El Chaltén to Ushuaia, Fin del Mundo

January 25, 2017

From El Chaltén, a highway parallels pea-green Lago Viedma back to the main highway.  El Calafate is on the south shore of blue colored Lago Argentino.  The city of Rio Gallegos is under the “Santa Cruz” which is Rio Gallegos’ province.
From Rio Gallegos the highway cuts through a portion of Chile, and ferries onto the island of Tierra del Fuego at the “gap” in the road, and continues south, then west to Ushuaia.

I spent over three weeks in El Chaltén.  Climbing of any kind never materialized.  To tackle a bigger peak I would have wanted to get to know partners pretty well, and it just wasn’t happening.  The sport climbs near town didn’t seem worth the gear rental.  Folks are pretty well teamed up before they get here and once again language barriers were an added obstacle.  I did encounter climbers from the U.S. but was discouraged by generational differences and I’m sure they thought the same about climbing with some over-the-hill-never-was-been.  Climbing was something I hoped to do more of on the trip.

Of the three weeks in Chaltén, I spent one week sick with the flu, three days of which I hardly got out of the tent.  I had a good place to convalesce though, with a camp at the outskirts of town in some old-growth beech forest.  Quiet and secluded.  Once I felt better I took a few hikes into alpine zones and near the big peaks.  Two were off the main trails, and as always, one often sees more interesting things away from crowds.  The Calceolaria uniflora being one, it was first described by Darwin himself, it’s common English name being Darwin’s slipper. (See last “Plants” segment).

A hike to the summit of Cerro Pollo gave a grand view of the Fitzroy skyline.
Fitzroy group from ridge leading to Cerro Negro.
Cerro Negro and a faint outline of Cerro Torre to the right of the summit. Cerro Torre rarely came out of the clouds while I was there.
Laguna Torre. Very muddy with glacial sill.
Lago de Los Tres, where I had hiked the previous week, is above and Laguna Sucia below.

After almost a month I was ready to move on and packed to go.  Wind for the first 50 miles woud be a tailwind that blew constantly through Chaltén for the time I was there.  It could be calmer at night and in the mornings but invariably gathered strength in the afternoons and evenings.  No need for an early start this time.

I rode the wind back to the junction with Ruta 40, but then turned 120° into almost direct headwind for which it was impossible to make any progress whatsoever.  I spotted a metal shack off the highway a little ways, hopped the fence to check it out and began shuttling gear.   Good enough under the circumstances.

Hotel Patagonia.

Somewhere in Peru or Bolivia I had come across a website that mapped current world wide surface wind.  It’s function is ostensibly a service for wind power industries.  The site, https://earth.nullschool.net/#current/wind/surface/level/orthographic=-72.27,-56.93,3000/loc=-79.769,-48.371,is invaluable for a cyclist navigating Patagonian wind.  Since discovering the site, I would look briefly at it each time I had Wi-Fi and gained familiarity with what wind “usually” did on stretches I’d be covering later on.  With that, I could know the likelihood that bad conditions might change favorably if I waited a day or two, or whether I’d have to grim it out.  From my location at the shack I knew it wasn’t probable that wind direction would change for a some distance, but that it often calmed at night.  Sure enough, around midnight, it became a tolerable head/side wind and by 1:30 am I was riding in the light of a nearly full moon, making maybe 7 or 8 miles an hour.  I was at the foot of elongated Lago Viedma, the focus of katabatic winds coming off of Patagonia’s southern ice cap, Campo Hielo Sur.  After 20 miles the route ascends into foothills where I then found windless conditions in moonlight surrounded by incredible Patagonian expanses.   One car passed during the  night.

I reached El Calafate by 10 am, ate at a restaurant,  found a camp outside of town and went to sleep by early in the afternoon.  Next morning I went to town and looked at the wind map and found conditions for the next 230 miles to be a direct tailwind for 90% of the route.  No choice but to stock up on groceries and get going.  I made a 140 mile day and found another shack that appeared to be a half-finished bus stop in the middle of nowhere.  A bit drafty, but out of direct wind.  Made Rio Gallegos early the next day, but, once again, needed to wait for a change in the wind before continuing.  I checked into a spendy, but nice hotel (camping is far preferable to some of the cheaper hotels) and spent two nights.

