Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The end of Austral and setting goals

Want to know what is at the end of the famous Carretera Austral (translated: Southern Road)? Let me tell you: A small hydroelectric plant.

So we made it to our second goal. The furthest south point on the Austral.

Before we did the calculations and figured out where we were, our previous goal had been to make it to the same latitude as our home in Seattle (47.66). Oddly, when we arrived at said latitude there was a little house which we decided we would buy and call our second home.

Isn't it cute? If anybody wants to visit, just let us know and we'll get you the keys. It is kind of a pain to get to but it in a really nice place. 
We have been loosely paying attention to our latitude since Santiago. Santiago is at the same latitude as the California/ Mexico border and feels like it.
Without studying a map, we wondered what the latitude of Seattle would feel like down here. It seems that the climate zones tend to compress a bit in southern Chile. By the time the time we were at the same latitude as San Francisco, it felt like we were in Oregon. By the time we were in Oregon (the start of the Austral), it felt like British Columbia and as we continued south it started to feel more like central BC. The tree line started coming down from what looked like 5000 feet at the start of the Austral to 1500 feet at the end (It is at 6000 feet in Seattle).

So to make sense of it all, I'd say that by the time we hit the latitude of Seattle we were more in the climate zone of the latitudes of the middle of BC (some 1000 miles north of Seattle). I suppose this is because in the southern Hemisphere, there is a lot more ocean than in the northern hemisphere. This makes for colder temps and wetter storms which in turn affects the vegetation and topography (since everything is glacially carved down here).

But back to goals. We abandoned the idea of going all the way to Ushuaia because we didn't want to feel like we had to always be moving south in order to make it in time. We didn't want to get so fixated on a goal that we ended up not being present. Going to Ushuaia was also made more impractical by our trip from Santiago to Chicago in March. It just through the whole timeline off. Maybe I will regret the decision to not go there, but it will be there in the future and we have seen a lot of cool stuff that we otherwise wouldn't have seen had we gunned it down there.
So we needed another goal. As I wrote about earlier, we decided the Austral would be a good goal. We didn't know how far south we would make it on the road. It depended on the roads and the weather. Well the weather and the roads have been very do-able and here we are at the southern end of the Austral.
The Austral was built in the 80's by everyone's favorite dictator Pinochet. Bad guy, but he did invest in a good road. It links up previously inaccessible parts of Southern Chile. It is an impressive road and goes through some amazing terrain. It never stops giving beautiful vistas and the further south you go, the more you feel like you are in a place that you should feel very lucky to be in.

The end of the road is 865 km from the start in Chaiten and currently comes to a big fat dead end because of the Southern Patagonia Icefield and the inability for the Argentinian and Chilean governments to decide to cooperate and build a road that meanders between the two countries (which it would have to do down here).

In the meantime, we find ourselves at the Southern Point of the road in Villa O'Higgins without enough gas to turn around and head back north to where we can cross into Argentina.

Upon arriving in O'Higgins, we saw that the road went through town and continued south. So of course we took the road. It got smaller and started meandering beside O'higgins Lake (the 5th largest in South America). After 15 km or so, it finally crested a hill and came to an end in front of a raging creek. And on this creek was a small, unobtrusive, hydroelectric plant that is the power source for O'higgins (population 450).

And so we broke out our small bottle of Tequila that we have been carrying from Seattle, brewed up a mug of coffee, and enjoyed our farthest south point, more or less the equivalent to the US-Canada border.
Cooking dinner at this small cabaƱa in Puerto Tranquillo
Megan enjoying the view
This beautiful granite wall reminded me of a smaller Squamish. It looked to be about 8 pitches and stellar granite. If this were near Seattle, it would have 200 routes on it.

More fantastic climbing outside of Coyhaique.
This splitter basalt went on and on with gorgeous columns.

We finally figured out what an Andean Condor looks like and took this picture. Super cool.
It is hard to tell in this photo but this waterfall drops at least 1000 feet from the hanging glacier.

This is the second largest lake in South America and a startling turquoise color.


  1. It looks stunning there.....i am so happy for you guys! Enjoy, and see you sooooon. xo

  2. Kasi VerBrugghenApr 30, 2011, 7:32:00 PM

    Congratulations, you guys! What a wonderful experience to get that far south. We've been enjoying your posts and photos. Looking forward to seeing you and hearing all about the crazy encounters!


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