Bikepacking the Carretera Austral

Welcome to a guide on cycling the Carretera Austral. Scroll down to see posts summarising each day of cycling (or access them here under Stage Summary). Also see the menu on the left for more useful information.

CIRCLESA

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Bikepacking the US of A

Just a quick note to say that I’ve recently decided to come to the big US of A where I plan to cycle coast to coast and take a few more photos. Please come and check it out here if you’re interested… 

http://www.thiswheelsonfire.com 

Many thanks

Alex

Day 20: Feb 23, The End: Morro Chico – Punta Arenas, Aborted after 34km..

https://www.strava.com/activities/258877786/overview

  • 1:52:10
     Moving Time
  • 218m
    Elevation

The Strava file not much use here..an unfortunate anti-climatic end to the trip.  34km past Morro Chico and 11km before reaching Villa Tehuelches, the sidewind was so strong it completely snapped my rear derailleur (I can only assume that it had taken a knock at some point and had a hairline crack in it perhaps; maybe when we piled the bikes on the back of the pickup in Rio Turbio..). It was too dangerous to be riding anyway and we’d been warned not to the night before. Rook made the right decision and already took the bus first thing in the morning.

Anyway, with my bike completely out of action we walked back to the bus shelter and jumped on the next bus to Punta Arenas, where we were due to fly back from to Santiago. An unfortunate end to an amazing trip, but also lucky that this happened on the last day and no sooner.

We stayed at Hostel Fin Del Mundo, 12,000 CLP per night including breakfast. You can also find a few bike shops in Punta Arenas if you need to.

I am sad to say, this post therefore marks the end of the trip. I’ve also now finally finished updating all the pages you can find in the left hand main menu so take a look if you’re interested. Many many thanks to anyone reading, I hope someone finds this guide useful anyway.

Peace, love and happy riding.

Alex

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Day 19: Feb 22, Puerto Natales – Morro Chico, 101km

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 17.06.11 https://www.strava.com/activities/258877933

  • 3:57:25
     Moving Time
  • 647m
    Elevation

Bumped into Mark in Puerto Natales, so he’s joined Alex, Rook and myself today making us 4.

There’s hardly anything at Morro Chico but decided to stop rather than push on an extra 45km to Villa Tehuelches in the winds – we’d had strong tailwinds up until this point but here the road begins to turn.  There is a cafe / restaurant though and the owners kindly let us camp in an empty cabin/house they have just behind it.

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Feb 18-21, Puerto Natales & Torres Del Paine. No biking here.

Puerto Natales is a nice town with a relaxed atmosphere. It’s full of hikers heading off to Torres Del Paine talking about the ‘O’ and the ‘W’.

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Torres Del Paine; annoyingly left my camera battery behind in the charger so pulled the phone camera out for these..

Day 18: Feb 17, Tapi Aike / Río Turbio / Puerto Natales, 104km (excluding 10km lift)

STRAVA upload fail i’m afraid…

A hard day. The tarmac starts again at Tapi Aike, but the road heads west which took us against the wind.  We left early to try and get through some kilometres before it picked up, but it was strong from the outset. It almost felt like we weren’t moving.  We planned to cross the border into Chile arriving at Cerro Castillo, but when we got to the junction, the road turned onto more rip, heading directly into the wind. There was no possibility to cycle it, so we instead headed south towards Río Turbio planning to cross the border there instead.

We almost got to Río Turbio okay, but right at the end the road passes by, before turning back on itself to actually then head into the town. We weren’t able to cycle against the wind and we sheltered in a ditch at the side of the road as the gravel was whipping against our skin. A generous lady in a pickup let us stick her bikes in the back, and gave us a 10km lift to the border crossing. As we crossed the mountains the wind died down and we were able to cycle on to Puerto Natales.

We stayed at Hostel Patagonia, for 10,000 CLP a night including free tea, coffee and avena (porridge oats).  Nice clean warm place, and the owner, Andres, is extremely friendly and helpful.

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Day 17: Feb 16, El Calfate – Tapi Aike, 160km

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https://www.strava.com/activities/256444981

  • 7:37:38
    Moving Time
  • 1,160m
    Elevation

From this point onwards I’m riding with two German friends, Alex and Rook, who I met on the way.

A strong tailwind out of El Calafate so we flew through the first 95km on the Ruta 40 to a junction called El Cerrito. There’s nothing there except for a road maintenance / highway patrol garage. We used it as shelter and ate lunch, and they gave us water, then we turned off the Ruta 40 and back on to more rip, bound for Tapi Aike, a further 65km along.

