Paso Agua Negra

Iglesia to Vicuña (over Paso Agua Negra)

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This was my first really really high pass. Paso Agua Negra is around 4770m high and this promised a lot of excitement. That is, until the wind literally hit me. This changed the excitement into an incredibly tough ride. Nevertheless, the views are worth all the trouble.

March 31

The morning is surprisingly cloudy. I am finishing the last 11 km to Iglesia. There I closely inspect the content of shops in order to prepare for the crossing -- I need 4-5 days worth of food. Unfortunately, the food selection isn't such great. (Note to myself: I wrote this rant before I visited Bolivia's altiplano).

In the distance I can already see Iglesia

It takes me another 10 kilometers to get to Las Flores, the last village on the Argentinian side. My information tells me that there should be WiFi at the gas station and that's correct. So while I am munching some sweet brownie and getting carbs from soda drink, I also exchange last emails for a while.

From Las Flores it is only 2 kilometers to the Aduana. The procedure here is quick and I can finally take on the mighty 90 kilometers long climb to the pass. At least it isn't so steep with this length.

This signpost summarizes very well the Chilean-Argentinian habit of placing Aduana as much from the border as possible

As I am slowly climbing on the altiplano the bike decides to frustrate me. To be more precise, I get a flat tire. Though as I learn after a while, it is a tube failure and not a puncture as I expected. Maybe I am riding too high pressure.

Even road construction workers have their bicycles

The altiplano ascent takes the whole afternoon and evening. It isn't exactly the most exciting thing ever but at least I can see the distant mountains growing to much bigger proportions. And speaking of big things, I am coming across a grasshopper. But this one is insanely huge, as long as my hand.

Distant mountains are slowly getting bigger
An insanely huge grasshopper
A nice smile for the camera

In the evening I am setting up a camp just a kilometer or so before Gendarmeria -- my plan is to replenish my water right in the morning so that I don't need to carry excessive amounts of it.

April 1

I am waking up into a nice morning. The plan for today is to climb up to somewhere between 4000 and 4300m, which means around 40-45 kilometers and I have high hopes for this plan. Right in the morning I am fetching the necessary water. To my surprise the building I thought to be a gendarmeria is in fact a road workers camp. And they have very lively dogs -- in the short time I am getting the water one of the dogs manages to steal my bag and there needs to be a quick search for it.

My bike is a bit shy and tries to hide!
"Tricolora" mountain - red, green and yellow

The real gendarmeria is a few kilometers more down (ehm, up) the road. And to my surprise the guys there are taking some time with me. I am not sure but probably at Aduana they should have given me some paper. In any case, after a few minutes of disappearance (and probably talking over the radio) I have my passport back again and nothing holds me from continuing on.

The scenery is quite different from yesterday though. While yesterday was just one big altiplano, today I am going inside valleys and canyons. I am quickly devouring lunch around 3000m and then resume the slow going. As the Sun is shining and it is relatively hot, I am replenishing my water supplies from a nice stream. To my surprise, when I get back to the bike there is a cyclist couple waiting there as well. Josep and Christina from started in Alaska, went down to Mexico, then flown to Puerto Montt to do Patagonia and now are going north to finish the continent. Fortunately for them, they are done with the pass and only have a quick pedalling-less ride before them.

Slowly gaining altitude
Wide altiplano is replaced by canyon-like valley
Josep and Christina from
And me enjoying the rare opportunity of somebody else taking a picture for me

This is of course the exact opposite of my state. The God Of Good Wind leaves me at around 3200 meters above the sea. From this point onwards I face a fierce headwind. At least I am not alone -- there is a huge spider going across the road and it apparently has even bigger problems just holding to it and not being blown off.

And the switchbacks start
Yesterday I was surprised by a big grasshopper but this is even bigger caliber... Similarly to me this poor fellow was battling the wind

I don't know who wrote a nice looking comment about "updraft on the both sides of the pass" but he/she is a total lier. The wind just doesn't want to stop. So when I reach the end of the paved part of the road and a relatively flat part starts, I am looking around for some place to camp. And when I see a nicely-build windbreak I know it is the right time to stop, even if I still could go for one hour more. In the end my elevation is only 3830m which is much less compared to what I hoped. It also means a lot of mental preparation for tomorrow because it will be a really hard day if I want to cross the pass.

