The day had finally come.. after much demanding and even doing 50% of the repairs myself, my motorbike was ready… I was ready to hit the road/gravel as fast as I could and leave Coihaique in my rear view mirror at tremendous speeds… My home for a month, it had been good to me, the hostel was fantastic and I had basically become family after a while. But needless to say, I had to leave.
I went to the nearest border crossing at Balmaceda and the road was paved so I was in heaven. Until the crossing in which it appeared Argentina doesn’t care too much about your comfort or safety but rather how much your kidneys can rattle and how many near death experiences you can have in a 5 minute period. In the plains of the Santa Cruz providence, the wind kicks up and it’s only ever by luck you get a tail wind. There is no science to the Patagonian wind, only that if it is not windy: it is about to be. I made my way to Perito Moreno (the town) and it took me 7 Hours of hard riding to only go 290km.
I spent two days at Perito Moreno as I needed to organise money and my next stops to Gregores and El Chalten. I was interested in seeing the Cuevas Los Manos (caves of hands) but it would have to be on the way to my next stop as it was on route. The wind was not kind to me this day, It was another hard 7 Hr ride for only 320km.. It really takes it out of you, as your concentration is almost at level jedi, if it’s not the wind trying to blow you off the road its the road trying to destroy you. I got to Gregores and settled in for the night but only after eating a delicious looking meal that I thought was a roast but was actually cows tongue.
Next morning I had a good feeling… 330km to El Chalten..I had heard so many great stories about there and the glorious Mt Fitz Roy. But any good feeling I get, can soon be mistaken for naivety and who am I kidding my self… Im not having the best luck. My GPS lead me out of town, I saw the sign for the 40 and felt good I was on the right track… But for some unknown reason my GPS forgot to tell me to turn right, I rode for almost 30 mins before the GPS started recalculating and confusing itself. I stopped, I zoomed out of the map and there it was, it was making me do a loop only to head back to Gregores.. I was not a happy camper.. thats an hour of riding, for no reason.. thats an extra 90km of fuel I couldn’t spare.I turned around and this time against the wind. I finally found my turn off without even egnologing my GPS, as if it was being a naughty child and it would some how teach it a lesson if I didn’t look at it.
The 40 had its good and bad parts, the good parts were fantastic and the bad parts were just dreadful. It got to a point where the tempory road they have made while they are constructing the paved 40 was so bad, I would cut across gullies and up and over mounds to get onto the freshly paved 40 and it was as if I was on a cloud again. This would last for 20km at a time but it was worth the worry of being caught.
I turned off the 40 and began my final stretch towards El Chalten on the 23, I finally laid my eyes on Mt Fitz Roy and ohhhh what a sight.. It was a clear afternoon and the mountain was peaking above all the clouds that just wanted to engulf it. I got to a point where the head wind was so strong I could barely do 60km/h but I persevered.. There was an epic moment when the sun was semi covered by cloud and there was a perfect ray of light hitting Fitz Roy, I pulled over and parked my bike adjacent the wind with it being its strongest on the stand. I got my camera out, the 23mm was attached, I needed the 35mm I tried to quickly swap over as the wind was gusting and blowing dust and the moment was quickly fading.. I removed my lens and boom… gust of wind filled my sensor with so much dirt it was ridiculous (even with my back to the wind) I yelled at the top of lungs “$@#% $@#%” I turned back around and another gust that would be so strong it blew my bike over, it broke my freshly replaced mirror and snapped my clutch lever.. there was no longer any point in getting frustrated.. I just laughed and thought ‘you win patagonia, you got the best of me’ I struggled to pick up my 170kg motorbike against gusting winds but as I did I relized I’m getting real good at this. The epic photo opportunity had passed and there was nothing I could do about it, I have a camera full of dirt and a broken bike. With great difficulty I was still able to use my clutch and babied my bike to my hostel.
