Bikepack Ushuaia.

The most southerly city in the world, Ushuaia, is the established finale for most pan-American odysseys. Once there, our original intention was to push the envelope just a little further, catching a ride across the Beagle Channel to Puerto Williams, on Chile’s Isla Navarino. There, we hoped to bikepack to the world’s most southerly community – Puerto Toro, home to 42 souls.

Unfortunately cost, logistics, snow – and some doubt as to whether there was an actual trail on the ground – conspired to prevent this. So instead, Skyler, Panthea and I diverted our attention to a coastal trail we’d previously briefly explored, turning it into a two night bikepack to the historic Estancia Harberton, following first singletrack, then beach, then dirt roads.. Graced with fine weather, it proved the perfect way to celebrate the end of this wonderful Patagonian adventure.

Estancia Harberton

Steeped in history, Estancia Harberton was founded by Thomas Bridges (1842-1898), who inherited his name from the Bristolian bridge under which he was found. The main house was transported to Tierra del Fuego by ship, in pieces, all the way from Harberton, Devon. It was the first estancia on the island, and despite their missionary tendencies, the Bridges were said to be unusually progressive in their rapport with the local Yanama people – especially compared to other Europeans of the day. In fact, the 50,000 acre swathe of land upon which the estancia is located was a donation from the Argentine National Congress, in recognition of his work the Yanama, and with shipwrecked sailors of Cape Horn. Today, the farm is managed by Tommy Goodall, great grandson of Thomas Bridges, and Natalie Goodall, his biologist wife.

A note: to anyone heading south next year, and travelling light enough (there’s one short but particularly evil bushwack), this route would make a fantastic way to arrive in Ushuaia. In fact, it’s possible to knit together several dirt road alternatives between Tolhuin Ushuaia, and make what is generally a single, long day on pavement, into a 2-3 day Dirt Road Special. And if you make it to Puerto Toro, please let me know if there’s a trail!

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

IMG_0382-2

The first section of the trail, which begins 10km south east of Ushuaia, is nothing short of sublime (see more pictures here).

IMG_0401

Eventually, things get a little Interesting… like this tree, split at its trunk, that provides a gangplank to the other side of a particularly deep gorge. Given the sheer drop below us, we opt to give it a miss and forde the river downstream instead.

IMG_0457

And before too long, the trail becomes a little overgrown… Cue 5km of intense, leg-scratching, pedal-striking bushwacking…

IMG_0493

… until we finally emerge on a stony beach. No problem for the El Poderosa; this bicycle munches up pebbly oatmeal for breakfast.

IMG_0508

A late, post-lunch start means there’s no time to dally. Best find a roof for the night, before these moody views out to Chile’s Isla de Navarino -nacross the Beagle Channel – are lost in darkness.

IMG_0536

Hunkering down in abandoned buildings has been the Patagonian modus operandi thus far, so in our wisdom, we’ve opt to shed weight and travel sans tent. Jubilantly, we spot this estancia just as night falls. Except this one time, the cantankerous owner won’t let us camp in one of his outbuildings, suggesting we ride further along the beach, into the night…

IMG_0541

At least he recommends possible accommodation. We follow first a tractor trail, then pick our way along the beach by torchlight. It’s not easy to find in the dark, but when we do, this cuboid cell does the job nicely.

IMG_0554

Daylight reveals the full spendour of our home.

IMG_0546

it even comes complete with a sock-drying rack.

IMG_0556

A breakfast of champions. This is Skyler’s minimal rendition of a bowl.

IMG_0576

And that’s one cruddy chain. It’s at times like this that I consider the merits of a belt drive.

IMG_0580

In other gear talk… For fat tyre touring, regular pressure tweaks are de rigueur. This Lezyne pump is beautifully made, and works a treat.

IMG_0634

The next morning, an inviting two track leads us further along the coast.

IMG_0613

Bikepacking at its finest. Nightmarish memories of our bushwack soon fade from memory…

IMG_0717

The trail winds on…

IMG_0696

… and on…

IMG_0725

Two track heaven!

IMG_0730

The Beagle Channel, dividing Argentinian Tierra del Fuego from Chilean Isla Navarino.

IMG_0796

And here it is in flesh. Across its precarious waters, the Dientes del Navarino – the Teeth of Navarino – can be seen.

