Bikepacking "el Sendero de Las Avutardas" Pucón, Chile
Published: April 4, 2019 by PICSPORADIC
Land of Fires and Smoke
It was the end of January and at the heart of summer in the southern hemisphere. Santiago was in the middle of a blistering heatwave. Daytime temperatures exceeded 100F and fires burned in the mountains. The lovely cool Mediterranean climate had been replaced by air choked with smog and smoke.
Across Chile burned enormous fires – authorities in the country were fighting three of the largest fires in history at the same time. CONAF, the Chilean National Park Service had responded by closing all the country’s national parks.l
In Santiago I was staying at a friend’s house in Las Condesas, an up-scale part of the city. I had made connections with the mountain bike club and was becoming familiar with the local trails which traversed housing developments and high desert. I had even won a major mountain bike race – held in wine vineyards at the outskirts of the city.
My mind was not at ease. It had been a month and I had not sorted out the various media from my bikepacking trips in Peru. The photos were stacking up and the stories weren’t coming. I had been living out of the bike for almost 3 months. I had no income, all my ATM cards had been shut down and I was running on fumes.
The Return to Bike-Bum-dom
With my welcome wearing out at my friends house it was time to get back on the road and embrace the bike-bum lifestyle again. I was not a house dweller – I was a bike dweller!
I changed my last $200 in cash for the journey south – we would see how far it would last me.
I left Santiago at 11pm on a night bus to Pucón – about 10h ours south of the capital. ($40) The ride was smooth and I awoke at sunrise in the final stretches of road along a forested highway. Below the bus was stowed my rig: a bit slimmed down from bikepacking missions in Peru with less cold-weather gear and a freshly fashioned beer can alcohol stove.
On the bus ride we had passed through several ecosystems – descending from the hot, desert climate in Santiago through straights of vinyards. in Pucón, you could feel the difference in the air – which had more humidity, everything around was green.
Pucón was a resort town full of boutiques and people wearing white pants. A cup of coffee was was $3. In the morning light we got our first views of the Villarrica volcano – a glaciated cone, with smoke that rose from it’s summit.
It was Saturday, and Pucón was choked with foot and car traffic. Everyone seemed to be heading to the mountains on el Circuito Araucanía Lacustre – a scenic highway famed for its Araucaria trees . I felt overwhelmed.
Farm scenery outside of Pucón.
A Lot Like Home
How could a place so far away feel so familiar?
The green pastures, and wooden barns here in the surroundings of Pucón reminded me a lot of home in Vermont. The mountains below the Villarrica volcano were bulky, steep and green. I meandered along dirt roads to the back entrance of the National park. The grade was steady, and every time a car passed I would have to stop riding to let the powdery volcanic dust settle.
I pulled off the highway and walked down to a rushing river for a swim. The nostalgia for home was coming on strong now. Here I was, at the farthest distance I had ever been from home – in the southern hemisphere – now coming full circle – how could a place so far away feel so familiar?
I made it up to around 1000m and set up camp for the night in a woodlot. The bugs came on strong and I operated the stove from inside the tent to keep them off. The beer can stove v2 worked a treat – boiling a pot full of water with about 2oz of alcohol.
In the morning I made my way down a steep path through brambles of bamboo following the sound of running water. To my surprise I found an enormous waterfall – at least 10m tall – with it’s rainbow mists filling the morning air. I was grateful that I had left the city.
After paying off the locals I was “free”. I just needed to be on the look out for the odd ranger who might reprimand me for being illegally inside the closed National park.
The other Entrance Fee
The logging road dead ended at a gate and small cabin with smoke rosing from the chimney. A woman called out to me from the field. She was a bit unusual, and invited me into the house for a talk – which mostly involved Jesus. She was baking bread in the woodstove and offered me a coffee. Her husband and her had been living off the land for the past few years – building up the cabin.
With the park closed the only way to get into Villarrica was through their property – and they wanted to charge me. This seemed quite usual here in Chile where everything costed a ton. I argued a bit – but with me in their house, now drinking their coffee – there was no way around it and I paid them 10,000 pesos ($15) to pass.
A New Ecology
I followed singletrack up through burned forests of stumps. Massive trees had been laid to waste by a huge wildfire that looked like it had past a few decades back. The land was a mix of bamboo shrubs and towering pines. Nothing about this ecology was familiar to me – all the trees were new.
Entering the forest I was surrounded by towering cypress and Araucaria trees. -the path sharpened and I began hiking the bike.
Following la ruta de los Avutardes
The trail kept getting steeper until biking was no longer an option – I laced up the hiking shoes, shifted the weight onto my back and pushed onwards. At ~1500m I broke into a clearing of black ash. Leaving the forest so abruptly it felt like I was stepping into another room.
The single track was worn deep in florescent grass across rolling hills of volcanic debris. In the distance was the cone of an enormous volcano with patches of winter snow still clinging to its slopes.
I was only at around 1800m but it felt like I was much higher. The land here was raw like the aplne – the ground was made of sharp black, volcanic rock. Blobs of multi-colored mineral deposits adorned the horizon. It was clear that the earth here was still very young. I pushed the bike around enormous craters of sand.
The mountains rose ahead and I carried my loaded bike up the final slope. In the waning sun to the south, were the ripping jagged mountains of Patagonia. To the east rose Volcán Lanín in Argentina – a massive 4000m volcano capped by a large glacier. I mounted the bike and began to ride.
I followed the flowing trail through patches of snow down to the shores of a large lake – the ride was fantastic. The descent, along with the views and the sunset had been exhilarating. The last bit of sun twinkled on the waters and I watched as a cold shadow crept across the valley. El sendero de las Avutardes had far exceeded my expectations.
The land here was still very new and virgin. You could see how nature was slowly taking over the new earth formed by the volcanoes. The sound of birds filled the air – when dusk came bats swarmed the skies. This was one of the most pristine and natural places I had ever been.
I spent the night alone – I had the entire national park to myself. Tomorrow I would cross the lava field and the horizon towards Argentina. Today I done only 20km today and still had over 60km to ride. I onboard with me 2 days of food. I reveled in the idea of what tomorrow would bring.
Laguna los Patos – Parque Villarrica
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