Category Archives: Biking


Castle from unnamed lake

Castle Peak is the highpoint of the White Claw… er, White Cloud Peaks of central Idaho. At 11,800 feet, it stands well above its neighbors and dominates the view east from the much more popular Sawtooths, over a thousand feet lower. I had been looking at it from some recent climbs in the Sawtooths, and decided it was worth a day to visit this new range and climb it. The normal approach is from Washington Basin to the southwest, but for some reason I decided to come in from the equally-patriotic Fourth of July Creek farther north. This would normally have added significant distance and time, but because the Wilderness boundary is only a few miles from the peak, I was able to ride my bike most of the way. The trails were chunky from stock use, and I had to hike-a-bike on several rougher sections and around deadfall (the area is a carpet of old burn scars), but I still averaged about 5.5 miles per hour on the trail, making wheels faster and far more fun than feet.

Riding through the old burn

I could have driven the ten miles of dirt to the Fourth of July Trailhead, but the road was rough and washboarded enough that it would have been slow and unpleasant with my passenger-car suspension, so I pulled out at the first wooded place to camp, just a couple miles up the road. I woke at my usual dark hour and ate breakfast while waiting for some more light. I eventually started riding by headlamp, barely warm enough in all my clothes, turning it off about twenty minutes up the nearly 2000-foot climb to the trailhead. Most of the climb was gradual, but it steepened enough to put me in my lowest gear in the final few miles. There were only four cars in the lot, a striking contrast to the hordes in the Sawtooths over the holiday weekend.

Right to the limit

I had originally planned to leave my bike here, as I was not sure about the quality or legality of the riding, but a helpful trailhead sign clearly laid out who was allowed to travel where. Not only was the trail open to bikes nearly to Castle Divide, but it was even open to motorcycles along Washington Creek. Fortunately there did not seem to be many of these, so the trail was not badly rutted and chewed up by motorized joy-riders. Still, it was rocky from stock, so I had to ride with full concentration and walk numerous sections, and often debated locking my bike and continuing on foot. However, I have learned from my bike-mountaineering that pushing one’s bike pays off if there is at least a moderate amount of rideable terrain. Five miles per hour is agonizingly slow on a bike, but purposefully fast on foot, and ten to fifteen is faster than I can manage without wheels on a trail.

Back over recent burn

The trail climbs past Fourth of July Lake, then crosses a divide to Washington Lake and descends into Washington Creek. At a fork, the left branch contours high toward the Castle Divide trail, and is signed “no motor vehicles.” I nearly left my bike here, but decided to continue, and was rewarded with some good riding on relatively smooth trail. I did, however, have to carry my bike through a combination burn scar and slide path, and over many other downed logs. At the turnoff to the divide, a sign helpfully informed me that the trail was closed to bikes a mile ahead. While there is not enough maintenance on the extensive White Cloud trails to clear deadfall in a timely manner, the trails are still well-cared-for: I saw semi-recent maintenance, and the Wilderness boundary sign had been replaced since the 2018 fire.

Castle from base

I locked my bike to itself and leaned it against the Wilderness sign, then hiked the pass leading to Chamberlain Basin. This area was a fairly recent burn, and while the standing blackened trees were unattractive, the snowy and unburnt peaks to the south provided a fine backdrop. The fire had apparently stopped at the ridge, so the basin was unspoiled. Castle looked intimidating across the way, and the true summit did not look like the highest point, but with a map and track, the standard route was clear: a partly snow-filled gully trending slightly right. Avoiding a lingering cornice, I took what was probably the old trail, dropping steeply to the forest and passing a fine turquoise lake on my way to the valley floor. I passed an occupied campsite at the lake, then crossed the outflow before leaving the developed trails to head for the base of the gully.

Good scrambling

Thankfully there is a faint use trail leading up the initial rubble, because it is obnoxiously steep and loose. I followed bits of trail to where the standard gully splits from the broad western bowl that I would have chosen as the ascent route. From there, I traversed right across miserably loose rock, then started up the left side of the gully, skirting the still-hard snow (I had not bothered with crampons or an ice axe). As this became increasingly difficult, I found myself naturally trending left onto the gullies and ridges leading directly to the summit. This turned out to be a happy accident, as they were solid, pleasant granite, with choose-your-own-adventure climbing ranging from third to low fifth class. I picked my way up what felt comfortable and enjoyable, and eventually found myself on the serrated east-west summit ridge one tower west of the true summit. I traversed over to find the register, well-protected in a salsa bottle nested in a red can. The entries were a mix of locals and prominence junkies, about what I would expect on such a summit.

Standard route garbage chute

Rather than retracing my route, I decided to try out the standard gully on the descent. The first part was snow-free, exposing me to the loose and very much not-granite rock that comprises the peak’s east end. Lower down, I stayed well up on the east side of the gully, picking my way carefully down loose class 2-3 terrain until I could cross to join my ascent route at the bottom. From there, it was straightforward hiking back to my bike. I noticed fresh tracks on top of mine, and assumed (correctly) that the people I saw camped at the lake must be hiking out. I ran into them a few miles farther on, and they seemed friendly and not at all peeved at me for being on a bike. They were from Boise, out for a two-night fishing trip, and clearly smart enough to avoid the madness of the neighboring Sawtooths near a holiday weekend. I passed one more group on the trail, on a technical stretch which I happily managed to clean, and returned to the trailhead with some hike-a-bike and no crashes. From there it was a blast back to the car, where I ate and washed my bike before bidding farewell to Idaho’s mountains. I wish the state had fewer sidearms and “Ammon Bundy for Governor” signs, because it has a lot to offer in terms of wilderness.

Cerro Martial

Martial with ramp

Cerro Martial is the highest point along the ridge of peaks north of Ushuaia, above and to the west of the Martial Glacier, a popular tourist attraction visible from town. I had one more full day in Ushuaia, and one morning of good weather, so I wanted to do a peak that, if not exactly ambitious, at least did not have a trail to its summit. A track on Peakbagger made it a certain and not particularly adventurous thing, but it would still cap the trip with some sense of success and accomplishment.

Martial from upper trailhead

I left my pseudo-hotel again by bike, taking my puffy jacket, rain jacket, and crampons this time, but leaving my ice axe behind. Instead of parking at the base of the Martial Glacier road, I rode all the way to the base of the ski hill. I thought I would have to start hiking there, but a decent dirt road continued from there, saving me another mile or so of walking and promising a fast, fun descent. I passed some poor unfortunate walkers on the way up, locked my bike to the sign, then headed up the trail. The weather, while not exactly clear, was at least decent up high.

