Thursday, december 23:To get up next morning and get going after that night was a bit tough – it was as if you land hard on the earth after having been somewhere in space. But – it didn’t help and we needed to hurry up a bit, as some weather was approaching from the east. We know that Patagonian weather is relentless – but first some visit to the Laguna itself to see it’s full beauty before it’s all in clouds and rain.So we admire the countless little cascades which spill the melting water down into Laguna Castillo’s northern shore and then pack again.
So we started to continue our hike at 10 a.m. Along the Laguna, to hike uphill on it's southern moraine. From there we already see our next goal, the nameless paso which separates Laguna Cerro Castillo from the next valley of Estero Parada. Still some snow specks there, but we are used to that already.
We laughed about the path markings now, every 10 meters one of the moraine stones had a little red spot. As if this time it wasn't clear where to hike….. We needed to go in serpentines, as it was quite steep - the pics don't show that enough. One quick glance back to our night spot and Paso Peñon - the weather is already speeding up and trying to catch up with us. But in that gorgeous scenery, hiking is still a pleasure, and the cool air comes handy, as we don't feel our backpacks that much now. After roughly 1 hour we are on the top plateau at 1500 m and make a rest - to grab the usual hot tea and enjoy the awesome view, we are offered now on the other side of the hill - the whole valley of Rio Ibañez opens up to us.
The tea warms up, the massif of Cerro Castillo is an amazing view with it's sharp tines - doesn't it look like a fairy tale castle ? inhabited by tousands of elfes and dwarfs ?
But enough of dreaming - we better enjoy the valley view which is awesome from up here. The one picture is the valleys' left (east) side, and we even find the tiny village of Villa Cerro Castillo, our final destination.
As the weather doesn't seem to get better (we didn't expect it, though), we continue to our right (west) to find the pass which brings us into the valley of Estero Parada. On the pass, at 1700 m, we look down into the scenery - and a real adventure begins now.
Later on I have called it murderous descend, but during the next some hours or so I felt pretty much a happiness every second that I was still alive and on this in one piece. Our nice book has described the following as to "drop directly into a steep, scree-filled gully" which sounds nice, if you only read it. It would have been nice in sunny weather, though (probably). But as it started to drizzle, we thought we better hurry up a bit to not slide and end up shattered at the gully bottom. It was almost impossible to hike straight down, we needed to zigzag again. Sounds good, but again, the layer of rocks is not that thick, and below, it's sand, which can get very slippery (VERY), if you don't watch each step you do. I did the 3-spot-touch method - always 3 of 2 feet and 2 poles touching the ground, the other waiting for the ok to continue. Always that fear in the brain - please, big rocks, don't move, just freeze where you are. And if - oh yeah, we still had our 2 morphine tablets somewhere in the first-aid kit. ?.
And suddenly we saw movements in the trees below us and a nice little breeze came greeting us. Breeze in Patagonia terms - gusty with a speed of almost 120 km/hr. So in addition to watch our steps we also had to take care that the wind did't blew us off. But here, we did not succeed, despite our "high" weight - and more than once we "made the beetle on the back" - or what Simone is describing as the upside-down-turtle in her Norrbottans L?n Page :-) .
After more than 2 ? hours we finally arrived at the gullys' bottom and murmured quite hysterical "drop directly into the deep scree filled gully" all the time. We found shelter under the trees and filled up our energy level with tea and energy bars.
Continuing with the downhill hike we were quite happy that they have marked the path with cairns and red dots again. However, at a point in time, on the right (north) river bank they either forgot to continue with the markings or we have been so stupid to loose sight of them - we kind of got lost. Not really lost, as we still were on the "path". This path ended up in a steep slope, which we theoretically should have crossed. But this was impossible, as some time ago there must have been a kind of landslide, which left an aisle in the forest, full of sandy ground. And it was impossible to cross that, as we definitely would have ended up in the river way below us - with broken bones. So carefully back to the river to cross it - but this was also impossible, as he went straight down in a 30 m waterfall. So back again along the river, eventually crossing it, and heading further through the thicket of scrub and trees and deadwood.
I thought that nobody could have crossed this path for ages or even hundreds of ages. Finally we have crossed that forest and ended up in a nice clearing and even heared the river sounds - but still some 50 m below us. Steep slopes on both sides where we stood now, the only possibility to get down was through a sandy creek bed. Thanks god the sand wasn't that wet here, and we carefully made our way down, grabbing from root to root. Thanks again that patagonian scrub roots drill themselves deep into the soil, so none of them broke with our weight and we slowly made it down. The last 10 m were steep as hell, so we simply let our backpacks slide down first and then us behind. And finally - feet on the ground, parallel to the river. But with all the detours we have lost so much time that we didn't have time to celebrate our rebirths and headed down until we found again a wonderful place to drop our things and build the little green house.
(day 5 - 7 km, 7 hours)
The soup tastes gorgeous that evening and the weather congratulates us with a very pleasant sunset - yellow-red clouds and the mountains beaming in the setting sun.
Next morning we decide to simply relax and do the housework - uuhm tentwork. Pants needed to be washed, backpacks and jackets to be dried in the happy shining sun and our bones were all too happy not to run around all day.
So Thursday passed with no special experience except a serene tranquility and the air filled with the sounds of birds and leaves and water drippling over the river stones. We have realized though that it was december 24, so theoretically christmas for us, but we did not feel like christmas, we didn't feel like germans or tourists - simply as human beings in a awesome landscape.
Saturday, december 25: As it was not that far to reach our final destination, Villa Cerro Castillo, we left quite late, lingering on the forest paths, as if we knew that this tranquility would come to it's end sooner or later.
We continued downstream, very easy hike this time, as the creek was not wide and didn't have much current. After 1 hour, we have reached the fork, where it merged into Estero Parada, coming down from Campamento Neozelandés, another possible side trip (which we skipped). Instead, we went left, direction Valle Rio Ibañez, along the Estero Parada's left (eastern) bank.
The path became even more moderate, widened up, went through soft hilled open forests with beautiful little flowers left and right, and even strawberries to give us a nice excuse for having a stop and fill our stomachs. High in the trees we saw a black woodpecker (carpintero negro or campephilus magellanicus), easy to recognice as the male one by his red cap. After another hour, we left the forest to end up in a big meadowy area, with grazing sheep all around and headed left (eastward) to Villa Cerro Castillo. Lots of calafate bushes now, heavily loaded with dark violet berries. Rio Ibañez was flowing peacefully in the valley.
After a while we have reached the last challenging part of this day, a sandy plain, where it was quite difficult to move on with our thick boots. But finally we reached the Estero del Bosque again, which told us that Villa Cerro Castillo was just ahead of us.
(day 6 - 19 km, 6 hours)
.... to reach the village alive and in one piece....!
The little town of not more than 500 inhabitants was very quiet, but considering that we arrived almost at 2 p.m., we didn't mind, just looked for the hostal, Clem had recommended and placed ourselves on the welcoming benches in front.
As it was Christmas, though, soon a nice older lady came to see us and asked us if we would like a room - she was the owner of this friendly place. She feeded us with coffee and beer, which we enjoyed out in the sun - after that much outdoors it was quite unfamiliar to eat or drink inside. The friendly pheasant next to us in the garden was nervously running up and down making noises - as if he feared he might be our dinner tonight.
But - after a looooong and pleasantly hot shower we were seated in the dining room and enjoyed a wonderful rich meal (thick soup, potatoes and spinach and thick sauce, followed by a homemade christmas cake).