Ruta 40

Puerto Natales to El Calafate

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My plan from Puerto Natales to El Calafate was quite easy. First of all, I decided to change the original route (which went through the Torres del Paine) because it is a worse road (ripio in the park), it is longer, it is very hard to schedule camping correctly (the only relatively usable campsite is Central which is just too far from the southern entrance to the park -- basically a whole day of riding with the previous day camping just outside of the park. Moreover, I already was there and paying again the park entrance fee just to bike through the scenery I saw wasn't on my top list of things to do.


Instead, I took a nice paved Ruta 9 from Puerto Natales to Cerro Castillo, crossed the border there and then continued on Argentinian side where I took shortcut through Ruta 40 and then again paved road to El Calafate. But boy, it was one hell of a ride


Welcome to the Patagonian hell, ehm wind


The whole route was dominated by wind. And I really mean by wind. Here is how I would classify winds:

  • no wind -- this is just too bad if it is hot, otherwise you like it
  • light wind -- the best way to travel, you have some light breeze to cool down the heat
  • strong wind -- you don't like it but it is fine
  • light Patagonian wind -- you feel it because going headwinds is noticably harder than going with the wind
  • standard Patagonian wind -- going against it is hard. Gusts of crosswinds are nasty because they can throw you off the balance. If you are on ripio road you need to be extra careful as leaning your bike towards the wind has its limitations and you can loose traction on the loose ground and just fell with the bike. However, on a good paved road this is not a problem and you can easily keep going within a right half of a car lane
  • strong Patagonian wind. Going against it is almost impossible, you feel like climbing a steep alpine hill. This is also very dangerous. On a good paved road, you have problems staying within a whole car lane with occasionally being blown off to the shoulder or dangerously nearing the middle marker on the road. You should find a good shelter as soon as possible (which is not as easy to do as it is said)
  • hurricane

On my journey I had mostly standard to strong Patagonian wind.


December 25


At noon, after I say goodbye to everybody, I am leaving Casa Lili. I am heading to Cuevas del Milodón which is a Chilean "national monument" just 9 kilometers off my road. There I see a cave which is quite impressive. Its height is 30 meters and it is about 200m long and wide. It was caused by water erosion from the lake that was here ages ago. But Milodón cave is important for another reason -- it is a very rich archeological site where remains of first settlements of patagonia were found.


Views from Puerto Natales are great
Big Milodón cave
Milodón replica. I doubt it was usually standing like this but whenever you see a reference to Milodón in Puerto Natales, it is the standing one
Tiny ants, ehm, humans in the cave

After visiting the main cave, I am also going for a short walk on its top from which there is a perfect view of the country around. I am also visiting a smaller cave and what they call Devil's chair -- a set of rocks which did not erode as if a devil was keeping them for its sitting.


View from the top of Milodón cave
Devil's chair

On my way back from the detour I see some rabbits trying to hide from me and then I continue towards Cerro Castillo. But the wind is increasing and, surprisingly, it isn't exactly tailwind as one would expect.


In any case, I am calling it a day after I come across a decent bus stop. It cannot be closed an its opening is slightly against the wind but I anyway decide just to stay there without trying to setup my tent which wouldn't really fit there anyway. In the end this was fine but the night was quite cold -- the wind increased its velocity in the night and some gusts were slightly reaching inside which implied a quite cold night.


December 26


At 8:30 I am ready to go 30 kilometers to Cerro Castillo and from there to Argentina. So far the weather is nice -- it is sunny though windy. At first I have a bit of headwind but after a short while it changes to the tailwind and I am in Cerro Castillo in no time (or effort). There I get a bread and El Calafate cake in the multi-function-all-tourist-shops building and pass the Chilean immigration which is very fast.


Compared to Argentinian pampa this is a green country
Chilean immigration at Cerro Castillo is in a very nice building

Afterwards I need to climb a short hil to Argentina but the tailwind is so strong that I am almost going up the hill without really pedalling. On the other side I reach Argentinial immigration with an amazingly long queue of people. It was terrible. I was waiting one hour and half to get my stamp and during this time the winds were howling around. 


Before the Argentinian immigration at Rio don Guillermo where I spend more than one hour of waiting

By the time I cleared the immigration, the winds were just impossible. I was unable to ride the short ripio road there and I pushed my bike in few sections just to make sure I won't fall from the bike. Fortunately, the connecting road is quite short and I finally reach tarmac road. But the wind is very strong and even as a tailwind it is unpleasant to ride. Today I wanted to go further but around 20 kilometers before Tapi Aike I am just unable to continue. The road turns for a 2km section with a cross wind which is so strong that I am unable to ride the bike or push it.


Instead, I am quitting the day earlier than usual as I am finding a slightly wind-covered spot in a ditch on the other side of a road and plan for a tough night. Later that day, a cyclist couple passes along my tent. They hitch a ride in a truck about 200m later on the road. As the evening progresses the wind changes the direction and my covered spot suddenly isn't that covered anymore. I have a rough time securing my tent with big rocks.


This little ditch was everything that was shielding me from the wind this night

December 27


Fortunately, the wind slightly decreases over the night. I am leaving at 8 am just to use the still fine tailwind and it is a fast ride to Tapi Aike. There I ask for a water at a police station (which apart from a petrol station is the only thing there) and turn to dreaded Ruta 40.


