Saturday, 30 March 2013

Three days. 25, 26, 27 March.


Three days of ripio riding would take us to Puerto Natales, and our first salt water, Ie., the sea, for several months. The landscape was big, empty.

But not without humour. At least I hoped it was a joke and not a warning.


Wild camping on this plain on the 26th saw us eat our tea and sit down with a cuppa and some chocolate biscuits, watching the sunset on one side and the full moon rise on the other.

And early the next day we saw the opposite occur.

Dawn as seen from my sleeping bag.

As an american might say, 'It was kinda neat'. We spoke about the fact that at home too many things would have prevented us from doing that, from enjoying that moment. It felt a little special. The temperature was also special at 2 degrees overnight.

Moonset the other way.

It was also special for another reason. I had collected some large rocks to help stake out the tent. A little while later I was handling one large rock when Sarah said, "Dave, that is a black widow spider". I was surprised, but sure enough there it was, sat upon its trade mark untidy egg sack, stuck to my rock. This rock was quickly and gently removed from our vicinity. I also gained a new sensitivity to all the hundreds of similar rocks which surrounded us.

There she is. You cannot see the red markings on her abdomen from this angle.


The following night we crossed the border once again. The Chilean border guards - a very happy bunch - allowing us to camp beside their building, which was good news as the forecast strong, gusting winds arrived at nightfall. At least we provided a minor diversion to the tour group buses which passed through the post the next morning.

We were very glad of the shelter afforded by the border guard post.


A conversation........ 24.03.13

A conversation between the gods of Awe and Splendour.

"Ok, listen up. We have this couple who have been biking north to south through the Americas. They are beginning to think they have seen it all; mountains, snow, salt plains, rivers, deserts, extreme weather, seas, lakes, canyons, forests, high plateaus, lowlands, etc., etc. What do we have next for them?

"Well, they are heading toward Torres del Paine".

"True. But as good as that is it is just more of the same. No, we need something they haven't seen before. Something....spectacular....beautiful.....grand...."

"Ah. It's going to be just fine. Look where they are going next."


"They are off to.... the Perito Merino Glacier....."



I was beginning to wonder where this journey could go next. Not geographically, but in the sense of what could produce the sense of wonder that I had been experiencing on an almost daily basis for some weeks now. The Perito Moreno glacier is where we went; it did not dissapoint.

The gods were correct. It was spectacular, beautiful and grand.

An ice sheet 170m thick, measuring 250 square kilometers, 30k long, and 100m high, 5k wide at the lake end. Blocks the size of several houses crack away - called calving - with loud retorts into the water causing large waves to spread out. There are constant creaks, groans, cracks and retorts as the weight of the ice relentlessly pushes from the rear towards the front. One of the few glaciers worldwide to still be advancing.

Remember, that is a wall of ice over 250' tall.

For scale....see below.

Friday, 29 March 2013

We went from this.... 22.03.13

We left El Chaten, and instantly left the mountains behind us. Literally.


Within 15k we were travelling through an arid landscape, a preliminary to the pampas?


Wear & tear. 28.03.13

The past few weeks stuff has started to simply wear out. Patches on my shorts, darned socks, holes in our clothing, in our tent ground sheet, etc. All minor stuff, quite remarkable considering the use everything has had. Then I noticed that my Tubus rack had broken on one of its spars. Fortunately within a few hours I had located a welder who tig welded it back together.

Perhaps not the prettiest weld. But to be honest, he wasn't the prettiest welder either. But it's held so far. It did make me cringe when he worked completely without any eye protection. At least his guide dog didn't seem to mind.

For many years now I have religiously carried a HyperCracker tool. (Editor; an emergency tool for removing a rear cassette to enable a drive-side wheel spoke to be fitted), but I have never had a spoke break on either wheel. Consequently there has always been a part of me which has felt 'hard done by', as it is a minor right-of-passage to replace a broken spoke. No more! Sarah had a rear wheel spoke break, and out came the HyperCracker, never before used. It worked a treat, the new spoke was fitted and I can now feel a little more like a real bike tourer. I know it's weird, but I cannot help it.


Monday, 25 March 2013

No apologies.... 19.03.13

I make no apologies for another Mt. Fitz-Roy post.





As the day wore on it did get a bit moody up there. And possibly even more beautiful.



