Xplore2Gether - California to Ushuaia

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by JimsBeemer, Mar 6, 2019.

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  1. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA Supporter

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    Day 4 in El Chaltén, and the big hike to Laguna de los Tres. We had planned originally to do this hike on Day 3, which was to be our last day. But the wind app ("Windy") predicted really strong (30+mph) winds for this day back out on Rt 40 and our route to El Calafate, so we decided to stay here in El Chaltén an extra day, and moved our hike to this day. It turned out that this was a combination of good planning and good luck. Good planning, because it was a very windy day and I read other ride reports of how bad it was that day, and good luck because we had post-card weather, just amazing. This was the only day the entire time we were there where you could see the top of Mt. FitzRoy!

    The hike to Laguna del Tres, which is a lake at the base of Mt. FitzRoy, affords (if the weather permits) the iconic view of the mountain. You can do the hike starting in town, but we chose to take the advice from the hotel, and took a bus (van) to another trail head off Rt 23 at Hosteria El Pilar, and then complete the trip hiking back into town, making it a "loop" instead of an "in and out" hike. It is a big trek - a bit over 13 miles total, gentle grade most of the way, but with a nasty climb right at the end of about 1,000' It is sort of "the hike" for this area, and it was extremely crowded. I don't know how to emphasize that enough - it was a freeway, especially near the end - most people come in on the trail from the town, so until we met up with that, we did not see many people. But once we did - just hundreds of people. Not an exaggeration.

    Carol's knee did ok - she was in a bit of pain by the time we got back. But she iced it and it has been sore, but she says she's had worse. We were both VERY sore the next day. In fact we were sore for a couple of days!

    Here is a bunch of pictures - most do not need explanation!

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    This is a at the start of the hike, near the Hosteria El Pilar. This hike has incredible views along the entire route.
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    Entering the park and praying that Carol's knee holds up for the trek. That and ibuprofen should get her through, we hope!
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    Coming the way we did, you get great views of this glacier, which you would not get if you did the normal "in and out" route from town.
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    View of the glacier I mentioned earlier.
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    When we started out, there were clouds still lingering over FitzRoy, so we were not sure we'd get to see it clearly or not - but as we hiked, the clouds began to thin and we could see the spires of the mountain through wispy clouds.
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    Just before I took this picture, a huge chunk of ice calved off and came crashing down. Carol was watching (she saw the whole thing) and shouted out to me, and I turned around and, where you see the waterfall in this photo, I saw what I thought was a HUGE waterfall, before I realized it was ice falling. Then I tried to get the camera going - but it was over before I could take the photo. The sound came afterwards.

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    We came across several back-country camps. I do not see the appeal - and I am an avid backpacker since my youth, and do trips every year into the Sierra. But for me the idea is to be alone in nature, and these camps were just tent-cities, crammed with people. Many or most of these are camping to hike in to the same lake we are day hiking to! The one thing that you can do if you camp is to hike from camp to Laguan de los Tres at sunrise, to try and get the iconic sunrise shot of Mt. FitzRoy. Not sure it is worth it!
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    Here we have joined up with the main trail, and are started on that last uphill climb to the lake - along with a host of other people, as you can see.
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    That is Carol - she is almost there! The knee is holding up so far!

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    We (and a few others) made it!
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    View from the lake shore, looking back up to the ridge from which previous photo was taken.
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    Heading back down to return to town. The view in that direction is pretty nice as well.
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    On our way back.
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    As we hiked back, we kept looking back over our shoulder, and just had to stop for more (and more and more) pictures :-)
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    The way back, on the main trail from/to town, goes by this lake that gives some great views.
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  2. rt1500

    rt1500 n00b

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    Great pictures and recap! Just curious what altitude you were at for the hike and pictures.
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  3. 95Monster

    95Monster Long timer

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    Great!
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  4. JoeBiker25

    JoeBiker25 Been here awhile

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    remarkable!!!
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  5. RedDogAlberta

    RedDogAlberta High Plains Drifter

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    [​IMG]

    This looks very much like the Athabasca River north of the Jasper, Alberta townsite.
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  6. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA Supporter

