Single Track Mind
“Logistic nightmare.” “Huge potential for error.” “Remote, isolated, and challenging.”
We tried to prepare the riders for the worst, knowing that anything could happen along this stretch. The famous border crossing from Villa O’Higgins to El Chalten is one of fabled myth in the world of South American cycle touring. Not only does one company essentially have a monopoly on the ferries that cross the only passable lakes (and consequently dictate the terms and conditions of everybody who makes the journey) but it also features a burly 10km single track section. Single track being a loosely defined term here because it’s really more of a haggard hiking trail that cuts through multiple patches of wind-blown forests, crosses countless streams, and takes you straight through a number of mud pits.
Leaving the tiny little frontier town of Villa O’Higgins (founded by a small group of Welsh pioneers, thus the not-so-Spanish-sounding name), we rode a short gravel section to the first ferry. The views were incredible from the turquoise-blue water of the lake: radiant glaciers, granite massifs, and infinite alpine waterfalls. Because the lake is a swirling pool of runoff water from multiple glaciers, the currents can run in opposing directions as the same time forming dangerously strong whirlpools. It’s partially for this reason that there is one lone company that provides ferry transportation.
After the group unloaded, bikes dripping with frigid cold water that splashed up onto the bow, we dropped immediately into our lowest gears and climbed straight up a rocky gravel road to the one of the most scenic immigrations offices ever (its only rival came 20kms later when we arrived at the Argentinean side right in front of Lago del Desierto). Passports stamped, we rode along unmarked single track (the only part of the tour that hadn’t been scouted) and bridle trails to where we caught the second ferry of the day, 37km remaining to our final destination, the mountain town at the base of Mt. Fitz Roy, El Chalten.
All said and done, it was a day that started with breakfast at 5:30am, an 8km ride to ferry #1, then 20km of rough single track riding to ferry #2, ending with 37km of gravel to El Chalten where the final riders arrived at 9:30pm. With such a monumental day successfully behind us, we’re taking a much-needed and well-deserved rest day to restore our tattered bodies and mentally prepare for the winds of the open Patagonia plains. Closing in on the final days, our eyes are fixed on Ushuaia and the end of a truly epic adventure.