IMG_0800

Just us and the birds.

IMG_0815

And some beachside detritus.

IMG_0829

Then, we leave the shore and hit a gravel road once more.

IMG_0839

In an mapping oversight, it appears that we’re now on a piece of land owned by the Argentinian navy – and closed to foreigners.

IMG_0848

Luckily, there’s no one around to see us we surreptitiously hop the fence.

IMG_0853

A great lunchtime spot – though the photo doesn’t quite convey the howling wind threatening to fling drying socks out to sea.

IMG_0867

To celebrate our last night camping in Patagonia, we splash out on a $1 carton of wine in Puerto Almanza.

IMG_0888

Then, it’s just another 15kms of rolling dirt road to our destination.

IMG_0901

Estancia Harberton is closed for the night, so we’re pointed in the direction of a free refugio, 6m beyond. The ride is peaceful and mellow…

IMG_0910

… catching the last light of a pristine autumnal day.

IMG_0936

Then, following a grassy track through a forest glade…

IMG_0968

… we find our promised digs for the night. With a roaring fire, it makes for a toasty evening, and a fine addition to our collection of Bikeshacking lodgings in Patagonia.

IMG_0896

Estancia Harberton, all but unchanged since it was founded in 1886. Its wood buildings are clad in the original corrugated iron, and its beautiful gardens are still divided by stone terraces constructed by the Yanama people.

IMG_1012

We take a tour of the grounds, guided by a Argentinian rural tourism student – who also happens to be a cyclist with 20,000km on the continent to his name. This is the estancia’s workshop – most of the original tools are still in regular use.

IMG_0995

An whaling boat from the late 19th Century – though it was used for transportation by the estancia, as the Bridges discouraged exploitative whale and seal hunting.

IMG_0980

Some houses might have gnomes in their garden. Harberton has whale skulls…

IMG_1016

Family memorabilia. In the 1960s, the current manager of the estancia, the great grandson of Thomas Bridges, used this jeep to cut a road through the forest, linking the estancia to the main road for the first time.

IMG_1024

Back in the day, this was the latest in eco-friendly washing machine technology.

IMG_1032

Although sheep are no longer raised on the farm, the perfectly preserved shearing shed is another insight into Patagonian history.

IMG_1034

Too bad the shears themselves are out of action. I’m about ready for a haircut…

IMG_1063

A marked trail leads us through a variety of fauna we’ve seen throughtout Patagonia, including Nothofacus Antartica – our companions for many a mile. As any cyclist will tell you, these ‘flag trees’ foretell either a soul-destroying battle into the elements, or a fabulous tailwind.

IMG_1044

The estancia’s cemetery.

IMG_1059

An ‘elbow’ tree, as it’s known, ideally shaped for constructing the inner ribs of local boats.

IMG_1062

Within the grounds, there’s also a couple of replica Yanama dwellings. The Yanama were known for their skills in maintaining fires – hence the name, Tierra del Fuego – Land of Fires. They transported fire everywhere they went,  even within their boats when they fished – ultralight husks fabricated from tree bark.

IMG_1064

Preparing for colder times. The estancia closes its doors to visitors in mid April, to weather the winter alone.

IMG_1067

The whole estancia is steeped in history. Thomas Bridges compiled the first Yanama-English dictionary. His son, Lucas, followed this up with The Uttermost Part of the Earth, a story that details his childhood in Tierra del Fuego. It’s said to be a classic read.

IMG_1071

Clippings of the current generation’s exploits in Patagonia also make for a fascinating browse. This one, dated 1967, romantisizes the story of Natalie – “a plump young woman with blue-gray eyes and a soft smile” – and her move down south.

IMG_1077

A particularly evocative example of a ‘flag tree’.

IMG_1080

Natalie Goodwall, now in her late seventies, is a botanist, map maker, and a renowned expert on Tierra del Fuegan maritime life. The estancia includes a marine museum; outside, a collection of bones, accumulated over 25 years worth of scientific investigation, gather moss.

IMG_1081

A fine gathering of whale skulls…

IMG_1083

And that’s quite a backbone.

IMG_1096

Leaving the estancia, we pedal back whence we came. Back amongst the flag trees, we retrace our steps to the junction near Puerto Almanza.

