Bikepacking with Brendan, Part 3: Volcan Osorno


Entre Lagos, Chile.

Brendan and I had just descended from the fantastically challenging experience of the Puyehue Traverse, and noticed the next potential debacle in our sights: Volcan Osorno. Given our track record of drastically underestimating the terrain challenges in Chile’s lake district, why not jump back in for round 3?

Ding, ding!


 Awakening from our poached campsite on some farmland outside of Entre Lagos, we packed and rolled early so as to avoid any confrontations with landowners. We’d have to ride the paved road around Lago Llanquihue to reach our dirt road/trail route traversing the Eastern slopes of Volcan Osorno. 


 A  gentle paved road, some rolling hills, the morning should have passed quickly. Unfortunately the headwinds were demoralizing, as we followed the completely straight highway directly into the wind for the first 30km. I was toast from our previous week of pushing. I kept losing Brendan, his speed and power seemed impervious to fatigue. Eventually we turned off the highway onto the dirt road approaching Volcan Osorno from the Northwest to curve around it’s East side and traverse it’s Eastern slope.


The land here is lush and rich for farming. Endless fields full of collected and packaged hay lined the countryside. 


Entering the national park, the pavement ends and the climbing really begins!


The narrow dirt park road got progressively steeper until it reached a small parking area and lodge, from here it would be non-motorized trail. The climb began gently, with a wide and sandy track keeping a moderate grade as it wound through the low forest. 


As we ascended so did the trail gradient. Low-elevation sweltering heat did not help. We both had to give it all we had to reach the high Paso Desolación. But somehow Brendan’s seemingly infinite energetic resources seemed to top out for once. I felt a tiny ego boost as I passed him on the climb, for a rare moment feeling impressed and proud of my own strength and endurance. Likely it wouldn’t happen again!


Brendan did manage to conserve a few calories for a sweet glam-shot upon cresting the pass!


 The golden hour was approaching, so we decided to camp a bit past the pass. Not a soul out here but us, and some sweet single track descending ahead… 


After a leisurely morning we rolled on down the trail. As we were later informed the entire area had beed coated with sand resulting from the recent volcanic eruption of Volcan Calbuco nearby, so the hard packed dirt trail we expected was a whole different beast!

Somehow Brendan always seemed to find a way to shred the trail. 


 Luckily the views were still fabulous, while the sand certainly tested our balancing skills. Lago Todos los Santos filled our view with beauty and calm. 

Brendan always made the rough terrain look easy. Blazing down deep sandy trail where I felt the need to be more cautious. Inspiring!


As we approached the small lakeside tourist hub of Petrohue, we basked in our final moments of silence while riding down an immense river drainage. 


The water: perfect. The views: spectacular. We both dreamed of coming back with packrafts and exploring the lakes with peace and quiet. Definitely a dream I hope to keep alive. 


Rounding a corner we left our serene beach view for a maze of busses, cars, screaming kids and overpriced snack food. We didn’t last long here, hopping on the dirt road headed West toward Ensenada. A short and fast road ride and we were sucking down empanadas at a roadside bakery.


It was here in Ensenada that Brendan and I bid farewell. He had decided to head toward Puerto Montt (due West) to meet some friends, while my journey would carry my South. Far from emotional goodbye, we shook hands and thanked one another for the fantastic time. So much fun riding, hard pushing, great joking with Brendan. It was hard for me to separate from him though. He was an intelligent, fun and interesting human, and a great adventure partner. I knew it was unlikely our paths would cross again any time soon, but lots of discussion about the amazing mountain biking in Guatemala got me hopeful that someday in the future we might share another adventure.

I spent the afternoon’s ride reminiscing about some of our hilarious and odd jokes and themes:

The dirty, crass, Southern old-man accents we each developed over the course of days since starting the Puyehue traverse. So interesting as the voice was one of a mysanthropic, anti cultural, luddite who needed to tell tales of how hard his life was in relation to anyone he met.  “Poo-yay-Way makes the Wee-low WEE-low look like a god-damned field of daisies!” for example. We made up verses to a bluegrass-themed melody over the days, and on this final day during the sandy traverse down from Volcan Osorno, it culminated in various verses summarizing all the experiences we’d had over our time together. Hilarious. It has been gift to meet Brendan, to learn from his vast knowledge of bicycles and alternative living, to share stories and ideas about our passions and paths, to adventure together and just have fun. I truly hope we meet again.


Much thanks for this time together Brendan, and happy trails! 


 A short jaunt up and over some mountains dropped me along the west side of the Estuario de Reloncaví, the first of many enormous fjords in the area. Evidently reaching this estuary marks my official entrance into Patagonia!!! This is really happening. I’m actually going to reach land’s end, and soon! So interesting to recognize the complex medley of emotions this realization has brought up. From excitement to fear, hope to anxiety. I am likely less than 2 months away from running out of land, at which time some challenging decisions will lay ahead. 

Of course I’ve been cognizant of this concept’s slow emergence into reality. Many ideas have entered my mind about what the next phase of life could look like: A flight to Capetown, South Africa to continue the journey into the other hemisphere, a return to the United States to reconnect with chosen and blood families, a residence in Peru guiding mountain bikes with a local outfit in Cusco, even a tiny shack back on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala to work on a book project… More on all that soon. 


As I followed the coastline South, I noticed a tiny shack a little ways off the road. Correo means “mail”. So this is Patagonian for post office! Just my speed. 


Light reflecting more sharply on the grand fjord, I would soon need a place to land. I noticed the small town of Cochamo on my map was just ahead, a hub for adventure tourism entering the famed Valle de Cochamo. This place is known as the Yosemite of Patagonia, with enormous cliffs and peaks just begging to be ascended. A true climber’s paradise. Sounds interesting…


I stocked up in town for a couple of days, planning to ride the road to it’s end in the canyon, then hike my bike on the trail to explore it’s magic. 


As I rounded the first corners entering the long valley, the first of many palatial peaks emerged. This could get pretty interesting…


Most of the land along the road was private and fenced in, but I was able to find a small spot in the woods by a river with some campsites. On a random tree by the roadside, I noticed a large sign: “I’m a tree, much more than kindling and wood. I am the balance of nature. I am shade, honey, fruit, oxygen, I am LIFE. PROTECT ME!” Well said. 


Through my dense forested campsite I could see the brilliant lights of sunset piercing through. Despite longing for an open view of the light show, I relished in what I did see while soaking in the sounds of the flowing river, the whispering breeze, the fluttering leaves. 


The following morning I awoke to ominously dark skies and low lying clouds obscuring all the surrounding peaks. While riding up the dirt road into the canyon a bit later I was informed by a campground host that there was a huge storm approaching. All the climbers were descending the valley to wait it out as there would be 3-5 days of continuous rain and thunderstorms. Sigh. I considered pushing through anyway, taking the risk that maybe they were somehow all wrong… but doubt got the better of me. I remembered that many climbers are as obsessed with their sport as I am with ridiculous riding routes and it would likely take more than a few grey clouds to send them all down the mountainside. Cochamo would have to wait for some other visit, as I decided to turn back and continue South… and that will have to wait, for another post…

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