Around Ushuaia

Cerro Guanaco

Upper Guanaco

After a pleasant and relaxing evening at Cerro Cornu basecamp, I took my time packing up in the morning for a short ride into Ushuaia. The afternoon was forecast to be wet and windy, but the morning would be relatively pleasant, and I only needed half a day. I returned to the pavement of Route 3, then made a gentle climb up the Rio Lasifahaj past the ski area at Cerro Castor (“beaver” in Spanish). The mountains became progressively more interesting as I headed west, with sheer faces and substantial glaciers to the north, and impressive pinnacles on Monte Olivia to the south. I had to stop a couple of times to top off my rear tire, which was low on sealant, but the climb was otherwise uneventful. The descent into Ushuaia was fast and fun, and I even got to draft a truck for awhile, though some sort of “road safety” pickup honked at me angrily for doing so. I stopped at the first YPF, bought a minimum of food and used their hot water machine, then settled in to while away the afternoon and figure out where to sleep. I ended up buying groceries in a miserable 40-degree drizzle, then camping in the closed Rio Pipo campground on the west end of town. I was not supposed to be there, but there was plenty of space away from the road, all of which I had to myself, and no one bothered me.

Free campground

The next day’s forecast was unsettled, so I made modest plans to visit the end of Route 3 at Lapataia Bay and hike Cerro Guanaco, a viewpoint peak with a trail to the top. I rolled out fairly early to avoid annoying anyone, and rode up to the legal free campground near the Fin del Mundo train station (a prison train now converted for tourism). I stashed the trailer there before shoving some stuff in my daypack and continuing to the park entrance, where I paid the exorbitant 5500 ARS fee ($15 at the graymarket exchange rate), then continued to Lago Roca, where I locked my bike to the trailhead sign.

Ushuaia from summit

The trail to Cerro Guanaco skirts the glacier-blue lake for a short distance, then climbs steeply through the woods to the northeast. A sign said that I was not allowed to embark upon this strenuous later than noon, but I sensibly ignored it, as did a few dozen others I met headed up as I was heading down. The trail climbs admirably steeply through the woods, then crosses a flat swamp before making a long traverse across a talus slope to the summit. The previous night’s storm had refreshed the swamp, and deposited a few inches of fresh snow on the trail above, but enough people had already hiked the peak to make a clear track. I passed a few people on the way to the summit, but had it to myself for about five minutes, enough to enjoy what views I could before two loud young French guys arrived. On a clear day, Guanaco would have an excellent view of the Darwin Range to the west, but that was almost completely covered in clouds. I did, however, manage to see Ushuaia to the southeast, and the somewhat higher Cerro Condor across Lago Roca.

End of the road

I skipped back down the trail to my bike, then continued to the end of the road at Bahia Lapataia, stopping along the way to take grainy photos of a giant red-headed woodpecker. There is a boardwalk hike to a lighthouse from the road’s end, but I was sufficiently put off by the crowd of tourists freshly disgorged from their bus not to want to linger. I admired a touring Harley from Columbia, took some photos of the ubiquitous Malvinas/Falklands signage, then was about to leave when the tourbus driver offered to take my photo next to the sign. Then I rode back to my trailer, set up my tent, and thought about how to spend my remaining few days. With wet weather every afternoon, I knew I needed at least one night in a hotel or hostel to dry out before boarding a plane. I would also be more able and motivated to climb peaks if I had a warm and dry base, so I decided to pay for a place to stay. This ended up being far more expensive than I had expected or than it should have been ($50/night), as the cheaper options were booked, but probably worth it.

Cerro del Medio

Kinda cold

With a costly dry basecamp in Ushuaia, I could go trail running in the snow or rain without worrying about how to warm up and dry out afterward. Unfortunately the weather was still too unpleasant in the afternoons to do anything big, and I needed to prepare for the flight home, but I still had time in the mornings to tag minor peaks near town. Cerro del Medio is barely a peak, but it has a trail and a view, so it was a good objective for a day with a marginal forecast and much to do.

