Sunday, February 14, 2016

In Search of a Volcano, February 10th-14th

Villa La Angostura-Paso Cardenal Samoré-Anticura (Chile)-Entre Lagos-Puerto Klocker-Paso Desolación-Petrohue-Ensenada-Puerto Varas

We start the day with a productive stop at the YPF, my favorite Argentinian gas station. Here you can find clean bathrooms (with TP and soap!) use wi-fi, and fill up water. What more could you need?

We have a quiet and scenic morning ride until we see a sign indicating that we'll reach the Argentinian border control in one km. Immediately the road is blocked by a huge line of cars. The people in these cars are clearly not expecting to move anytime soon. They are all out, snacking and playing in the nearby river. We decide to bypass all of them. Seems like our bikes are actually the faster option in this case, and they let us through without issue. The border process is quite simple. We recieve a paper from an official in a booth, then get it stamped by both immigration and customs officials, and hand it to another official in a booth as we head out. No one asks us a single question.

A slow climb up the pass, and then a fast and fabulous downhill brings us into Chile. In fact, for one section we´re actually keeping up with a line of slow moving cars. Again, bikes for the win! At Chilean border control, proceedings are the mirror image of Argentina, except for the fact that we have to finish all of Chris and Hannah´s raisins before the SAG officer takes them away from us. 

I felt a little bad passing all these cars in line... but not that bad. Photo courtesy of Hannah
We spend a while scouting for a good campsite. All of our searching missions lead us to areas strewn with toilet paper. It´s so sad to see a National Park polluted this way, and I hope that one day things here will be improved by building toilets or providing education on how to go to the bathroom in the woods responsibly. Finally we find a good spot down by a river. The water is slow-moving and refreshing, and as we get ready for bed, the setting sun lights up a mountain in brilliant hues of pink. Welcome back to Chile.

Volcanic rocks float down the river by our campsite. Photo courtesy of Hannah
 The next morning, a smooth paved road brings us to the town of Entre Lagos. We are thinking about attempting a trail up and over Volcan Osorno, but we have very little information about it. Since this is the last big town we´re passing through we want to ask around for some local knowledge.

First stop: Tourist Information Center. The cheery lady there insists that there is no way to go around the volcano besides the main highway, and then marks this obvious route on three separate maps. When I ask her politely to stop drawing on the maps because we are not planning to take them, she insists indignantly that she needs to at least mark the town of Entre Lagos so we can see where we are. I'm not sure why people at tourism offices seem to be so determined to mark things on maps. I guess most of the people coming through here are extremely lost.

Second stop: the carabineros, the police. Danny goes to talk to these guys while I do some shopping. When he asks about the trail the officers say they know it but refuse to give him any information. It's simply not recommended; people get lost, then the police have to go look for them in helicopters. Danny explains his experience and skill with route finding, but they still refuse to help, calling after him to ¨please be careful¨ as he walks away, frustrated. After doing the trail, it`s clear that they had never actually been on the wide, well-maintained trail, as a blind person could probably follow it.

Third stop: fire station. Two nice older ladies open the door when we knock. They don´t look like firefighters, but they at least attempt to be helpful. They reassure us that there are trails on the volcano, but they're not sure where these trails go.

Fourth stop: wi-fi. Within an hour we have all the info we need. Sometimes local knowledge cannot compete with the internet.

For the night we find an amazing campsite on the edge of a huge lake that pours into a rushing river. Above us looms the snowy cone of Volcan Osorno. A challenge awaits us there. 

Looks like there are more than just those seven famous lakes...

Yeah bike lane! Volcan Osorno in the background, the last time we would see it before a three-day storm moved in

The rainy morning can't dampen our enthusiasm as we head towards the volcano. We're not the only enthusiastic cycle tourists out on the road. A French family with three kids cycling from Chile to Peru! Talk about inspiring!

The champion cycling family. The kids carry all their own gear, and they travel 30 km per day. There`s only so much time to cycle when you have to do school

Mid morning, we're turning onto a dirt track. A sign informs us that there is a cafeteria at the top of the climb, and immediately Chris begins to fantasize about mac and cheese, jello, and all our favorite cafeteria foods. (Cafeteria means cafe in Spanish)

As we climb we are welcomed into a gorgeous forest by large reddish ferns. Slowly the environment becomes more and more alpine until the ground is mossy and covered in delicate mounds of reindeer lichens.

