Visitors rarely venture this far south due to the lack of a suitable border crossing for private vehicles. The road quality is poor and there is not much to do until arriving in Villa O'Higgins, but it is worth it for cyclists, hitchhikers or those travelling by public transport. For more adventurous mountaineers, there are multi-day hikes skirting the Southern Ice Field, although a week-long trek from Cochrane to Villa O’Higgins is possible for the daring.
At last the end of Carretera Austral. Villa O'Higgins. Still very cold and rain most of the day. Ferry is not operating reliable and I expect to wait for a transport for about a week, maybe more.
The region of Villa O'Higgins was inhabited by the Aónikenk, also known as Patagones and Tehuelches, who were nomadic and expert hunters. Unfortunately, they have now completely disappeared due to persecution, diseases and alcoholism.
Explorers Francisco Perito Moreno and Carlos Moyano discovered a large lake in 1877 and named it after the hero of Argentine independence, San Martin. The name was later changed to Lago O'Higgins by the Chileans, after their own independence hero, Bernardo O'Higgins. In 1899, Hans Steffen explored the river outlet for the Chilean government, and in 1902 a British mediator divided the lake between Chile and Argentina.
In 1965, an incident between Chile and Argentina sparked Chilean President to strengthen sovereignty in the region. This encouraged inhabitants of the Río Mayer to build a landing strip to receive supplies and support from Chilean Patagonia. The works were completed in 1966, and on September 20th Villa O'Higgins was officially founded.
In the years following its foundation, Villa O'Higgins was given ownership titles and developed a primary school, health clinic and gym. In 1980 it became a municipality, enabling further development. In 1983 it started generating its own electricity, and by 1992 it had 337 inhabitants. In 1999 a road connecting it to Puerto Yungay was opened, providing access to improved electricity, satellite telephone, internet and better drinking water.
Villa O'Higgins, now with about 600 inhabitants, has become popular for tourism due to its close proximity to the Argentine trekking capital El Chaltén. A new road connecting Villa O’Higgins to Río Mayer in Chile has been built, but a border crossing is not yet possible. The Chaltén border crossing is only open in the summer months. El Chaltén was founded in 1985 to establish an Argentine population in this disputed border region.
I am scheduled for Jan 6th, the past ships left between 5am and 7pm. Waiting in a campsite with a lot of other tourists. Two nice hikes with splendid views during the last two days. The first days I shared a cabana with 3 students from the US, that I met on the road. Later we moved all to a campsite "El Mosco", where we met many other cyclists and hikers waiting for the ferry. The kitchen and common room had slow to non-existent internet connection, so people actually talked to each other and I met quite a few pleasant and interesting people. Most of them I met again somewhere on the road between El Chaltén and Ushuaia. Some of them had a tight schedule and had to be at an airport quite soon, others were between one and four years on the road. People from Sendling, Landshut, Erding, Berlin, Switzerland, England, South Africa, Argentina, Chile and many other places. Beware not to get infected by the long-term travelling virus.
Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme was a wealthy landowner of Basque-Spanish and Irish ancestry who freed Chile from Spanish rule in the Chilean War of Independence. He is considered one of Chile's founding fathers, as he was the first holder of the title "Supreme Director" to lead a fully independent Chilean state.
On 18 September 1810, O'Higgins joined the revolt against Spanish rule and was elected a deputy to Chile's first National Congress in 1811. He became embroiled in a power struggle between the Carrera family, who supported a Chilean nationalism, and the Lautaro Lodge group, which included O'Higgins and the Argentine José de San Martín. O'Higgins was initially appointed to a minor military position in 1812 due to his illegitimate origins, poor health, or lack of military training. In 1813, when the Spanish government made its first attempt to reconquer Chile, Carrera was chosen to lead the military resistance.
O'Higgins was sent to cut off the Spanish at Linares, where his victory resulted in his promotion to colonel. He continued to fight against the royalists, displaying a reckless courage that would make him famous. In May 1814, O'Higgins supported the Treaty of Lircay and was appointed commandant-general by the Junta in Santiago. After Carrera's coup in July 1814, however, O'Higgins was exiled. He returned in 1817, and the two leaders united against a common threat—the Spanish forces under Mariano Osorio. O'Higgins and his forces were defeated at the battle of Rancagua, but he managed to break out with some survivors and retreat to Argentina. He met San Martín there and the two returned to Chile in 1817 and defeated the royalists at the Battle of Chacabuco. San Martín was offered the position of power in the newly-free Chile, but he declined, in order to continue the fight for independence in the rest of South America. O'Higgins accepted the position instead, and became the leader of an independent Chile on 12 February 1818. He continued to fight the royalists and also engaged in a feud with José Miguel Carrera. After Carrera was executed in 1821, the long-running feud between them ended, but the argument as to their respective contributions to Chilean independence has continued up to the modern day.
