Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 09 Apr 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970409.rpt
Sunday April 6 71700
I got an "early" 8:30 start, planning to head north to El Calafate and the
Parc Nacional Los Glaciares. On the way out of the park, I stopped off at
the Cascada Paine, a pretty cascade on the eastern side of the park, with
Cerro Almirante Nieto and Los Torres as a spectacular backdrop. The weather
here was changing, and while it was clear and sunny where I was,clouds were
moving in from the west, and provided a somber backdrop for the peaks.
I gassed up in the village of Villa Cerro Castillo, where the Chilean border
station was. No formal gas station here. Several small kiosks outside one of
the hostals contained the pumps, and the hose was passed out through small
foot-square doors, when gas was to be pumped.
Chilean border formalities were a breeze, and it was one of the few staffed
by men in civilean clothes. Whether that was because it was early on a Sunday
morning or not, I don't know. The gate here was kept padlocked, and after
getting my passport and bike papers stamped, and paying P1100 exit tax for
the bike, it was opened for me and I passed back into Argentina for the 3rd
time this trip.
Argentine customs were 10km further east. It was the only border post where
I had problems with my bike title. I only have half the oroginal title,
thanks to the thieves back in San Jose, Costa Rica, and normally just present
the full copy I made before the trip and this is sufficient. Occasionally an
official asks for the original, and when I show him the half I have and
explain the situaton, they are satisfied, and there has been no problem. Not
here. The young officer clearly took his duties very seriously, and wanted to
see the original. Showing him the original and explaining the situation was
not sufficient, and he disappeared with both documents into a back room where
I could here him taling with another officer. He came back with just the
original title and said it was a problem that I only had half of it. He
explained why, but I didn't understand his rationale, and I wasn't really
inclined to try too hard to understand. I pointed out that I had already
entered and left Argentina twice without any problems, and he flipped through
the pages of my passport to verify this. He returned to the back room, and
talked further with the other officer, then returned and said I would have to
wait a bit, for what he didn't say. By this time several other vehicles had
arrived and his attention was turned to them. The other officer finally came
out with my documents, and I repeated all the informaation to him, pointing
out that the original half of the title contained all the important vehicle
ID numbers, and the others, like the plate number, were on the copy. He
returned to the back room and several minutes later came back and said
everything was OK, and there would be no problem. I said "Muchas gracias",
and 15 minutes later I was on my way.
After 27 miles I turned northeast onto Route 40, which several guidebooks had
described as being in bad condition, but in fact, while ripio, was in fairly
good condition. 43 miles later it intersected the main paved road between
El Calafate and Rio Gallegos on the Atlantic coast. The remainder of the way
to Calafate was paved and in excellent condition and I cruised as 80 mph.
The notorious Patagonian winds were nowhere to be seen or felt.
I arrived in Calafate around 3:15 but had to wait until 5pm for the grocery
store to reopen to buy some supplies. The road west to the National Park was
good ripio, and without wind, doing 60 mph was no problem. Being
conservative, I still slowed even for gradual corners.
I camped at the free campsite at Arroyo Correntoso in Los Glaciares National
Park, 10 km from Glacier Moreno. Before setting up camp, I rode another km
further to a vista point and snapped a couple photos in the late afternoon
fading light. One never knows what the weather the next day will be like.
I had the whole campground to myself, and someone had left a huge pile of
gathered firewood beside the firering, so for the first time on this trip,
after dinner, I built a fire. Normally I'm too lazy to gather the wood and
build the fire, but here the gathering had already been done for me. It was
a beautiful, starry night, and relativly warm by Patagonian night standards.
I didn't have to draw the bag tight around my head and face like on other
Monday April 7 71934
It was a beautiful, sunny morning, and I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast,
sitting under a large tree, soaking up the warmth of the sun's rays.