Are we back in the rainforest?
Unfortunately, our sun fades into the clouds and it begins to rain again. This time it's back to stay. We are delighted to finally spot a sign for the promised cafeteria, but our dreams of hot chocolate and treats are quickly lost when we arrive to find the building locked.
With no available shelter from the pouring rain, we decide to make our own. We find a big old blue tarp on the ground, and with some straps and a bit of creativity we manage to create a pretty good cover with it. Both tents can just fit under, and things look good until water starts draining from the tarp and our tent space starts to flood. An emergency tent moving leaves us and most of our stuff soaked, but at least we won't be sleeping in a lake for the night.

The morning dawns a bit cloudy but free of rain and we quickly begin to pack up of stuff with hopes of heading up to volcano. But more rain is on its way, and our already drenched clothing is getting wetter as we begin our trail. Hey, at least we have a big hill to warm up on!

The trail up the volcano is far better than we expected. It's wide, not too steep, and rideable for most of the way up. The top of the pass marks the clearing of some clouds and some of the best trail riding I've done in my life. The way down is a different story. A trail sandy with volcanic ash proves to be quite the challenge. We all appreciate the soft landing zone as we tumble off our bikes.

In the spirit of adventures, Chris tries a new riding strategy and falls off of his bike, slicing himself on his gears. The wound looks nasty, but he'll survive.

That's our trail 

Hannah and Chris making their way up the last bit of the ascent

What a team!

As the sun begins to emerge, finally we are rewarded with some views!

Mountain biking doesn´t get much better than this

Cover shot for Adventure Magazine?

Things get sandy, but Hannah is still determined to ride...

...until both feet come off the pedals...

...uh oh!

100 points for effort

Chris pulling rocks out of his leg

A last sandy/ashy bit.  That volcano is still hiding in the clouds!
Back among tourists and paved roads, we're happy to discover a rushing teal river and bike lane leading us into "town." The "town" of Ensenada is really a street full of cabañas and camping areas. Tonight we're happy to pay a bit for a covered campsite with wi-fi and hot showers. Finally our stuff has some time to dry!

Another rainy day sees us biking into the town of Puerto Varas, where we are welcomed by our fantastic warmshowers hosts Lucas, Paloma, and Paloma's mother Gabriela. We enjoy an amazing evening with them, poring over maps and enjoying some homemade, gourmet banana bread and pizza. How lucky we all are to have this wonderful place to rest! 

A hot cocoa and cookie stop is necessary to escape the cold rain. Plus, it is Valentines Day...

A cyclist`s favorite pastime: Chris and Hannah looking over maps with our host, Lucas

Route Notes:
- Villa La Angostura (Argentina) to Entre Lagos (Chile): All paved, beautiful through Parque Nacional Petrohue. Definitely not quiet, but traffic was never overwhelming until the last few kilometers. Entre Lagos has shops, restaurants, ATMs, internet, and extremely unhelpful police.
- Entre Lagos to Puerto Varas via Osorno: Great riding from Entre Lagos to the intersection with a larger road at Lago Llanquihue. All paved, including a bike path to Lago Rupanco ending in a great spot to camp anywhere at the lake and where it drains. The larger road heading east towards Ensenada is much more trafficked, definitely not an enjoyable stretch. We turned off at Puerto Clocker, 18km from there to Refugio La Picada, which was locked and seemed inhabited even though no one was there. The climb through the National Park is scenic, smooth, and gradual, a great ride that was probably helped by how rainy it was - fewer people heading to the park.
The trail we took is called Paso Desolacion, and it`s on Open Street Maps. The ascent to the pass was 99% rideable for us, all except for a few patches of deep sand. A strong rider on a fatbike could probably ride all of it, although the rain may have actually kept things firmer than usual, so I can`t be sure.
The descent was fantastic for the first few kilometers, only a few odd meters of pushing through deep sand, but the last eight km into Petrohue were all very deep sand, somewhat of a slog in parts. Fortunately it`s almost all downhill, so you can kind of slide down all except the last five km.
Petrohue has a little market, a cafe, and some very expensive-looking cabañas. About 8 km of ripio until pavement, then there`s a bike path all the way to Puerto Varas. Ensenada has a little market and lots of camping places.

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