Wind through the valleys of gauchos

Wind through the valleys of gauchos
Baker - O'Higgins Area

This ½ day touring circuit travels through amazing countryside along the road that will eventually connect Villa O?Higgins to Argentina, through the Mayer River border crossing. The valley remains the exclusive turf of gauchos and Estancias, transporting you to another time.

  • Data sheet
    • Activity Type: 4x4 or bike tour.
    • Sector: Road to Entrada Mayer
    • Starting Point: From Villa O’Higgins, head north on the Carretera Austral.  Just before the Van Schouwen Bridge over the Mayer River (7 Km), turn right on the side road, indicating the route to Las Margaritas Estancia. 
    • Ending Point: Villa O’Higgins
    • Considerations: Carry sufficient fuel for the trip.  Currently, you cannot cross to Argentina at the border, by vehicle.  There is no bridge over Carrera River.  
    • Distance: 47 Km to Entrada Mayer Frontier Control Post; 7 more to Christie Lake. Round-trip 108 kilometers.
    • Duration: 4 - 6 hours In vehicle, 2 days by bike.
    • Seasonality:  All  Year, depending on road conditions
    • Difficulty:  Appropriate for all with a 4x4 vehicle or good biking skills.

This self-guided tour travels the entire length of the Mayer River Valley, ending at the Entrada Mayer Frontier Post, an area known as the Valley of Pioneers. Optionally, you can continue 7 Km more, along a nearby side road, which leads to Christie Lake. If you opt for this detour, be sure you have a 4x4 and off-road experience; you’ll need to cross the Pérez River and depending on the time of year, it can be pretty deep! 
Early in your journey, you'll surely notice the wonderful hues of blue and green shining through crystalline waters, in the narrows of La Clara Lake.  These unique hues are produced by the bright sands along the rocky bottom of the lake.  A few hundred  meters before the access gate to the Estancia las Margaritas, you'll notice a small rustic chapel set back amongst a clearing on one side of the road. This chapel was built with Canogas, an interesting architectural technique, commonly used in the early days of the Region; trees were split lengthwise, hollowed out, and layered in an alternating pattern, to form a roof line.  The chapel is one of Father Antonio Ronchi's community projects, built with the help of the settlers of Villa O’Higgins and the Mayer River.  It is located at the edge a beautiful virgin lenga (nothofagus pumilio) forest, beside a small freshwater stream.
The road continues through the rockier hillsides of the valley, where you can spot the evidence of recent glaciation, (c. 12,000 years), within the striations on the rocks.  Also, you will note slowly emerging layers of vegetation that will eventually form small forests. Along the route, you'll cross two bridges over the Mayer River, a short land bridge through a wetland area, and a remote airstrip, before arriving at the Frontier Border Post. Imagine how hard it must have been to travel through this rough and wild territory, before these kinds of infrastructure were in place!  
The infrastructure at the Chilean Border Post seems almost to be “overkill”, considering only a few hundred people cross here each year.  Yet, much is required to maintain a remote frontier in the middle of Patagonia.  There are storehouses for hay, which is harvested in late summer and used all winter to feed the horses used for patrol trips.  The border control officers at the Rio Mayer Post make regular visits to the isolated farms of the settlers who make their lives in the surrounding mountains. At least once a month, they try to visit each settler, sharing news, giving them information about weather conditions and bringing mail or messages from town.
Leaving the Frontier Post, you can return toward Villa O'Higgins or detour along the completed portion of the future road between Rio Mayer and the area around Cerro San Lorenzo, near the town of Cochrane.  The Frontier Post officers can instruct you where to turn and advise you on the conditions and feasibility for crossing the Pérez River with your vehicle.   Beyond the crossing, you'll follow the Pérez River west, passing several beautiful waterfalls and small lagoons, before the road ends (7 Km) at an overlook, along the shore of Christie Lake.  This is a great place to camp, and, for now, your turnaround point.  Head back to Villa O’Higgins along the same roads, which will undoubtedly seem different, with the changing intensity of Patagonia sunlight during the day.  As you head back, imagine the hard-working pioneers and adventurers who first crossed the borders here, charting the relief of the area’s geography, and opening paths across these rugged, wild peaks.

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