Martial Range from town

I rode my bike from my weird hotel to the base of the Glaciar Martial road, then locked it up at a trailhead sign and followed a powerline cut past a few road switchbacks, relying on my phone to guide me through the minor trail maze. I noted a bridge on the map, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it crossed a deep slot canyon, narrow enough that it could probably be jumped without the funky wooden structure. Beyond, the trail climbed consistently through the woods, then followed a fence east before crossing a bog. People had thrown logs and branches into the muck to make crossing easier, but the recent rains and snows had refreshed the muck, so it was challenging to cross without completely soaking my feet.

Kinda cold

Beyond the bog, the trail improves in the woods, then deteriorates as it climbs alpine moss before almost completely disappearing in a talus-field. However there are yellow-flagged stakes leading through the rocks, and bits of trail where the scree is loose enough to erode. It was chilly out, but the trail ascends a south-facing bowl, and was therefore protected from any wind. The final traverse to the summit, however, was exposed to a vicious west wind, freezing my eyeballs and making me wish I had brought more than just my hoodie. I ran to the summit, took a few photos and looked around for a few seconds, then ran back to shelter. The rest of the run down to my bike was uneventful, and the descent through the woods was smooth and gradual enough to make it fun and easy to get up some speed.

Unnecessary bridge

Showered and dried, I set out into town to find a bike box. Bike shops must receive their inventory somehow, so the normal way to fly with a bike is to ask around at shops for old boxes. Sometimes you have to pay, but most shops will give you a box for free, since they are otherwise scrapped. There are many shops in most cities large enough to have an international airport, so locating a box is rarely a problem. However, while Ushuaia has about 80,000 people, it has only three bike shops. Worse, in mid-March more bike tourists are flying out than in, and this net outward flux depletes the box supply. I therefore wanted to give myself a couple of days to track down a box.

Hernan Pujato

Unfortunately bike shops close for the siesta, so I had plenty of time to explore the town and play tourist. Ushuaia has a bunch of monuments along the waterfront, so I rode up to the navy base, where a single ship was docked, then made my way back downtown, learning a bit of history along the way. The first group of monuments were to early Antarctic explorers, as the tip of South America is the obvious launching point, being much closer to the continent than New Zealand or South Africa. I am not sure how realistic the busts were, but they had character, being bug-eyed, haggard, or grim rather than generically heroic. They honored both Argentinians and various Europeans who had achieved various “firsts” in the Great White South.


The second group of monuments was a war memorial for the Malvinas/Falklands. Most Brits probably don’t even remember that these islands off the coast of Patagonia are part of the Empire, but Argentina has not forgotten. I saw signs saying “Las Malvinas son Argentinas,” with a silhouette of the two islands, north of Bariloche on my last trip, and they were more plentiful farther south. Some were even a bit more aggressive, with one memorably stating “Las Malvinas son y sera Argentinas.” Your day will come, British Imperialist scum… In any case, the naval part of the war was partly based out of Ushuaia, so it made sense for there to be a monument. This one had a ring of poster-sized photos of troops doing various things including matéar (drinking maté together). At the center was a giant silhouette of the islands, and a marble wall with the names of the dead, like a small version of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington.

Never forget!

Once I had whiled away the siesta, I returned to the bike shops, where I was informed that there were no boxes. I turned to an appliance store near one of them, and while they did not have any large TV boxes, they did have some sturdy cardboard that I could use in a pinch. I bought box cutters and packing tape, then rode out to the airport to see if someone had flown in with a box that had not yet been destroyed. I did not see one, but did meet a man flying in with a bike, a gift for his nephew. He generously offered to let me use the box once he was done, and I took down his email to get in touch. I also asked the janitorial staff if they had any boxes, and while they seemed helpful and told me to show up early the morning of my flight, I did not like my chances of finding one at the last minute. The last part of a bike tour is always expensive and stressful, but it only happens once.

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