BiCi Vertical Trip Report: Biking 1700km and Climbing 100 Pitches Through Patagonia

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Half-Baked Adventures … That’s what my adventure company would be called if I ever got around to starting one.

Cycling and climbing have been a way of life for me for almost a decade now, although I only started long-distance bike touring a few years ago. My first bike tour was in the summer of 2012: a few good friends and I made our own panniers out of some army surplus bags and spent a few weeks romping around the Colorado high country on whatever bikes we had.

Needless to say, I was hooked on the freedom and simplicity of it all. One part backpacking, one part road trip … thrown together on two wheels, it equals pure bliss.

After college, I went on “The Big One:” a 10-month cycling trip from California to Brazil for the 2014 Fifa World Cup. This epic was complete with the highest highs, the lowest lows, a sunken sailboat voyage, a pet chicken, and a float down the Amazon River.

All that was missing was the rock climbing.

So in 2015, after a successful summer of working on the backcountry trail crew in Carbondale,

the daunting thought of finding a winter job and paying for housing in expensive mountain towns arose. I thought, I could always head south for the winter …

Having heard the rumors of world-class climbing, I started making plans to go down to Patagonia … but would it be to climb or bike? Why not both?! I threw the idea around, but no one would commit.

I got ahold of Boyko and told him about the latest Half-Baked Adventures plan: to bike around Patagonia hitting up some of the climbing areas we’d only heard rumors about. To my surprise, he said he was planning on quitting his job and going on a grand adventure himself and although he had never bike toured before, this one fit the bill!

I told him not to worry; it would be easy. He could be the rope gun and I’d be the bike gun (if there was such a thing). Boyko is a Venezuelan-born, Ukrainian Catalan-American hybrid, a born rock climber who speaks perfect Spanish, and someone who loves spicy food as much as I do. Stoked to have found a partner for the adventure, we flew south in January 2016 to Puerto Montt, Chile.

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Cycling the famous Carretera Austral near Hornopiren, Chile.

After meeting up in Puerto Montt, we headed south to our buddy’s farm in Hornopiren, about a 100km ride down the notorious Carretera Austral. Our Friends Ben and Luke are permaculture farmers from Colorado who enjoy their winters in southern Chile. The Carretera is Chile’s southern highway through Patagonia, running roughly 1,200km from Puerto Montt in the north to Villa O’Higgins in the south.

It took us two days, as Boyko’s derailleur kept blowing up. After jerry-rigged repairs, beach camps, dusty roads, and a rowdy futbol match with drunken, gun-toting locals, we made it to our friends’ farm where we spent about a week hanging out with Ben and Luka.

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The farmhouse in Hornopiren. Many evenings were spent drinking wine enjoying the view. The wifi password is: Blood^clad-view* (*joke, there is no wifi).

Their property sits just outside Parque Nacional Hornopiren and has a 100-year-old farmhouse with no electricity or running water. This was a perfect starting point for our trip, as we immersed ourselves in the local culture of wine drinking and eating empanadas de marisco (seafood).  

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Fresh fish caught by Luka from Rio Negro, which runs through the property.

After a week on the farm, we made plans to visit the mysterious Cochamo Valley; allegedly the Yosemite of the South. We cycled up the Estero Reloclavi Fjord on some very tough, jungly, dusty gravel roads where the mountains meet the sea. The unbelievable views were accompanied by steep washboard roads that hindered our pace.

For Boyko, this was an extremely rough introduction to bike touring. For me, I was questioning having all the extra weight of the climbing gear.

After two days on the aforementioned roads, we made it to the town of Cochamo. We loaded up on supplies for the week and rode our bikes up to the trailhead where we stashed them with the gauchos. Luckily, the gauchos offer horse packing services to carry your stuff up the valley. We loaded all our food and climbing gear on the horses and took off on foot with our camping gear into the Cochamo Valley. This trail is hundreds of years old and is still used as a trade route between Argentina and Chile by the Mapuche people.

After a slightly aerobic trek up the trail, we made base camp at La Junta Campground. Granite walls towering thousands of meters over the valley in every direction, the opportunity for new climbing routes seemed endless. With limited supplies and time on our hands, we sampled some of the cragging in the area while waiting for a weather window to get on some of the classic big wall routes.

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With only “rock pad” and Martin’s gaze as spotters, Hen jumps in jubilation after topping his first boulder problem in the Southern Hemisphere. Estero Reloclavi Fjord, Chile.

After a few days of rain, the weather cleared up enabling us to get high above the valley floor. Another aerobic hike through the jungle gets you to the base of Cerro Trinidad. We kicked things off with a moderate 500m 9-pitch climb called EZ Does it (5.10+), which was really fun—up ramps and slabs to splitter dihedrals into a cave. This was a great way to get to know the valley.

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Our next big objective was the notorious west face of Cerro Trinidad, via the Bienvenidos a Mi Insomnio route. This is one of the longest all-free routes in South America; a 20-pitch 1000m 5.11 wall. Bivying literally at the base of the wall, you stare up and wonder what the next day’s adventure might hold.

After an early start and soloing the first few easy pitches, we were making good progress up the headwall. The crux pitch is a super thin traverse with wild exposure. Fortunately, this type of climbing is Boyko’s forte and he dispatched it with ease.

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Hen decides which crystals and dime edges he will walk on next. As thin as it is terrifying for the follower and leader alike. Cerro Trinidad, Cochamo.

