Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 05 Apr 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970405.rpt
Sunday March 30 71242
Today was Easter Sunday and Patricia and Pamela each gave me a small
chocolate Easter rabbit. I had decided to spend another night here and go
out to the dry lakebed today with Hector to try to find some arrowheads and
Breakfast was the typical light Chilean breakfast with coffee or tea and
rolls with a slice of cheese or ham, or marmelade or dulce de leche.
After breakfast, Hector, the girls, and I went to the town gymnasium for a
morning swim. We pretty much had the whole pool to ourselves. I did a
couple of laps and took a couple of dives off the high board. It had been a
while since I last took a dive (at a swimming pool that is) and on one dive I
rotated over a bit too far and strained my back muscles a bit. Nothing
seroius, just a bit sore.
After an hours swim, we returned to the house, for almuerzo: chicken and
lamb, and mixed vegetables.
After lunch Hector, the girls, and I drove south for an hour and a half to a
dry lakebed. When I say dry lakebed, I mean it had been dry for centuries,
and the wind blew across the surface, scouring it and uncovering artifacts
buried there centuries ago. It was very windy and cold and we walked along
the edge where the shoreline had been centuries ago. The Indians hunted
along here back then and would lose arrows and bolas along the water edge.
After about a half hour I found a black arrowhead (flecha in Spanish) about
1" long, and about a half hour later Patricia found a bola, a bit bigger than
a golfball, just in front of me. Later, at home, she gave it to me as a
"recuerdo" (remembrance or souvenir). Those items have a special meaning to
me since I picked them off the dry lake bed where they had laid for
On the drive back home we passed several small lakes where pink flamingos
were wading in the shallows. The sighting of guanacos, nandus, and foxes
were by now commonplace. Still it was nice being a passenger where I didn't
have to worry about keeping my eyes on the road.
They had a small fox skin rug in their living room, and then brought out
several fox tails, which they offered me. I selected the bushiest of the
three, and tucked it away in the bottom of my saddlebags with the other
They offered the use of their phone for sending email, and I tried several
times, but the connection would never last. It would drop after 10-20
Monday March 31 71242
I left Cerro Sombrero at 8am, after saying bye to, and thanking, my hosts.
They had opened up their home to a total stranger, and had shown me
incredible hospitality, and I would never forget them. It was a beautiful
sunny morning, 40F, with no wind. Without the wind I could do 60mph easily,
and in less than hour reached the ferry terminal at Bahia Azul. Along the
way a family of 5 foxes ran across the road in front of me. That was
unusual. Usually you see only lone foxes.
When I arrived, the first run of the day from the other side was about
halfway across and I caught first ferry back across at 9:15am. Again I
didn't pay and was told that motorcycles travel free. The ride to
Punta Arenas was uneventful. The road had at least one paved lane the whole
distance, with parts having two paved lanes.
In Punta Arenas I waited for a motorcycle parts store to open in hopes of
finding some 15W fork oil, but was unsuccessful. I think I'll have to wait
till I return to warmer climes before I'll find it. I needed to install the
new rear tire and the shop gave me the directions to a tire shop down the
I had pushed the rear Pirelli about as far as I could and was glad I had made
it this far on it. The center of the tread was smooth. Normally I don't push
tires that far, and I wouldn't have in this case if I hadn't been carrying
the new Continental I had bought in Santiago with me.
If you want something done right, do it yourself. I know that, but at times
I need to repeat that to myself a couple of times. Also, something like,
doing it yourself will save you more grief in the long run. I was feeling a
bit lazy and didn't feel like changing the tire myself. The sight of a guy
beating on a large truck rim with a sledgehammer outside wasn't exactly
reassuring, but they did have a bead breaker and tire installation machine
inside and the guy assured me they installed many motorcycle tires. So I
pulled the wheel and let him do his thing, while I watch as closely as I
could. Well he somehow managed to break a spoke and bend another slightly.
I'm still not sure how he managed to do that, but he pulls it off the machine
and says, look you have a broken spoke. I was really pissed and showed that
the break was fresh and that he had done it. I was mad, but at least I had a
spare spoke with me, so made him remove the tire while I went out to the bike
to dig out the spare spoke. When I returned with the new spoke and looked
more closely at the broken one, I got really pissed. It wasn't the spoke
itself which was broken, but rather the female nipple which protrudes from
the inside of the rim. Of course I didn't bring any spares of those with me,
and the chances of finding a replacement down here are virtually nil, since
most likely they're unique to Beemers. So I had him remount the tire after
removing the now useless spoke, and I only paid him half of the price he had
quoted me. That didn't make him real happy, especially since he had to
remove it and install it twice, but I told him he was lucky to get even that
after screwing up my rim.
