Lighter Bike, Heavier Mood

Pucón > Colonia Suiza > El Bolsón > Futaleufú

After a flying visit up to Santiago to pick up some new kit and leave considerably more older kit, it made a nice change to be rolling out of Pucón with what almost felt like a different bike. The new tyres, with considerably larger volume, gave a noticeably more comfortable ride, even on asphalt, and the handling of the bike was much livelier, having moved a fair bit of the remaining kit forward. Once I hit the ripio, this was even more apparent and it soon became clear that the bike was going to be a lot more fun to ride from hereon in.

With the considerable amount of faff to get everything set up and packed away, I had the afternoon to get away from Pucón and find a campsite, heading out of town on asphalt, before turning off onto the ripio and onto a slow climb up into Villarrica National Park on the slopes of Volcán Villarrica. It was a lovely climb, much of it running alongside the clear waters of the Río Palguín.

Soon, the track began to get somewhat rougher and bumpier and, by the ranger’s station that marks the entry into the park proper, a sign read “Mr Visitor, the path is in a very bad state – do not continue towards Coñaripe”. The perfect invitation!  It was quite clear that even a 4×4 would have struggled to make it up the track but bicycles are a wonderful thing and my new setup made things even easier!  Happening across a lovely peaceful clearing, I figured that I was unlikely to find a better campsite and decided to call it a day. This would be my first night in my new lightweight tent (1.3kg vs 2.6kg for the previous one) and, with nice clear skies, I could go mesh only…

The next morning, I packed up and got ready to go just before a large group of people appeared in the clearing. It turned out that the local indigenous people were performing a ceremony to reaffirm their rights of ownership of the surrounding lands, something which is clearly a big topic in this area of Chile (as in so many other parts of the world).

Heading on up the track, it soon became clear what the sign the previous day was really referring to and I had to push much of the next section! It was still fun though and, thankfully, didn’t go on for too long…

Once crested, it was a great downhill run through the forest on a better quality track, down towards the bustling tourist town of Coñaripe. A quick stop-off at the bakery and I was back on my way, along a rolling ripio road, towards the border. A combination of a few dry days, a strong wind and fairly regular traffic made it a dusty ride, so I was relieved to find a beautiful clear river just after Liquiñe to take a dip in to clean up, just as the sun dropped behind the mountain. There was also enough flat ground on the nearby dried-out riverbed to pitch the tent and there I spent the night, the roar of the river lulling me to sleep.

I was glad the next morning that I hadn’t gone mesh-only with the tent, as a heavy dew had settled, meaning I had to wait around for the sun to warm things up.  It was a reasonably gentle climb up to the Chilean border post, steaming streams by the roadside and regular signs for hot springs a reminder that this is a highly active volcanic region. Together with the lush vegetation and roaring rivers, this area feels really alive. Thankfully, there was far less traffic along this section too, something which may have been due to the brutal gradients that I encountered shortly after the border post, for the final 3km of the climb! It was tough work, even with my lighter weight bike, but this sort of challenge pales in comparison to the climbs further North and at 1150m, there’s no shortage of oxygen either! Just the knowledge of having completed those Peruvian behemoths gives you a lot of confidence and puts these short ‘hills’ in perspective. At the top lies Paso Carirriñe and the frontier with Argentina, the Argentine border post only a few kilometres further downhill at this time of year.

Whilst predominantly downhill, the terrain was quite rolling, through dusty forest roads, passing by several beautiful large lakes. Increasing numbers of tourist vehicles started to ring warning bells though. Struggling to find a decent wild camp that wasn’t either exposed to the strong wind or covered in thorny plants, I settled for the campsite at Lago Currhué Chico and, with remarkably few campers, I was able to hide away in my own tranquil corner.

The next day, as I passed Lago Lolog, the number of campers increased dramatically and, descending into the town of San Martín de los Andes, I got my first proper taste of high season in the Argentinian Lakes.

I sat in town for a couple of hours, digesting brunch from the bakery and this new status quo.

Supplies restocked, I headed off up the climb out of town, having rejoined the Ruta 40, my mood rapidly taking a turn for the worse.  Looking again at the map, there was no way round it though – I was here now and just had to push on South. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a beautiful landscape around there and I can imagine that it would be very pleasant outside of the high season (of January/February) but heavy tourist traffic, camping relatively restricted to busy campsites and toilet paper strewn behind every bush (either bury it or take it with you but don’t just leave it on top of your excrement!!), made for my idea of hell.

It all sounds very over-dramatic but I was beginning to realise quite how spoilt I had been further North.  The paved road made for an easy but decidedly unchallenging terrain and the heavy traffic had me always slightly on edge.  Whilst none of the routes that I have taken on this trip have broken new ground, many have given me the feeling that I am doing so, providing a sense of remoteness, tranquility and adventure – this was completely lacking in this region.  Passing through Villa La Angostura the next day only reinforced this view, the town akin to a Swiss ski resort and, to add to my joy, even more traffic (including HGVs) coming over the nearby pass from Chile.  At that moment, I remembered a tip that Thomas and Tina (now a few weeks ahead of me on the road) had sent through a few days earlier of a favourite wild camp spot next to Lago Nahuel Huapi only 30kms or so away.  Hopeful that it might provide a little relief from my despair, I headed off.  It turned out to be an absolute gem – right next to the stoney shore, sheltered despite the strong wind, with a magical view…

“Thank you Mr Thomas Hammel for this beauty of a tip…!”



  1. You’ve inspired us! Jess and I are planning our first bike packing trip. Definitely going to try and keep it light (also, on full sus behemoths, so…). Might have to get a 360 cam too!

    1. Haha, awesome! Great to hear it. Yep, you’d be amazed with how little stuff you actually need! I’m jealous of the options that you have near you for cool routes! Would really like to ride the Baja divide ( some time – need to upgrade to a fat bike first though 😉
      As for the 360 cam (I’ve got a Ricoh Theta S), it’s brilliant – no composition of shots, just smile, press the button and move on!

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