The trail to Chilean border

An adventurous crossing from El Chaltén to Villa o'Higgins

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My next bigger destination is Villa o'Higgins. If you don't see a road from El Chaltén to Villa o'Higgins than you are right -- the is none. The way is actually quite adventurous border crossing which involves two boat rides and one 6 km long pushing section on a hiking trail. In a nutshell, something that a cyclist definitely does not want to miss.

January 6

The night is rough. Outside of my tent all the hell (wind) broke lose. Really, the wind is super strong and howling the whole night. And according to the forecast, it will keep into the midday when it slowly dies. Basically, not a good way to start a day considering this is going to be a headwind.

I am waking up to a drizzlish and windy morning. And as a breakfast I am eating out the rest of the honey I have because I cannot bring it to Chile (unless I want to have troubles with the Chilean immigration). I am also setting up last lentils in the box full of water so that I have a ready dinner by the night (of course, I cannot bring lentils to Chile as well).

I am leaving the town quite late - 9:45 - because I took quite some time to pack and then visit a grocery store. After a few kilometers the things look bad -- I am not really fast and I worry if I will be able to catch the (first) boat on time. The slowness is due to a bad ripio road and a strong headwind.

Nevertheless, I am taking a quick detour to see Chorillo del Salto waterfall and it is worth it. As I continue further, my timing is still so so. Fortunately, after 15 kilometers the road improves and the wind subsides. In the end I manage to do the 36 kilometers with maybe a hour reserve for the boat. There I see my friends Tom and Harry as well as a French couple waiting for the boat. The French are quite relaxed about biking -- and they should be. They are planning to bike for around 3 years, without a very specific plan.

Chorillo del Salto
While the road is not very good, the views are
Viewpoint. If there weren't so many clouds, there should be great views over glaciers.
Another waterfall on the road

The boat ride over Lago del Desierto is quite longer than I thought. After I get to the other side, I am visiting Argentinian immigration and it is not a very good news. The guy claims that I cannot camp between the two countries and basically that I must reach the Chilean side today (and it is over 20 kilometers, 6 of which is The Trail). Fortunately, I must look strong because he stamps me out of the country and by 6 pm I am starting the trail. The immigration officer however instantly recognizes his error when he sees my bike, so he at least tells me not to make fires.

On the boat
The north side of Lago del Desierto

And now the trail starts. Many people describe it as "tough" and "adventurous crossing". I would describe it as pure 4 hours of hell. The trail starts very steep. So steep that it is impossible to push my bike. Instead, I am forced to carry the bike with half of my cargo and then return for the rest with a backpack. When the steep section ends, the trouble is not over. While the ascent flattens out somehow, there are still small parts which are steep. And there is mud. And river crossings. I sometimes need to take off panniers, push the bike and then get them back. Oh, and did I mention mud? Yes, there is mud. At one river crossing, I am capitulating with my shoes. Instead, I am changing into my waterproof-ish Sealskinz socks and sandals. A good decision because right after the crossing I am half-knee deep in the mud. And when the trail does not have mud then it for sure has some rocks. Or tree roots. These are particularly nasty because you need to lift the bike a bit to continue.

One of only two photos from the trail. I was tired and chasing the time so I wasn't paying too much attention to make push-a-bike selfies
This mud is quite memorable. Especially if you need to push a bike through it.
Finally Chile. And a bikeable road!

All in all, I managed to do the 6 kilometers in 4 hours. I am at the top at 10 pm and I am seeing the last rays of the sun. And man, I was trying my best because I wanted to reach the Chilean immigration by the night... But it was impossible. After I reach the border I am stopping for a bit to get some layers of clothing on me as I am quite wet and cold. I see some tent there (ehm, wasn't it supposed to be forbidden to camp here?) but nobody responds to my hello. So I continue further but in only 3 kilometers on a natural road, I am calling it a day. It gets too cold and too dark to ride safely further.