Afterwards I spent some time studying my maps and guide books. I knew my
route for the next 3 or 4 days north to the town of Perito Moreno, but north
from there was still up in the air. My original thought was to cross back to
Chile at Chile Chico and then take the Carretera Austral north to Puerto
Montt, and continue on north through Chile, returning to Southern Peru and
Cusco and Machu Picchu. From there I had planned to go southeast through
Bolivia and Paraguay to Iguazu Falls in northeastern Argentina. However,
further study of my maps showed this to be a bigger loop back south than I
had thought, and I began to rethink these plans. I needed to get back to
Cusco in southern Peru, and also wanted to hit Iguazu Falls, but it looked
like a better route might be, after Perito Moreno, to head northeast through
Argentina To Iguazu, then possibly into Southern Brazil, then head northwest
through Paraguay and Bolivia to Southern Peru. One question is, if there is
a convenient route to Porto Velho in Brazil from Peru or Bolivia. If so then
a boat from Porto Velho would take me to Manaus on the Amazon in Northern
It was almost noon till I had packed up mt gear and rode the remaining 10km
to the Moreno Glacier at the western end of Lago Argentina. About 45
glaciers descend from the 5000 square mile ice field high in the Andes, but
only about 13 flow eastward into Patagonia. The rest flow towards the
Pacific. Glacier Moreno is unique in that it is one of the few glaciers
which is advancing. In addition it flows down into Lake Argentina at a point
between two of the lake's arms. At roughly 3-7 year intervals, it flows
completely across the lake, cutting off the two arms. The water level then
begins to rise in the Brazo Rico arm of the lake, rising up to 100 feet above
the level in the rest of the lake. This continues until the pressure is
sufficient for the water to break through the ice dam in a spectacular,
catyclismic event. The last breakthrough was more than 7 years ago, and
right now the glacier is not blocking the two arms, but is within 50 yards
of doing so.
It is a spectacular sight, with sheer, vertical walls 60 meters high of
glacial ice, dropping down to the lake surface, and huge chunks of ice
regularly breaking off the face and plunging to the lake below with
incredibly roars. Small chunks of ice hit the water surface with loud
rifle-like cracks, with a noticable lag between hitting the surface and when
you hear the sound from the catwalks on the shore.
I decided to proceed on to the village of El Chalten, in the north end of
the park, some 180 miles away by ripio. I gassed up on my way back through
Calafate, leaving there at 3pm. The route followed Route 40 until the
turnoff west to El Chalten, and was ripio the whole way, in more or less good
condition. On the road west to El Chalten the winds picked up considerably,
making things interesting at times. The weather was changing, and grey
clouds hovered above and to the west of the mountains in front of me at the
west end of Lake Viedma. But the mountains, Fitz Roy and Los Torres, were
still visible, and very spectacular, reminding me of the Tetons in Wyoming.
I camped for free at the campsite, on the east end of the village, across
from the park office, and found a small store in the village where I bought
some eggs, crackers (they were out of bread), and dulce de leche.
Tuesday April 8 72128
It rained off and on during the night, but not heavily, and was warmer than
recent nights in Torres del Paine. The wind howled much of the night but in
the hollow where my tent was pitched, the wind did not reach, and it was
fairly tranquil. In the morning the skies to the east were clear, and for a
couple of hours after sunrise, the sun's rays penetrated under the overhead
clouds. But as the morning progressed, the clouds continued to move east and
it became completely overcast.
I fixed my breakfast, egg and cheese omelet, from the shelter of my tent.
After visiting the Park office to get information on trails in the park, I
rode north of town a short distance to the short trail to a small waterfall.
It was windy and just beginning to rain as I parked the bike. The colorful,
red, yellow, and green lenga (beech) trees made the otherwise unspectacular
falls picturesque. On the way back through the village, I stopped at a small
confiteria for several cups of coffee and a warm, dry place to write my
journal. While there, a Belgian I had met in Ushuaia, came in. He had been
here the past 4 days, which he said had been beautiful. On the other hand he
had had bad weather in Torres del Paine.
I hung out here most of the afternoon, as it continued to rain outside, and
clouds obscured any views of the nearby peaks. I had not taken any photos
last night when I arrived, and now it looked like I might not get a chance.
