Sunday, December 19: We got on our bus early in the morning and enjoyed the nice 2 hours drive through wonderful landscape of Aisén Region to our starting point. Obviously, not much trekkers do this hike, so we had to help our bus driver to find "Las Horquetas Grandes", the little street workers camp. Finally we found it and off the bus we were.
Ok - here we are now - all over excited on the expectation of this hike, which, from pictures and description, sounded amazing. In the pic me, happily looking - not knowing what will come the next days :-)
On the first some hundred meters, the trail winds softly uphill, we are already speachless from the breathtaking sight. In the distance - as Clem has described - the farmhouse on our right hand. Cattle all around us, quite curious staring at us - gosh - did someone told them, we are not the target, although dressed in red ??? But - nothing happened at all, some friendly muuuuhhh and off they went. Friendly hello to the farmer and still amazed from the sight - to the right, the a gentle slope downwards to Rio Blanco, amazingly covered with flowers and red grass (pic).
Along we trott, and over the hours, we start to feel our backs - how lucky we are that this first day is only half in hiking……. Images of hot soup are spinning around in my brain. Hot soup and tea and the sleeping bags….. 25 and 27 kg are not funny at all to drag along on the very first tour of a long vacation….
For a short time, we hike through cool breezed lenga forest, which is all over covered with lichen of the type "barbers' lichen" (not sure of the english name - "usnea hirta" as the biological name, maybe Jean-Louis can help :-)) and on our left a nice old farmhouse, but abandoned (pic).
Up and down again, not much of altitude meters to accomplish. On our trail, we meet Rio Blanco again, cross him occasionally and continue until we finally see it - THE meadow, the perfect place to pitch the tent !
(day 1 – approx. 7 km from the road, we needed 3 ½ hours.)
Oh what a wonderful feeling to put the backpack down and unpack the neccesary items. Me as always the "housewife" - looool - pitching the tent, rolling out the mats and let the sleeping bags breathe. Guenter is "micropurizing" the water, and while we wait until it's done, we snooze in the grass. So quiet, nothing more than the little wind and the oh so wonderful sound of the water of Estero la Lima slowly flowing. Awesome atmosphere, sunny - what could we wish more ?
As soon as the water is ready, busy cooking - noodles boil, what else (soup for later, any kg less of noodles is better on our body than in the backpack - lool), feet still boiling from the hike and finally sun still boils upon us..
Exciting clear and tranquil night - full of stars - which means FULL of stars ! Just imagine that the next "city" (Coyhaique) is some 100 km to the north, and nothing more to the east, west and south :-)
Monday, december 20: The next morning greets us with warm sun, and after a quick breakfast, we are done with our belongings and head further. Trail is straight ahead, along the bank of Estero la Lima, for another hour or so. Here and there we have to cross little side creeks, and wondering how much more will come. We have read about extensive river crossing, and had equipped ourselves with a rope - but this was nothing, as we thought…..
Left hand side a beautiful wet meadow for a while, with lots of black-necked swans (but too far away to take a goot pic). The famous sign inside the forest, which should signal the hikers to turn left was there, however turned upside down…. But - if in the book it says left - we go left…
After another while of 50 minutes and passing an old abandoned mine, we have eventually met the famous Rio Turbio (turbio = turbid, from the glaciar sediments). But nothing turbid at all ! Either the big snowmelting was already over or it wasn't that hard of a winter - instead of the roaring white water (as said so in the book), we have seen a bit of river gently flowing through a bed of scree. (oh yeah - scree - a word we learned to love - later on…).
In the distance (pic) we could see the further progress of the trail - up that little pass with the "bit" of snow on top.
We headed along the southern bank of the scree valley, some other hour to find a perfect spot to pitch the tent just at the bottom of the long slope up to the pass. Backpacks off and a little hike to Laguna Peñon, which is just some 20 minutes away. Nice, as we could do a little exercise how to walk on the scree - not easy, as the stones do not lie fixed but have a slight tendency to move. Oops, or was that too much noodles the other night ?
The laguna was perfectly nestled between the massive majestic mountains - a perfect serene place to stay for a while and listed only to the music of the wind.
If there would not have been the wind…. Yeah, winds of southern Patagonia can be nice at times, mainly when they blow for some nearly 100 km/hr. Good that we did not have our backpacks on - this would have resulted in a funny hikers ballett…… but way less gracile than in Swan Lake….But we got the picture of what might wait for us up on the pass the next day :-)
(day 2, 10 km, 5 hours)
The day ends like the one before - very relaxed (what did we do today except a bit of a hike ?) and good warm tea filled our happy stomachs - with fantastic views to the mountains and their little waterfalls here and there and the gods of the Andes - the condors - circling their tracks in the sky (pic). Amazing, how many condors we saw during the whole trip - almost as if they were our guardian angels.
