Villa O’Higgins, Chile – END of the dictator’s highway

If you head south to the end of the Carretera Austral … then take a ferry … you’ll eventually get to Villa O’Higgins.

This last bit of gravel road was completed in 2000.

We arrived at last light in perfect weather.

Not easy to reach, every tourist here is happy. I had a big grin on my face as I enjoyed dinner and wine at famed El Mosco campground and hostel.

Wind was quite light for Patagonia, but I tied down my tent quite securely anyway.

Next day I did two of three hikes out of town.

Like everywhere else on the CA this village is gearing up for MORE tourism in future.

Before tourists started arriving it was an agricultural community. One shopkeep told me it got VERY cold during winter. It’s surrounded by glaciers.

One thing I appreciate about Patagonia. The frequent lenticular cloud formations.

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NEW – Patagonia National Park, Chile

Patagonia National Parkannounced January 2018 — combined the Jeinimeni National Reserve (400,000 acres), the Tamango National Re􏰁serve (20,660 acres), and the privately􏰄-owned Patagonia Park (200,000 acres).

The part donated by Americans had been a sheep ranch.

Conservacion Patagonica, the organization founded by Kristine and the late Doug Tompkins of The North Face bought the the huge property in 2004 and had been returning it to natural state.

The sheep were sold but Gauchos offered work in the new Park.

Fences and invasive species were removed. Cows are long gone.

They donated it to the Chilean government.

I visited as part of a 6 hour tour out of Cochrane. Watching large numbers of guanacos running free was the highlight.

The Park Headquarters built by the Tompkins is first class, even better than Pumalin.

It includes a wonderful museum and library of essential conservation information.

I learned a lot.

Patagonia National Park should evolve to be the second best hiking destination on the Carretera Austral after Cerro Castillo.

Right now you still need private transportation to get to trailheads. No convenient hiker shuttle yet exists. IF only I still had a bike. 🙄

related – NY Times – With 10 Million Acres in Patagonia, a National Park System Is Born

Bikepacking Patagonia – day 18

Jan 31, 2019 – Puyuhuapi to Queulat National Park (38km)

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Queulat is another of Chile’s newly announced Route of Parks (Ruta de los Parques) – a chain of 17 stretching 1500 miles.

Since I’d had a rest day in pretty Puyuhuapi town I felt I had to push on … despite the rain.

My bigger problem than H2O was my detached pannier rack. I’d fixed 🙄 it with a metal spacer, but didn’t have much confidence it would last the 218km to the next bike shop in Coyhaique.

Also, I had to attach my ugly load far to the left in order to keep it stable. Not good.

Though I got muddy, I actually like gravel road in the rain better than dry. The tires roll more smoothly. And there’s less dust.

Each year more of the Carretera Austral is getting paved.

I’d really been looking forward to getting to Quelat. And it is great. They are very used to rain here.

I stashed my bike in the forest. And hiked to Ventisquero Colgante: The Hanging Glacier of Queulat.

This is a land of great lakes. Pristine rivers. True wilderness.

I found the cutest little high, dry, flat nook in the bamboo to set up my tent.

About 5m from the river.

The weather cleared during the night. I had red wine and a starry, starry night.

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Bikepacking Patagonia – day 2

Jan 15, 2019 – 64km

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I’d hiked Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park in 2006. Surprisingly, there aren’t many trails.

So I bypassed it yesterday to get a bigger jump on the CA.

My first night in the tent was a perfect evening. No wind. Very warm.

It dawned a gorgeous day. Scenery great in every direction.

I tried to reorganize the system on the bike. It worked. A bit better.

My legs — cramped in the tent the previous night — felt surprisingly good on the bike.

I made good time … until hitting the first gravel of the trip so far.

Quality of roads degrades as you get further south. The last 600+ km entirely gravel.

I chatted with 3 other touring cyclists, all German.

One couple was just finishing the CA northward. They said they enjoyed the southern end least. ☹️

I stopped in pretty Cochamó (pop. 4000). Internet has only recently made it here. And it’s SLOW. I used the free service in the public library. And the faster free service at Municipal office.

I’d been to Cochamó before on my way to hike the Cochamó Valley in 2016.

It’s known as the Yosemite of South America. Rock climbers from around the world come to climb the valley’s several 1,000 meters (3,300 ft) granite walls.

The hiking is hard core. Too difficult, I felt. At a hostel I met an American who’s been going to Cochamó Valley since the early 2000s. His own project is linking ridges up on those cliffs. While there he’s been volunteering for trail building and rescue operations.

Unfortunately the valley is getting too popular. Unprepared people are arriving and getting injured on the trails. There are even more hassles now than when I was there. On my hiking site I try to discourage hikers from making the trip.

None of the restaurants in Cochamó looked appealing. So I ate only ice cream.

Roads were excellent continuing out of Cochamó. It’s very rural.

Fish farming is a huge industry here too.

Surprisingly, I seemed to run out of gas. It was general fatigue. Nothing specific. Legs were pretty good despite cramping the previous day.

I got the tent set up at 6:30pm just in time. Showers began.

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