My previous intel on Ruta 40 is that this is a bad ripio. Unfortunately, there isn't a good option to avoid it -- an alternative on a paved road goes to La Esperanza which is basically one day of hitching tailwinds and then the next day going straight against the wind to get to the same place as my plan today. Anyway, my previous intel turns out to be dead-precise. The road is usable in some places but really bad at others with rather big rocks as the pavement. And man, there is too much little rocks on it, somebody should clear it as it would make a huge service to the cyclists. And while the quality of the road somewhat improves over the time, it is never really satisfying over a longer distance. However, I have tailwinds so going on the road is easy, until they turn into the side gusts. All in all, this is a hell of a road even with tailwinds because it requires your utmost concentration form about 60 km otherwise you can fell with your bike.



Ruta 40. See the little rocks? Because I could definitely feel them

In fact, the road is so bad that I am losing one of my water bottles (and I did not change my carrying setup since Tierra del Fuego). This turns out to be a problem as now I can hold only about 2 liters of water and the water sources are scarce. Fortunately, about 20km before the end of the road, there is a nice river where I replenish my water. I decide to push the resulting 20km to the argentinian "road works" building (from my intel I know that it is on the intersection with the paved road and I can ask for a sheltered bit of a space for camping there). While the decision to ride the 20km was good, I was too optimistic with how easy it would be. The winds turn out to be side-headwind-ish and I am counting down kilometers one by one and forcing myself to go there as otherwise there is nothing to cover from the wind in this desolate pampa.


Who said that pampa is flat? It isn't. But more trouble than climbs is the wind

When I finally reach the road, I am finding the promised shelter behind the building and I am super happy with the long day.


December 28


Today was The windy day. In the morning two French women on a bike reach the road works building as well. They saw me two days ago after I went from Argentinian immigration (they stayed at the estancia there) and I presume are going to stay out of a wind for a breakfast here. Instead, I am already finishing my packing and at 7:30 I am starting out into the headwind. 

Ostrich is a funny bird once it starts running


Man, it is morning and the wind is so strong. And this gets worse. Over the next few hours the wind just increases and I am calling it a day at 11 am after I can no longer stay in a car lane and I see a perfect ditch -- quite big to shadow even the strong winds. It was only 20 km today so I am quite disappointed. But at least I get water from a passing car so I am secured for the day. 

In a perfect ditch. I really like this place and I would stay the whole day but I have high hopes of the wind forecast.

I stay in the ditch for 6 hours but because I have a wind forecast (from Christmas day which is quite old by now), I have some hopes that the night will be quiet. So, after reading a book for a few hours I am back on my bike at 5pm and starting again to try and get to 30 km distant Rio Bote (where I know will be water). The forecast isn't exactly correct as by 6 pm the wind does not die. But at least is is rideable. I am meeting two other cyclist riding the opposite way. And after tough day, I have a treat for myself -- the last 15 km is basically continuous descent of 500 meters so this part is relatively easy (though not for free).


Start of the descent to Rio Bote
Lago Argentino in the distance

I finally reach Rio Bote and I see a river which is good sign (it could have been just a dry river bed). It is even better because when I ask a local guy about a possibility of camping, he is immediatelly showing me a perfect camping spot near the river which is wind sheltered. Basically, a camping heaven.


Rio Bote -- a camping heaven


December 29


I have an alarm clock set to six -- riding the early in the day is a good idea, especially because the (old) forecast says that the wind should be back in a good condition by the noon. I have a chat with the local guy (though, it is not very easy to converse with my level of Spanish) and he wants me to give him some Slovakian coins as he is collecting coins from the many cyclists which pass by here (surprise surprise, this is the only decent place to camp in maybe 50km or so). Here I have quite some hard time to actually find Slovakian Euros in my purse -- in the end I find only two Slovak coins but this is fine.


In any case, I am leaving later than I wanter -- it is already 7:45 when I start pedalling. But the first kilometers are great. Averaging over 15km/h on a flat road, my hopes are high for a day. This however changes in less than 10km (out of 40 to El Calafate) when the headwind suddenly starts. It is maybe half past eight and the forecasted no-wind till the noon is not going to happen. So I push hard the rest of the way and here I am in El Calafate. I am finding a relatively cheap hostel and I am already planning my next part of the road to El Chalten. I am looking at the wind forecast first!

The road is mostly flat here
Recharging energy
Lago Argentino
Access road to El Calafate. I am finally there.

The last note -- if the wind forecast says "wind up to 60km/h with gusts of up to 80km/h", be sure to relax a few more days at the town you are staying right now and don't venture into the Argentinian pampa.

Route

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Download simplified GPX of a route here

Stats by activity:

Activity Distance
(km)
Ascent
(km)
Pedal rotations
(thousands)
bike 295 2.2 45
hike 3 0.1 -
Stats by day:
Date Distance
(km)
Ascent
(km)
Avg. temp
(moving, C)
Dec. 25, 2016 58.6 0.61 15.1
Dec. 26, 2016 48.5 0.61 16.8
Dec. 27, 2016 95.2 0.49 17.5
Dec. 28, 2016 53.6 0.43 15.1
Dec. 29, 2016 41.2 0.17 17.3

Elevation data

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The next table is only for cycling activity.

Grade(%)Ascent (km)Descent(km)
< 2 151.8
< 4 23.1 31.3
< 6 7.3 12.7
< 8 3.9 4.7
< 10 1.9 1.0
≥ 10 3.4 1.6

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