I got a room at the Hostal Paradaiso for P4000 including breakfast. My room
even had a TV and I quickly satisfied my thirst for current events by gluing
myself to CNN, occasionally flipping to ESPN.
Tuesday & Wednesday April 1 and 2
I hung out in Punta Arenas the next two days, checking out several of the
small museums and just exploring the town. It probably wasn't worth spending
that much time there, but the weather was cold and rainy anyways and I didn't
feel like riding in it.
I tried to send email from the Entel office in town, but had the same problem
I had in Cerro Sombrero. The connection would drop after only 10-20 seconds.
I'm beginning to wonder if the problem miht be with my modem. I'll try again
when I get farther north.
Thursday April 3 71390
At breakfast before leaving I finally meet Rolf and Mariene, the German
couple who are driving the Mitsubishi 4WD with Alaska plates parked behind my
motorcycle in the driveway. They had been on the road about 14 months and
had started in Anchorage, Alaska. They were at the end of their trip now and
were looking for a buyer for their vehicle. I was somewhat surprised to
learn they had not actually driven to Tierra del Fuego or Ushuaia. To be
this close and not go there seemed a bit wierd. Their reason was that it
would be a lot more difficult to sell the truck in Ushuaia. And while that
was true, they could have returned to Punta Arenas easily enough. Oh well,
to each their own.
I ride north to Puerto Natales, stopping there only long enough to gas up and
buy some groceries, then continued on north. The town is in a spectacular
setting however, with beautiful mountains and the fiords as a backdrop. It
is the southern terminus of the ferry from Puerto Montt, a journey of 4 days
through the islands, channels and fiords of the Chilean archipelago.
North of Puerto Natales, I detour off the main road several miles to the
Milodon cave. The Milodon was a large prehistoric sloth-like mammal which
roamed the region milleniums ago. Bits of fur and bones of this mammal had
been found in this large cave by early settlers and explorers of the area. If
you've read Bruce Chatwin's book "In Patagonia", the Milodon and this cave
play an important role in the book. It's an interesting read for anyone
interested in Patagonia or travelling through it.
I continued north towards Torres del Paine National Park, Chile's
southernmost national park, passing the border post town of Villa Cerro
Castillo shortly before entering the park. The magnificent peaks loomed in
the distance, and the Torres (towers) for which the park is named were
I paid the P5500 entrance fee at the Lago Amarga ranger station, got some
information on several of the shorter trails in the park, then rode the 100
yards to the refugio down by the river. The nicer refugios in the park are
now privately operated and charge a fee to sleep there, but there are still 2
refugios accessable by road which are free. This was one of them. But they
are very basic, and this one in particular was very very basic. There were
two rooms, one with a wood stove and a rustic wood table and bench, the other
room was completely bare and served as sleeping quarters. Throw your
sleeping pad and bag on the floor and you have your accomadations. But at
least I didn't have to mess with my tent and it provided shelter from the
I was the only person staying there tonight. I had talked with some
travellers who had stayed there Easter weekend and they said it had been
wall-to-wall people those nights.
That evening, as the sun set behind the mountains, the spectacle of the river
with the peaks in the background was mystical. There were some clouds, but I
took my photos all the same, not knowing what the weather might be like in
Friday April 4 71630
It rained during the night and in the morning the mountains and the Torres
are completely shrouded in clouds. I had planned to hike the trail up to the
lake at the foot of the towers today, but with the clouds it's questionable
as to how much I'd actually be able to see. However the weather can change
quickly around here, so I decide to see what it's like after breakfast. It
starts to rain during breakfast.
Several mini-busses stop at the ranger station and drop off several
backpackers who begin walking the 7km along the road to the estancia where
the trail to the Torres begins. By 10:30 the rain has stopped, and while
clouds still obscure the peaks, I decide to go for it. With thw rapidly
changing weather around here it could be sunny in a couple hours or it could
be pouring. You never know, so you might as well just go for it.