The next morning I walked out into the hostel dining/reception area and saw another Aussie I keep running into my trip, we talked and organised to set out on an easy trek for the day and the next day we would hike up to and camp under Fitz Roy. We began our little trek with the intention of seeing a waterfall Salto del Chorrillo, we got there and well so did about 100 other people, so we decided to see if we could find away to the top and we did, we snapped a few pics and we kind of just kept going.
Fitz Roy was semi covered by clouds but after an hour or so of off trailing trekking we found our selfs on top of this rock summit and Fitz Roy lifted her skirt for us and we were able to get some photos, after a while we decided to move on and I had my back to Andrew when he said “Is that a condor??” I turned like a frenzied kid in a candy store..”WHERE?” it was circling above us and I demanded we both lay down as if we were dead, in our dead like state on the ground I was slowly getting my camera ready, the condor was lowering it’s altitude, we could see distinct features it was so close and I could feel its gaze as if we were its next scavenge, as I pulled my camera up to my face it must have caught my movement as it was only a mere 35m above us, it turned and glided away.. I tried to fire away some shutters but it was just not a good angle.
X-E1 XF35mm @ F16 1/200 ISO200
X-E1 XF35mm @ F16 1/125 ISO200
X-E1 XF55-200mm @ 55mm F16 1/125 ISO200
Photo or not, the novelty of being stalked by such a large animal doesn’t wear off, it’s as if we (humans) re-entered the food chain for a brief period, to me thats humbling.
We continued our trek and found the actual trail and headed back to town, feeling accomplished as hikers and going off trail to discover our own Viewpoints higher than any other on offer. We finished the day by buying supplies for our over night camp and doing a few errands.
X-E1 XF35mm @ F16 1/125 ISO200
We trekked up towards Fitz Roy and once again she was wearing her cloud skirt and hiding her goodies from us, we made camp and began the trek up to Laguna Los Tres at the base of Fitz Roy. The last hour was quiet gruelling, steep, rocky, wet, and muddy. But we joined the queue of hiker ants all making their way up or down the mountain. For brief moments you feel like your the only two there until you catch a group of 20 or when you reach the view point and there’s another 100 people up there. You don’t feel special at all. But then all you have to do is look around and you realise WOW, this is just incredible. For very brief moments Fitz Roy’s cloud skirt would let you sneak a peek or even open for just a few minutes so I could fire off the shutter and get all my shots in.
X-E1 XF14mm @ F16 1/250 ISO200
X-E1 XF55-200mm @ 110mm F22 1/250 ISO400
X-E1 XF55-200mm @ 55mm F22 1/250 ISO400 – LR Filters for DOF change
X-E1 XF55-200mm @ 60mm F22 1/250 ISO400
X-E1 XF14mm @ F22 1/250 ISO400
X-E1 XF14mm @ F22 1/250 ISO400
We retreated back down and you could see some people on the verge of giving up or turning around, I would say “Just 10 more minutes”, giving them that little bit of hope that it was not too much further away, even if it was 15-20mins, I would slightly exaggerate the time to help motivate them to not give up.
The whole purpose of camping up there over night was to get twilight and the morning light turning Mt Fitz Roy orange. The alarm sounded and I was not impressed, but needless to say I forced myself up and expecting to be asleep in 5 minutes because her cloud skirt would still be on… As I braved the cold and rubbed my eyes open I was confronted with no clouds, stars beaming their interstellar light and Fitz Roy bearing all… and like a frenzied kid, I began throwing layers on and getting my kit ready… We watched on as the sky behind us turned a light pink to a full neon pink to orange and then yellow and that early morning light hit Fitz Roy and lit her up, bright orange! This was my kind of light show, just stunning, the faint clouds behind the mountain turned magenta and I was in my full element.
X-E1 XF35mm @ F4 10Sec ISO800
X-E1 XF35mm @ F16 1/4 ISO200
X-E1 XF14mm @ F14 1/15 ISO800
X-E1 XF55-200mm @ 55mm F14 1/15 ISO400
X-E1 XF35mm @ F16 1/125 ISO400
X-E1 XF55-200mm @ 115mm F13 1/125 ISO400
X-E1 XF55-200mm @ 55mm F13 1/125 ISO400