It was okay for the first 20km or so, but the ripio then starts to get worse, and in places it’s horrible. About 15km in there is a house that’s a police station where they will let you camp, but the winds were strong so we pushed on towards Tapi Aike. It’s just another road junction, but there was another highway patrol stop. The guy stationed there has a bunch of trailers / caravans that he let us use. They are not maintained at all and it was pretty grim but it gave us shelter from the wind for the evening. I think another one was better, but someone was already in there.

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Feb 10-15, El Chaltén & El Calafate. No biking here.

With my head bowed in shame, I unfortunately never cycled the long, windy, stretch from El Chaltén to El Calafate, skipping two days of cycling.  A friend made his way all the way over here (without bike) just to visit me for 4 days. We therefore spent a couple of days in El Chaltén and then got the bus to El Calafate to visit Perito Moreno before he had to fly back.

In El Calafate we stayed at Hostel Huemul for 200 ARS a night. Wouldn’t recommend.

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Day 16: Feb 9, Lago Desierto – El Chaltén, 36km

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https://www.strava.com/activities/252770943

  • 1:57:05
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  • 447m
    Elevation

Riding with two Dutch friends, Ben and Mark who we met along the way, making us four.

The boat across Lago Desierto takes 45 minutes, we took the first one at 11am. It’s then a short 36km ride to El Chaltén. Amazing scenery but horrific ripio all the way. It’s a fact that Argentinean ripio is worse the Chilean ripio.

El Chaltén is full of tourists primarily hiking so you may want to book a place to stay in advance as the hostels fill up, but there are so many of them you can always find a bed. You can camp here but just beware the winds are strong.

There is a place called El Charito, which is basically a house owned by a lady called Flor, and she hosts cyclists for free so many cyclists camp in her back garden. I think there are also a few beds.  I didn’t stay there, but Flor seemed extremely nice and welcoming. I know many other cyclists had a great time there.

We slept at El Rancho Hostel – 220 ARS for a dorm without breakfast. It’s huge impersonal place, but it’s comfy enough.

Unfortunately the end of the trip for Lance as he heads back to the US and real life.

Day 15: Feb 8, Villa O’Higgins / Lago O’Higgins / Candelario Mancilla /Lago Desierto 8km + 21km

day15pt1 Part 1, Villa O’Higgins to Lago O’Higgins (boat 1), 8km    https://www.strava.com/activities/252148381

  • 25:05
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  • 214m
    Elevation

day15pt2 Part 2, Candelario Mancilla – Border Crossing to Lago Desierto, 21km  https://www.strava.com/activities/252966456

  • 2:29:22
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  • 653m
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Once on the boat from Villa O’Higgins, you’ll cross Lago O’Higgins and after 3 hours reach Candelario Mancilla.  Following the route, you will very soon arrive at the Chilean border control.  Once you’ve got all that sorted the route then continues 21km across the other side where you’ll reach the Argentine border control on the shore of Lago Desierto.  You can ride most of it, but at times you’ll be balls deep in mud and will need to carry your bike. On a cyclocross with my light setup, this was actually pretty good fun. Would’ve hated to have done this with panniers… We took a late boat from Villa O’Higgins so only got to the other side as it was getting dark. We camped next to the lake at the Argentine border control. (Not there are no accommodation options here, so if don’t have a tent you should make sure you arrive in time to catch the last boat – or ask the border control guys to take you in for the night).

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Feb 6 & 7, Stuck in Villa O’Higgins

Getting out of Villa O’Higgins is harder than it should be.  You need to take a ferry if you plan on continuing south to Argentina but everyone will tell you something different about the boat crossing and when it leaves, how it works etc. Robinson Crusoe Tours operate three ferries a week costing 48,000 CLP, apparently that also passes by Glacier O’Higgins which is supposed to be very worthwhile. When this ferry is full there is a guy called Lorenzo who then also operates a ferry crossing if there are enough people. Ask anyone in town and they’ll be able to point you towards his house (next to the Copec petrol station). His ferry costs 33,000 CLP but does not include the glacier visit.

The boats were fully booked when we arrived so Lance and I had to wait 3 days to get a spot – therefore if you’re in a rush try contacting Robinson Crusoe and book one in advance. For me though the rest was very welcome, I enjoyed my 3 days and nights of doing nothing.