Cerro Godoy

The official trail to the glacier viewpoint stays on the east side of the valley, but another trail, closed off yet marked with yellow-painted stakes, climbs along the west. I followed this trail until where it fades out of existence in a talus-field, then headed more or less straight up the slope west toward Martial’s south ridge. It looked steep from below, but proved no harder than class 3 in a few places; the crux may have been avoiding the bits of high-angle swamp. The trip report associated with the track on Peakbagger mentioned climbing a glacier or snowfield, and since I had only minimal snow gear, I figured the rock would be easier. I trended gradually north, but ended up on the west ridge a ways before the summit. The wind was mostly from the northwest, so I was happy to be traversing a protected southeast-facing slope as I made my way toward something that looked like a summit.

Ridge to true summit

Reaching my supposed summit, I was dismayed to see another broad and slightly higher point farther north, which a belated look at my map confirmed was the true summit. The connecting ridge was along the edge of the layered uplift forming the range, and therefore either slabby or crumbly to either side, often steep on both, and serrated on top. I made my way carefully along the crest and right-hand side, traversing ledges were I could and carefully scrambling up and down crumbly stuff covered in fresh snow where I could not. Once at the final saddle, I easily hiked up a scree slope with bits of trail, apparently back on-route.

Tonelli from summit

The summit had a nice sign with the name Monte Martial and an elevation. Many of the surrounding peaks were covered in clouds, but I could clearly see the next ridges east and west, and had a view down to town and the Beagle Channel. I caught a brief glimpse of Cerro Tonelli to the north, enough to confirm that it was both clearly higher and an arduous traverse away. The clouds were whipping in from the northwest fast enough that I did not want to play around up high much longer, so I soon retreated, deciding to try something more like the standard route on the way down. I followed a ramp along one of the layers, which led to the ravine south of the main Martial Glacier, and crossed back to the slope I had climbed on the way up. This route crossed one small bit of glacier or permanent snowfield, but it was buried in enough fresh snow that I felt no need for crampons. I saw many more tourists out making their way up the trail as I jogged down to my bike — Argentinian tourists are remarkably tolerant of inclement weather. I blasted by still more as I coasted down the ski area, then had a fun pavement descent back to my lodging.

Across Beagle Channel

Flying home was the usual ordeal. I rode to the airport with my folded-up bike box, finally getting a view of the distant, glacier-clad Darwin Range on my only truly clear day in Ushuaia. I boxed everything up near the tiny airport’s ticket counter, trying to stay out of the way of the milling, jostling cruise ship passengers. While I was packing up, an enormous and slow-moving line materialized, and I almost missed my flight before flagging down an airline employee. “Why didn’t you respond when I asked earlier?” she said. “Lo siento,” I replied, while thinking “because you were speaking rapid Spanish in a noisy crowd, and I was trying to tune out my surroundings so the crush of bovine humanity did not drive me insane.”

Darwin Range

The takeoff from Ushuaia would have had great views, but my last-minute ticket and checkin ensured I had a middle seat, so I saw only flashes of the peaks. My clearest view was actually on my neighbor’s phone screen, as she recorded the whole thing out the window. We are spoiled at how easy it is to travel halfway around the world — a few hours to Buenos Aires, an overnight flight to Miami, and another few to Denver — but I still grumbled at having to schlep my “checked” baggage between every leg. The bit in Miami was particularly aggravating, as I had to take it a couple hundred yards from the American baggage carousel to another American employee who put it on a different conveyor belt. The airport “helpfully” offered $9 roller carts for this unnecessary trip, a reminder that while Chile is notable for capitalist rent-seeking and nickel-and-diming, it is but the student, and America is the master.

So that was Patagonia. I doubt I will return, because life is short and the world is large, but if I did, I would do several things differently. First, I would avoid the Carretera Austral as much as possible. While it was an impressive feat of nationalist road-building and no doubt a spectacular ride in its infancy, it is a beaten-in tourist trench at this point, with locals completely numb to visitors and well on their way to becoming souvenir hawkers. I would travel more side-roads, cover less north-south distance, and bring more gear to deal with difficult cross-country travel. Patagonia has a lot of genuinely unexplored terrain, something long gone in the American West. Everything here is mapped, climbed, documented, and easily searchable. In Patagonia, particularly west of the Carretera and south of Coyhaique, there are a lot of unnamed and probably unclimbed peaks. They are not big and sheer enough to attract Real Climbers, but are ideal for someone with more interest in the unknown than renown.

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.

Cerro Cornu

Frosty camp

According to Summitpost, Cerro Cornu is the highest peak in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, though other sources suggest that Cerro Tonelli north of Ushuaia may be slightly higher. This is not saying much, since the much higher and more glaciated Darwin Range is entirely in Chile. However, Cornu appealed to me because it is along the way to Ushuaia, is fairly close to a road (Ruta Nacional 24 J), and has no information about it online. It would be a sort of adventure, and I had seen too little of that on my too-touristic trip.

Sunrise above camp

I had camped on an abandoned spur road near a gravel pit, and now it was time to figure out the peak. I had initially thought I would just hike and scramble up the southeast ridge, but the horn giving the peak its name looked too sharp on closer inspection to make that likely. The broad southwest face looked like another option, but reaching its base would require a lot of distance below treeline, and I suspected that getting above the vegetation might be the crux. I did not have a clear idea of what would work, but the peak did not look sheer enough to prevent me from reaching the summit one way or another.

Lasifahaj swamp

The first order of business was crossing the Rio Lasifahaj to reach what I hoped would be a useful old logging road on the other side. From my tent, I picked up some wild horse trails leading down into the river’s flood plain and through the scrub beech forest to some sort of open swamp. This late in the season, the swamp was spongy but partly dry, and I was able to wind my way over to the riverbank, sometimes sinking to my ankles in the ground moss. The river looked discouraging where I reached it, deep with fallen trees clearly visible on the bottom, and it was cold outside, with frost on the ground. I almost turned around, but headed downstream and eventually found a place where it split into three channels, and the bottom was gravel. I took off my pants and socks, took the insoles out of my shoes, then put them back on to try to ford. This has the big disadvantage versus going barefoot of soaking the shoes, but when crossing cold water I prefer to move faster, have better footing, and not risk being stabbed in the foot. The first two channels were not bad, but the third was briefly thigh-deep. I scrambled up the bank on the other side, sat on a log, and squeezed as much water out of my shoes as I could before getting dressed and heading back into the forest.

