El Camino Austral by Bicycle


Welcome to our photo-essay on bicycle touring El Camino Austral in Southern Chile. Gretchen and I spent about 2 weeks on this winding road in December of 2001. The following pages are meant to be an entertaining and eye-pleasing view of the bottom end of South America.

Short History

"El Camino Austral" Simply means the "Southern Road". Officially named "El Carretera Longitudinal Austral Presidente Pinochet", and also referred to as "El Carretera Austral" (southern highway), "Longitudinal Austral", and "Pinochet's Folley", and simply "Ruta 7". The road runs from Puerto Montt through Villa O'Higgins, about 1300 km, and they're still working on it. Much of the road is dirt, although pavement is spreading out in both directions from Coyhaique. The road was begun as a public works project by former dictator Pinochet in the late 1970s and work continues to this day. The original motive was to provide a land route through southern Chile for military mobilization and defense against Argentina. A badly scanned map shows the route from Puerto Montt down through a little south of Coyhaique (the road is the white-black dashed line).

The Geography and Climate

Chile runs 3000 miles north-south in a thin strip, seldom more than 150 miles wide. The far north end is a desert, the far south end is the wind-blown tip of Cape Horn. El Camino Austral runs from about 41 degrees South to 48 degrees south, with a climate not unlike the American Northwest, or Southern BC. (for reference, Seattle is at 47.5 degrees north). The Andes mountain range does an effective job wringing water out of the clouds; the coastal areas get much as 3 meters of rain every year! Once behind the mountains the climate dries out considerably and is almost desert-like in areas.

On to the Bike Trip!

First of all I'd like to thank Matt and Nichole Deniston for their website on a much longer (11 months!) bike trip through South America. Thanks to their descriptions of the Camino Austral we had a good idea of what to expect. in early December we packed up two bikes, a seemingly amazing amount of bike gear, and then entrusted it all to the airilnes. The trip down was not exactly smooth - we got left Dallas for a day by American Airlines, in Santiago by Lan Chile, and finally, 2 days after leaving Seattle, we emerged in Pueto Montt Chile. Fortunately the bikes made it unscathed and after re-assembly we were ready and raring to ride.

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