I decided that if it was nice tomorrow morning, I would stay one day more and
hike the trail up to the base of the Cerro Torre. However, if the weather
was bad, provided it was not too bad (i.e., windy), I would leave, and head
north. Several mountaineering videos were played on the VCR, featuring Mt.
Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, and several other Argentine peaks. Afterwards
Swiss-German alpine music tapes were played. That, together with the rustic
nature of the place, gave it a very Alpine feel.
Towards the end of the afternoon it began to clear a bit, and the temperature
dropped. By the time I crawled into my tent at 7:45pm it was 35F.
Wednesday April 9 72136
At 7am when I got up, the eastern sky was still dark, but the skies above
were clear and the stars were out in all their glory. There was a bit of
wind, but not too bad. I sat in the tent and fixed breakfast in the
vestibule. By the time I was done and had packed away the cooking gear, the
first rays of the sun were striking Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, west of the
village. It looked like a nice day, and that was my criterea for staying and
hiking up to Laguna Torre. I packed up everything except the tent before
leaving on the hike.
It was a 2 hour hike up to the lake, and offered beautiful views of the
surrounding mountainsides in their colorful autumn foliage, and of Mt Fitz
Roy and Cerro Torre. The peaks were never completely in full view, for while
it was sunny where I was, to the west, behind the mountains, were large puffy
white clouds, and they began moving in as I climbed towards the peaks and the
wind came roaring down the slopes, making hiking in unprotected areas
difficult and cold.
At the lake, nestled at the foot of the mountains, the wind was gale force,
whipping up whitecapped waves in the lake and pushing several small icebergs
across the lake from the glacier which descended into the far end of the
lake. Clad in my rainsuit for warmth, I could literally lean into the wind,
with my arms outspread, and have it support me. The surrounding peaks were
by now cloud-covered. I stayed only long enough to snap a couple photos and
eat a quick snack, before heading back.
I got back to camp, packed up the tent, and left El Chalten by 1:45pm. I was
headed to La Cueva de Los Manos, south of Perito Moreno. I knew I wouldn't
get there by nightfall, but wasn't sure how far I could get. A lot depended
on the wind.
Back out to the intersection with Route 40 and then east to Tres Lagos the
wind wasn't bad, partly because I was headed east with the winds. At Tres
Lagos I stopped to gas up at the YPF station outside of town on Route 40. I
had gone less than 80 miles but didn't know the distance to the next gas, so
figured I better top off the tank. The attendant tried to rip me off. It
had taken 6.5 liters to fill the tank at 50 centavos per liter. On my side of
the pump only the liter dial was working, not the price dial. The liter dial
showed 6.5 and that is what the attendant took out of the 10 peso note I gave
him. I pointed this out to him, and he quickly mumbled an apology and walked
around to the other side of the pump and pointed to the price dial there
which read 3.25 and agreed that was the price. Nice try buddy.
At Trel Lagos Route 40 turned north-northeast for 227 km to Hotel Rivera,
where it made a 90 degree turn to the left and headed west-northwest. Now
going perpendicular to the wind, it's effects began to be felt. In addition
it became stronger. I had to drop my speed to 30-35 mph just to keep the
bike under control. In most places the road had well-defined bare, firm,
tracks in the surrounding loose gravel. The wind would constantly try to blow
me out of the tracks into the surrounding loose gravel. By riding at the
extreme left side of the tracks, I had a foot or so of leeway in which to
correct when the wind blew me to the right. When it did succeed in blowing
me out of the track, if I was lucky the bike would just shake it's head and
fishtail a bit in the loose gravel mounds before I could bring it back into
the tracks. If I was unlucky, and the wind was particularly strong, and/or
the gravel particularly loose and deep, attempting to steer back into the
track would result in the front tire beginning to slide and I'd basically
have to let the wind continue to push me and the bike to the right. This
happened serveral times, and it was a bit hair-raising as the bike was blown
across successive gravel mounds between tracks, fishtailing across each
mound. For this reason I always rode in the left-most track - to give me the
most room to recover from the strong wind gusts which would blow me across
the tracks. Fortunately I was always able to halt the rightward drift before
the road shoulders, which, also fortunately, tended to have a very gradual
slope to them. Then I'd gradually make my way back across the gravel mounds
to the leftmost track. I can't say I enjoyed such riding conditions.