Start of the thrash

The Patagonian beech forest here is moderately annoying, with some impenetrable thickets and mostly woody plants, along with Patagonian super-burrs in some open areas. This made it slow going uphill away from the river, but fortunately the old road was still mostly clear, if far from rideable. I followed a game trail along the road until meeting a side-stream just before Cornu, which I crossed on some logs, then left the road where it fades in a clearing with a bunch of beaver dams. I was only a few hundred feet above sea level, and treeline was somewhere between 1500 and 2000 feet, so I had a fair bit of bushwhacking to do. The bottom part was the worst, with dense undergrowth and plenty of deadfall, but things improved as the slope steepened. The game trails disappeared, but the beeches were open enough that I could wind my way up following ridgetops and seasonal watercourses.

Bowl with notch on right

I finally emerged in a talus-field, and happily hopped my way up toward the southeast shoulder. I had not yet decided whether I would try the southeast ridge or southwest face first, but knew that I had to traverse below the horn, so I made a rising traverse northwest across dinner-plate talus and slabs toward the bowl between them. Reaching the edge of the bowl, I discovered that it was sheer on both sides to well below my current position, so I would have to lose elevation to get onto the southwest face. The sun had started generating mist on the east sides of the peaks, so I could not see the upper mountain, but it looked like I could reach the saddle between the peak and its horn. There was a vertical-looking step above that, but hopefully I could find a weakness or work my way around the other side.

Lower gully/ramp

I descended a convenient little ramp on my side of the bowl, with a final chockstone requiring a few moves, then made my way across old moraines toward the notch, where a final bit of easy third class got me to the ridge. I tried attacking the step directly, climbing some slabs and ledges, but a final dihedral/crack felt too hard for me, especially with ice and bits of fresh snow. I backed off, then contoured around right, hoping to find something leading back to the ridge higher up. I found a loose gully perhaps 100 yards along the side, and while I could not see too far in the mist, I started up. It was not a “gimme,” with some class 3-4 sections here and there, but I found a reasonable way up the gully and the ramp to its right, eventually rejoining the southeast ridge well above the step.

Horn from upper ridge/face

I continued upward in the clouds, picking my way up loose rock and occasional solid slabs on the left, while the right side became a sheer cliff. There were no particular difficulties on this part, and with a final short scramble I reached the broad summit plateau. The mist made it hard to see whether I had reached the highest point, but it seemed so, and I found a small metal cross, so I figured I was on the summit. I straightened the cross, then put on all my clothes and sat down out of the wind to enjoy some Mantecol and hope for a view. I had a few gaps in the clouds before I packed up, then it began to clear as I headed down, allowing me to clearly see the Cornu Glacier, the horn, and some lakes to the east. Had the forecast not called for rain that afternoon, I would have hung out longer.

I retraced my route on the return, thankful that I had been recording a track in the woods. The weather began deteriorating on the traverse around the horn, but while there were more serious-looking squalls to the west, I only suffered a few snowflakes. I stopped for water at a rivulet I had found on the way up, safely above beaver territory, then thrashed my way down to the old road. With warmer temperatures and a bit of success in me, the return thrash and river ford felt easier. I returned to my tent by mid-afternoon, and could probably have ridden on to Ushuaia, but I had enough food, was enjoying my solitude, and did not relish riding in the rain. I made myself a thermos of hot tea, then lay down on my pad to read a novel on my phone and listen to the intermittent rain.

Coasting the Atlantic

Lago Escondido from Paso Garibaldi

The wind had somewhat lessened at the San Sebastian border post by morning, and had shifted to the northwest, promising another day of sweet sailing. This would be along a well-traveled highway instead of a quiet dirt road, but I was in the mood to make miles. I soon left Robert with his low top gear, and enjoyed spinning along with the wind, flying through barren plains and rarely in sight of the ocean. I was glad not to have continued the day before, as there was almost nothing high enough to shelter a tent near the road before Rio Grande, and it had rained in the night.

Coastal road

I skipped the town of Rio Grande entirely, stopping at the YPF on its other side for some quality internet time. The road briefly turned west into the wind, and the weather looked unsettled, so I wanted to take some time to psych myself up. The café patrons were a generally depressing lot, mostly motorcycle tourists, including a bunch of middle-aged Asian men on an organized tour with their wives following them in a van. Moto- and bike-tourists seem on average very different, with the former tending toward comfortable, paunchy, clubby, middle-aged machismo, the latter toward introverted youth or early retirement. I nave respected and enjoyed talking to some of the longer-distance moto-tourists, especially the ones from South America, but these were the opposite.

Rolling valleys and trees

I timed my exit exactly wrong, getting punished by a rain squall for the first twenty minutes, but the weather then settled into more typical overcast with mostly favorable driving wind. I flew past an estancia where iOverlander claimed cyclists could stay, enjoying my solitude and looking forward to a quiet evening in my tent. Just past this stop I met a Frenchman going the other way, pushing his skinny-tire bike up a slight hill directly into the wind. I offered him some cheer and encouragement, then rode on as the road left the coast and entered rolling terrain with intermittent forest, promising easy wind protection for camping. I paused at a shelter that would have been a good stop, but unfortunately it was locked, and the nearby picnic area looked both rundown and insufficiently sheltered, so I continued a few miles to a spot just past a police post where a faint track led to some flat, sheltered grass behind trees. It was close to the road and not entirely clean, but still fine by me. I enjoyed my usual nutrient paste of tuna and noodles, then spent a relaxing evening reading.

Panaderia la Union

The next morning I found an improved spring only a couple miles past camp, and filled my bottles. This part of Patagonia seems to be made of limestone, so as it became more mountainous I noticed numerous seeps in the hillsides, promising beaver-free water. It was cool enough that I could have ridden to Tolhuin to refill, but I enjoy using these little roadside shrines. Tolhuin is the last town before Ushuaia, and “famous” among bike tourists for Panaderia la Union, a bakery that offers free shelter. The Panaderia itself is huge and incongruously modern, with a large seating area, a huge selection of breads and pastries, sandwiches to-go, and windows through which you can watch the bakers at work. It would not look out of place in a slightly upscale American city, and while the prices were high by Argentine standards, I thought they were quite reasonable. I bought a ham sandwich and four empanadas, and ate three of them with a thermos of instant coffee while I hung out and caught up with the outside world.