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    Not that high. The lake was around 4000’ (just over 1200m) and FitzRoy summit is 11,171’ (3405m). The base altitude of the Patagonian plains (called “pampa” here) is much (!) lower than the high altitude plains around the northern Andes (called the altiplano, literally “high plains). So the mountains here do tower above you with impressive relative (to where you are standing) height, but elevation relative to sea level is not like in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. We did hikes in Peru above 14,000’ - those were killers, just due to the lack of oxygen. That wasn’t a factor on this hike, just distance and elevation gain.
  7. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA Supporter

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    I have never been to Alberta province (but some day!), but Carol and I have commented to each other many times how similar much of Patagonia is to the Pacific NW, and British Colombia (which we have visited) in particular. But there are more tourist per square mile here, at least at the moment (peak summer vacation months).

    We have a daughter, and grandkids, in BC (Langley) and my son in law is always trying to sell me on the idea of a trip through Alberta, beginning and ending at their place. May happen!
  8. WineandCheese

    WineandCheese Looking to Friday Supporter

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    Enjoying your writing & pictures you posted.
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  9. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA Supporter

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    Just a quick post to say we are alive :-) Currently inside the Torres del Paine National Park, where we came after El Calafate. Internet has been beyond horrible but I'll try to post a few pictures later today after we get back from an excursion to see the Grey Glacier. The Periot Montt Glacier (El Calafate) will be hard to top - that was just jaw dropping - so huge. But as I stated on our FB page - the views here in Torres del Paine are where the National Geographic photos come from!

    We will be leaving tomorrow (Saturday Jan 25) for Puerto Natales, and Ushuaia is definitely close at hand. It is starting to seem strange to us, we have interesting feelings and thoughts as we realize we are actually approaching the "end" of our trip. Very mixed emotions. Note "end" is in quotations; after Usuaiah we plan to ride back north to see the Iguazu falls, before eventually shipping bikes and ourselves out from Buenos Aires.

    So we have sevral more months of travel - but after we turn north from Ushaiah, we will be riding towards "home" not away from it. Again the quotes; we don't have a "home" anymore! We sold our house, I'm not going back to a job, and we have no family in San Jose, where we were living before! So we have some big decisions in our future, that are starting to loom on our temporal horizon, and we are going to actually have to start thinking about them! Has been nice to not have to think about more than "where will we stay tonight" for the past year :-)

    At a trail head day before yesterday, we ran into another rider, from eastern Europe, who started out in the USA, road up into Canada, and then south, riding, he said, mostly dirt roads. We mentioned our detour around Rt 40 south of Gobernador Gregores, and his eyes got big, and he said it was the worse bit of road he has done his entire trip. Very confirming of our choice to do the long detour! :-)
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  10. 95Monster

    95Monster Long timer

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    On my way north after Ushuaia, I was staying at a biker hostel in Santiago where I met a fellow US rider that asked “So after Ushuaia, how long was it before you figured out you had no other plans?” That’s when the dread hit me. I still have no plans and it’s ok.
  11. Turkeycreek

    Turkeycreek Gringo Viejo

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    One option is to just keep riding like George is doing
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  12. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA Supporter

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    From El Chaltén, we drove to El Calafate. The main draw in El Calafate is the Perito Moreno glacier (and that is quite a draw - awesome). We stayed four nights, and that was more than needed. There are some hikes you can do in the area, but overall (my opinion) El Calafate is not as nicely situated as El Chaltén. El Chaltén is sort of nestled up in the mountains, where as El Calafate is more in the pampa (plains). Also, El Chaltén has this small-town backpacker/hippy vibe that is quaint and fun. El Calafate has less of that, though the downtown area is clearly focused on tourist but it just didn't have the same Jén sais quoi, to me, as El Chaltén.

    There is a bird sanctuary there, and we spent an afternoon walking around that. We ran into a couple in El Chaltén who had been to the sanctuary, and gave us their ticket that was good for a few more days - nice of them. We read in Lonely Plant that you can see just about as many birds just walking around the shoreline, but the sanctuary was nice.

