Pictures and Day 35: The unimaginable Tortel

Here's the original blog, now with pictures:

Day 35 – Thursday March 31: Torturous road to Caleta Tortel

Complicated day today. We left the Camping/refugio site in the rain and started making our way to Caleta Tortel, which we thought was about 60 to 70km away. Tikka and Dario and Steve Jahn, who wasn't feeling all that well, headed back to Cochrane where they hoped to find a mechanic. And it trned out to be even more complicated than that, ...they found out in Cochrane that the rear end of the truck was trashed, as well as the brakes. They worked with an amazing mechanic who fashioned the part they needed for the rear end, and they were able to get things fixed by the end of the day and to come back over the pass to find us.

Meanwhile a lot of time passed, and in the very late afternoon we began to dribble into Caleta Tortel, which marked the end of the Carretera Austral for us. The distance, though, had turned out to be tricky, and as we were riding without support – that is, with most of our gear in the truck or the trailer. – ii was a bit unnerving. We had pressed on, and the ride turned epic. Long -- 97km on really nasty roads -- up and down and finally up and up to arrive around 5:00 in Caleta Tortel. It was still raining, hard, and we were freezing.

It is an amazing town, unimaginable. It's built on steep stone cliffs and until 2003 was only accessible by water. The town came into being in the thirties by building walkways on stilts between houses and shops, so you have to climb up and down stairs and along these walkways. Which were very slippery for people walking in bicycle shoes. The town is unbelievably situated looking out at a fjord. But the rain was really coming down and it would be dark soon After an hour we finally found our place to stay, which was warm and welcoming. Our guide David had ridden this ride to make sure we made it, and he arrived with Tom around 7:00. No sign of Tikka and Dario and Steve Jahn though, and then darkness dropped down. No streetlights in this town because no streets. And you had to park at one end, high up, where the road arrived and dead-ended. The owners fixed us dinner and we went to bed exhausted.

We feared the worst for the truck, but In the morning we came down to breakfast to find that everyone had made it, though not until midnight, in a water taxi.  The truck was fixed and we were all together.

We had some new directions to ride though, starting out that very day.


Day 36 with Pictures: Another Patagonia

Once again a reposting, this time with pictures!

Day 36 – Friday April 1 – Another Patagonia

David had arranged for us to be transported back over the road we had just traveled, to Cochrane and points eastward in Argentina, since our way was blocked any further south into Chile. We rode from Caleta Tortel in a fairly new red Dodge Durango -- luxury!! -- with the bike trailer and truck following at a distance. In Cochrane we had lunch and got back into the Durango, heading north and east perhaps seventy or eighty kilometers to a little used pass through the Andes. The weather changed to sunny and windy – seriously windy, mainly from behind. Now we got to see the wild life of the steppes: herds of the deerlike/llamalike guanacos, their faces set with huge eyes and eyelashes like a camel. We saw Rheas, the ostrich-like birds that can run almost as fast as the car. We saw a couple of condors cruising high above. A couple people saw armadillos.

The plan had been to be dropped off with our bikes near the border, cross the Chilean border station, ride the 10km to the Argentina border station, and press ahead to an Estancia – a ranch where we could stay. But by the time we got through the Argentina border it was almost six and we clearly couldn’t make the next 20 or 30km to the Estancia. There was no other habitation on the road at all. Just a few kilometers into Argentine though, we descended to the bottom of a hill to find the ruins of an old adobe building with its walls pushed down and the bricks scattered, It was next to a beautiful flowing stream and we decided to set up camp. The wind was howling from behind the hill we had just descended, but it was calm enough by the tumbled walls to get the tents out and set up a kitchen tent, where we ate. The terrain was desertlike but filled with gigantic buttes and mountainous profiles. It promised to be cold, but we hunkered down anyway and went to sleep.

The next day was to be our last one on the bikes, and it looked like a long day, a long way to the tiny village of Bajo Caracoles. We had no idea what the day held in store for us!

Day 37 with Pictures: Grand Finale!

Here's the reposting of our last day on the bikes. Excellent ride...