Paso Garibaldi

Had I spent less time at La Union, I probably could have made Ushuaia that evening, but I lingered until the wind kicked up, so I would need another half-day. The road also heads mostly west beyond Tolhuin, putting my against the prevailing winds. After two days of riding with the wind, grinding directly against it along the enormous Lago Fagnano was a rude shock, but fortunately southern Tierra del Fuego has more trees and hills than the pampas farther north, offering small- and large-scale windbreaks. Once the road turned south and began climbing toward Paso Garibaldi, the wind became almost benign. Garibaldi is a low pass, but still impressive, crossing a narrow saddle between moderately steep peaks. I paused at a natural seep to top up my water, then cruised comfortably up the climb, stopping at a sheer road cut to take in the view.

Old Paso Garibaldi

I had two potential peaks to break up the ride to Ushuaia, Cerro Cornu and Monte Olivia. I knew from Peakbagger that other people had climbed Olivia, and from SummitPost that Cornu is the highest peak in Argentine Tierra del Fuego (the Chilean part is much more mountainous). Climbing Cornu would be a bigger unknown, with a guaranteed river ford and bushwhack, but it was the closer of the two, and located off what I thought would be a quiet side-road down the Rio Lasifahaj. (Apparently the cartographer got bored naming things, and just used one of his home-row typing exercises; the correct name should probably be “Laskfahaj.”)

Riding toward Cornu

I got somewhat chilled going down the south side of Paso Garibaldi, and was at first grateful to turn with the wind onto the flatter dirt road. Unfortunately some rain caught up with me, and in addition to getting a fresh coating of mud, I began worrying about the frigid, drenched camping situation. Both Peakbagger and Organic Maps showed scraps of trail or road on the north side of the Rio Lasifahaj, but it was unclear how best to reach them. The connecting trail/road a few miles west of the peak was gated and long abandoned, and completely unrideable, so I decided instead to continue on the main road until I was closer to due south of the summit. I eventually found a likely crossing spot at a gravel pit, and a perfect campsite on an abandoned road spur just to its west. The clouds had cleared somewhat by then, and I could see Cornu’s south and west sides through breaks in the trees. The south ridge, which looked fine on the topo, looked much less so in reality, as the horn for which the peak is named is separated from the summit by a sheer-looking notch. The west slope looked like it might be reasonable, but would involve more bushwhacking. But how to actually get up the thing was a problem for another day. I quickly set up my tent before more rain arrived, then enjoyed another pleasant night of solitude and salty tuna noodles.

Porvenir east

Porvenir Man!

Porvenir, the main settlement on the Chilean side of the island of Tierra del Fuego, is an odd place. Originally founded by Croats in the late 1800s as a mining town, it is currently sustained by soldiers, prisoners, sheep, and tourists. It is the closet town to a colony of King Penguins, and to Yendegaia National Park at the south end of the island, but neither seems broadly interesting, and the town and its surroundings are somewhat bleak. From a distance it looks like a colorful Scandinavian arctic town, but up close it is mostly just bedraggled, and the “don’t do drugs” murals on the school hint at a high level of boredom.

Silhouette of Porvenir Man

The ferry across the Strait of Magellan from Punta Arenas runs once a day at mid-morning, so rather than ride a half-day in mediocre weather to uncertain shelter, Robert and I split an AirBNB again, dropping our stuff to wander around town and try to find things to do. While I would not have wanted to stay for more than a day, I found the town’s mix of monuments, tourism-boosting, grit, and just plain weirdness absorbing enough to take up much of the afternoon. I was unable to learn the story of Porvenir Man, the local stripey superhero with the strange headgear, but he and his silhouette were everywhere.

March of natives

I was contemplating ambitious plans to ride down to Yendegaia Park on the Y-85, a road that will someday connect Porvenir to Yendegaia Bay on the Beagle Channel just west of Ushuaia. It looked like a spectacular multi-day ride in good weather, and a welcome break from the beaten path I had ridden for most of the trip. Also, since the border post at Pampa Guanaco was closed, I could cross there and balance out my passport’s lack of entry stamp. The prospect of adventure cheered me up, and led me to buy a few more calories. I also opted to tank up on water, since sources are limited and poor in northern Tierra del Fuego, and have been overrun by beavers farther south. European settlers though it would be brilliant to start a fur trade, and the little giardia-balls took over, so now the Fueguinos find themselves in the position of trying to eradicate the things while they are being reintroduced and protected in North America.


The next day’s forecast called for insane wind, but it seemed reasonable in the morning, and was blowing in the right direction, so we got going at a reasonable hour. On the recommendation of a tour guide I had spoken to in Torres del Paine, we headed straight west on a secondary road to Lago Baquedano rather than following the main (dirt) road along the coast. This started inauspiciously, rolling through a dingy suburb squatting in Porvenir’s downwind trash-plume. Sometimes rich people live higher up for the views, sometimes closer to a river or the ocean; on Tierra del Fuego they live upwind. The road soon improved, however, gradually climbing for quite awhile to a fancy new shelter at a viewpoint overlooking… bleak grassland and a distant ocean. The large structure was closed on three sides, but open to the northwest, making it sort of an anti-shelter. I was reminded of the hostel-keeper’s remark in Villa O’Higgins that Chileans build these things but never take care of them, and presume that this will fall into disrepair and be torn apart by wind in a few years.


We took a break outside in the shelter’s lee, then continued over the top of the climb and down to the lake, descending some sketchy clay mud. The lake was closer to a marsh, attracting plenty of guanacos but not appealing as a camp or water source. After a bit more flat riding south, our road descended south to the coast to join the main road on its way to Bahia Inutil (Useless Bay). The wind was raging from the west, whipping up dense whitecaps and making it possible to go about 20 MPH without pedaling. I felt terrible for the one guy we met going the other direction. There are people who travel north from Ushuaia, but they suffer badly for doing so.

Family graffiti

There are a couple of shelters at the paved road south from Bahia Azul, the newer one sharing an entrance with its own outhouse. Stopping in, I noticed graffiti from the French family I had met in Puerto Natales with the semi-recumbent tandems. To continue my ambitious plan I would have to turn back into the wind, and as I sat in the shelter, I realized that I wanted progress more than adventure. The wind plus pavement made the ride to Chilean customs a breeze. There was no one at the desk when I arrived, and I thought of just rolling on, but worried the corresponding Argentine guards would be more on the ball. I eventually found someone, who clearly understood that I had done a Bad Thing, but I played “very helpful and slightly stupid,” told him that I wasn’t planning to re-enter Chile (ever, I hope), and he passed me though without much trouble.