Losing track of what pitch we were on, Boyko and I topped out the Cerro Trinidad in just under 12 hours! From the summit, you achieve amazing views of the Patagonian Andes. You can even see the Frey towers—a climbing area in Argentina we planned on hitting up later on in the trip.

After a rainy rest day spent kickin’ it in the valley, drinkin’ mate, and playing cards, we were indecisive as to whether we should go for another wall in a push or if the jungle and granite had worn us down enough to retreat back to civilization.

Fortunately, we decided to rally for one more wall!

Trekking up again through the steep jungle trails guided by our headlamps, we positioned ourselves at the bivy and were treated to some of the most spectacular climbing of the trip: Al Centro y Adentro (5.11+, 600m). This climb has it all: from perfect fingers, to splitter hands, to manageable wide crack, fun chimneys, and some exciting slab and face climbing! 

After climbing in Cochamo, we came to understand that maybe it wasn’t necessarily the Yosemite of South America, but that maybe Yosemite is the Cochamo of North America …

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One of the best pitches of the trip—perfect tips crack.

After two weeks of jungle treks and Andean big walls, we opted for the flat coastal scenic route over the busy and hilly route. It ended up being about twice as far, but very enjoyable cycling through remote fishing villages. It is amazing to see how these people have lived for generations by getting what they need from the sea. We continued south via a long ferry boat ride and then headed east towards Futaleufu and then onward to Argentina!

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We had heard other rumors of a climbing destination far out in the Argentine Desert. Nearly 200km from the nearest big town, it was a long shot, but since we were self-supported touring cyclists, we decided to go for it.

After lots of washboard dusty gravel roads (which had become a theme for the trip), limited water supplies, and camping at an abandoned house, we rolled into Piedra Parada just as the sun exploded into the horizon.

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We crossed the jungle, pedaled up the mountain pass, rode through plains, and ended up in the Chubut desert in search of a mystical climbing oasis.

All the biking did not disappoint.  

Piedra Parada was one of the most laid back climbing destinations we’ve ever visited. We set up a 2-week camp DBTR (down by the river) in Mario’s campground. The canyon would go into the shade by high noon, so mornings consisted of river dips and long mate sessions. Piedra Parada is a sport climbing destination on volcanic tuff (think, Smith Rock’s latin, grungy, wild, sexy, and spicier third-world cousin).

We hilariously climbed the sporty overhung classics, including the mega sustained Virgin Spire with double ropes and alpine draws, while cragging with primo $1 per 2-liter wine and lounge chairs. Since we were quite the characters at the sport crag, we made friends easily and worked our way into the vibrant international climbing scene with beers, music, and campfires.

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After Piedra Parada, we committed to a long 300km ride from Esquel to Bariloche. Unlike what we were used to in Chile, the roads were paved and the humidity was low—the biking was excellent as a result. In Bariloche, we stashed our bikes in a hostel and trekked up Cerro Catedral for a few nights to climb the very same and infamous Frey Spires that we had spotted from afar at Cochamo.

After the pleasant 3-hour approach to the Refugio area, we topped out to a snow storm and winds flattening everyone’s tents. But the climbing gods followed up the storm up with some absolutely splitter weather, which allowed us to climb the tallest spire, Torre Principal, on a beautiful bluebird day via Chocolate Liquido: a fun 5.10 route up corners and splitters that finishes with a slick, sporty pitch to the summit!

Frey is a very special location. You are pretty much alpine cragging! With fairly casual approaches and spires everywhere, you can run around this alpine playground and summit multiple towers with ease.

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One of the coolest things about topping out the Torre Principal was being able to see all the way to the south the valleys which we had biked up and the lake we had camped at on the way. Also, we were able to look at our cycling route to the north. It is a special feeling knowing you’re traveling on your own power.

Once we had finished our business in Frey, we hit the last leg of our trip: the famous Ruta de Los Siete Lagos from Bariloche to San Martin de Los Andes. This was one of the most beautiful rides of the trip and it took us three days to cycle the 200km between the two towns. We were treated to nicely paved roads leading through mountainous valleys, with huge lakes and up river drainages as we pedaled north towards San Martin. The road is called the Route of the Seven Lakes, but there are way more lakes than seven! San Martin is a moderately sized mountain town at the base of a huge lake known as Lago Lacar. The last 15km was a very winding steep downhill and we bombed into town grinning from ear to ear.

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Piedra Parada

Upon arriving in San Martin de Los Andes, we met up with my good friend Flori. I know her from living in Colorado and she insisted that we come visit her when we were down south. Naturally, we took her up on the offer and we were not disappointed. Flori and her friends treated us to amazing Patagonian hospitality, showing us some of the cool hikes as well as taking us out to the local watering holes and dance parties. After nearly a week in San Martin, we felt like locals and didn’t want to leave.

Having extended the trip so we could make it to San Martin, we were behind on our biking schedule and ended up taking a bus back to Chile in order make our return flights. Boyko went home a few days before me and I enjoyed my last few days in Chile in the lakeside town of Puerto Varas. It ended up being another excellent trip down to the Southern Hemisphere.

While in the Patagonian Lakes Region, we cycled over 1,700km (1000km on gravel) and logged over 100 pitches of rock climbing! The climbing scene in South America is just starting to pop off and we feel like we barely scraped the surface. I know that we’ll definitely find ourselves in this part of the world sometime in the near future.

Hen and Boyko: We’d like to thank Ben & Luka from the Turtle Island Ecology Center, Flori and friends, all the cool people we met, Clos Wine, Quilmes Beer, and Steely Dan. It would have been way lamer without you.


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