Yesterday, I left the ferry port of Hornopirén in the morning but, instead of continuing toward Puerto Montt – the formal starting point of the Carretera Austral – I left the the highway at Caleta Puelche to turn east on Ruta A-691, a narrow winding gravel road along the Estuario de Reloncaví (pictured above) en route to Petrohué, in Chile’s Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales. It was a slow drive, disrupted by road work in several places, though some northerly parts of it were paved just before and beyond the town of Puelo (where I had been before, approaching from the north).
It took four hours to drive the roughly 200 km from Hornopirén to the town of Ensenada, at the eastern end of Lago Llanquihue, where I had lunch. After that, I headed to Petrohué, the lakeport locality where the Cruce Andino to Argentina starts, and where I would be staying at Petrohué Lodge, with views of Lago Todos los Santos. It took a while to get there, though, because an urban-like traffic jam coincided with the end of the Conquista Volcán Osorno, a 77-km mountain-bike competition, with more than a thousand riders, around its namesake volcano (pictured below).
There were plenty of spectators along the route, and riders sometimes had to dart between automobiles on the gravel road within the national park boundary (outside that boundary, there’s a wide bike lane that goes all the way to Puerto Varas, 65 km to the west). The riders, though, had looped around the north side of the volcano and passed through what is normally a hiking trail before arriving at Petrohué.
I couldn’t speak to any of the participants, but this morning I asked a national park ranger about the wisdom of allowing such a major competition through an environmentally sensitive terrain of mid-latitude rain forest. While this was the 13th such competition, it was the first since the eruption of nearby Volcán Calbuco, which dumped large amounts of ash here last April. According to what he told me, many riders had to dismount because of deep ash, and he implied that this could be the last such event – at other times, bicycles are not permitted on park trails.
I sympathize with cyclists – I’m one myself, though I prefer paved roads – but I would still argue that this is not appropriate to the environmental goals of a national park. I’d hope that the organizers would find a more suitable route in an area that abounds in suitable terrain – though none of that terrain has quite the majesty of Osorno’s Fuji-perfect cone (pictured above, as seen from the eastern shore of Lago Llanquihue).