Cyclist sticker at customs

I had passed through Argentine customs, some 90 miles from Porvenir by mid-afternoon, and wanted to keep riding, but the wind would be more from the side as the road turned southeast along the coast, and the prospects for shelter were limited to a few ditches and underpasses. The border post has a room with a sink and propane stove where people can stay in such circumstances, so Robert and I slept there. We shared it with three Argentinians, including one young guy moving down to Ushuaia with not much more than an old car. I was worried that sleep would be impossible, but they were courteous and retired early by Argentine standards. I was not in the mood for company, but it was much better than a ditch.

To Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas view

With no decent food sources in Torres del Paine, I had to move in some direction. If I wanted to return to the park, I could ride a short day to Cerro Castillo to resupply, but I felt I had already pushed my luck in terms of not paying for entry or camping, and the weather forecast looked unsettled. I therefore decided to head south for Puerto Natales, with the option to hike Cerro Tenerife along the way. I needed a bit more day-food to do this, so I headed over to the snack bar for some calories. Everything was as depressingly overpriced as expected, with the standard cookie rolls costing three times what they would in an ordinary store. In terms of calories per dollar, the cheapest source was some repulsive raspberry-flavored Cheetos, produced by adding artificial flavor, color, and high-fructose corn syrup to the same basic food-slurry (corn and palm oil) that forms the foundation of other puffed snacks. I bought two rolls of cookies and two bags of those things, then smooshed them down to better fit in my trailer.

Fortaleza and Almirante Nieto

Once back at the main road, the ride west and south started with a long climb on bearable dirt. Thankfully it was not too windy in the morning, and I had decent views of Almirante Nieto and the peaks west of the Torres. As it turns south and heads out of the park, the road passes several large lakes, including Lago Pehoe, where there is a campground and café. The wind was starting to get annoying, so I stopped in for a $12 microwave pizza before continuing south along the Rio Paine. The wind had been mostly helpful or moderate so far, but turned into a vicious crosswind on the final flat to the park exit, where it had a clear path down from the icefield along Glaciar and Lago Gray.

Playing with wind

There was another climb getting over to Lago del Torro, at the top of which people could stop to get a view of the distant glacier and take photos of each other almost getting blown over by the wind. Thankfully it abated and was generally not harmful on the long ride along the lake’s west shore, then up and over to Lago Porteño. Where the hike up Cerro Tenerife starts at an estancia, I turned east on a side-road and immediately found a convenient open gate. I almost set up my tent there, but noticed a horse tethered to a tree and thought better of it. I continued down the road, then doubled back, finding a sheltered spot in some trees between the fence and road. I got my tent set up before the wind got too rowdy, then listened as gauchos rounded up a bunch of cattle in the area where I had almost camped, whistling and shouting wordlessly. They probably would not have minded my presence, but I was glad to be on the other side of the fence.

Cerro Tenerife

I woke to rain the next morning, and sat around in my tent hoping for it to stop so I could climb the peak without too much misery. I finally gave up late in the morning, only to have the sun come out shortly after I finished packing up. Oh, well… The road toward Puerto Natales was remarkably miserable: the first part had been freshly watered by a road crew, turning the usual dust to awful mud that coated everything, and after that it became particularly rough washboard. Tired of the abuse, I pulled into Cueva del Milodon, a small park about which I knew nothing. I was looking around for a place to sit when Robert walked up, having just stopped himself. Together we checked out the enormous main cave, which was home to prehistoric hunters and the remains of prehistoric megafauna including giant ground sloths.

Awesome French family

Weirdly, the park also had several miles of bike trail, so I stashed the trailer and rode it with Robert, who had no trouble keeping up with all his touring gear still attached. As much as I like my bike and trailer, I was getting jealous of his rugged, capable touring rig. We loitered at a picnic area afterward, then he went off to find WiFi while I rode the remaining distance to Puerto Natales. The campground I had chosen at random had Cerro Fitzroy on its sign for some reason and, stranger still, had several signs in both English and Hebrew. The older woman running the place was Chilean and spoke only Spanish, but I think the owners may be Israeli. Most of the visitors seemed to be headed either to or from one of the treks in Torres del Paine, but there was one French family touring on a crazy setup with two semi-recumbent tandems and a child trailer. I also met Seba, an interesting young guy who was inspired by my bike-mountaineering exploits.

Typical Puerto Natales weather

Puerto Natales is a touristy but pleasant town with terrible weather, and I ended up hanging out for a few days to recover and resupply. I made the mistake of trying to ride to the top of Cerro Dorotea one day, only to find that it was ringed in fences and private property (of course), then get absolutely drenched and frozen by a passing squall on the return. I also spent most of an afternoon talking to an interesting Spanish woman working remotely in one of the internet cafés downtown. As Eric Beck said, “at either end of the social spectrum there lies a leisure class,” and the same is true of nomads. They had the kind of high-powered jobs (software and pharma) that let them travel in style and work fully remote, while I travel in a way that requires very little money. Though she worked in pharma, she was interested in cognitive science, which led me to dust off parts of my brain that I haven’t used in over twenty years.

Morro Chico

I was hoping to meet a friend in Puerto Natales, but after not hearing anything for awhile I was starting to feel stale. The upcoming weather was nasty, so I took advantage of a non-rainy morning with a tailwind to head for drier climes and Punta Arenas. After the initial grind away from town, the road turned southeast and aligned with the wind, and I began having a grand old time cruising the pampas. I saw isolated storms roving the plain in the distance, but none hit me. Once the road turned purely east along the Argentine border the wind became even more favorable, and I gained even more speed. I spotted a cyclist in the distance, who proved to be Robert, his top speed limited by his lower gearing. We rode together for awhile, stopping at the gendarmeria at Morro Chico for water. Morro Chico is a broad volcanic plug standing by itself in the plains, and I had thought of climbing it on my way by, but decided to keep going instead.

