Friday, 30 December 2011

Carretera Austral #1: El Chalten-Cochrane

We arrived in Cochrane last night and spending a day here relaxing, shopping and doing the washing. From El Chalten we cycled to Lago del Desierto, where we took the ferry across to the other side and cleared Argentinian customs. The next day we pushed our bikes 7 km along forest trails, with brilliant views back to Mount Fitz Roy and Mount Cerro Torre, to the Chilean border. Here the road started and we cycled down to the coast at Candelario Mansilla where we cleared Chilean customs. After a relaxing morning, we took the ferry to Villa O´Higgins, together with 2 more cyclists and 4 backpackers. Three days cycling and a short ferry later we arrived in Caleta Tortel, an old fishing village with no roads, but only boardwalks connecting the houses. Two more days cycling got us here to Cochrane. The weather has been very good, a little too hot at times (who said Patagonia was cold and wet?), but the horseflies can be quite annoying.

Tomorrow we will continue northwards towards Coyhaique, some 330 km north from here. We are planning to do some side trips and day walks along this stretch, e.g. to Valle Chacabuco and Villa Cerro Castillo. The next internet access may not be until Coyhaique, in about 10+ days time.

Map of the route El Chaltén - Cochrane

Road from El Chaltén to Lago del Desierto, Argentina

On the ferry across Lago del Desierto

Looking back over Lago del Desierto to Mt Fitz Roy and Mt Cerro Torre

The fishing village Caleta Tortel, no roads, only boardwalks connecting the houses.

The Carretera Austral between Caleta Tortel and Cochrane

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

El Calafate, El Chalten

From Puerto Natales we took the bus to El Calafate. The bus driver first refused to take the bikes as the bus was full but with help from a friendly Argentinian couple we managed to convince the bus driver to try to fit the bikes in the luggage compartment which worked fine after some rearrangement of luggage. The landscape along this road is mostly flat. El Calafate is a noisy tourist town, and after a day trip to the main tourist attraction, the enormous glacier Perito Moreno, we were happy to leave to El Chalten, again by bus. El Chalten is the start for our cycle trip along the Carreterra Austral. El Chaltén is also a base for hiking in national park Los Glaciares with the famous granite mountains Mt Fitzroy and Mt Cerro Torre.

Yesterday we made a day hike to Laguna Torre, where on a clear day you get a good view to Mt Cerro Torre. However, all we saw was glacier Grande at the base of the mountains, the steep granite peaks never showed up. In the evening some of the peaks came out of the clouds and we saw them from the town. Tomorrow, Thursday, we will start cycling northwards, crossing the border back to Chile on Friday, and taking the ferry to Villa O´Higgins on Saturday. At least, that is the plan.

A could be a while before we have internet again, so I wish all a good Christmas and all the best for the New Year!

Map of the El Calafate-El Chaltén part of our trip.

 View from the bus from Puerto Natales to El Calafate

 Glacier Perito Moreno

 El Chalten

View of glacier Grande, Cerro Torre is in the clouds.

In the evening Cerro Torre finally showed itself from El Chalten

Friday, 16 December 2011

Torres del Paine

We have just come back to Puerto Natales after an 8-day hike around the Torres del Paine national park. Beautiful nature and mostly very warm and sunny weather (too warm even). Here are some initial impressions of the trek. Tonight we are moving on to El Calafate in Argentina.

We walked the circuit around Torres del Paine and started with the back of the circuit. The first 2 days from Laguna Amarga to Camp Seron, and on to Camp Dickson were fairly easy hiking but the weather was hot, which we were not used to. From Camp Dickson to Camp Perros we walked in sleet and snow, and from Perros over the pass to Rifugio Grey we had mostly clear weather with very strong winds on the pass but excellent views of the glacier. These first 4 days were nice and quiet with only about 30 people on the trail. From Rifugio Grey you get on the front part of the circuit, which can be walked by itself as a 4-5 day hike and this is extremely popular. So here there were hundreds of people on the trail, and the campsites were very full and dirty (some had no toilets and with a hundred or so inexperienced campers, this can get rather messy). So, although this is the more spectacular part of the trail, I found the back part of the circuit was much more pleasant hiking.

Map of Punta Arenas-Torres del Paine part of our trip.

Start of the walk, view towards de Torres from Laguna Amarga

Guanacos in front of the Torres

At the back of the circuit, Laguna Paine

The one day with rain and sleet

View of glacier Grey from a very windy pass John Gardner

Sunrise on the Torres

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Punta Arenas

After a long flight with a stop-over in Copenhagen we arrived without problems in Punta Arenas. We spent a couple of days in Punta Arenas to get organised; this time we didn`t bring our own bicycles, but relied on buying some here. So it took a bit longer to get started than usual, but we managed to buy bicycles and, hopefully all, the equipment to go with it, and are today heading to Puerto Natales.

Our first day in Punta Arenas was a Sunday, when all the shops are closed, so we hired a car for the day and explored the area around Punta Arenas. We saw condors, flamingos, rheas, penguins and lots of other birds, and lots of sheep and cattle. The countryside here is fairly flat and open with mountains in the distance. We have been lucky with the weather, mostly sunny so far and not too much wind.