Occasionally the road would turn left or right to skirt low hills, and it was
always a welcome relief when the road turned to the east and went with the
wind. On such stretches, not having to fight the wind, I could comfortably
do 50-60 mph. The road itself, for the most part was a good, typical gravel
road. It was the wind which made it treacherous. But I knew such respites
were temporary as eventually the road would have to turn back north. I don't
know exactly how fast the wind was blowing, but it was at least 40-45 mph at
times, because when I was headed east, if I went less than 45 mph I could
feel the wind blowing against my back. Above 45 mph, things got very quiet
and smooth; and relatively warm as well as the effective wind speed was then
almost zero. Conversely, when the road turned west into the wind, it became
very cold as the effective wind speed was then 80 mph. Still, I much
preferred a strong headwind to fighting the crosswinds.
After one such eastward respite, through some low hills, the road turned back
northward as it came out onto a broad plateau with nothing but flat terrain
to the horizon on the west. Here I felt the full force of the Patagonian
winds. Before this, they had been merely toying with me. Here they picked up
intensity and became almost continuous. I had to drop my speed to 20-25 mph
to keep the bike under control, but still kept getting blown into the
bordering gravel mounds and having the front wheel start to tuck under.
Several times only firm plants with my left foot kept the bike up, as the
front tire clawed to regain traction in the loose gravel. At such times I
was real glad I had bought the Daytona dualsport boots before this trip, for
this road was no smooth dirttrack where one could slide your boot over a nice
smooth surface. Here, everytime I would plant my foot, it would get wacked
with stones and rocks.
This was definitely not enjoyable, and I would have stopped, except there was
no place to stop out of the incessant wind, and stopping in such wind was
almost worse than fighting on ahead. As I was soon to find out. At times I
took to riding constantly with my left foot off the peg, ready for the next
foot plant needed to save the front end. Total concentration was on the
tracks in the gravel ahead of me, with only occasional quick scans of the
road farther ahead to see if there might be some small hill or gully which
might offer a respite from this hell. The worst places were when, every so
often, the well-defined tracks dissipated into amorphous areas of loose
gravel. Ahead I could see where the tracks began again, and I'd fight to keep
the bike under control, across such stretches. I had to constantly
conciously tell myself to stay relaxed, if that was possible in such
conditions, and flap my arms to release the knots.
Finally, one particularly strong, sustained, wind blast blew me out of the
track I was in and across the road. As I crossed each successive track I'd
try to halt my rightward drift but the wind was too strong, and the front end
would start to tuck under, and I'd have to let the bike continue to drift
rightward across the gravel. I knew I was just on for the ride, and with my
left foot out, just hoped I could stop the rightward drift before the
shoulder. I couldn't, but fortunately the shoulder was only a foot or so and
very gradual, and I wrestled with the handlebars as the front end fought with
the loose, sloping gravel. Somehow I managed to bring the bike to a halt
with me still on it at the bottom of the shoulder. The shoulder wasn't deep
enough to offer any respite from the wind, and it took all my strength and
concentration to keep from being blown over by the wind. Getting off the
bike in such conditions would have been nearly impossible, without dropping
it, and I decided I needed to keep going till I found some shelter of some
sort, whether it was man-made (highly unlikely out here) or natural.