Occupied hut

The wind became less favorable but not quite adversarial as the road turned south. There are several refugios in this section, built by someone and apparently available to anyone caught out in this harsh and shelterless plain. I was looking forward to staying in one in particular that was supposedly in fairly good shape, but I reached it to find that both it and its older neighbor were occupied by gauchos. Their mumbly, toothless spokesman said I was welcome to camp outside, but the cabin was his. I pitched my tent in the lee of a pile of old wood, Robert pitched his nearby, and we spent a disappointing but not over-windy night.

Punta Arenas view

I had expected to take three short days between Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas, but with the excellent wind I would need only two. I made good time to the gas station at Laguna Cabeza de Mar, then hung out there for awhile watching a large storm pass to the south. Another cyclist, on a road bike, was hanging out as well, and we talked a bit as we watched some rheas or ñandus peck around and take dirt baths outside. We both took off once the storm started dying down, and he quickly left me on his smooth, skinny tires. I caught Robert, and eagerly took him up on his offer to split a place in Punta Arenas. Camping would be tough in the big city, and it would be good to have some dry comfort before braving Tierra del Fuego. Punta Arenas is one of the oldest towns in Patagonia, established around 1850 as a port for wool exports and a stopover on the Strait of Magellan. With the opening of the Panama Canal and decreased interest in wool, there seems to be little reason for it to still prosper, but it seems to be doing well as both a tourist town and a port. I wandered around some, then cooked town food for dinner and prepared to ferry across the Strait to Porvenir in the morning.

Miradores de los Torres

Up-glacier to Shark Fin

Given Torres del Paine’s meager food sources and general costliness, I only had one day to hike there before continuing to either Cerro Castillo or Puerto Natales to resupply. I had planned to do Monte Almirante Nieto, a bulky but moderate peak near the famous Torres, but the forecast called for a high in the low 20s with winds to 30 MPH, which sounded beyond what I could handle with my current gear. In retrospect it would probably have been manageable, and in fact the afternoon was sunny with moderate wind. The me of my previous trip would have done it, but it was emblematic of this trip’s unmotivated second-guessing that I did not even make an attempt.

Dawn on Almirante Nieto

So I went for a hike instead, and managed to make it at least a little bit interesting. The tourist thing to do in Torres del Paine is to hike up to the Laguna de los Torres, a lake at the base of the peaks’ northeast side. It becomes an absolute zoo later in the day, the equivalent of Laguna de los Tres near Chaltén, but in proved relatively tranquil on a cloudy morning. I got an early start from the Camping Central, followed the road to the luxury hotel for some WiFi, then continued along the broad tourist track across a suspension bridge and followed the signs. The trail was eroded and braided, with separate horse and foot paths in places, and I did my best to stay on the preferred path, feeling some sympathy for whomever has to manage the overwhelming tourist hordes in the fragile environment.

The trail climbs steeply above the west bank of the Rio Paine where it cuts its way through layered choss, then descends to cross it and reach a well-supplied campground and restaurant, run by a different company than the campground from which I started. This outpost of tacky commerce was just waking up as I passed, with only a few people in the cafe or milling around outside. The peaks were hidden in clouds, and I could see fresh snow down below 4000 feet at the head of the valley. The trailhead feels arid, with bare grass and brushy oak-like trees for wind protection, but the vegetation turns strikingly lush only a few miles up the valley, with a forest of large trees covered in moss.

No right way to go

The trail splits at a talus fan, with a lesser branch continuing upriver to another campground and a ranger station, and the main path heading steeply uphill through woods, boulders, and rivulets toward the lake. There has been some trailwork, but it is mostly a (very heavy) use trail. The clouds had lifted some, but I also saw a few snowflakes as I climbed, and spindrift on the higher slopes. The final section traverses around the old glacier’s terminal moraine to reach the lake, with many signs and arrows directing people along a particular route that seems no better than any other.

Enough Torres

I arrived at the lake to find less than twenty people, mostly huddled in the lee of boulders waiting for the view to improve. The Torres were completely obscured, and the clouds and wind drove me to huddle in a protected spot in my down jacket. I ate peanuts, watched some thoroughly-habituated birds peck around my feet for anything I might drop, and intermittently took photos of the peaks when I thought they might be more visible than they had been before. Eventually the crowds started to arrive, and the view became “clear enough,” so I took my final photos and began heading back down. Just then I ran into Robert, the Canadian I had met back in the hut downwind from Chaltén, happily strolling along in shorts as one would expect of someone from the Great White North. We talked for a bit, then I headed back down, mulling my options.

Almirante Nieto

Almirante Nieto was clear, but I did not have the gear or motivation. Still, it was not even noon, and I needed some way to occupy the rest of my day. Panning around on my phone map, I noticed the trail leading up the Rio Paine and around to the towers’ northwest side, from which they are climbed. It also showed a route to another mirador, which I hoped would give me a different and much less crowded view of the central peaks. I was a bit low on food, but had enough Mantecol if I could exercise a bit of restraint.

End of trail

Back at the base of the final climb, I took the spur trail to the other campground, walking past the ranger station as if I had urgent need of the (free!) outhouse. Then I continued on some faint paths that faded in the boulder-field, cut straight down a dry watercourse, and picked up the climbers’ trail along the river. It was surprisingly well maintained, and marked with orange spraypaint dots on the trees, giving it an “official” feel. It eventually led to a shack covered in decaying plastic tarps, and a sign saying “end of trail” placed across the continuation of said trail. There were a couple of people next to the river, but I tried not to disturb them as I passed. The trail had more of an unofficial feel from this point, but was still regularly marked by cairns and pieces of orange flagging. It winds through the woods, then climbs up a dry streambed to escape the brush before contouring around the north end of the Torres and into a glacial valley filled with several large old moraines.

Terminal moraines

I almost turned around where the mirador route diverges from the climbers’ trail, because it looked like a lot of work and was definitely not a trail, but I saw another flagged cairn at the base of the slope. I descended the slope with minimal bushwhacking, then picked my way through the moraines following occasional cairns. These gave out on the far side, but I picked up some old boot-prints side-hilling across a gravel slope and into the drainage continuing north from where the valley turns. From here the route was fairly obvious, following the bottom of the valley up and left, dodging a few cliff-bands. One gave me pause, as it looked wet and outward-sloping, but it turned out to involve only a few class 3-4 moves, then class 2-3 scrambling on conglomerate slabs above. The route then trends left, climbing loose scree and talus to the ridge left of the cornices at its lowpoint. Once on the ridge, it is a short walk to a cairn at the mirador.

