One of the main drives for visitors to Yerba Loca, is the glacier of La Paloma ("the dove"), at the end of the canyon, 3 kilometres from the base camp at Casa de Piedra.
Be either climb it, hike to its base, or just watch its emerald-blue ice from a distance, it's a rewarding experience and a glorious sight, as many people who goes there can't believe that such a glacier might be so close to a big city as Santiago, which is not so southerly located to (supposedly) have huge masses of ice nearby. But it has.
La Paloma is a hanging glacier -this is, with falling ice and seracs, without an exposed forward moraine- just like those one may see in the far south or in San Rafael lagoon.
Its base is at about 3400 meters/11,150 ft., and the top is at an approximate altitude of 4100 meters/13,450 ft..
Climbing it requires of technical and safety moutaineering equipment (to different extents, depending on the chosen route), but approaching to the base across the valley is easy: as you enter the valley, there's a trail that follows the contour of the right hillside, leading directly to the glecier's base.
In summer, it can take about 30-45 minutes to get to the base, or 1 hour in snowy winters.
Taken with a Mamiya C220 6x6 format camera, 80 mm. lens, f.11, 1/30 sec., POL filter, Fujichrome Velvia 50 Professional slide film
There's no public transportation to Villa Paulina, so the chances to go are:
1) PRIVATE CAR: Take avenida Las Condes, turn right at the YPF gas station and, on the Curva (bend) 15, is Villa Paulina.
2) TAXI: Take a bus to Plaza San Enrique (Nº 233 goes direct along Alameda) and there, a taxi to Villa Paulina. The set price is $ 8.800 (US$ 15) one way. The taxi can carry up to 4 people, but think of the space for your backpacks too.
3) HITCHING: It's easy in any season (both summer and winter); just get to the junction of Avenida las Condes and Farellones road (YPF gas station), walk some metres up the Farellones road and hitch a ride. Your "competition" (in winter) will be snowboarder kids and skiers, while in summer, only locals hitch. A sign with "curva 15" or "Villa Paulina" written on it, is useful.
Not everybody knows where the entrance to the park is, so be watchful of the ranger's office (right at the park's entrance), on the left side of the road (when you go up), after you enter the series of road bends.
Low temperatures are usual here, even in summer, so taking some precautions is worthy.
Leave water inside your tent, to avoid finding it rock-solid in the morning.
Keep batteries (for cameras, but mostly, for headlamps) close to your body, as they tend to discharge spontaneously in sub-zero temperatures.
Don't count on toilets and showers to be in working condition in winter, as the pipes blow up due to freezing, rendering them unusable until springtime, when they're repared.
Bring suitable footwear in winter, spare socks, gaiters and -if possible- spare shoes or downright plastic mountaineering boots to prevent frostbite when there's snow.
In the picture, Isabel checks a frozen sink at the camping ground, on a snowy July afternoon.
1) Water from the main creek (Yerba Loca river) is not drinkable, as it contains a high amount of minerals and sediments. Take water from any of the streams flowing down from the hillsides (there are a lot). Purifying tablets are useless, as the problem is not bacteriological, but physical. A water filter (Katadyn, MSR, etc.) solves the problem by retaining the minerals.
2) Be careful whan walking away from your tent in winter: it's quite common for climbers and hikers, to leave the base camp early, and when they return, getting lost of it due to the thick fog (which sometimes does not allow a visibility greater than 10 meters, because of the whiteout). Leave someone at the camp to lead you back, take a whistle, or mark your camp position in your GPS. Radios are of little help when lost, as those are useless to pinpoint your position relative to the camp, but can be useful to watn you about fog coming in.
3) In winter, leave your small stuff inside the tent, as a sudden snowfall may lead to losing part of it. Keep water bottles inside as well, since sub-zero temperatures freeze the contents.
Luggage and bags:
(If staying overnight)
An internal-frame pack, and make sure that nothing is hanging freely (pack any other item, such a daypack, inside your main backpack)
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: In winter, 3-layers:
Waterproof breathable parka (GoreTex is OK), fleece balaclava, Polartec jacket and pants, suitable shirt, capilene inner shirt, wind-stopping breathable waterproof overpants (GoreTex or MicroFleece recommended), waterproof trekking shoes, plastic mountaineering boots (if climbing or going in high winter), gaiters.
Items listed in green are recommended for seasons other than winter.
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: Aspirin or paracetamol, acetazolamyde (if climbing a high altitude peak), high-factor sunblock in any season.
Photo Equipment: Wideangle lens (28 mm. or less for a 35-mm camera), polarizing filter, cable release, extra batteries (low temperatures make them weak very soon).
In winter, a colder-dominant film -such as Fuji- is is recommended.
Camping/Beach/Outdoor Gear: In winter:
4-season or expedition-class tent, stove and 50% extra fuel, sleeping pad, water purifying filter (NOT purifying tablets or drops, which are of no use)
Miscellaneous: In winter:
Crampons, snowshoes (for deep snow), walking poles, ice axe (if going beyond Casa de Piedra), GPS receiver, headlamp, thermometer, VHF/GPRS/FRS radio (if going in a larger group). Note that cell phones doesn't work in the canyon, but in a small stretch of the trail.
This photo shows our camp at Casa de Piedra Carvajal(S 33º13'17,2'/ W 70º 16'31,3' -Alt. 3248) on January 4,1999.
At the end of Yerba Loca canyon (a part of Yerba Loca Nature Reserve), 40 kilometers east from Santiago and 18 kilometers from the ranger's office at Villa Paulina,this is the traditional base camp, and recommended general camping place, for several climbs such as La Paloma (also called Altar) glacier and peak, and further hikes into the valley up to Plomo Mt. To reach here, an easy 7-8 hour hike in summer, that can be split into two very relaxed journeys, or a 2-day, harder hike in winter (depending on how much snow and ice is on the path) is necessary.
Besides the expectable classical, high-altitude climbing, and trekking activities, ice climbing is very popular here, as this frozen cascade (seen here in its liquid state) is a must for every technical climber in central Chile.
In winter, and regardless of weather, is usual to find one or more teams of ice climbers setting their ropes, locking their bolts and pushing their friends into the ice for a day's climb.
If you ask any Chilean technical climber about this cascade, they will know what you're talking about.
Sometimes, to reach to it, or to get back, cross-country skis and/or racking plates are necessary, as the new fallen snow tends to be too soft, turning walking on it into a real wading (and exhausting) experience.
At the end of the 4-kilometer dirt road that leads to Villa Paulina from the park's entrance, there's a camping ground with simple but nice features: tables, BBQ pits, toilets and showers, grassy and shaded places, and lovely wooden bridges to cross the streams that run in the pine-shaded area.
In summer, the area is bustling with weekend holidaymakers, but in autumn and winter it turns into a quiet, sometimes frozen, spot.
Fondest memory: Day walks into the canyon are easy to begin from here, as well as climbing one of the surrounding moderate-altitude peaks, such as the 3720-metre/12,200 ft Manchon ("Inkblot"), which takes around 8 hours for going and returning in summer (summit on S 33º13'56"/W 70º18'22")
But going for the day is a relaxing and rewarding experience as well: just tumbling down in the grass and watch the sky, or listening to the flowing stream is enough to make anybody feel good.
In the picture, I am standing at the main parking during a snowfall in July 2001.
Cars were unable to reach there, so it was necessary to walk the 4 kilometres back to the ranger's office and parking.