Day 37 – Saturday April 2 – What a Finale!

In the film version of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, starring Rod Steiger, one episode concerns a group of spacemen stranded on a planet where it rained incessantly, unrelentingly, drilling down on their helmets as they make their way through the thick jungle. They were looking for Sun Domes, places that had been constructed where one could get out of the rain. Otherwise you’d go crazy. The wind in Patagonia is like that. It blows constantly through much of the day and night at about 50 or 60 miles an hour, and it gusts to 70 or 80. This is real no man’s land, though indescribably beautiful.

We rose at our camp site, somewhat sheltered from the wind, packed up and prepared to go. We were heading southeast, and the wind always blows out of the northwest, so it was behind us for the most part. Steve Jones went down within the first half mile as we tried to cut across a quartering wind from the right, but then we turned left downwind and pedaled away. The road rose up along cuts in the buttes and disappeared over blind hills. After about 30km we were starting to get used to it. And then the road began descending gradually for almost 40km.

This meant that we had sixty mile-an-hour wind at our backs, gusting to ninety and pushing us along the gravelly, rutted and washboard road. But if you kept your head you could really haul. John clocked the fastest time – almost 57.6km/hour. It was impossible to turn around, of course, but that wasn’t the way we were going anyway. We flew on that road for about 30 miles at that pace, and none of us expects to experience that exhilarating speed and riding pleasure again.

We finally stopped at an intersection of Route 40, which we had to take to get to Bajo Caracoles. Upwind. The truck loaded us up and we arrived in the little village covered in dirt and dust and laughing. .

The settlement Bajo Caracoles is an odd little place, with a gas station and a squat hotel with a bar. Nothing else around, though, for perhaps 75 windy miles. We celebrated and hosed off and celebrated some more. After dinner we collapsed into bed for our trip by bus to El Chalten the next day.

Day 37 with Pictures: What a Finale!

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Day 37 with Pictures: Grand Finale!
Date: Sat, 23 Apr 2011 11:25:51 -0700
From: J. Coldewey <jcjc@uw.edu>
To: post@posterous.com

Here's another reposting of our last day on the bikes. Excellent ride...

Day 37 – Saturday April 2 – What a Finale!

In the film version of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, starring Rod Steiger, one episode concerns a group of spacemen stranded on a planet where it rained incessantly, unrelentingly, drilling down on their helmets as they make their way through the thick jungle. They were looking for Sun Domes, places that had been constructed where one could get out of the rain. Otherwise you’d go crazy. The wind in Patagonia is like that. It blows constantly through much of the day and night at about 50 or 60 miles an hour, and it gusts to 70 or 80. This is real no man’s land, though indescribably beautiful.

We rose at our camp site, somewhat sheltered from the wind, packed up and prepared to go. We were heading southeast, and the wind always blows out of the northwest, so it was behind us for the most part. Steve Jones went down within the first half mile as we tried to cut across a quartering wind from the right, but then we turned left downwind and pedaled away. The road rose up along cuts in the buttes and disappeared over blind hills. After about 30km we were starting to get used to it. And then the road began descending gradually for almost 40km.

This meant that we had sixty mile-an-hour wind at our backs, gusting to ninety and pushing us along the gravelly, rutted and washboard road. But if you kept your head you could really haul. John clocked the fastest time – almost 57.6km/hour. It was impossible to turn around, of course, but that wasn’t the way we were going anyway. We flew on that road for about 30 miles at that pace, and none of us expects to experience that exhilarating speed and riding pleasure again.

We finally stopped at an intersection of Route 40, which we had to take to get to Bajo Caracoles. Upwind. The truck loaded us up and we arrived in the little village covered in dirt and dust and laughing. .

The settlement Bajo Caracoles is an odd little place, with a gas station and a squat hotel with a bar. Nothing else around, though, for perhaps 75 windy miles. We celebrated and hosed off and celebrated some more. After dinner we collapsed into bed for our trip by bus to El Chalten the next day.

Day 38 with pictures: a bus to El Chalten

The journey continues: here's a reposting of Day 38, with pictures!

