Monday, November 05, 2007

Carretera Austral Part 6: Puerto Río Tranquilo and Surroundings

Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Thursday, March 08, 2007

Days 11-12: Camino Coyhaique-Puerto Río Tranquilo, Catedral de Mármol, Glaciar Exploradores.

Previous Chapter - Next Chapter

During the first half of our newly-arrived Tuesday afternoon we carried out necessary errands and chores: Camilo had his tyre properly patched, Tom and I answered emails and unloaded our cameras. I put my pics on a CD using a glacially slow computer running Windows 95, and then shipped it via Chilexpress to Santiago. 

By the time we set off, most of the day was gone. Sadly we left behind the wench on Calle Simpson and headed down towards Puerto Río Tranquilo, on the shore of the vast Lago General Carrera.

The first bit of the journey was on paved roads, winding through the Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo. Cold like we hadn't felt before on the trip, and some speech-impeding scenery.

Shivering in my complete set of cold weather gear, we stopped at Villa Cerro Castillo, just before the end of the paving, the last I'd see 'till I reached the quiet streets of Cochrane. A churrasco and a café con leche were a must. 

Tom gazes at Camilo, lost in thought. 

And on we go. Those clouds were forming behind the peak at a very noticeable rate. Disturbing, almost.

The dead forest, which came to be when the Hudson volcano erupted in 1992.

I usually rode about a minute or two in front of the two larger bikes, and I took advantage of this to ride off the road and out onto a stony bank by the river. They never saw me. 

Passing through a wooded area, I was now behind them, and I saw Camilo and Tom's bikes stopped at the side of the road. I killed the engine and immediately heard an extremely loud beeping sound, rather like the one trucks make when they back up. Camilo claimed he had just leaned against the grader and the alarm went off. It was only when we exchanged pictures after the trip that I realised what had really happened:

Somewhere around Puerto Murta night fell, and we rode under the trees, occasionally emerging into dim, dim twilight, and a crescent moon coming up over the snowy peaks. I rode on ahead, riding hard, because I wanted to use as much of the remaining light as possible. My head light, a single 35 watt bulb, was aimed quite precisely at a spot no less than five degrees above horizontal, due to the weight of my equipment. Adjusting its position on the XR is a process so tedious that I never got around to doing it. 

The final run into Puerto Río Tranquilo was done in complete darkness, at 30 km/h, passing over sections that sometimes were rim-deep in loose round stones and dust, sometimes washboarded in a way that made your molars hurt. 

After a long dose of this I reached the sign welcoming us to Puerto Río Tranquilo, and waited for Camilo and Tom. Ten minutes later they rolled in, Camilo the colour of the road we were riding on. It seems like they stuck close together, and just put up with choking on each other's dust.

We found lodging and for food, well, a lousy empanada de pino. And dessert? An apple empanada. That was a first for me. It was literally just the apple slices inside the empanada dough. No cinnamon, no syrup, no extra sugar. No love.

The next morning we did the five short kilometres to Puerto Mármol, and took a boat out to the marble islands on the Lago General Carrera.

Over the next few days and in the strangest of places, Camilo and Tom would run into the man in the moustache several times, to the mystification of all parties involved.

We visited three formations: The Chapel, The Cathedral and The Caverns. It's all done by boat, getting close enough to reach out and touch the undulated surface. Everything is done slowly, slowly, so as not to hit the rock.

And on top, plants and bushes.


Once the tour was over, we stopped briefly at our residencial and then went in the opposite direction: away from the lake, up a valley, towards the Exploradores glacier.

On the way, this waterfall.

And now, a picture that is now a must for the people from the forum:

It all started last year, when Francisco Rivero, the same guy from the rides to Laguna Verde, went down south on his Honda AX-1. Of his many pics, this one was particularly popular on the forum:

And this year, Rodrigo did the same trip on his Transalp and took the same picture, so Camilo and I did the same. And as you can see, it's inevitable for some pics to repeat themselves on a trip like this. Here's Francisco:

The trailhead to the glacier is only a few kilometres before the road comes to an abrupt end. Eventually it will be extended out to Bahía Exploradores, and then getting to the famous Laguna San Rafael will just be a matter of doing the last 60 or 70 km by ship. That will have a tremendous impact on the tiny town of Puerto Río Tranquilo.

There was a sign near the trail offering a sendero interpretativo, a self-guided path. We had consistently derided these on the trip, but this time we went and had a look. 

It turns out that they were charging 2500 pesos per person to access a lookout point from which you could see the glacier. 2500 for a view? We asked how far the glacier was, and if one could get up close to it. I almost decided to stay, due to the high price. 

The trail winds through the forest, and soon starts climbing steeply. 

Once you've cleared the trees, it's time to clamber all over giant rocks. Only then are you at the top, and here's the view facing back where we came from.

And in the other direction, facing west:

Camilo and Tom mulled over the possibility of doing a full tour of the glacier for 22000 pesos the next day. I decided not to, and instead make my way down to Villa O'Higgins.

As they set off towards Puerto Río Tranquilo, I continued on to the end of the road. I dodn't know what to expect. What would the end of one of the many branches of the Carretera Austral look like? 

Well now you know. Like this: 

And immediately after that log, a 3 metre drop, a stream, and thick undergrowth. That was all. 

Here's a few pics from Camilo and Tom's outing to "Brokeback Glacier" the next day.

The guide, whom they had at their whim and mercy: they were the only ones taking the tour that day. 

Touring boots with crampons... ?

Ah, these gringos... you've got to watch your back. 

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