Dickson Lake

While it was not entirely clear, the clouds were thinning, and I had captivating 360-degree views. To the northwest and north I could see Dickson Lake and a part of the icefield, with its peaks and exit glaciers. Below, the remnant of the glacier cowered under debris at the head of the valley. To its left were the granite Torres, with Fortaleza and Escudo at the head, granite with black chossy caps. Through the gap between the two I could see Aleta de Tiburon (Shark’s Fin), sharp, granite, and glowing in the sun. Farther along my right-hand ridge was an unnamed summit only a few hundred feet higher and less than a mile away. I had thought of climbing it, but I again doubted and talked myself out of what would probably have been another hour’s moderate work. I ate a bit more food, then mostly retraced my steps, making the grievous error of following the cairns through the brush, and spending five minutes walking on top of and thrashing through it for my sin.

Fortaleza and Escudo

I met a single couple before the ranger station, who did not look like climbers; both of us were startled and moved on without pausing. From the main trail junction onward I dealt with a steady stream of people returning from the Laguna. Many were moving quite slowly, with many hours left in what would be a rough day. I was feeling tired myself, without much pep on the climbs after the refugio. The crowds were mostly foreigners, too many of them American and loud, and I became increasingly impatient waiting in line to pass at the many bottlenecks. This motivated me to run much of the downhills, and even quite a few of the flats, eager to get back to camp.

A pot of glop and an hour lying in my tent improved my mood, and I went wandering around the campground to find Robert. I actually ended up finding some other bike tourists by mistake, Lukas and Holly, the latter riding “around the world” in a strange way that involved going from northern California to Ushuaia, then flying to Africa. Her journey had been interrupted by COVID, so she was picking up where she left off. I enjoyed talking with her about the States and the touring farther north, and we laughed at our shared experience of camping in the Atacama, where a place with enough rocks to tie down your tent counts as a good campsite. Robert showed up and we talked a bit longer, but we were all tired and operating on American Time — early to bed, early to rise. Lukas and Holly were hiking the next day, while I was riding south, so we all needed sleep.

Into Torres del Paine

Torres come into view

The next destination on my increasingly touristic itinerary was Torres del Paine, the Chilean version of El Chaltén and the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. (I have now visited three Glacier National Parks, in Argentina, Canada, and the States. Canada’s Glacier, covering the area around Rogers Pass, probably offers the most mountaineering for someone like me. The States’ Glacier, in northern Montana, is certainly unique within the Lower 48, but does not measure up to the other two, and may not even contain any glaciers by 2030. Argentina’s is far and away the best by most measures, including volume of ice and world-class scenery.) The climbing in Torres del Paine is even more out of my league than that around Chaltén, but I thought I should at least see it while I was down here.

Welcome to the park… briefly

The normal way to get from where I was to TdP would be to return to Calafate, loop around via Route 40, then cross back into Chile at Cerro Castillo. However, while scrolling around the map on my phone one evening, I had noticed a potential route directly south from between Calafate and the Perito Moreno Glacier. It showed up as a mix of secondary roads and dashed “trails,” which can be anything from old roadbeds to faint game trails. However, the fact that it shows up in Open Street Map’s data usually means that someone has gone that way. I had worked hard to make it so far west (i.e. upwind), and did not want to give up that western progress by taking the long way around. Thanks to my two weeks at the Casa de Ciclistas in Chaltén, I had spoken to a Chilean cyclist who had actually taken that pass. He told me that it was rough hike-a-bike on the Argentine side, but largely rideable in Chile, and that there was complicated paperwork required to cross it legally. I badly needed to get off the beaten path for a little while, and did not care much about the paperwork, so it sounded perfect.

Rolling out kind of late, I turned south and west on typical Argentine dirt roads, and after about ten miles found the trail indicated on the map, with a ranch gate in the fence. There was a group of tourists coming back from a horseback ride as I arrived, so I rode past and waited for them to get out of sight before returning and letting myself through, being careful to keep a curious horse from escaping. I then followed easy singletrack for awhile, until it dissipated in a field. I almost went through another ranch gate, but the map suggested I needed to be farther east. I found an old ranch road where it should have been, but it was on the other side of a gate-less fence. By this time I was committed, so I disassembled my rig to pass my bike, trailer, and bag over.

Just as I was reassembling it, an old 4×4 with two gauchos pulled up, and one asked “todo bien?” I responded in the affirmative despite struggling a bit to reattach my trailer, and he asked where I was going. I replied “Torres del Paine,” and a conversation between the two ensued that included the words “cruce illegal.” I clearly wasn’t the first person they had caught doing this, and I did not have anyone’s permission, but thankfully they weren’t rigid about enforcing the law. They didn’t exactly seem to approve, but mostly didn’t want me to become their problem. The younger gaucho, who spoke very good English, warned me that it would be rough going with a bike, then asked me to remember that I didn’t see them. The older one asked me to please, please not start any fires. Then they continued driving up the road. I gave them some space, then followed.

Herding cows

I passed them once more, the younger one warned me again that things got bad ahead, then I was on my own. The old road continued for awhile past where they regularly drove, then gradually faded into a maze of active cowpaths. These were still about half rideable, and I only had to push for steepness, rocks, narrowness, and stream crossings. They deteriorated as I continued south and up the drainage, but I was mentally prepared for an afternoon of mostly pushing a bike, so I did not mind. I slogged doggedly on, encountering some bogs and stream crossings that were hard pushing, but not bad enough to force me to disassemble and carry. Unfortunately, as the valley narrowed I began catching up to cows, which were well-trained and formed a growing herd ahead of me. There were not many route options or places for me to pass them, so I increasingly rolled around and through fresh cow diarrhea.


The worst part of the trail for a cyclist came when it passed through some woods. Interestingly, I saw some sawn logs in this section, evidence that this was once a maintained route, but it had been awhile since there was any trailwork, and there was quite a bit of deadfall. I managed to thread my way through without having to take the trailer off to lift it over any large logs, but it was close. It would have been easy to get somewhat off-course here, but between the map and the occasional cut logs, I stayed on track without too much trouble. Still, it was slow and mostly pushing.