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    View from the bird sanctuary, looking back towards El Calafate.
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    Lago Argentino, taken on the way into town. All of the photos here but this were taken at the bird sanctuary.
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    Southern Crested Caracara - taken at the bird sanctuary. These are very prevalent here in Patagonia - see them along the roadside constantly. They are a beautiful, large raptor, but we have only seem them in the "scavenger" role, not "predator". If there is a Guanaco carcas along the side of the road, there will be four or more of these working it over. I'm sure this isn't the first photo of one I've posted!
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    Pink Flamingos
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    I forget the name of this goose, but it is another of the iconic birds of Patagonia.
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    The Calafate berry! The bushes are all over in this region. They taste somewhat like a blueberry, but with a bit more berry flavor, and have a large seed or seeds.
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  13. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA Supporter

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    This is sort of a fun anecdote, and shows a bit of "life on the road". While we were in El Calafate, Carol wanted to get her top-box fixed. It fell off a few weeks ago (second time) as she was going down the road. Not her fault - I blame the Touratech latch design (it is a BMW box, but they are made by Touratech). I now have the latch secured with a plastic zip-tie so it wont happen again! The first time it came off was just after the Bolivian border, in Argentina, and it landed on it's side and just skidded down the highway, with nothing but cosmetic damage. This time it landed on the top, and it did damage to the lid and the hinge.

    To repair the hinge, a pin needed to be snap-riveted back into place, as it was originally attached. But the diameter of the hole in the pin was not a standard snap rivet diameter (thanks BMW/Touratech!) and to use a standard rivets available, a hole in the hinge pin needed to be enlarged, and then a snap rivets applied. I even had the required rivets and drill bit that we got in a local hardware store. So all I needed was a machine shop. Ideally one would use a lathe to do this, but a drill press with a drill press vice would work.

    With help from a tire store next to the hardware store, we found a guy with a automotive repair shop that had a drill press, and he said he could fix it. Indeed he had a drill press - but if he had a drill press vice, it was buried somewhere (see picture). I cringed as I watched him hold the pin with a pair of pliers while drilling the hole. Then he wanted to use sheet metal screws to attach it, despite my repeated it would be better and quicker to use rivets. He clearly was not happy with my suggestions, that decided he would try to use sheet metal screws instead. But I knew that sheet metal screws would not "bite" into the stainless steel pin, and even if it held for a bit I was sure that the vibration from the road would cause them to back out over time.

    He clearly rebuffed my suggestions and basically told me to get out of his way. So I did, and tried not to watch. Then, after he made several attempts to get screws to work, including a couple of trips to the drill press, I looked back in the shop and saw him using snap rivets! After 20 minutes or so of struggling with the screws, he quickly popped in two rivets, and gave me a shy smile that basically acknowledged that my idea had worked. I paid him about $20 USD (but in pesos), and he seemed happy with that.

    And the repair is holding - but Carol's panniers and top box are really toast. The panniers from the many times she has dropped her bike, and the top box from the aforementioned spontaneous tumble it took. She is no longer putting travel stickers we acquire on her boxes - she is buying them and saving them, and when we get back she wants new panniers (soft panniers this time) and a new top box, and wants to decorate that top box with her hard-won travel stickers.

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    Here is our "machinist" working on the top box. Drill press, sans vice, in the corner.
  14. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA Supporter

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    I love that - it is a perspective that only someone who has done such a trip can appreciate. Your "no plans" seem to be working out well! Enjoying following your current ride.

    I can see how easy it would be! But family will pull us back "home". I have read blogs or such from several world travelers that started out to go to Ushuaia or some other destination, and when they got there they just kept going, and a 9 month or 1 year trip turned into multiple years. I always thought "how could you start out for a one year trip and end up going around the world for 10 years?" (think Simon and Lisa Thomas, and others). I now see how easily that could happen. To just keep going would be easy. But for us the desire to be back with family will win out over that.
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  15. Turkeycreek

    Turkeycreek Gringo Viejo

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    Yo entiendo.
  16. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA Supporter

