days if you were to push your bike. The four of us came up with a plan that Seth and Charms would take the boat across the lake with the 4 bikes, and Lee and I would hike around the edge, saving a total of $60. The boat would arrive at 10am and take around an hour so Lee and I woke early and began hiking at 8am so that we could meet Charms and Seth with the bikes on the other side.
The hike was a lot of fun but would have been quite miserable with a bike; there was a lot of roots and big rocks to scramble over and some streams to cross.
We were treated to some great views of glaciers from across the lake.
I really enjoyed this hike, which took us just over 3 hours. Lee and I talked constantly, having been in contact over the past 6 months we knew a bit about each other, and during the hike we talked about our respective bike tours (Lee had cycled from Canada), which had often taken us on the same routes, of previous travels and bike tours, as well as our lives before and plans for after our trips. Our bikes and our buddies were there to meet us when we emerged from the forest.
We ate some lunch at the lake and rode the 42km to El Chalten, we had favourable wind the whole way so it didn’t take us long. We had to stop and take pictures whilst we could as there was no any going back and riding into the headwind.
We had great views of Fitz Roy save for a few clouds obscuring the peak.
We arrived in El Chalten and like good cycle tourists went straight to the bakery to eat sweet treats. We bumped into Paul in town who directed us up these stairs to Flor’s house, a Casa del Ciclistas, which is another story all together.
Thank you Seth for allowing me to use some of your photos.
- Carretera Austral, part 3
- The House Of An Angel