Beyond the woods, the valley opened up to a broad meadow with a stream meandering through it. There were cattle trails on both sides, so I hoped I would stop herding the cows, but they stayed ahead of me, though their being spread out meant less dung to dodge. The cowpaths were more rideable then not, as was the meadow itself, so this part passed relatively quickly. The broad valley eventually turned west, broadening and opening a view to the high peaks near Torres del Paine, and the main cattle trail disintegrated. Fortunately I had a map, because it is not at all obvious which side-valley should be followed to reach the pass. My cows finally left me, but I saw another in the distance and, worryingly, a man on a horse. I turned off my music and kept an eye on him, but did not acknowledge his presence, and kept going at a steady pace while giving him space, obviously not running away but not looking to talk. I thought he might be headed to intercept me, but he was only heading off some stray cows, turning them with loud whistles and high wordless yells.

Border fence

The final side-valley to the pass was cow-free at the moment, though they clearly grazed there from time to time. I passed through another ranch gate, pushed through some deep grass, then emerged in a rideable field climbing almost imperceptibly toward the gentle saddle forming the border. The left side of the valley had a tall tripod border marker, but the right side had a gate promising some sort of path or road. The gate was locked, but had clearly not been used in a very long time. I lifted my disassembled bike over it, then climbed into Chile. The subtly-downhill meadow was immediately rideable, and I soon picked up the old road.

Nice place to sleep

I knew there was a cabin along the way, but not where it was, so I was just looking for any old place to camp. As it turned out, the cabin was only a few miles down the road, and in excellent shape, with intact windows and a latched door. Looking inside, I was concerned by its tidiness and the roll of toilet paper on the table, but it was not presently in use. I threw down my tarp, pad, and bag, then fetched water from the nearby stream, which had somehow not been fouled by cows. It was a wonderfully peaceful place to spend the night, clean and quiet, with a table and chairs. I soaked in the tranquility, knowing that the next day would take me to one of the most touristic parts of my entire trip.

Good riding in Chile

I took my time packing up the next day, reluctantly bidding farewell to my little house, and continued down the road. I looked closely at the tracks on the road, and eventually saw some old horse manure and what looked like quad tracks, but I encountered enough washouts to keep ordinary 4×4’s out, and I doubt that even quads have been to the upper parts in quite awhile. Most of it was rideable, with some parts remarkably smooth and fast, but I had to push through many of the washed-out ravine crossings, and one was steep and deep enough to force me to carry my rig across in pieces. The famous Torres del Paine came into view, making this gentle and rideable descent even more enjoyable.

Gentle ford

I eventually reached a final ford of an unnamed (?) river, where the route becomes the Y-160. The water was cold, but no more than calf-deep, and I easily crossed in shoes with my socks and insoles shoved in my pockets, pushing the bike. Though it is a labeled route, this part is steep and no longer seems passable by vehicle. I pushed my bike up the first part, then was barely able to ride the upper half to the edge of the river valley, where an occupied house with a truck outside marked the beginning of vehicular civilization. I rode by quickly and quietly, and the road gradually became more and more well-traveled as I descended toward the park.

By the time I crossed the park boundary at the underwhelming Laguna Azul, it was back to standard Chilean dusty washboard. There was quite a bit of traffic on this section, which fortunately abated once I turned off to reach the Rio Paine. I passed through some sort of internal entry station chaotic enough that I was not required to show a pass, then continued to the central camping area for the Torres. Looking online, I knew that they charged $25 per night, but I pitched a tent at the farthest end from the kiosk, and no one bothered me. I only had food for another two or three days, and there is no grocery store in the park, so I had one day to hike before leaving one direction or another. I guiltily availed myself of the showers, then cooked dinner in my tent and quickly fell asleep.

Cerro Mitre

Summit panorama

Cerro Mitre is the highpoint of the Magellanes Peninsula, the blob of land extending into Lago Argentino where the Perito Moreno Glacier periodically splits it. I did not find any information on how to reach its summit, but it is mostly gentle and close to a road, the only impediments being fences, an expensive National Park, and dense woody brush. I had not climbed as many peaks as I had hoped on this trip, and there were fewer prospects the farther south I went, so Mitre was one of my last opportunities. I almost skipped it, but am glad I did not, because it was a moderate effort, and had great views to the south, west, and north.

Long east ridge

It was cold in the morning, but not particularly windy, and I got a somewhat late start, leaving my tent and trailer to ride back toward the park entrance. While the road passes closest to the summit directly to its south, that lies within the park, and starting there looked like it would require nasty bushwhacking. However for some reason my phone had retained bits of Peakbagger’s “3D satellite view,” from which I was able to infer that the least brushy route started just past the bridge over the Rio Mitre, climbing an open hillside to the peak’s long southeast ridge. I pulled off on an old side-road, hopped a gate with a “no hunting” sign, rode a bit farther, and stashed my bike in the woods before hopping another fence to start the hike.

Summit from subpeak

This first part goes through what looks like a meadow, but is actually a field of spiny, light-green, knee-high bushes. Fortunately the fence I hopped was built to contain cows, which had created a network of paths through the groundcover, so I was able to wind my way uphill with minimal poking. I efficiently gained elevation on the open slope, passed through a thin band of woods that were far more open than I expected, and found myself on the ridge. The summit was hidden behind a couple of false summits, and I had a long walk across open ground to go, but the wind was surprisingly gentle. I found faint bits of path, and a survey marker on the return, but did not see any clear footprints, so the area clearly sees very little traffic. However there are apparently local peak-baggers, as I found a sizable cairn on a prominent bump where the ridge turns from west to northwest.

Torres del Paine

After being nearly level for several miles, the ridge dipped sharply past this bump, then climbed again to reach the final false summit, passing some layered cliffs of crumbly rock. I managed to find a bit of scrambling on the final climb, but could probably have entirely avoided using my hands. As shown on the satellite view, the southeast side of the peak holds a morainal lake and some buried remnants of ice. To the southwest, I could see the Torres del Paine. To the west was the upper portion of the Glaciar Perito Moreno, its lower portion sadly obscured by a lower peak. To the north and northwest were an array of inaccessible peaks and glaciers along the icefield. It was just warm enough to hang out in my puffy jacket while sheltered from the wind.

Upper Perito Moreno

I retraced my route along the ridge, cutting around the subpeak with the cairn, then was glad to have my track to follow through the woods to the easiest way down the spiny meadows. I returned to my bike, stopped at the Mitre to tank up on water, then rode back to camp, where I was pleased to see a fellow cyclist from Chaltén and no hashtag-vanlife. I was glad to have tagged a summit, even if it was not well-known or challenging, and ready for what I anticipated would be a tough international hike-a-bike the next day.