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    And ... we went to see the Perito Moreno glacier, which as I said, is (imho) the main reason to stop in El Calafate (unless you need repairs, read above, lol). It did not disappoint. I would definitely put this on the "must see" list for anyone doing the ride south. We forked out the $$ for a glacier trek, but if it would be well worthwhile to just pay the entrance fee to go to the well -designed catwalk that allows you to see the glacier pretty much face to face. The scale of this glacier is what makes it so appealing - it is jaw dropping big. We had seen quite a few glaciers in the preceding few weeks, but nothing compared. I could have stayed for hours just looking at it from the catwalk. It makes you feel small an insignificant. And it is a very active glacier - it is constantly making noises (snaps, cracks and explosive sounds), and moves about 2 meters a day, constantly calving icebergs into the lake. We saw some small pieces break off, but did not get to see a major calving event. It is one of the few glaciers in the world that is not retreating - it is considered at this point to be a "stable glacier" in terms of extent and mass.

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    View from the bus on the way in. We wanted to ride our motorcycles there, but to do the glacier trek, you had to take the bus.
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    The catwalk trail system is extensive and gives you good views of the glacier. Only cost to do that is the park entrance fee, which was not cheap - $30USD each.
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    The vivid blue color from the crevices was really amazing - it almost "glowed". Light coming out of such a fissure has to bounce off the walls of the ice many times and the glacier ice is not pure white - it absorbs slightly in the red part of the spectrum, so that after repeated bounces only the blue makes it out. Air bubbles in ice scatter light and make ice look "white"- but water is (think of a clear lake or the deep sea) intrinsically "blue"in color, because it absorbs light in the red part of the spectrum. Some glacier icebergs are blue in color - because compression has squeezed all the air bubbles out and you are seeing the "true color" of the ice. The physics professor in me leaks out ..
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    This is only about half of the glacier. It is hard to capture the size of it in a photograph.
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    That is a big boat in the background - probably holds 50 or more people.
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    The glacier trek is on the "left side" of the glacier (as facing the glacier). You take a boat over to the shore, and then they lead you to the ice from there.
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    Some trekking groups ahead of us, taken while we were getting geared up.
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    Hard hat and crampons - Carol is ready to go!
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    There is some pretty steep climbing on the trek.
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    Jim and Carol - arctic explorers :-)
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    At the end they served Scotch on the Rocks - and let us know that we were having 10 year old Scotch served on 10,000 year old ice!
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    View from our trek.
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    Boat coming to pick us up after the trek. Gives some sense of scale of the glacier.
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  17. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA Supporter

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    This was interesting - both in tiny Tres Lagos and in El Chaltén, I saw charging stations for electric vehicles. Bring your Tesla on down!
    But seriously - it shows how the infrastructure is slowly showing up, even in remote places. And yeah - they were unused at the time I saw them, but still .. changing times.

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    Charging station in Tres Lagos
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    Charging station in El Chaltén
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  18. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA Supporter

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    Our planned route south was to cross over into Chile and see Torres del Paine. If you follow our Facebook page you may have seen this, but it bears repeating. After the Carretera Austral, El Chaltén, El Calafate and points in between, I honestly started to think "Do we really need to see Torres del Paine?" Wow - the picture answers that question. To repeat what I posted elsewhere - "So THIS is where all those National Geographic pictures of Patagonia come from!"
    This photo was from outside our hotel - it was taken at 6:42AM so you know I didn't take it! Carol is the early bird.

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  19. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA Supporter

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    Here is a map update - showing our entire route, day hikes and boat rides included, from the town (not glacier) of Perito Moreno, Argentina, to Punta Arenas, Chile, where we are as I write this. I was surprised when I made this map - I hadn't appreciated how much territory we've covered as we've wondered south.

    Perito Moreno to Punta Arenas.jpg
  20. 95Monster

    95Monster Long timer

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    Hey Jim! Something to consider- the ferry from Puerto Natales, north, to Puerto Montt. Nobody likes that stretch up the Atlantic coast to BA. And if you’re going to the falls, why not go back up the Andes? You can flip flop the borders to cover the areas you missed on the way down.

    I think the ferry was about $700US for me and bike. 5 days, 4 nights. Very cool, scenic trip w glaciers, whales, wildlife but no booze. Bring wine. Just a suggestion