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.
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.
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.)
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.
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)
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)
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).
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)
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".
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.
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.