The Carretera Austral - the road between 2 nowheres

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December 11th 2015
Published: December 11th 2015
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The traverse back into Chile completed, and the 22km human-powered section now has a rating system.

1) Plush: Horse */- 4wd carries luggage and passengers

2) Sensible: Horse */- 4wd carries luggage. Walk and enjoy lush forrest rising to snow-capped mountains on the Argentine side, and a soft grass camp above glacier-fed lakes in Chile. Recovery: minimal

3) Foolish (incidently, the Bec option): oops. Walk with all luggage and 3 days food. Notice above scenery, between cursing pack, near knee-deep mud and mentally valueing every item in pack. Recovery: 36 hours.

4) Masochist: Bike with luggage, necessitating pushing of bike seperately to carriage of said luggage on many trail parts (ie 2-3 trips). Collapse at scenic campsite. Recovery: 2-3 days. Very popular.

Swearing never to carry half my bodyweight in gear again, I was none the less excited to have made it by the 'back door' into Chile and the end of the Carretera Austral. This 1240 km long dirt 'highway', broken by potholes and ferry crossings, is as famous for its scenery as its abillity to break windshields.

The Carretera would throw me a few surprises along with loose stones, as I aimed northward for the fishing village of Caleta Tortel:

1) No bus to Tortel - mild surprise (transport is notoriously tricky here, but the LP guide had not let me down before...)

2) Feeling of slight failure as hitchhiking here is supposedly 'easy', yet I end up at 8.30 pm stranded 22km from my destination - no surprise (trust me to blame myself for something as random as traffic)

3) Finding the bridge I then chose to camp under already occupied by 3 French cyclists - minimal surprise (cyclists ply the Carretera like ants, but fortuitously avoid being squashed by trucks more efficiently)

Caleta Tortel was worth the effort, however. 'Fabled', this tiny village sits oh-so-still at the bottom of a glacial valley, connected only by boardwalks, no roads. Bliss wrapped in snowy peaks!

Moving ever-northward, a 4 day trek around Cerro Castillo promised to be 'world class', with imposing spiky rock 'turrets' to 2,600 m, and distant glaciers just visible road-side, let me at it! Patience is, though, not a Bec virtue, as the first night found not another soul to continue from the Ranger station with. Juan, the ever-amiable ranger, showed me the clearly snow-clogged pass ahead, and explained I should only continue in good conditions, with 'mucho cuidado', and not alone.

Waiting was compensated for by such hospitality, however. The fire-warmth of the Rangers hut causing aromas of our roast chicken dinner to linger, I try (and fail) to teach Juan Salsa. I am chided in return for not understanding Chilean dance at all. We laugh. Then with the arrival of 2 more hikers (Sergio and Anna, a chilean couple), off I go.

The days blur into snow, rock, glacier-overlain emerald tarns. We plod through snow, rock ('shitty scree' soon to be named, unstable rocks of all sizes), ice-rivers and pristine forrest. Having shared much 'spanglish' (Sergio and Anna lived 2 years in London) and chocolate, our slightly jelly-legs carry us reluctantly back to the Highway.

I am now in the physical and administrative centre of the Carretera, attempting to cope with a small dose of civilisation. There is a supermarket. There is fruit and veg that has travelled for less time than myself. I hear rumours there is feasible internet too...but for the moment, weary limbs are elevated and gentle rain alights the hostel roof, so you'll all have to wait.


12th December 2015

The Carretera Austral
Hi Bec, just read your latest adventure and my esteem for you couldn't raise much higher...l reckon you have earned the title 'Intrepid'. l am amazed at your confidence to tackle these tough hikes and conquer all types of terrain. You don't seem to become lonely and are content to be with yourself which is a trait most folk could never achieve. So hats off to you. l don't know what is coming next so am awaiting the next segment with anticipation. Will you be at Bitangerbee (spelling) Bay for Christmas? What a breeze any hike there will be. Would love to be around the camp fire to hear your stories. Keep up the good spirits.

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