Saturday, June 19, 2010

Week 1 – Lago la Paloma Chile

The view up Paloma from the lodge

A week has passed since we first arrived here in Chile. From the hustle of smoggy Santiago (complete with real live Taxi hustle) we flew south for the desolate plains of Patagonia. Landing in Balcamadea I was bewildered as to how a plane carrying nearly 100 passengers could justify a flight to a settlement with only 500, but as quickly as they had arrived at the airport everyone was gone.

An hours drive on pothole laden roads, and we were at Lago La Paloma (Dove lake). A 45 minute boat ride between the towering cliffs took us to our lodge, situated on the picturesque shores.

A day and a half to reset our circadian rhythms and it was off up the hill, the weather showering our gringo trail crew with sprinkles of rain on the ascent up the hill for our first day of work.

Our morning view to the trails below

Starting at 320m elevation, our commute takes us up a sweet bermed trail to 700m, before we traverse across yet more expertly crafted corners to our worksite some 10km from the lodge. A good 50 min ride on 100% singletrack that serves as an ideal commute, arguably the world’s best?

Despite temperatures pushing -12 degrees I usually wear just shorts and a riding shirt, anything more and I find myself uncomfortably hot by the fourth switchback, before the day’s digging has even started.

Graham carries his pick to the scenic lunch spot

Our crew joined another who have been here almost two and a half months, and quickly learned the ropes carving out scree, bamboo and boulders to form a technical descent to the valley below. We even got to ride the yet to be named trail, and the rock work left me grinning. Check some sick helmet cam footage from Emil, a member of our crew from Havelock North.

While I’m far from being a foremost expert in singletrack of the world, the trails here at Paloma have left me grasping for superlatives. Descending highlights include Flow Valley, Super Cougar and High Line. From epic berms to rival Whistler’s A-line (without the braking bumps) to rocky and rooty technical gnarl to rival the best that the Canterbury high country has to offer. All with the backdrop of snow clad Andes which have a rugged beauty that is difficult to describe.

An occasional lunchtime visitor is the Andean Condor, keenly observing the humans carving trails in his territory.

An Andean Condor surveys his territory

The hoar frost that greets us on our morning ride up the hill softens the soil by afternoon, and the humungous banked corners become safety nets for risky berm diving manoeuvres. Step 1 is to brake as late as you dare followed by step 2, throwing your bike into the corner. The result is a strange mix of elation and fear as you drift round the corner then line up for the next.

The fact that the tracks have been crafted by Kiwi riders with an obvious passion for trail riding really shines through, and I feel fortunate to be a part of such an awesome venture. By the time you have swung a pick for a day your arms are aching, but the ride home is the ultimate tonic, filling skull and limbs with enough endorphin to relegate the hard day’s work to a distant memory.

Time will tell if snow flurries and negative zero temperatures will test this enthusiasm, but for now I’m stoked to be in Chile, working in a crew of good mates, building awesome trails and riding them.

Mountain Pedaler out..


Tinkerbell said...

Amazing Oli! Sounds like those trails are awesome.

philzone81 said...

wow... sounds amazing, I'm a gringo teaching in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and wondering if you have any contacts in chile that i could be in touch with to do some riding / trail building/ volunteering in feb/ march? if you have any info let me know at, thanks so much, happy trails!!