In 1822, O'Higgins established a controversial constitution which many viewed as an attempt to keep power. This led to his political enemies accusing him of abusing state power and provinces viewing him as a centralizer. He was eventually deposed by a conservative coup in 1823 and replaced with Ramón Freire, who had previously been his closest ally but had slowly turned against him. O'Higgins offered up his life and was declared innocent by the junta before being made governor of Concepción, though he didn't stay long and left Chile shortly afterwards.
Bernardo O'Higgins was deposed in Chile in 1823 and left for Peru, where he was encouraged by Simón Bolívar to join the nationalist effort. He was granted two haciendas near Lima and lived in exile for the rest of his life. He visited Bolívar to celebrate Peru's victory at the Battle of Ayacucho, but as a private citizen.
He endorsed Andrés de Santa Cruz's integrationist policies and offered to act as a mediator in the conflict between Chile and the Peru-Bolivian Confederation. After being rehabilitated by the Chilean government, he argued for the establishment of a Chilean settlement in the Strait of Magellan. In 1842, he was allowed to return to Chile, but passed away shortly after due to cardiac problems.
At 4:30am all people scheduled for today met at the small office. The port south of the lake was called by radio and the wind conditions there allow no ferry ride today. We will meet tomorrow again. Not only our group has now a delay but all the schedules after us as well are delayed by at least a day. Back to the campsite to a dry common room.
The only way out of Villa O'Higgins is north along the Carretera Austral or south to El Chaltén in Argentina. Crossing the border between El Chaltén and Villa O'Higgins, called the Portezuelo de la Divisoria in Argentina and Dos Lagos in Chile, can be done on foot or bike. The border is open from November to mid-April.
The trip consists of four stages (listed here from Villa O’Higgins in Chile to El Chaltén in Argentina).
Stage 1: Villa O'Higgins to Candalario Mancilla via Lago O'Higgins
Stage 2: Hike into Argentina and reach the northern shore of Lago del Desierto
Stage 3: Cross or hike around Lago del Desierto to the southern shore
Stage 4: From the southern shore of Lago del Desierto to El Chaltén in Argentina
Note: Trip is only possible from November to Easter.
We waited long for it, but yesterday the ferry took us over the lake. 20 km uphill on gravel road and then 5km on a trail down to Lago Desierto with lots of obstacles. Another ferry and 38km gravel to El Chalten. Today some trekking to Lago De Los Tres.
Mirador Fitz Roy
Lago Desierto - a second ferry
Next pictures are taken along the road to El Chaltén, about 38km of gravel (and I had a problem with a flat tire again), with some of the most spectacular views on that entire trip.
Early up and on the way to Laguna de los Tres
Laguna de los Tres
The camp site in El Chaltén was extremly crowded and for the first night I pitched my tent on a slope on very stony ground, the pegs not really securing it against strong wind. This morning I got up very early and when I returned to the camp site I was looking forward to a dinner with a fellow cyclist in town and did not do anything to secure my tent in a better way or move it to better ground. The wind became a lot stronger while we were at a restaurant and when we returned to the campsite my tent was flat, a bicycle on top, a pole broken and holes on top in the outer tent. The tent was about to be blown into a fence and neighbours at the campsite secured it with something heavy the could find: a bicycle. Since I travel prepared I was able to replace the broken pole segment, but it took a while to get everything up again this evening. The huge crowd in El Chaltén and probably the story with the tent made me want to leave the town behind and the next morning I left for El Calafate. The morning brought some very good weather with post card like views of the mountains.
El Chaltén is a small mountain village in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. It is located near the base of Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy spires, both popular for climbing and hiking, and is the Trekking Capital of Argentina. In 1985, Argentina and Chile had a dispute over it, which was won by Argentina. Today, El Chaltén is mainly used for tourism.
Mount Chaltén is a Tehuelche word meaning "smoking mountain". It was named Mount Fitz Roy by Argentine explorer Francisco Moreno in honor of Robert FitzRoy, captain of HMS Beagle during its second voyage in the 1830s. Mount Fitz Roy was first climbed in 1952 by French alpinists Lionel Terray and Guido Magnone.
Cerro Torre is a mountain in Argentina and Chile, west of Cerro Chaltén. It is the highest peak in a four-mountain chain and has a mushroom of rime ice, formed by the constant strong winds, at the top that makes it difficult to summit. In 1959, Cesare Maestri and Toni Egger claimed to have reached the summit, but inconsistencies in Maestri's account and the lack of bolts, pitons or fixed ropes on the route led most mountaineers to doubt the claim. In 2005, a confirmed route was put up, but no evidence of previous climbing on the route was found. In 1970, Maestri used a gas-powered compressor drill to equip 350 metres (1,150 ft) of rock with bolts and got to the end of the rocky part of the mountain, leaving the compressor 100 m (330 ft) below the top. He was criticised for his methods. The route Maestri followed is now known as the Compressor route and was climbed to the summit in 1979 by Jim Bridwell and Steve Brewer. The first undisputed ascent was made in 1974 by the "Ragni di Lecco" climbers Daniele Chiappa, Mario Conti, Casimiro Ferrari, and Pino Negri. Controversies about Maestri's claims are the focus of Kelly Cordes' book, The Tower.