Surprisingly, a quarter mile or so in the distance there appeared to be some
rock mounds along both sides of the road, which might offer some relief if I
could get there. Fighting the wind I hadn't noticed them before. Now I just
had to get there. In retrospect, I don't remember if it would have been
possible, or not, to simply try to ride there in the low gully on the road
shoulder. At any rate, either it wasn't possible for some reason, or it
didn't cross my mind, and I began to ride the bike back up onto the road
surface. Easier said than done. I discovered the small thumbnail, National
Cycle windscreen I have on the bike, acted like a wonderful sail, when turned
at just the right angle with respect to the wind. The wind would then grab
it and turn the bars, just the right amount to make the front wheel start to
wash out, at the same time reducing the turning forces on the bars. I'd
fight with the bars to save the front end, but then the wind would grab
the windscreen once again. An interesting dynamic effect, but I'm not
volunteering to study the effect further. Fighting this effect, and the wind
and gravel, at such slow speeds, up onto the road surface, it was all I could
do to keep the bike upright. I was essentially paddle-walking the bike,
under power, up the shoulder and I could smell my clutch. I had to lean the
bike considerable to the left to keep from being blown over. I had just got
the bike up onto the road surface to the rightmost track, when I went down,
essentially at a standstill, blown over by the wind onto the bike's right
The wind was strong enough that it blew the bike completely over so that the
wheels were up in the air. The vent hose had popped off the gas cap, and
wind was blowing gas all over from there and the carb overflows as well. I
quickly lifted the bike so that, while still on its side, the wheels were at
least on the ground, and got the fuel petcocks turned off and the vent hose
replaced so that the fuel leakage was stopped.
Noemi will be pleased to know that the thought of taking a photo of the bike
in its current state actually crossed my mind, and I actually began to open
the Givi topcase to get my camera. However things started to fall and blow
out of the skewed topcase, and I quickly closed it, deciding I'd rather get
my current situation under control, than have a Kodak moment to remember it
by. Sorry Sweetie.
Then I turned to the task of getting the bike upright, but try as I might I
was unable to lift the bike upright against the unrelenting wind. It didn't
help that 30 miles earlier, in Tres Lagos, I had filled up, so that the tank
now had almost 11 gallons of fuel in it. While contemplating my strategy and
recouping my strength, I decided to at least remove the auxiliary sail
(windscreen) which had made low-speed maneuvering difficult. As I was doing
this the wind again blew the bike over further with its wheels in the air.
As I was remedying this, the small Spanish-English Road Sign Translator card
which I carry in the map compartment on top of my tankbag fell out and I
watched it sail off across the Patagonian Steppe. It's plastic-coated so
will last forever, and is sure to cause some future generation archaeologist
a moment or two of thought.
Just as I got the windscreen off, I looked up to see a large big-rig pull up
from behind me, pull along side me upwind, and stop. The driver climbed down
from the passenger-side (downwind) door (he's not stupid), and quickly,
between the two of us and the shelter offered by the truck, had the bike back
upright. I was on the rightside and motioned for him to deploy the
sidestand. I thanked him heartily for his aid in uprighting the bike. He
asked where I was headed, and I said north, but that I was going to try to
make it to the "shelter" of the rock piles a quarter of a mile ahead and wait
for the wind to let up or camp there for the night.
In the commotion of the truck arriving and getting the bike upright, I had
set the windscreen down and it had blown down into the gully along the road
shoulder, but it didn't look like it was going to blow further away.
Again, in retrospect, I don't know why I didn't ask him if I could ride
beside his rig the quarter mile to the rock piles, using his rig as a
windbreak. Too much happening too quickly. Not thinking fast enough.
Thinking it's not his problem to get me out of my current predicament. At
any rate, he didn't offer any further aid or ask if he could help in any
other way, and I wasn't thinking fast enough, and with that, he climbed back
into his rig and took off, leaving me still standing on the right side of the
bike. As soon as the shelter of the trailer was gone, I had the incessant
wind to deal with again, and it took all my weight, at times, leaning against
the right side of the bike to keep it from being blown completely over onto
its right side again. I looked over at the windscreen lying 15 feet away,
but couldn't go get it, because to do so would have allowed the wind to blow
the bike over.