IMG_1122

Then we ride the 35km of dirt road to the main highway, before flagging down a vehicle for the final pavement stretch into Ushuaia – which we’ve already ridden. Perfect timing!

IMG_1118

A fabulous bikepack indeed. Although an impending winter is ushering me north, I’ll miss Patagonia and its magnificently moody canvas of mountains, lakes and skies.

The trail:

The trail begins around 10km of downtown. I don’t have the exact total distance to hand – it could be around 70kms from Ushuaia to Estancia Harberton. We left after lunch on the first day, and spent two nights camping out. You could probably push through in one long day, camping at the refugio (6kms beyond the estancia) or in the farm’s earlier established campsites (both are free, though in theory required permission).

The first section of trail is flowy but steep and rooty in places. Then, there’s a challenging push/bushwack where the trail is very overgrown – approx 5km – before hitting a pebbly beach. Beyond the second estancia, this turns to tractor/compacted beach trail, then two track, then ripio once more. There’s plenty of places for water, including a couple of remote estancias en route. There’s just one gate to be hopped, out of the military area, and a couple of small rivers to be forded.

In theory, there’s some basic supplies to be had in Puerto Almanza (we found wine), a delicious-smelling seafood restaurant, and then snacks at the Estancia.

20 thoughts on “Bikepack Ushuaia.

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Nice! Think that must have been yours that I saw on the Cycle Monkey photo feed, then. Enjoy! Be interested to hear how you get on with it, and how easy it is to set up.

      Reply
  1. Mike Howarth

    Lovely lovely lovely.

    Despite vowing never to ride in Tierra Del Fuego again these pictures are smashing and are almost enough to tempt me back again someday.

    Definitely south next time though ;-)

    Reply
  2. bridget ringdahl

    Wow! An amazing end to another incredible journey….
    Nothofagus (southern beech) is also interestingly the floral link that originated on the Gondwanan mass and is still found in Aus, New Zealand and of course Patagonia (before the continents drifted. Fossils in Antarctica too)

    Reply
      1. Neil

        I’m with Mike. I didn’t have any desire to return to Patagonia or TdelF, but seeing these amazing pics of remote places I’ve only seen on maps is rapidly changing my mind. Need to buy a new bike first though…

        Reply
  3. Susie Moberly

    As always, amazing awe inspiring photography, Cass… (so pleased to be receiving your posts again) It might have been due to the heavy security on my Linux (computer) but all is solved now. I even posted you to my Face Book wall. This part of the world looks wild and wonderful just as your lens dipicts it… especially love the photo with the box of wine (I’m a sucker for colours) and your cornflake bowl… isn’t life great? Take care… X

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Thanks Susie. I’m a muesli man myself – weirdly, a brand of supermarket in Chile stocks a few Waitrose products, including some great breakfast cereal!

      Reply
  4. Oliver

    Absolutely captivating shots as usual Cass! I said that before and I may say it again, but your impressions never cease to amaze me! It might be quite a tightrope walk between art and adventure, but you seem to master it blindfolded… Absolutely admirable skill!
    Best wishes and keep going!!

    Reply
  5. Pete Henderson

    Cass! We briefly met up in cusco a while back, I’ve absolutely loved reading your blog, and ended up heading South myself. Inspired by you, I took a few dirt tracks along the way, you’re right they are pretty addictive! Made it down to Ushuaia a few days ago, through 1ft of snow, thanks for the inspiration! Pete

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Pete, great to hear you made it. Weren’t you heading to Rio? That’s a great blog you have there, beautiful shots. And… your bikes look nice and worn in too, now!

      Reply
      1. Pete Henderson

        Yer, I was going to ride across to Brazil from Santiago, but everyone I met told me tales of Patagonia, and I was around Santiago when your carraterra austral blog popped up, pushed me over the edge of temptation! Still heading up for the World Cup, however via a flight from here! Safe travels mate!

        Reply
  6. Cristian

    Hi Cass, I was your guide in Harberton ranch, this is a very interesting article, and some photos are excellent.
    I wrote a little about my experience in Tierra del Fuego in an Argentinian bike forum and i posted a photo of me in your bike :) ( http://www.btt.com.ar/nota/625/625109.shtml )
    Thank you for let me try your bike.

    PD: The guy who picked you up in the red truck, picked me up few days before when i was autostoping to the No Top mountain, farther in the way to the small lodge.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>