Sheridan Patagonia.  Wind kept up all night and into the morning but was fortunately at my back for the ride.

At 3:00 am of the second night I began riding in light crosswind that developed into a component of tailwind after 20 miles.  I made the Chilean border by 10 am and was confronted with more border surprises.  For these vast and desolate stretches that comprise Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego I always leave a good sized town well stocked with supplies.  Chile, in general, lets no fresh food across its border and meats, vegetables, fruits, even mushrooms, are all contraband.  I had heard rumors to this effect but the tiny stretch of dead end road one travels to the sub-Antarctic climates of Ushuaia and Punta Arenas wouldn’t seem to be an area of concern.  I told them what I had.  Their response was that I would have to throw more than half of what I had away.  I explained it would be stupid to ride a bicycle out into Tierra del Fuego’s no-man’s land without a good stock of food.  They allowed that if the food was cooked it would be OK.  They set me up in a place more-or-less out of the wind and I boiled potatoes, hamburger, bell pepper, mushrooms, onions, garlic, broccoli (I actually eat pretty well out there) and put it all in plastic bags.  I had good treatment through it all and one guy even brought me hot coffee and cookies while I cooked.  They took me at my word when I said I was done (I’m sure they weren’t blind to the virtual impossibility of something like a fruit fly destroying vineyards over a thousand miles away to the north).  I had the benefit as well of being recipient to fruit others were giving up as they crossed- they saw me there cooking and figured they’d rather give it to me than see the Chileans get it.  I left on a full stomach.

Chilean border beauracracy.

Mostly favorable wind took me to the ferry that crosses the Strait of Magellan to the island of Tierra del Fuego proper.  T. del F. is about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined and contains many habitats from active volcanoes to peaks encased by glaciers to miles of flat pampa.  In diminishing evening wind I rode another 20 miles and had a beautiful camp on green grass in open steppe.  Had the wind picked up it woud have been a disaster, but as it was things stayed calm.   I took no chances, however; and was riding again by 3:00 am.

Ferry terminal.
Strait of Magellan and a strong tidal current making the ocean look like a choppy river.
Landing on Tierra del Fuego.
Night ride and solar/battery lighting at a rest area.

I saw a few other cyclists that day coming towards me.  A guy from Guadalajara, Mexico, a couple from Denmark, a guy from Rio de Janeiro.  These were the first I’d seen in a while.  An expected 30 mile stretch of construction and dirt road came that afternoon and slowed things a bit, particularly since it was accompanied with rain and mud.   One stretch was freshly paved but not yet allowing traffic and I helped myself to it.  The construction ended at the Argentine border and I crossed without hassle.  Another 20 miles of tailwind gave me a 120 mile day.

Muddy roads.

Argentine border.

More tailwind took me 30 miles to Rio Grande, Argentina, followed by 10 miles of headwind that wrapped around again to tailwind.  Somewhere in this stretch I encountered the first cyclists from the U.S. I had seen for the entire 12,500 miles I’d traveled from Logan, Utah.  I had seen enough passing cyclists the last couple of days that I was considering just giving a wave and continuing on, but as it was I was glad I stopped.

They were a group of three and from the Northeast, but one guy, Noah, was working in Cedar City, Utah guiding outdoor trips for people with drug addictions.  As we talked the conversation naturally came to the topic of our new president and it was found we had about the same take on it all.    I was quick to mention that I had been a volunteer for the Bernie Sanders campaign, but then Cameron pulled out a photo on his cell phone of he and Bernie at Bernie’s house on New Years Day.  Cameron was the Coordinated Campaign Director for the Vermont Democratic Party and his partner, Krista, was Sanders’ Operations Director.   You can follow the cycling travels of Eli, Noah and Cameron on http://Www.mundopequeno.org.  Mundo pequeno indeed.

Noah, Eli & Cameron.
Cameron and Bernie.

Over the two days spent in Rio Gallegos I had booked flights to Cape Town, South Africa.  The first would be from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires.  With wind being the unknown it is here, I left myself plenty of time to complete the last leg to Ushuaia.  As it was I had about a week to spare and spent a couple of days in Tolhuin at the foot of Lago Fagnano before finishing the last 60 miles.  I found a Panaderia with Wi-Fi and worked on the blog,  as well as spending time at camp finishing Nelson Mandela’s autobiography as a start to knowing something about South Africa.  I was lucky to find an English version at a bookstore in El Chaltén.  I spent one morning cleaning & lubing of the bike.