And I definitely need all mental strength I can gather. In the evening there is a very light ice shower but I worry that the pass might be gathering more of the stuff. I really hope that it is not because I don't want to return.

The climb goes on and on
And continues even when the pavement ends
I am sending all my thanks to the guy who built this windbreak

April 2

The night is really windy and the tent just cannot stop flapping which does not make for a good sleep. The morning isn't better -- it is veeery cold and I cannot wait until the sun hits the tent as I expect a really hard day. And I am not the only one waking up earlier than usual -- as I am working on my morning routine a cyclist appears on the road. I am learning that his name is Urs, he is from Switzerland, he started in Buenos aires and he does not have any plans for finishing (read: Urs calculated that he saved enough money that it should keep him going until the retirement). After a quick chat we say goodbye but hope to see each other in Guanta or further down the road.

Morning reveals snowy mountains in the distance. Let's hope this isn't to be the case of the pass.

Meeting Urs was probably my highest point of the day. Seriously, the ascent is a serious battle right from the start. Even though the road isn't very steep, I am often finding that I need to push the bike. This goes on until about 4300 meters. At this point the road turns into one very long switchback and I am grateful to whoever designed the road because the climb suddenly gets bearable. The physical exhaustion is great and I am not even hungry. So instead of a proper lunch I just eat peanuts and crackers.

Compared to yesterday today is all ripio. Personally I would go even on the rocks if that would avoid the nasty headwind
Something tells me that this wasn't exactly a hot night
I take any opportunity to take pictures as this relieves me from the intense battle
The amazing play of colors is kind of lost on me right now

The little relief from the headwind ends 5 kilometers before the pass. I still need to climb 150 meters and it is 3pm which is later than I hoped. But I should still be able to make it through the pass today. The elevation now makes another strong enemy and I need to stop very often to catch my breath. At least, there are good vistas. There are incredibly colorful mountains around here. And two ice fields with sexy ice towers.

On the right you can see the only switchback for today. It is a big relief from the wind though!
I have something new to look at -- these ice towers look quite interesting
Now that I don't fight for the life I can enjoy the beautiful scenery
Especially intricate patterns of mountains around

In the end I manage to reach the pass at 4:20pm. Of course, the last kilometer was extra hard and I needed to push it all. But now it is time for joy and relief and ... cold. Even before I reached the pass I started to layer up and now I am probably looking like a matrioska.

There is even a glacier here
But the ice towers are much more interesting
Almost there! Now I have a perfect view over the road.

Of course, there isn't much time for picknic on the top. I just catch my breath, make a few obligatory photos and start the descent. This is fast, freezing and quite nice. I am even catching up with Urs. And nearby there is enough place for a second tent so the campsite is clear. As the evening approaches we have a lot of discussions. I am learning that he wasn't as stubborn as me and kind-of gave up around a lunchtime. To his surprise, he managed to hitchhike (hmm, or should I call it hitchbike?) the first car the came across so he was up in the pass quite early.

If I wasn't so tired I would scream from the joy!
Views of the other side
During a steep shortcut I pass by these interesting rocks

The only thing that spoils a bit the evening is a headache I have. Normally people would say this is an elevation sickness but I know better -- I think it is just a dehydration beucase I was stupid enough to not drink much water during the day (and being very cold the normal body processes did not issue a warning about the situation).

As I descent a bit more a colorful scenery appears
And also this little nice canyon
I am now stopping more frequently to take pictures of these beauties

April 3

With Urs we start the day together, however Urs is slightly faster and I am making too many photographic stops to catch up with him. Despite of this I have a cyclists company -- I am meeting a couple from Holland. They started in Ushuaia and right now have the final two weeks left till they fly back home from Mendoza. Their plan is to cross the pass today which I deem quite courageous (given the current altitude and time).

Urs is ready to go
And for I while I can keep up his tempo (or to be more precise, dare to ride down the ripio quite fast)
If I studied chemistry and geology more I would know what gives this orange colors

The descent views are just stunning. I really cannot stop frequently stopping and looking around. After the steep-ish descent the flat section starts. This goes around amazing and long laguna (to be more precise, it is probably a water dam). End of laguna signalizes another steep downhill. This time I need to make some detours as there are road workers working on the road. In fact, it looks like the whole road down from here is planned to be paved (which is a good news for any future cyclists).

