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rubywrangler
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PostTue Mar 10, 2020 7:57 pm 
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Around the time Seattle had gone 60 days with no sun, I hit my breaking point.  I scrounged up enough miles for a round-trip ticket to Santiago.  By dumb luck, I left town a few days before Covid-19 popped up at Life Care. Chilean public health folks were already screening (taking temps of) arriving international passengers when I landed.  After a missed connection and a night at an overpriced hotel near SCL, I flew to Balmaceda airport and took a bus to the town of Coyhaique.

I’ve been to the more well-known parts of Patagonia before, so for this trip I’m wandering around the relatively lesser traveled parts – the Aysen region, along the Carretera Austral.  After a couple days of work, I stored my laptop and city stuff at a hostel in Coyhaique and took a bus south to las Horquetas, entrance to Cordillera del Castillo. The route is described in Lonely Planet “Trekking Patagonia” and here.  It’s ~34 miles, not counting side trips.  Designated camps are only about ½ day apart, but the route requires crossing 1 high pass (Paso Penon) and one big hill (Morro Negro), and the rangers don't want you to cross either after noon due to high winds, so it ends up taking 4 days. I thought the short days would be annoying, but there are good side trips from each camp to fill up the days. Like the W trek and other similar routes, there are a bunch of people all going at the prescribed pace, so you will not have solitude at camp, but by starting early I basically had the trail to myself every day.

On Day 1, I hiked from Las Horquetas to Segundo camp, along the Rio Turbio.  After setting up camp, I headed to Laguna Turbio. The trail climbs through a valley of glacial debris, the first of several. It’s amazing how much ground the glaciers used to cover here, and how much they’ve receded.  I followed the trail to the murky laguna, and then picked my way around it to the braided streambed behind, but never really got a good look at the glacier.


The next day I left camp early to make the climb up to Paso Penon in shade. Above treeline it was a long chossy walk up and over the pass. On the far side, I was again struck by the contrast between the huge valley ahead and the teeny remaining slivers of the glaciers that created it.


I continued down one valley and up another, past one camp closed for restoration, and then climbed to Campamento el Bosque, perched next to Arroyo el Bosque. I got there at noon, but unfortunately the only other camp before Morro Negro is also closed for restoration, so this is as far as I could go on day 2. After a long break, I headed up another side trail up to a stunning laguna full of icebergs.

Photo Mar 03, 11 28 39 AM
Photo Mar 03, 11 28 39 AM

The real star of this hike is Cerro Castillo, which sits above the beautiful turquoise Laguna Castillo. I wanted to make it there for sunrise (7:30am) on Day 3, so I left camp at 5:45. This turned out to be way too early, even with a few minor navigation delays. This part of the trail also seemed incredibly scenic, so I wish I hadn't hiked it in the dark. If I could do it over, I’d keep going to Laguna Castillo on day 2 and stealth camp at one of the bivy sites there.


But starting early turned out to be a good idea, because otherwise I might have missed Cerro Castillo entirely - clouds moved in almost immediately after sunrise. By the time I made it to the bench above the lake, it was raining. Near the top of Morro Negro, the wind was strong enough to knock the hiker ahead of me off his feet twice. (But still not as bad as I had experienced in Yosemite last fall!) I sped across and then headed down the long, steep rocky slope on the other side. Then it was back on good trail to Campamento Porteadores.


The next and last camp (campamento Neozelandes) is much nicer than Porteadores, and only about an hour further. But since I wanted to get back to Villa Cerro Castillo by 11am the next day to catch the bus back to Coyhaique, I camped at Porteadores and dayhiked up to the end of the valley. Just past Neozelandes, the trail pops out into a bucolic green valley surrounded by glaciated peaks, and then it’s another long rocky climb to Laguna Duff. The sun was blazing while I hiked this section and I kept thinking, this laguna better be worth it! It definitely was.


Day 4 was 40/60 trail/road walk. The highlight was finally seeing some wildlife (some kind a long-beaked bird, and a bunch of giant patagonian bunny rabbits!)  I made it back to V. Cerro Castillo just in time to catch a northbound bus and spent a few days in Coyhaique catching up on work and sampling all of the beers at Tropera.  Today I started heading south again - if anyone has been to this part of the world and has suggestions for hikes or other stuff to do/see/eat/drink, please send them my way!
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RichP
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PostTue Mar 10, 2020 8:29 pm 
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Great time to be down there. Fewer tourists and the best weather for hiking. The wind will accompany you though.

If you end up heading north, there is good food, beer and hiking in El Bolson on the other side of the cordillera. Look for the ñire trees in brilliant color.
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geyer
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PostTue Mar 10, 2020 10:22 pm 
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rubywrangler wrote:

eek.gif

Awesome! I've been watching Magic Andes on Netflix lately and you're out there basically living the documentary
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Stefan
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PostWed Mar 11, 2020 10:59 am 
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Ahhh. to be free like you!!!

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Art is an adventure.
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Nancyann
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PostWed Mar 11, 2020 1:23 pm 
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Nice timing for this trip, rubywrangler! Gorgeous photos of an area I’ll probably never get to see in person.
Looking forward to more as your adventure continues!
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Brushbuffalo
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Location: there earlier, here now, somewhere later... Bellingham in between
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PostSat Mar 14, 2020 9:06 am 
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What amazing scenery and geology!  I hope I can get to that area someday.
A couple of your pictures show needle-like pinnacles that probably haven't been climbed. Did you encounter any info about them? If they were in Chamonix or the Dolomites they would have several routes up them (or the Enchantments, by Fred and Co back in the '50s!).

rubywrangler wrote:
It’s amazing how much ground the glaciers used to cover here, and how much they’ve receded.

As I'm sure you realize, the huge glacial troughs were carved in the Pleistocene, but yes, the more recent recession of glaciers is evident and severe.

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Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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josh_pnw
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PostSat Mar 14, 2020 5:34 pm 
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That’s a great region with a lot of fun stuff to do.

You can do some cool boat tours on the lake out of Puerto Rio Tranquilo, I don’t remember prices though. It can also be kind of touristy around “town”.

I had several people recommend Chile Chico to me while I was in the area but never made it over there.

If you go far enough south, Parque Nacional Patagonia is well worth the visit. Going by bus can be kind of difficult though as they only stop on the main road and it’s a somewhat long trip in from there. You can try hitchhiking, but when I was there this time of year I only saw a few other cars the entire time.

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Ad Alta!!
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