Major scrub down of the bike- the cleaner the better for overseas customs.
New oil in the hubs and bottom bracket.
I have the tool for removing and cleaning the freewheel but finding somebody with a vise to hold the tool while the wheel is spun off is always a challenge.  A tire shop in Tolhuin was willing to let me use theirs.
Lake Fagnano. Huge waves for a lake.
Beaver near camp at Tolhuin. They were introduced here for their fur but with no natural predators they’re now considered a problem.
Lots of foxes. Often they’re habituated to humans.
A much calmer Lago Fagnano. The lake also goes by the indigenous name of Khami.
Lago Escondido (Hidden Lake) and Khami in the distance from Passo Girabaldi.  P.G. is the last summit before descending to Ushuaia.
Last camp before Ushuaia.
High peaks near Ushuaia.

The last 60 miles to Ushuaia from Tolhuin are westerly for which there would usually be a headwind.  With time to spare I waited a couple of days and had the extrodinary luck of almost no wind at all covering the last leg.  Since El Chaltén the wind gods have treated me well.

The Beagle Channel, Ushuaia and a couple of acres of shipping containers at about center photo.  Navarino Island, in the distance, is in Chile.
Mileage from Logan to Ushuaia.
Ushuaia has increased dramatically in size from what I saw in 2007, and it continues to grow.  Currently, the population is about 70,000 full time residents.  It’s considered the world’s most austral city.

A very different Ushuaia from 2007.
Joel & Natalia at the En Freddo Wi-Fi Cafe let me take up space for an afternoon while I wrote the blog.

One of the tasks I wanted to complete in Ushuaia was to find a machine shop that could make a tool that would allow me to adjust a stubborn bottom bracket bearing.  The last adjustment was in Bogotá, Colombia and I cringed while this well meaning kid drove the bearing cup around with a hammer and a punch.  The crank arms were a bit loose again (bearings have worn evenly, but need replacing which I’ll do in Cape Town where hopefully I can find non-metric bearing balls).  I asked around and found Diego Otamendi’s shop and he built the perfect tool for me at a very reasonable price.  His daughter, Andrea, interpreted and it was fun to spend time there.


Andrea and her dad Diego. Andrea is a psychology student in Cordoba, AR but helps her dad out running machines on vacations.
Part Diego made for me.

Next stop Cape Town, South Africa.

Plants & Animals, Peru to Argentina

January 9th, 2017

I left off the last plant segment, clear back in Peru, with this, the deflated “birdie”.

This is an Altiplano cactus that grew at elevations over 14,000 feet.
Very pretty, “digital” snake that was hit on the highway.

More Solanaceae.

6-legged spider on the tent fly.

Quenual above (paper bark tree) and above that, one that looks very similar from a distance but quite different up close.  The two often grow together.
Vetch of some kind.

Taraxacum reappeared soon after descending the last time off the Altiplano and has been with me since.
These (above & below) were a sort of tiger lilly growing in roadside gravels.

Pea family and mesquite-like.
More trippy cactus above and below. Grades from the 14,000 foot Altiplano would drop over 8,000 feet to desert climates, cross a river, and then the begin climbing again.


Peruvean lupine.

Townsendia- like.  Once again at over 14,000 feet.

Looks Claytonia megarhiza-like

These got fairly big, much like Hymenoxys grandiflora.

This thing was the only one of its kind (above and next two below) so I suspect it was planted by someone.

Pine, probably introduced, and Eucalyptus.
Pine was 3-needled.
More of the alpine cactus.  Nasty to navigate around.
Once again, akin to reindeer lichen.
No clue here.  Hi in Peru but looks like it should be underwater in ocean surf.  Stromatolites!

Cactus within a grass that could be Sporobolus.

This was growing at over 17,000 feet and looked like sky pilot.

More Fabaceae
Many grasses.
This thing was pretty much the high point of Bolivia, but was an incredible cactus.  I found a colony of them on a hillside out in the middle of nowhere.

Somewhere in here I dropped off of the Altiplano and into a more desert climate and topography.


Lots of non-descript shrubs.

Argentine saguaro.

