Chile - Patagonia parks and the final crank turn on the Carretera Austral

Rolling up the valley leading to the Reserva Nacional Lago Jeinemeni reminded me a bit of Montana's remote stretch of the Great Basin with horses running free on unfenced land, only two estancia’s marking the entire way before the actual park entrance and no need to be on the look out for cars.

I was particularly struck by one of the phrases in the rules and regulations -  “We are only visitors of this Reserve…”  The park is first and foremost for conserving the environment; our interaction with it is only secondary to its purpose.     

Standing in the middle of the long since vanished glacial corridor was awe inspiring.  

I had a nice conversation with one of the local Chileans who was visiting the park for the day about my trip, the park and what Doug Tompkins has done here in Chile.  

As I rolled back down into Chile Chico the following day, the same man from the park, flagged me down on the streets from his car and, sadly, told me of Tompkins' passing the day prior.  

The following morning, I crossed into Argentina to pick up the remote stretch of Ruta 41 heading south along the border.  Apart from a section of absolutely crushing headwind, the riding was some of the best yet. A series of fantastic valleys each seemingly different from the next wound steadily upwards.

A steady afternoon of inching culminated in the spectacular lunar like El Portezuelo Pass; the rim of a volcanic crater from an eruption years past.

The descent cut through washes, turned into jeep track and finally single-tracked into a field where I turned my tent into a make-shift bivy bag after numerous wind squashings pushed the Big Agnes closer and closer to the point of no return.

The border patrols were surprised to see me roll through Paso Roballos at first light to pick up my stamps and head out into Chile's Valle Chacabuco.   Once home to the largest sheep ranch, Estancia Valle Chacabuco, the valley has undergone several government and private ownerships throughout its history.   In the final land transition stages of being given over to the Chilean Government from Conservacion Patagonica, the new 640,000-acre Patagonia National Park will stitch together Reserva Jeinemeni and Reserva Tomango.  Open as a "park-in-progress" it is a fantastically beautiful piece of Patagonia often bypassed by those traveling up and down the Carretera Austral.

It felt extremely surreal to be in the Park the same weekend they were having the funeral for Doug Tompkins but the staff was extremely helpful and tried to make the best of the situation for those of who arrived in the midst of it all. The campsite served up some good conversation at the communal round table and I hiked the Lagunas Altas Trail the following morning; a wonderful 23k loop linking together a series of alpine lakes and offering up one breathtaking valley view after another.

After Cochrane, the Carretera Austral gets a bit sleepy since cars can't cross into Argentina down in Villa O'Higgins.  This was the Carretera I had imagined from afar - estancias, ripio, epic views, and nada mas.

The remnants of huge lakes set against the snow caped peaks lead to constant head swiveling goodness.

Months ago over a bottle of wine, Fernando and Erin put a big marker circle around Caleta Tortel as a must see side trip.  A small fishing and tourist town, the bog like landscape is dealt with through a series of boardwalks that wind through the woods and along the rivers edge linking buildings and plazas together into one continuous interconnected wooden web.

With a steady stream of Patagonian shingles marking the entire way south, the library in Tortel served up the brightest of the bunch. And it was nice to see where some of the photographic footprints I looked at for so long from "corporatelandia" where taken...

Early morning light on the Rio Baker.

Sad to see the Carretera Austral come to an end, but the stretch into Villa O'Higgins saved some of the best for last.

Route info:

Chile Chico cross into Argentina - Ruta 41 - Paso Roballos cross into Chile - Valle Chacabuco - Park Patagonia - Cochrane - Caleta Tortel- Villa O'Higgins.