Tuesday, december 21: Next morning was quite cool outside and in rapid speed we were packed again. Obviously, having the food in my backpack, 2 meals less in weight put a much happier smile on my face :-)
The path we continue on now is hardly visible - it is where the soil is a bit more packed. Dead wood doesn't seem that bad at this time - easy to step over. We continue along the (left) riverbank, whose spring is uphill on the pass, eventually leaving the forest to cross a little meadow, with flowers all around us and the everpresent tabanos, annoying bugs of the size of huge fat flies. Time for a tea break and exploring the next step - as scrub is in our way now. Scrub in Patagonia - this is something what I have learned during all my treks there - is not necessarily the same as in Europe. Wind and weather have made them withstanding the harsh conditions. It is so hard and firm that you can literally stand on it without breaking a leave.
Out of a reason I don't remember by now, we weren't able to cross the little river (either there was a waterfall or we were just too lazy to do so). So we made our way through the scrubs and through and over deadwood which nicely had accumulated to quite big piles. GOOD that we were wearing our long pants !
Finally, after hours (which were not more than 15 minutes), we have succeeded our thicket penetration and happily continued our uphill hike. Here and there we had to cross the river (pic), but this was not that difficult, as the stones were big enough to hop from one to the other (no elephant jump this time - looool). Sun was happily sitting in the sky and surely smiled about the two adventurers which needed to watch each step on these stones. We crossed the tree-line, which is sharp here.
My backpack was feeling heavy by now, my knees hurt despite the poles and this was about the moment, when my brain must have decided to leave the scenery and get off for a little while. Somehow, feet obviously function without being conducted by the brain. My locomotor system (sorry, this is what the dictionary says) kept setting one foot in front of the other, and mechanically my body reached the last hundred meters to the pass, which was covered by snow now. Way behind us the broad riverbed of Rio Turbio, mostly filled with scree.
Close to the pass, I happily met up with my brain which has found it's way back to me. As it was hot - or I was sweating - I decided to take off the sweater, which proved to be an insane decision, as in the middle of the pass a friendly gusty cold-as-ice wind greeted us. Gusty means real gusty - would easily believe that windchill made the wind feel like -15 ° C. So on we put all things we had with us, including head band. One quick picture and away from the wind - direction downhill.
But not before admiring the scenery that opens for us. Here, on Paso Peñon, 1453 m, overlooking the three valleys in front of us - Morro Rojo with it's treeless top in front of us, and the little tiny lagoon on the righ hand side being one of our next stops - Laguna Cerro Castillo.
And the everpresent condor also made it’s way into this picture. We were all amazed and speachless of such beauty around us.
As soon as we were out of the reach of the cold wind, we could also admire more of the tines and towers of Cerro Castillo's mountain range, which gave it the name. In the first pic still the little Laguna Cerro castillo right hand, but also the creek that spills out of it, showing us already our path up there. To the left, the gentls slopes of Morro Rojo, as they point downward into the Valley of Rio Ibañez, the broad stream in the picture. Awesome how far we can see despite of the cloudy weather.
If we look back (pic), we can see the now peaceful Paso Peñon, how he is cut into the mountains surrounding.
One interesting outcrop on the right hand side (better seen in the last pic), which forms a very sharp cone, at some view angles almost looking like a big V. This one became famous for me, some days later - no, nights - in "the night of the nights".
On our right hand (north) we admire again the tines and spines of the mountain range, which look quite odd sometimes. A glaciar tongue is spilling over the walls, and gives room to millions of little meltwater cascades. Together with the overcast sky and some fog rising here and there - the atmosphere is almost out of this world.
But – enough of admiration, we need to make our way down the gully to find our next hotel :-)
Paso Peñon’s melted snow and the cascades form a little creek which heads downward and leads us the way. It is extremely steep, and we are happy that we got some experience by now how to best walk over the scree. Zigzag hiking is the best to work through the gully. On one of the pics you can see why it was all that difficult – big stones alternate with small ones, and below it’s sand. So one wrong step and a nice little stone avalance would make it’s way down the valley. But finally, after a good hour or so, we’re done, and the path gets more moderate, continues along the creek until we eventually reach the tree line again – back in the dense forests.
After we have reached the forest, we still need to find our path there, as obviously not very much trekkers do this gorgeous hikes, and nature quickly demands back it’s space. We headed along the bank of this little creek which would later on combine with another creek to form Estero del Bosque.