I ride out to the trailhead, passing the backpackers along the way, and ask
permission at the estancia office to park my bike outside. It's raining
lightly as I begin the hike and I put on my raingear. The park map says its
a 4.5-5 hour hike to the lake, but my experience is that such estimates are
always very conservative, and that going uphill, my times are usually half
what they say. I leave the trailhead at 11:30 which I figure should give me
enough time to get up to the lake, spend an hour there, and return well
It stops raining shortly and it isn't long before I'm too hot and I've taken
off my raingear and Aerostich fleece jacket. The trail climbs along the
valley of the Rio Ascensio, and the fall colors are beautiful. Reds, oranges,
yellows, browns, and greens. The Torres lie to my left, but the nearby
mountainsides block the view. It's still heavily clouded, so I doubt whether
the peaks would be visiable anyways. In an hour I reach Camp Chileno, where
there are several tents set up. Two other backpackers I had passed along the
trail were also going to be camping here. Another 45 minutes took me to the
base of the morraine, where the climb up to the lake began. A short side
trail led to another campsite, Camp Torres.
The climb up the morraine was basically rock-hopping and the nominal trail
was marked by orange dots spray-painted on the rocks. On my way up, I met 3
groups of hikers heading down. The first group of four were from England.
The next was a solo woman, who was supposed to meet her party at Camp Torres,
but had missed the turnoff, and didn't realize it till she was halfway up the
morraine. Believe it or not, she was from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, about an
hour west of where I grew up. She was taking an outdoor leadership course
here in Chile and had spent time rock climbing, backpacking, and sea
kayaking. I wished her luck in hooking up with her friends, but jokingly
thought to myself, I'm glad she's not my leader on this hike or we'd be lost.
I knew that wasn't fair, but I did find it a bit ironic and amusing that in a
leadership course she missed the turnofff. A bit further up the morraine I
met two guys and a gal heading down. They were from Connecticut and another
state which I forget, and had been studying for several months now in
Santiago. It was now 1:30 and they said they had been up at the lake since
11 AM, without seeing the peaks of the Torres. They said they could at times
see the bases, but never the summits. They said, on my way back, not to tell
them if I saw the summits. They were camped at Camp Chileno. I continues on
up and reached the lake at 2 PM. It was set in a small rocky depression at
the foot of the Torres which dropped almost straight down into the lake. At
the far end of the lake, high above on the slopes was a small glacier, and
several icebergs floated in the lake.
The area was more or less shielded from the wind, and I hung out for a bit
over an hour, soaking in the vista while eating the bread, cheese and apple I
had brought along for lunch. The weather continued to slowly clear up, and
while I never got a complete view of all three Torres simultaneously, at one
time or another, I did get individual views of the full height of each of the
three Torres. Clouds were continuously blowing over the peaks from west to
east, first covering one Torre than another. Even so, the view was
inspiring, and on a bright, sunny, cloudless day, must be simply awesome.
Huge boulder fields rose all around me from where I sat near the lakeshore,
and I thought this would not be a good place to be sitting during an
I headed back down at 3:15, and was back at the bike by 5:30, and back at the
Refugio Laguna Amarga by 6 PM. I again had the place all to myself. By 9PM
when I crawled into my sleeping bag, the skies above had cleared completely,
and the stars were out in full force.
Saturday April 5 71641
Saturday dawned a spectacular, cloudless, sunny morning. The rising sun
struck the peaks and Torres in full force, presenting a spectacular view. It
would have been an excellant day to hike up to the Torres, and the views from
the lake would have been incredible. Oh well.
I enjoyed my breakfast sitting out front of the Refugio with the vista of the
river and mountains spread out before me. A fox came sniffing around for
scraps. At one point I left my now empty plate sitting outside while I went
inside to get a coffee refill. When I came back out, the fox was sniffing
around my plate, and when I approached, rather than run away like I expected,
he growled at me. I had to throw a couple stones at him to chase him away,
and even then he left reluctantly, growling all the time. Maybe he really
liked oatmeal, I don't know.
I packed the bike and headed south into the park. Along the way I saw
numerous guanacos and nandus along the roadside. The guanacos were fairly
accustomed to seeing vehicles and for the most part watched disinterestedly
as you passed. The nandus however, like those on Tierra del Fuego, took off
like bats out of hell when you approached. They have a very comical way of
running, leaning forward, flapping their useless wings, and darting back and
forth changing course amazingly quickly for such large birds. I kept hoping
to sneak up on some so I could get a photo from reasonably close, but had to
settle for long distance shots with my telephoto lens.