Mt. Fitz-Roy. 19.03.13


From Lago Desierto it was a days ride to El Chaten. It is the first time I have been to a town (All-be-it a small one) that is younger than I am. Created out of nothing in the eighties to 'settle' a border dispute with Chile, it was love at first sight for both Sarah and myself. The town serves as the gateway to Mt. Fitz-Roy, the star of the local mountains.

And what a star it is......


No photograph, or at least not my photographs, do it justice.
As you can see, we cannot complain about the weather....



Lago Desierto. border post. 16.03.13

When you drop to the border post on the northern shore of Lago Desierto, you get to camp - for free - on the huge lawn-like shore until the ferry arrives at 12.30 the next day. We had to share it with a few horses, but that was OK with us, and, I think, them.

It is hard to imagine a more 'painterly' vista.

Even here there is domesticity; Sarah does the dishes. I always promised her a kitchen window with a good view.

As you can see Ol' Dobbin was a camera hugger. I could not choose which shot to put in, so I put all three in.

And it gets better and better......


DBM. Saturday 16th March 2013.

Towards the southern end of the goat track you suddenly round a corner and the view opens up to reveal Mt. Fitz-Roy. It is a pointless thing to say that one landscape, view or experience means more than any other; life is simply not like that. It's just, well, complex.

What I can say is that if the whole of our 3 months travelling in South America, across the Bolivian alti-plano, over mountains, across north west Argentina and its wind ravished deserts, over the washboard that turned our bikes into circus acts, across the worlds larget salt plain, through border crossings, across lakes (Editor; all the bottles of Malbec, the champagne, all the steaks, all the beer, all the parillas) - if ALL of that was merely to reach that first sight of Mt. Fitz-Roy it would have been worth it.

I have placed that moment firmly into my file marked 'DBM'. (Editor; Death Bed Memories).

And it just got better and better.....


After the Carretera Austral.

As mentioned, the road ends at O'Higgins. But for hikers and bikers it is possible to ride 7k to then catch a 4hr ferry to the south end of Lago O'Higgins (Do you see a theme developing here?). There you pass through a Chilean border post, possibly the happiest bunch of border guards I have come across. But then, a few of them were taking out some big machine guns for shooting practise. So they get to stay for short stints with their mates, in the mountains, leaving the family behind, and play with some big guns....I cannot think why they are so happy.

I digress. Once through the Chilean border post, you have 22k to cover across land to the Argentian border at the north end of another lake, Lago Deseirto. This 22k involves 4k up a very steep and rocky trail (see below),

----- then a flat section through high valleys, before the infamous 'goat track'......

This is a section where previous bikers talk of having to push, lug, carry and lift their bikes and luggage over fallen trees, along tree trunks for bridges, through streams and along 3' deep by 2' wide ruts formed by pack horses and numerous hikers. Some take many hours to complete this section.

Admittedly it is easier north to south, and we do only have two rear panniers when most other people are carrying loads of baggage (Editor; perhaps too much baggage?), but 'tough?' Balderdash. We found it rather alot of fun. Much of it could be ridden, and although there was some pushing at times overall it seemed to me to be the most exclusive piece of single track I've been on. There were no weekend warriors to be found.

Uli on one of the more engineered bridges. Even if they are not fixed, it did have cross pieces.

There were three of us as Yuri, a Japanese girl who we had been bumping into for a few weeks, was also on the ferry. Yuri is a tough cookie (example; having lost her tent she sews another out of a car seat cover, and carries on. Later we met her and she was now sharing a tent with two frenchmen. When we offered the loan of our tent one night she said, "No thankyou, it lacks a certain j' ne sais trois". (Editor; did you see what Dave did there?). The trail was a real team effort and all the more enjoyable because of it.

But the really special part of this section is the subject of my next post....


Friday, 22 March 2013

Villa O''Higgins. 15th March 2013

After Lago Cisne it was just the final 20k that morning.......


........and then we were there.

I was rather more stoked than I may look in the photo. But the tan is genuine, as are the patches on my shorts, sewn on lovingly by Sarah.


Lago Cisne. 14.03.13

For the night before we entered Villa O'Higgins we wanted to have one last wild camp on the Carretera. We hoped to find a special site, one fitting for the end of that section of our journey.

I think we found just the right spot.....

An indistinct track led some 150yards to the lake shore and a small, fine-gravel spit, where we made ourselves very at home.

A perfectly still evening was followed by its morning counterpart. A great way to finish off the Austral, and a great day to ride the last 20k to O'Higgins.

Not a bad view from the tent.
"Is breakfast ready yet?"

As always there is no trace of our camp and fire - except a small upright stick in the ground.