January 7

The morning is quite nice and the road is rideable but it goes too much up and down. Definitely more than I expected. Then there is a descent which is quite steep for a road but nowhere such steep as the trail yesterday. I am stopping at a vista point to take a photo of me. And I am checking my back tire -- it felt quite soft when I was riding the bike. Which is probably a bit of understatement of its condition. It is really soft and I wonder why. In any case, I need to inflate it so I take my pump and everything goes well until I stop inflating and try to take the pump off. Tssssssss. And the ventil is gone. Crap. Why it must have happened at this time? It is already 10 am and I really want to catch the boat visiting Higgins glacier (otherwise I did all of this hasty crossing for no reason -- the boat goes only three times a week and does not go if the weather or winds are not good enough). So I am stressed even more then before and quickly changing the tire. I am leaving at 10:30 and I still have 3 kilometers to go on a steep and not so good ripio road + clear the immigration.

The descent to Candelario Mancilla
The photo after which I killed the ventil on my back tire

Fortunately, when I reach the Chilean immigration, things are quite quick. I first tell them that I have a problem because I camped overnight. At first they don't understand what my problem is but when they get it, they just say it is no problem at all if I checked out of Argentina yesterday and slept at the pass. They even don't check my panniers, only ask if I have any green food for which I promptly reply that no, expect for the one in trash. So they show me where to throw the trash away and I am ready to go.

Welcome to Chile.

I reach the docks quite on time -- the boat arrives just around fifteen minutes later. Then I need to leave a bike here (the boat first goes to the glacier, then goes back and then to Villa o'Higgins) but I am taking the rest of my luggage with me and I am very happy that I made it.

The boat ride to the glacier is amazing. The weather turns out to be great and I have stunning views on the mountains around the lake. I am also learning as to why the boat does not go if there is wind -- it isn't a particularly windy day but when we ride against the waves it is almost impossible to stand still without holding to something.

The lake is another marvel as well. It has a very weird shape, it is very big, and I am learning that it is also very deep -- with its depth of 836 meters it is the fifth deepest lake in the world and the deepest in Americas.

Views from the boat are great
The lake is surrounded by some really big mountains

After a time a view on the glacier opens. And we pass first icebergs. But it still requires some time to reach the wall of Glaciar o'Higgins where we "park" a boat near the frontline and watch the massive wall. We are luckly to spot some quite big calvings (the glacier flows slower than Perito Moreno but at still fast speed of 1 meter per day) and we even get a whiskey with thousands of years old glacial ice. I wish the wisky was of the same age ;-)

We pass by the first icebergs
Glacier o'Higgins
Whiskey with thousands of years old ice. Now, if the whiskey would be from the same year ...
Some smaller glacier

Then we return back to Candelario Mancilla and we take the bikes and cyclists who are now waiting for the ride to Villa o'Higgins. It will be more than two hours to get there by this relatively fast boat and it gets windy and chilly outside so I spend most of this time inside. The views are, however, still quite good.

Bikes are secured and we can go ...
The views are still good

At the other side a short bike ride to Villa o'Higgins awaits for me. And this marks the beginning of my next adventure -- cycling the famous Carretera Austral.

The beginning (or the end) of Carretera Austral.


Loading map...

Download simplified GPX of a route here

Stats by activity:

Activity Distance
Pedal rotations
bike 71 0.6 11
boat 141 0.1 -
Stats by day:
Date Distance
Avg. temp
(moving, C)
Jan. 6, 2017 59.2 0.48 14.1
Jan. 7, 2017 152.6 0.20 17.6

Elevation data

Loading graph...
(drag over a region to zoom in, right-click reset)

The next table is only for cycling activity.

Grade(%)Ascent (km)Descent(km)
< 2 34.4
< 4 5.7 5.0
< 6 2.1 1.9
< 8 0.8 1.9
< 10 0.6 1.1
≥ 10 1.6 3.7

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