Map of the Punta Arenas-Torres del Paine part of our trip

Magellanic penguins in the Otway penguin reserve

Cattle on the road

Southern caracaras

The red building is our bed and breakfast

Town square in Punta Arenas

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Approaching mørketid

Mørketid starts in 2 days time, but with cloudy weather and rain forecasted for the next week, today is probably the last time we see the sun in Tromsø for this year. We have a beautiful weekend with clear skies, a few cm of snow and -7 C temperatures, a welcome break from the rainy weather of the last couple of weeks.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Miscellaneous trips

Summer has come to an end and winter is approaching; the tops of the mountains are now covered in snow. We have had a lot of rain in the last few weeks, and after night frost last night the roads were very icy today. We will have to change to winter tyres on the car and the bikes this weekend. Not much hiking recently, we started working on the house instead, renovating one of the rooms upstairs. Below are some photo's from shorter trips that we did this autumn, but that didn't get their own blog posts.

First another ti-på-topp trip to Tverrfjellet on the island Kvaløya west of Tromsø. Beautiful autumn weather on the way up, but we got caught out by the rain on the way down.

Tverrfjellet is the top of the ridge to the left of the lake
The top of Tverrfjellet with Middagstinden behind it

Another (mini) ti-på-topp tur on a wet and grey day. This time to Ørnfløya, in the far west of Kvaløya, near Sommarøya. A tiny hill, but with a very nice view from the top.

View from the top of Ørnfløya with the island Senja in the distance
On the top of Ørnfløya

A field trip to west coast of Senja. Here late afternoon light and beautiful clouds over Andfjorden with Andøya in the background.

Dramatic sky (click on the photo to enlarge)

Lofoten in autumn colours

This was a very short 2-day stop-over in the Lofoten on the way back from Røst, mainly to resample one of the brittle faults for dating purposes. So I spent most of my time at a road cut  trying to scrape out fault rock material, not the most exciting of places in this beautiful landscape. On the other hand, I did get to drive through a very colourful Lofoten in mostly good weather and, as I took the Hurtigruten back from Stamsund to Tromsø (which for once was cheaper than flying) had a relaxing time on board watching a, by now, misty and wet landscape float past while reading papers and drinking coffee.

On Vestvågøya, east of Leknes
Autumn colours along the road
On Hinnøya, along the new road Lofast
Austnesfjorden on Austvågøya
Art work; part of Artscape Nordland 
More autumn colours
Bridge between Austvågøya and Vestvågøya

Monday, 17 October 2011


I am a volunteer in WWF's Ren Kyst (clean coast) project, which is a (growing) group of volunteers trained by WWF to help with oil clean-up in cases of oil spills. I did one of their courses 2 years ago, a course developed in collaboration with Kystverket (the Norwegian Coastal Administration) and Norlense, a manufacturer of oil lenses. A couple of weeks ago, there was a large scale oil clean-up exercise organised by NOFO (the Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies, which (in their own words) 'develops and maintains oil spill preparedness on the Norwegian continental shelf in order to combat oil pollution on behalf of 25 operating oil companies'), and they wanted some WWF volunteers to participate. I volunteered and got sent to the island of Røst together with another WWF volunteer. A large group participated in the exercise with people from NOFO, local fishermen, people from local and regional fire brigades and civil service, Kystverket, a commercial company, the Norwegian civil defence, and us WWF volunteers. Many aspects of the exercise worked very smoothly, but some aspects could be improved, for example the communication between parties. But it was interesting to see how an oil spill clean-up is organised in practice and as a bonus we spent a whole day in a beautiful location in warm and sunny weather. By the way, the spilled oil was simulated by popcorn, which didn't really work for us on land: the popcorn never washed ashore, so there was nothing for us to clean-up :-)

Heading out to the oil spill accident site; the small boats (local fishermen) will help set out oil lenses.
The oil spill site is marked out and the oil lenses are being put in place.
A commercial company demonstrating new equipment to facilitate oil clean-up on the coast.

I had never been in Røst before and stayed an extra day to walk around and have a look at the local geology. Røst is a group of islands at the far end of the Lofoten, far out in the Norwegian Sea. Most of the Lofoten is very rugged, but the main island of Røst, Røstlandet, is very flat, with a highest point of 12 m. The islands south of Røstlandet are more rugged and are known for their bird cliffs with large colonies of puffins and other seabirds. Røstlandet is not very big and in a day you can walk around the whole island and walk all the nature trails. Particularly the trail out to the very west-northwest of the island, across moraines and tidal flats are very scenic and probably rich in bird life in the right season. I saw a couple of sea eagles but not much more.

Map of the main island of Røst. I walked pretty much around the whole island including all the nature trails.
Typical Røst landscape
Looking north to Værøy.
The original stone church, built in 1839.
One of the highest points on the island, 10 m high.
De Geer moraines with steep island to the south
De Geer moraines
Flat landscape of Røst with steep island to the east