5. The Four hour trek.

 Low clouds hanging around as I ride the remaining 45 kilometres to El Chalten.

Not in this rain matey. 

Eventually the town’s within sight. Arriving at 8:30 am the town’s barely awake so I firstly ride around looking for a hostel to warm up! but really preferring to camp I decide it best to wait to see if the morning’s [hopeful] sun may break the low clouds. Clouds aside, the last 20 kilometres scenery was a welcomed change, mountain peaks all around, although Mount Fitz Roy was clearly blocked from view. 
The river is Rio Fitz Roy, Argentine explorer Francisco Moreno saw the mountain on 2nd March 1877 and decided to name it in honour of Robert Fitzroy - captain of HMS Beagle who travelled up the Santa Cruz River in 1834, charting large parts of the Patagonia coast.

Waiting around in a community centres large porch area I firstly change my tops for my dry warm fleece - I never ride in that as I sweat even more. A few hikers pass by heading toward the national park’s entrance where the majority of the trails start, some just a day’s walk whilst others being longer. Slowly but surely, cracks in the clouds reveal an awaiting blue sky so I start to look for a camping hostel, soon finding one that offered a large communal kitchen area with a good grassy area to pitch...
..almost ‘jumping into someone else's grave I set my tent where someone else had just vacated -  the grass being obviously dry! (My tents the left orange one) 

As aforementioned, the town’s only 30 years old, created to aid the country’s tourism industry. The town had many hostels and a good few bars and restaurants but - being surrounded by the natural beauty - still had a very distinctive appeal about it, something I felt El Calafete had not. This is a large wooden sculpture of something most of the visitors have, a hikers back-pack 

I had come here to cross into Chile, something the archaeologists who gave me a brief lift had queried, saying it was not possible as there was no border, having read many-a blogs about this crossing and spoke to many of the ‘south-bounders’ about it there most certainly was a crossing. Why cross here? To be at the start of the Carratera Austral route. The name given to Chile's Route 7, a 1,240 kilometre route from Puerto Mont to Villa O'Higgins through rural Patagonia. 
Highway construction commenced in 1976 under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in order to connect a number of remote communities. Before that, in the 1950s and 1970s, there had been unsuccessful attempts to build access roads in the region so as such was the most ambitious infrastructure project in Chile during the 20th century.
The name Villa O'Higgins originates from Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme (1778 - 1842), a Chilean Independence leader who helped free Chile from Spanish rule in their war of independence, a wealthy landowner of Spanish and Irish ancestry.

A quick ride to the out-of-town petrol station reveals the broken clouds and a dry road. 

And soon the clouds were no more!

On my second evening, visiting the popular B&B (Burger and Beer) bar with a New Yorc’ian back-packer I here a voice behind me I recognised, turning around I see it’s Jules, along with Nicky! Having just arrived they planned to leave in the morning for the 1 of 2/week ferries across the lake to Chile. From Internet research I new the basic itinerary; 
  1. A flat 35km rippio route, following the river to Lake Desierto.
  2. A 50 minute “we’ve got you by the short n curlies” £35 ferry crossing over the lake.
  3.  Passport exit-stamped out of Argentina. 
  4. A 6km trail through to the “border in the bush” Onto Chilean turf, a 16 km route to the border patrol office to get stamped in to Chile. 
  5. A 2 hour “we’ve got you by the short n curlies” £55 ferry crossing over the lake O’Higgins. 
  6. A 7k ride to Villa O’Higgins.
Now Monday, the next O'Higgins ferry would leave on Wednesday. Deciding to join Jules and Nicky, the following day we head out at 6 am for the 35 km rippio route to reach the first ferry that departed at 10 am.

The back-end of the town that would lead to the scenic rippio route.

On schedule, we depart town at 6 and head along a really scenic route, tightly hugging and crossing over the river, passing a few guest houses and cabins, marshy areas, water falls, greenery in abundance, tributary streams and rivers.
Still sporting the bike's flag! ;-)

Boarded the ferry it's full-steam ahead, there were also a few back-packers aboard heading to some of the lake's northern surrounding trails.

Come on chappies, we've only rode 35 kilometres!...maybe they know what's coming!

Although the geographical border is 6 kilometres away, on departing the ferry we're firstly stamped out of Chile at the small border office, then asking which way the path is we're led around to where it starts.

Almost from the start we're faced with a steep hill and new from others that riding was certainly not an option due to the steep inclination, rocks, roots and occasional tight turns. First leg-rest, looking back at the return-bound ferry;

This was the section that many-a blogs mention...so likewise! A deep water/hiker worn trough that the bike's panniers width only just scrapped through yet still snagging on stubby tree-roots and fallen branches, here I found it best walking on the higher ledge to avoid ankle-scrapes from the pedals! 

At a few points I go back down to help the other's push their bikes, it was that steep, leaning forward at 45 degrees against the bars! Passing that it was then onto the 'across the streams' test, it actually started to resemble a Krypton Factor style TV show 'tough man' test. On the stream 'bridge' crossings our bike's tyres would get lodged between the logs again, we helped one another in team style.

Another rest while we catch our breath and rest the burning calves!

Through some wooded sections.

Many sections we hiked through resembled the English countryside.

A bridge-less stream, Jules decided to get the cold feet wheeling them through.

Another bridge, I used a big stick to jam the logs slightly firmer into place.

Now into the boggy section..this was sooo varied, but still loving it!!
Known as 'Old mans beard', regularly seen in in Patagonia, a sensitive 
plant that only grows in areas with less than 1% pollution .
Through, under, over areas with dead fallen trees.

Eventually, 6 kilometres and 4 hours later, we arrive, worn out but happy-as-Larry, we're at the (as I call it) border-in-the-bush!

We're in  Chile again!..Well, only officially after the 16 km ride , yes, we can ride this section as there's a road, albeit rippio but still cycle.

At the customs office the officer asks if I have any fruit, answering no he also asks to visually check, upon seeing my partially used onion in a bag he says that's also not permitted, as most food in Argentina and Chile is expensive just throwing it in their bin was not an option for me so I simply start eating it, now that was funny!! The look on both the officers faces was great!..he said to me "salt?, bread?", 'Na' I replied, 'it's fine as it is, d'ya want a bite?' offering it out to him he backs away..brilliant! I bet they'll remember me entering for some time to come!!
Informing us that there was actually a boat waiting at the port as we speak we jump at the chance of avoiding camping there, zipping down the final kilometre to the port. Here we find that Jules and Nicky could not board as their tourist-office pre-paid ticket was not accepted by the boat in question, whereas I simply paid for mine there-and-then - also proving cheaper! - and was able board the boat.

Although resembling a radio-controlled toy boat,  it was life size, just small, powered by two 100 horse-power outboard engines. Also on the boat was a another cycle tourer, Steve from New Zealand. He'd started in L.A. and upon reaching Ushuaia turned around to ride back north along a different route...maybe a sucker for headwinds?! Nevertheless we had good conversation and two hours later on arriving at the small dead-end port at 10 pm, lift our bikes and bags from our [small] boat up to a bigger one we'd moored against, then onto the jetty. A seven kilometre ride later we're - as someone once called it - at the end of the world! Villa O'Higgins!
- - -

Next time, the Carratera Austral commences.