This thing had quite an odd shaped pedal till a I realized it was being eaten by something.
Yellow version of prickly poppy.

I saw this clear back in Oaxaca but it reappears here at a comparable latitude and elevation.


A legume that without flowers looks like ephedra (below).

Creosote. This looks virtually like the Mojave species Larrea tridentata but here goes by L. cuneifolia. The “lumpers” say they’re the same while the “splitters” have more than one species on each continent. The smell, which is distinctive, is the same.
More cactus than I’ll ever learn.

I’m sorry I didn’t get more and better photos of this.  Very different cactus.

I can’t find if they separate their saguaro species from Trichocereus (or Echinopsus) terscheckii, but this one, found further south, had a few differences from it’s northern counterpart.  It had a very showy flower (below).

Very phlox-like

The ephedra-pea again.
This is again some kind of mesquite. The thorns are 2.5 inches long.
Oenothera and token dandelion .
Tamarisk doesn’t invade the way it does in the Southwest, but it’s definitely here.

S. America is where both tomatos and potatos (Solanaceae) originate so there are many species.
Mesquite-like shrub.

Armadillo for the second time. (Too cool not to show it twice).

Some kind of tussock grass.

The next bunch were taken as I was passing about 40 degrees south, which is about what northern Utah is.  Many familiar invasives are found where elevation and climate are similar.  Both Melilotuses are here and a few others I didn’t photograph.

Hound’s tongue.
Bindweed. Not a very good picture, but it doesn’t need to be- everybody knows this this one.
The brown grass I think is B. tectorum
Mulinum spinosum

Penstamon of some kind.

Above and below are of what I’m guessing is a chenopode and possibly an atriplex not unlike our shadscales and four-wing salt bush.

The star thistle mentioned in the blog already.
This and below looks like an invasive as they will dominate road shoulders. Very showy invasive, though.  Here I’m entering “green” mountains again north of Bariloche.

Lupine that again is probably an invasive.
Lot of Cirsium.  Not sure on species.
Rose.  Could be woodii.

Might be Sisymbrium altissimum
Embothrium coccineum, or Chilean firetree, is a spring bloom that gives forested slopes the look of first autumn reds.
Queen Anne’s lace, I think.

Chloephaga melanoptera or Andean goose.
Below, closeup of above.


The plants below are all in Patagonian mountains near El Chaltén.

Looks like Pachystima. Same habitat.
There are a few different violas.
Beech forest. There are a few species of Nothafagus. Two that are common here are antarcticus (above, I think) and betuloides, below, which means “birchlike”.


Wintergreen, Gaultheria pumila.
If it were N. America this would be a Sisyrinchium species but here goes by Cordonorchis lessonii.
Sisyrinchium arenarium.
Anemone multifida.
Euphorbia collina.
Adesmia boronioides. The leaves of this plant look somewhat like our fernbush, Chamaebatiaria millifolium, but Adesmia is in the pea family and fernbush is rose family. What’s amazing is that they have the same pungent, not unpleasant, smell.  Here, they say this Adesmia produces an “essential oil”. What were the circumstances of evolution that the two plants would concoct the same chemicals for their smell?
Phacelia or Penstamon?
More stromatolites.

Above: Oxalis aderophila.

Don’t see a lot of sedge, but there are a few.

Looks like good old dandelion…..
…….but has a wiry stem.

Andean goose and goslings near Chaltén.
Cougar shit. Yes, they’re here!
Seeds from an Osmorhiza species that could be the same as that found in N. America.  We’ve all had to extract these things from our animals after a walk in the Bear River Range.

These plants are more in the alpine.

Adesmia salicornioides.

Above: Azorella spp.

Calceolaria biflora.

Above: Empetrum rubrum, or what N. Americans would call Crow berry.

Well, if you made it to here you get a prize. This is Calceolaria uniflora, one of the incredible plants of Patagonian alpine.  Looks like an orchid but was strangely classified as a Scroph when I was here in 2007.  Now it, and C. biflora, a few photos above, are in their own family, Calceolareae.  I remembered it being a good 3 or 4 inches long and was surprised that in reality it is barely an inch. They’ve recently found out that it is pollinated by a seedsnipe, a small bird. The white “tray” is high in sugars and as the bird pecks at it, rubs pollen onto its head from two stamens at the top of the plant.