And then we needed to do it – cross the creek, which by now has nicely accumulated to a litte rapid flowing river. The current was heavy, and the big stones made the water even more tumbling and whirling. We were thinking back and forth how to best achieve the crossing and finally decided that we do it without rope. Guenter was the volunteer to get of his boots, into his Tevas and into the – eeeeks – ice cold water. The water was not deep, but quickly flowing and it was the best to cross against the current. Having the Tevas with us was the best we could do, as the stones would have been painful to balance over barefoot. Then me, a real experience with carrying all you have on your back, and desperately thinking NOT to loose balance and drown the valuable backpack with the even more valuable warm and dry clothes and sleeping bag :-)
Then happy drying of wet and COLD feet and on again looking for our next hotel stop. Roughly 3 hours after leaving Paso Peñon we then reached the perfect spot again to pitch the tent – even ground (which is not easy to find there) surrounded by the lengas, and a magical view to the main massif of Cerro Castillo behind us (pic).
(day 3 - 7km, 5 hours)
Wednesday, december 22:The morning greeted us again with perfect weather, stunning blue sky, even too perfect to get going again. So we enjoyed a bit longer breakfast, with pancakes and currant marmelade.
Pancakes is very easy to prepare, even on hiking trails. Flour, water and a bit salt - that's all. Having a little pan comes handy, but it's also easy to do in the pot lid (provided it's non-sticky material). Some neccesary housework - or we better call it tentwork ? - having much sand close to the river was handy, too, as it is the best to clean the dishes. One sad look on our nice little green house before we pack it back into the backpacks, these on our shoulders and get going.
We continue along the right (north) river bank downhill, untill our little river meets up with the one coming from Laguna Cerro Castillo to form Estero del Bosque and flow down to Villa Cerro Castillo. Now we need to head upstream to reach our next overnight stop at the laguna. Hiking now becomes quite difficult, as the forest here is more of a clearing, left as a result of a heavy avalance some years ago, which has destroyed most of the trees. The trunks are still there, dried and weathered, and scrub demanding the space now. We head as close as possible along the river, but need to back into the forest from time to time, as some of the dead wood piles are too high to climb over with our heavy backpacks. Finally we're done, and the path becomes moderate again, through gorgeous and cooling almost fairy tale forest with a lot of barbers' lichen hanging in the trees again, which add to the magical atmosphere, on the right (east) side of the little river.
Awesome views ahead of us, of the main massif of Cerro Castillo, the white water river and the immense thick forests. River crossing here and there was neccesary again, as the forests and scrubs are really that dense so that it is impossible to carry on hiking only along the right river bank side. In between the crossings some stops for hot tea (which comes handy if the feet have been cooled down to freezing point– loool).
After these several crossings we are back again on the right river bank, heading further upstream to finally to our amazement find a sign – the second sign we see during the trip so far…. A little wooden plate with a red arrow leads us away from the river, along a dried creek, filled with scree. Then, after 10 minutes, another red arrow tells us to back into the low height (low height means 2 meters :-) ) scrub, which we cross to reach another scree field after some minutes. Now, the massive wall of Cerro Castillo is towering just ahead of us, and we find our river again, which is much smaller by now. In between we find a little lagoon, where more than 10 little waterfalls spill down from Cerro Castillo’s wall. Looking for a good place to pitch the tent, but none here seemed appropriate, as too much of big stones are spread around – and you never know – if nature decides to send some more big stones downward – we might wake up next morning and being no longer there….
After another half hour, we finally find our perfect location – on a large flat area, no stones behind us but the huge 1400 m high vertical wall of Cerro Castillo.
In total, 4 hours from the river forks.
Awesome vistas in the setting sun – and please have an extra look at the last picture here, which shows a nice view of Paso Peñon and the famous outcrop on it’s right (south) side, which will play a major role in what’s coming up next.
(day 4, 8 km, 5 hours)
Sun was setting, and as there were no trees to shelter us, the air soon became quite cold. The sun nicely shone on the mountains and painted them deep red. We put all our clothes on and started the dinner. Not much for the evening, only tick hot star shaped noodle soup and the obligatory hot tea. We were sitting there, enjoying the hot things running down our systems and felt eternally relaxed. Some stars appeard, my beloved Southern Cross and the part of Orion that looks like a smiley. Could not get enough of that peaceful sight. At a point in time, roughly 23 p.m., when it was getting darker (as much as it can get dark at 46° South) I said “Wouldn’t it be time for full moon by now?” (consider, that during our last nights, our tent was always somewhere in thick forest and we were in bed – uuhhm sleeping bag – early). The moment that said, a bright light appeared exactly in the middle of the V-shaped outcrop of Paso Peñon – and stupid me continued to say somethink like “look at this floodlight…” until I realized that it was the moon. With open mouth we gazed at this natures’ spectacle. Neither me, nor the pictures can describe these moments of watching the moon slowly rising – I started to believe that the man in the moon exists and gently tears the moon with a little thread over the night sky. I dragged my mat and sleeping bag to the outside – this night I definitely could not sleep in the tent, and I was watching the moon’s path until I must have fallen asleep at one point in the late night.