The Villa O’Higgins – El Chalten Crossing

It was again with heavy hearts that we waved ‘cheerio’ to Pepino, our local host for our unique night in the sleepy village of Villa O’Higgins. Being with him, his animals and our fellow Carretera Austral wanderers, was refreshingly humbling, as I witnessed a way of life that had long disappeared in our modern and aseptic Western societies.

Pepino was an incredibly generous human being  with a heart of gold. Not only did he offer us a place in his garden for our tent, the use of his stove, but he fed us home made empanadas and assisted Lottie in making “the best hot chocolate” she has ever had. EVER. Indeed the milk used in the process was milked that morning and heated on the wood fire oven. Proper rustic, and we love rustic!

Infografia Cruce
Detailed map of the crossing.

Looking at the above map, you’ll notice that to get to El Chalten there is two lakes you have to cross: Lago de los Glacieres and Lago del Desertio.

The first lake can only be crossed by boat.

Whilst the second one, which is much smaller, can be contoured by foot. In total this would mean a gentle two day hike of approximately 37km in total. Piece of cake!

Living in the EU, which has the Shengen area, means that you are free to move in any member country freely and without proof of identity. This made our following border crossing by foot, along a rocky trail at the foot of the Andes, very exciting indeed! This still remains a highlight of our whole trip. Also, picture no more than a wooden hut as a passport office, mystic.

We crossed the first lake in less than 1 hour.

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On the Robinson Crusoe boat with Jayne, our hero, who chose the Carretera Austral as her first cycling Tour. Mad.
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Lago O’Higgins with the Chilean ice fields in the background.
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The “port”
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Getting off the boat at the other end of the lake in Candelario Mancila

Thankfully, it was a beautiful day with little wind. For those who don’t know, Southern Patagonia which is located below 45 degree of latitude is known for it’s thumping westerly winds. We will be experiencing these in Torres Del Paine, but more on this in Lottie’s next blogpost!

Within one km of walking we had reached the small Chilean passport office, held by the Carabineros.

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Initially it’s a stiff climb up a dirt road before the road gently plateaus. As you’re walking up and away from the lake, you can look up back on the vast expanse of turquoise water running straight from a glacier that has been there for millions of years. Quiet mind boggling.

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200 meters to the passport shack. Lottie feeling the weight..but going strong!
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Mandotary selfie with this cool ass sign!
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The classic “Jamon y Queso” sandwich which made up most lunches and dinners.

The trail is beautiful, and I believe is one of Patagonia’s top hikes in its own right (+ it’s practical as you get to cross the border on foot rather than on a bus). Shortly after plateauing, we reached a beautiful lush forest which provided a decent bit of shade from the afternoon heat!

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When suddenly… The mighty Fitz Roy range made its appearance. Glorious sight. Never seen a mountain quiet like it.
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Tri pod coming in handy. Only time we’ve used the thing.
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Lottie thought Merlin and the elves could come out at anytime.
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With this fine looking sign, we knew we were on the right track…
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Reached the border. From now the dirt road would become no more than a trail, and the last 6km to camp a little more challenging.
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Poles also came in VERY handy. Lots of small, rickety bridges to cross.
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Helping our fellow wanderers, the last 6km is incredibly tough for the cyclists.
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It was at times, tough going the old Carretera Austral. But this view, which you cannot get unless you actually make the Villa O’Higgins crossing was SO worth it.
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Cool fact: the Patagonia logo was drawn with the Fitz Roy Rang in mind. Kind of a “mise en abime”, if you think about it.
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After a 22km slog, we finally reached the Argentinian passport office and camp! Not the friendliest bunch, maybe something to do with our UK passports!! I actually got told off for taking this picture…
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We set camp up, made dinner and laid in our tent watching the sunset over the Fitz Roy Range. Tent view!

It was a very cold night. Probably zero degrees or below. In the morning, everyone was talking about how cold it had been. It wasn’t until around 10am that the sun rose over the surrounding mountains and hit the campsite. At which point, everyone gathered in one spot to enjoy the rays and thore out.

We started walking, slightly stiff from the walk we’d done the previous day. It took us 5.5 hours to contour the lake and again we were staggered by the beauty of the woodland! There is little documentation about what to expect from this part of the walk. Some describe it as very challenging, and others as medium difficultly. It certainly took us quite a while to traverse the 15km. The woodland was very ‘up and down’ but nevertheless, it was enjoyable.

I could not fathom that people actually came here and failed to visit the North shore of Lago del Desierto which offered such tremendous views of Fitz Roy!

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Luckily by the time we woke up, the annoying few clouds that were covering the summit on the previous day had vanished. Post card perfect.

We got to the southern side of the lake and immediately took off our walking boots to rest our weary feet. The bus to El Chalten is unbelievably expensive at around £18 each, despite the fact it’s only 37km. Luckily, we managed to hitch with a local back to town.

El Chalten, is stunningly beautiful with great vistas, cool shops and a good amount of eateries. We set up camp and went to a cool burger joint where we each devoured a burger… I had 2.

The following day, I decided to walk to the Fitz Roy mirador, a 22km round trip. Lottie stayed in town due to this reoccurring knee pain.

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My favourite mountain range, Fitz Roy

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When I returned to town at around 3pm I found out that Lottie had been throwing up all day. We are not quite sure what it was but luckily it didn’t last too long and we were able to make our way to El Calafate the following day.

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This is, again, only a short journey of 2 hours but it has the price tag of £20 each. So expensive! We decided to try our luck hitching and happened to bump into the same Japanese guy that we hitched with in the back of the delivery truck on the Carretera Austral the week before.  A chap passed us all in a mini van and although he wouldn’t take us for free, he asked for £5 from each of us, which was much more palatable.

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Vamos to El Calafate!

 

 

 

 

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