Day 38– Sunday April 3 – On which the team endures a grueling trip to El Chalten  

The 9-passenger van taking us from Bajo Calicola to El Chalten – about 325km – arrived on Saturday night while we were celebrating. We dutifully loaded up in the morning. Bram was really feeling pretty ropey, so we tried to secure him a comfortable spot with a seat in the sun. Then we set off. For about 25km the road was paved, but then turned into a rutted construction road for almost 175km along Highway 40, a main Argentinean road getting paved only gradually. The shocks on this van were shot, and it was impossible to move faster than 40km an hour (about 25mph) without shaking apart, so the whole trip took us nearly ten hours.

The vastness of the land became more and more clear as we beetled along the rutted way, although the constant bumping and bouncing, plus the rushing of the constant high wind whistling through door and window seals made for a truly uncomfortable ride. Stretched out as far as the eye could see was an enormous panorama, the size of which was hard to grasp even when in the middle of it. We ground our way slowly across it. Very slowly. To the horizon line of the plain the only thing covering the ground was close-cropped sage-like clumps, some shaped like tumbleless tumbleweeds, interspersed with numberless cone-shaped tufts of a stiff golden grass. Oddly, in this apparently forsaken landscape we saw plenty of wildlife: whole herds of guanacos, families of rheas, and some huge beautifully colored birds of prey, the Caracara, sitting on fence posts.

Just over halfway we stopped at the Estancia Siberia, over the hill from the gigantic Lago Cardiel. This Estancia sported a bright blue painted derelict antique truck in its front yard and a quasi-deserted coffee shop.  We were able to glean some cafés con leche and a few epanadas there, watching out a window as a dozen or so gauchos hacked pieces off a spitted lamb roasting in the back courtyard and drank bottles of beer and wine. Sunday dinner in Siberia. Everyone was already feeling a little queasy, and poor Bram looked white. On the road again, we continued to thread back and forth over the construction until, about 130km from our destination, we reached pavement. A cheer broke out, the driver smiled, and everyone relaxed as we made our final approach to El Chalten.

Ahead to the west all was shrouded in clouds from the distance, but as we got closer they cleared, just like in cheesy adventure films, and we saw that the town itself is nestled in sublime mountainous terrain. Rearing up behind El Chalten are steep rocky foothills and stony walls, and just beyond them one of the most famous and difficult mountaineering peaks in the world, the spectacular Mount Fitzroy. We pulled off the road a couple of kilometers away and snapped some pictures. We planned some mountain experiences, hikes and such, but had little idea of what dark forces lay in store.

Days 39-42 with pictures: El Chalten

Here, as before, a reposting with pictures to illustrate:

Days 39–42: Monday April 4 – Thursday April 7: Mountain Mellowness, Gastric Distress

The Islandsis Hostel in El Chalten, where we were staying, was a modern and friendly place. We freshened up the evening we arrived and headed out for dinner.Since it was Tikka and Dario’s last night with us, we toasted them off and gave them our thanks. Then we returned to the hostel. In the morning,masked by an eye-popping display of morning alpenglow over Fitzroy, our troubles began.

Earlier that week, when we had sighted the first family of rheas running across the steppes, there had been some jokes – well, yes, perhaps tasteless – made about possible names for the Rhea family members. One of the so-named sisters, Diar, had already visited Bram, and now in Chalten she was going to visit more of us. Joe and John were taken out the morning after we arrived, which cut down the number of hikers to five. The hike was beautiful, but the team was ailing. Late the next day Greg began to complain of lower gut trouble. Another beautiful hike that day too, with only four hikers. The last day even Steve Jones manifested early signs of Diar-Rhea’s effects. And so we lived in the shadow of the valley of the Rio de Las Vueltas, day to day, three or four of us curled up in bed nursing our ailment, the rest being treated to extraordinary mountain scenes – high lakes with hanging glaciers, changing colors below the snowline, skyline vistas that beggar the Alps. Let the pictures tell the high life story.

And so the experience of the team in El Chalten was mixed, and after three days and four nights it was time to move on to El Calafate, where our luck might change. In any event the adventure was nearing its conclusion.