The magic colors of descent
I feel like if Saturn rings crashed on the Earth
Embalse la Laguna in the distance

While I am hungry I am telling myself that I might come across Urs if I keep going (though I hoped to find him around the laguna). And sure enough, I am spotting him having a lunch. So I stop there as well and devour the rest of my lunch supplies.

The road leads around the water dam
The road construction at works. It looks like the whole road down from La Laguna is going to be paved.

When I am back to the road again (I am leaving Urs behind, he will anyway catch up with me) I continue the descent on the in-the-construcion road. The surface is particularly miserable (too many small rocks). Fortunately, the last 12 kilometers to aduana are already paved.

Slowly the descent gets a bit more boring
But that doesn't mean there aren't views anymore

Clearing the immigration is another hassle. The bastards there decide to take my oatmeal mixed with dried fruits and nuts. And I have no clue why -- without any problems I managed to cross into Chile at least three times while having basically the same stuff.

The day is however far from over. I still have 42 kilometers downhill to Guanta (on a paved road) and only two and half hours of daylight. This looks like an easy task but as usual the friggin nasty wind just tries everything to stop me. In the end I arrive to Guanta with the last rays of the Sun. I am quickly locating the famous Hans & Rosa kiosco where I see Urs and another Swiss cyclist just going through a dinner.

I still have before me 40 kilometers of a road winding inside a canyon

April 4

Today is quite relaxed. As the plan is to go simply to Vicuña which is half-a-day ride downhill, there is no reason to start early. (It is also quite cold until the Sun hits in full). With Urs we say goodbye to the other Swiss and slowly start the ride. Of course, Urs again disappears in the distance but I have no intention of rushing after him.

The canyon we were riding down the whole yesterday now slowly opens wide. And with this I am surprised to spot vineyards. I mean, vineyards here in the (almost) desert? But apparently it somehow must work out.

I would never think that this dry canyon is good for vineyards
With a bit of water even this deserty place could be green

In Rivadavia I am surprised to come again across Urs. But the reason is simple -- he managed to catch some open WiFi which means Internet at last. Of course, I quickly jump into this opportunity and get online as well.

From Rivadavia it is only a bit to Vicuña. But by this time the road flattens and the infamous headwind starts again so I have to work to get there. In Vicuña I am losing Urs for final. We manage to get into different campings and wouldn't see each other again. But I am coming across an other cyclist, Franco, who come from the pass as well. Franco (link to his Facebook) is on a real bike trip around a world, something I still consider as just too long of an adventure.

The camping I ended up in Vicuña is a really nice place.

April 5

This is finally a rest day. In the morning I am surprised by the amount of condensation in the tent. On a second thought I ought not to be surprised as the whole camping garden is totally green which means a lots of irrigation (compared to the deserty surroundings). During the day I am processing photos and GPS tracks and making a good shopping -- after the experience from Argentina I am buying lots (really lots) of dried fruits and nuts. Apart from culinary delights Vicuña also has a good bike shop. Which is a relief because I need to change my chain and buy a new tube. The bike mechanic even gives me the work with a bike-touring discount (basically almost for free when he realizes that I could easily change the chain myself). In the evening I briefly consider visiting an observatory (Vicuña is according to the tourist info the capital of astronomy) but given the fact that today's moon phase isn't exactly good (half moon which shows up right in the evening) the sky is too lit for any decent observations.


Loading map...

Download simplified GPX of a route here

Stats by activity:

Activity Distance
Pedal rotations
bike 273 3.1 69
Stats by day:
Date Distance
Avg. temp
(moving, C)
March 31, 2017 47.2 0.86 20.2
April 1, 2017 34.4 1.19 17.4
April 2, 2017 45.0 0.96 8.5
April 3, 2017 99.3 0.04 22.1
April 4, 2017 47.5 0.03 18.4

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 85.3
< 4 18.0 42.9
< 6 18.7 14.7
< 8 5.8 5.4
< 10 1.8 2.2
≥ 10 2.4 5.7

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