I stood there for 15-20 minutes, propping the bike up against te wind,
contemplating my next move. The truck had been the only other vehicle I had
seen in either direction, since rejoining Route 40 west of Tres Lagos. With
the offending windscreen now off, I decided I'd have to try to ride up to the
shelter, if any, of the rocks a quarter mile away. I'd walk back later for
the windscreen. But just getting on the bike presented a problem, because in
doing so I lost the leverage of my weight leaning against the bike to keep
the wind from blowing it over. I waited, leaning against the bike, until I
convinced myself the wind had let up a bit, though it well may have simply
been self delusion. At any rate, I finally managed to mount the bike from
the right side, and even remembered to turn the fuel petcocks back on. The
simple chore of retracting the sidestand became difficult, as it meant
standing the bike back upright to allow it to retract, while at the same time
preventing the wind from blowing me and the bike back over.
With that done, I got thw bike started, and managed to ride the quarter mile,
fighting the wind the whole way, without further incident. I pulled down
into the shallow gully off the left shoulder of the road, since the rock
piles on the left side seemed to offer a bit more wind protection, and parked
the bike. The wind was still strong, even behind the rocks which were no
more than 5 feet above the bottom of the gully, and I didn't think I'd have
to worry about the bike being blown completely over. However the wind was
still strong enough to rock the bike, and I had to worry about the sidestand
retracting, so I used a nylon strap to keep it deployed.
Walking the quarter mile back to retrieve my windscreen was an interesting
exercise in limb cordination. Just walking against the wind, on the loose
gravel road surface was difficult, and at times it would have blown me off my
feet if I didn't let myself be blown a foot or two with the wind. At times I
simply leaned into the wind and went nowhere.
On the way back to the bike, after retrieving the windscreen, I checked out
the shelter the rocks on the right side of the road offered. They were a bit
higher, and if I was to camp here, it would be in their shelter, downwind,
away from the road. The best protection seemed to be a quarter mile further
down the road, just where the rock piles ended, and it also offered a
possibility of pulling the bike around back of the rock piles, out of site of
It was about 5pm by now, still with plenty of daylight left, and in the hope
that the wind might still let up, I waited by the bike for an hour, eating my
lunch in the bit of shelter offered by the rock piles. No traffic passed
during that time. The wind didn't let up, and I finally decided to set up
camp here for the night, and hope for a letup in the wind in the morning. It
wasn't comforting to have read that sometimes these Patagonian winds go on
for weeks without letting up.
This time I was able to ride along in the shallow gully of the left shoulder
for most of the distance, before crossing back across the road to the other
side and riding around back of the rock piles onto the Patagonian desert
floor which consisted of rocks and scattered low bushes an clumps of
straw-like grasses. I had to watch out for several low, scrubby, cactus-like
plants with inch-long, sharp needles. I didn't know if they could penetrate
a motorcycle tire, but it sure looked like they could, and I didn't want to
find out. The last thing I needed now was to have to fix a flat out here.
I pitched the tent in a small nook against the rock piles, which were about
10 feet tall here. It was surprising, how even behind such a shelter, the
wind whipped around, and setting up the tent itself was a chore. The sandy,
rocky soil was not suited for tent pegs and I used rocks to keep them in
I was a bit chagrined at myself for not being better prepared for such a
contingency, since I hadn't planned on camping in the middle of nowhere, and
had neglected to fill my water bags. All I had was the water in the bottle
on my handlebars. So I forewent a hot, cooked dinner, and instead finished
the bread I had, and also had crackers and dulce de leche (a sweet, thick,
syrupy paste sort of like caramel). I saved enough crackers for my breakfast
in the morning.
I crawled into the tent at 8pm with the wind still howling as strong as ever.
Even in the shelter of the rocks, the tent flapped and cracked noisily in the
At 1 AM I suddenly awoke. It was dead calm outside, and I peaked outside,
into the pitch black, to look up at the blanket of stars above. I was very
tempted to get up right then, pack up, and get on the road. But I wasn't
sure if riding at night on these roads would be worse than the wind.
Probably not, but I decided to wait, and be packed up by first light, and
hope the calm lasted.