Reserva Malalcahuello; black and white.

Lonquimay-Custa Las Raices-Crater Navidad.

Not to suggest that a dirt-coated fatbike is like a fish out of water, but I was finally able to baptise the Mighty One with the wintery scrunch of snow. And what fun it was, carving down deep, snowy jeep tracks and steering effortlessly through soft, jet black volcanic sand. I can see it even more clearly now: fat bikes are all about potential, not limitations.

As it is, the Chilean Lake District gets more than a little powdery at this time of year. Winter looms ever closer: out come the bobble hats and the ski rental gear, and chair lifts prepare to whir into life up the sides of volcanos. A metamorphosis of the landscape is in the air.

Bicycle tour in South America involve repeat criss-crossings of borders between Chile and Argentina, hurdling the Andes each time. Originally, I’d planned to persevere along the dirt roads that course their way through the northern reaches of the Chilean Lake District. In doing so, I’d delay the inevitable slog across the drier but windswept Argentinian pampas, that lie on the other side of the range. This route revolved around working my way through the region of Araucanía – home to such wonders as lava flows and Monkey Puzzle Trees – and picking my way north to the border at Paso Pichachen. But given the cold winter snap, and the probability that smaller border crossings and immigration offices would soon be closing their gates, I succumbed to lure of drier, sunnier climes in Argentina. So I backtracked east, crossing the border instead at Paso Pino Hachado.

Without doubt, Conguilio National Park and Reserva China Muerta have been Chilean highlights, and to these I can now add Reserva Malalcahuello. Indeed, the potential for bikepacking in Araucanía as a whole is incredible (check out Skyler’s blog post to see this very same area, just a few weeks before). Linking together these ethereal, magical forests via a lattice of volcanic, loamy jeep roads and singletrack would no doubt make for an incredible week of bikepacking. Another one to go back for, in fairer weather perhaps…

Next up: the Argentinian pampas, en route to Mendoza.

If you would like to keep up with where I am between blog entries, I try and keep my While Out Riding Facebook page regularly updated – along with posting extra photos and gear ponderings. You can find it here. Occasionally, I pop some pictures up on Instagram too. 


Black and White: the climb behind Lonquimay.


Cresting the first pass.


Back amongst the Monkey Puzzlers.


Frosty, winter hues.


Who needs a kick stand when trunks can reach 2m in diameter…


Singletrack guides me through one glade of Monkey Puzzle Trees after another.


If the sun hadn’t been going down, I’d have kept riding.


Perfect; there was something reassuring about camping in this ancient and silent forest.


The cycle of life.




… with leaves like plates of armour.


The story goes that that Monkey Puzzle Trees are so named as the English thought it would puzzle a monkey to climb one…


Double sock power: styling it up as the temperatures drop.




The climb towards Lolco.


Soon, it’s a dreamy world of muffled sounds…


… and shadowless contours.


Beneath the white icing lurks jet black volcanic sand.


Crater Navidad.


Perfect riding conditions for the Pugsley. Crunchy on one side. Sandy on the other. Ah, the choices…


In the distance, Volcan Llaima, near Melipueco.


And up close, Volcan Lonquimay. Note chair lifts.

photo (20)-3

After reaching the highest point, I reluctantly turned back. Not because it wasn’t fun, but because it was looking unlikely the border crossings to the north would be open, and the weather in the region was closing in again. The descent was exhilarating. A winter bike tour is surely on the cards…

11 thoughts on “Reserva Malalcahuello; black and white.

  1. Phil T

    I’ve been following your blog for quite a while now, and your stunning pictures never cease to amaze me. One day when I have a little more time I too hope to spend a while bikepacking in South America. In the meantime I’m fortunate enough to live in the North East of Scotland, so the options around here aren’t too shabby.
    Even so there’s something special about South America……….

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Cheers Phil. I count Scotland amongst my favourite cycling destinations. But yes, there is something rather special about South America… This particular neck of the woods is certainly a bikepacking heaven.

  2. Jeff NyLon

    Hi Cass how have the shoes and the Rohloff been working out for you .You were injured a while back any lingering niggles or pain since .Pictures are great wish I was there ,also while your at it how have the other items you took a long working out for you son etc.


    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      The Rohloff is great, though I recently had some troubles flipping the sprocket, damaging the driver in the process )-: This is a common problem, unfortunately.

      I’m using 5 10 Aescents right now. They’re comfortable, light and dry quickly. The rubber wears relatively quickly though – I guess that’s the case with all approach shoes. The rest of the shoe has held good, aside from a small tear – repaired by a cobbler in Mendoza, for the princely sum of $2.

      Back is pretty good. Just a few pains once in a while. A good reminder to look after myself…

  3. Artur

    Wow, the landscapes are just amazing. It makes me sad I skipped all this heavenly places rushing to Ushuaia, but I am happy you discover them for me with your awesome photos. Keep it up!

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Thanks Lorely. This part of Chile is up there with my (many) favourite spots. Good family touring potential too, as long as you don’t mind a few ups and downs…

  4. Ben Handrich

    These pictures are absolutely enchanting. Thanks for sharing your experiences; they are so inspiring for those of us bicycle enthusiasts aspiring to one day achieve some of the bicycle accolades you have.

  5. Oliver

    Buff, now I understand why you have been slightly worried about how challenging the weather conditions might be for your gear and equipment…
    Impressive shots as usual Cass and I hope you stay warm!


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