There were beautiful views north across Lago Nordenskjold to the three
massive peaks of Cerro Paine Grande, Cumbre Norte (2750m), Cumbre Principal
(3050m), and Cumbre Central (2730m), to the Cuernos (horns) del Paine, Cuerno
Norte (2400m), Cuerno Este (2200m), and Cuerno Principal (2600m), and to
Cerro Almirante Nieto (2640m). Truely awesome mountains.
I stopped to look at the Salto Grande, the waterfalls on the small river
between Lago Nordenskjold and Lago Pehoe. The mist and spray from the falls
presented a nice rainbow and with the mountain peaks in the background made
for a nice photo. From there I rode south along the eastern shore of Lago
Pehoe and it offered great views back north to the peaks which were reflected
in the lakes calm, smooth surface. On south along the Rio Paine, which
drained Lago Pehoe into the larger Lago Del Toro, I passed another
motorcyclist heading north and we waved a passing greeting. I would learn
later that night, that he was from northern Argentina.
The Park Visitor Center at the north end of Lago Del Toro was closed for
lunch when I got there, so continued on west to the southeast end of Lago
Grey, a long, narrow lake with Glacier Grey spilling into its northwest end.
A short hike out onto a penninsula at the lake's southeast end offered a view
all the way up the lake to the glacier at the other end. The whole southeast
end of the lake, on both sides of the penninsula I had hiked out onto, was
crammed with icebergs of all sizes, from some as big as houses, to small
ones. In fact, normally there was a boat which left from the southeast end
of the lake and went up to the base of the glacier, but because of all the
icebergs it was not running at the moment. The sun was already past the
midway point in its track across the sky, and was less than ideal for photos.
When I left on the hike I had absent-mindedly left my GPS mounted on my
handlebars. Normally I remove it and lock it in the Givi case. When I
remembered it on the hike back, I was apprehensive, because numerous persons
had hiked in after me, but when I got back to the bike it was still there, as
was my map of ther park I had left lying on top of the Givi case. I'm not
sure where my mind had been at the time.
On the way back past the Park Headquarters I stop in at the Visitor Center
again which is now open. It has a nice large relief map of the park, and
displays on the flora and fauna found in the park. Also numerous photos of
the various vistas in the park.
I ride back up to the north end of Lago Pehoe where Refugio Pudeto, another
of the free refugios, is located on the lakeshore. This one is a bit more
comfortable with a kitchen again outfitted with a wood stove and several
tables and benches, and two sleeping rooms, each with several wooden bunks.
A Japanese bicyclist is staying there and is in the process of fixing his
dinner. We exchange stories while fixing and eating our dinners.
It's always interesting to see what other people fix for their meals. I
usually take the minimalist approach, fixing some pasta and heating a can of
tomato sauce. This guy was chopping up onions, carrots, and other
vegetables, and then added cubed chunks of fish to make a delicious-smelling
He had started his trip 16 months ago in Anchorage, but is near the end of
his trip. He was an electronics engineer, working in the mobile telephone
industry near Tokyo, before he became burned out and quit his job. We drank
a toast to quiting our jobs, and shared a laugh. He mentioned that the
Argentine biker I had seen today had stayed here last night.
Torres del Paine is the kind of place where with the right gear and the right
weather, one could easily spend weeks. There is a hiking circuit which
encircles most of the large massifs in the park, including the Torres, the
Cuernos, and Cerro Paine Grande, and which takes 3-5 days to hike, with
numerous river crossings along the way. Several refugios are along the
route. Numerous other trails lead up various valleys and to various lakes
and rivers. I regrettfully didn't have the backpack, and the weather at this
time of year made for wet hiking much of the time.
A small boat left from near this refugio (Refugio Pudeto) and went to the
refugio at the northwest end of Lake Pehoe. At this time of year it went
only once a day at noon, returning immediately. I contemplated taking it
tomorrow and then doing a hike up the valley of the Rio Del Frances on the
west side of the Cuernos, but because of the boat schedule and length of the
trails, this would mean spending 2 nights at Refugio Pehoe on the other side
of the lake and then another night here after returning, and I felt a tug to
continue on north. I decided to sleep on it.