Category Archives: Hike

Santa Cruz trek, Cordillera Blanca, Peru

While there are many hikes in the Cordillera Blanca, the Santa Cruz hike is the most popular, and is usually done with a guide. Hiking with a guide doesn’t feel like true hiking, especially when they carry half of the equipment, set up tents and prepare your food. So, I decided to do it without one. As it happens, four Americans at my hostel were also planning to go guideless. And while I prefer to hike alone, I wouldn’t be totally alone in the mountains… We booked a bus to the start and prepared to leave early the following morning.

Day 1

Not having a good night’s sleep the night before a hike is a bad thing. I discovered this on the Colca Canyon hike and well, it seemed to happen again!

The bus trip to the beginning of the hike is five hours on a local bus. Unlike the five of us lads, peruvians have short legs, so there was not a lot of room in the bus. The cramped first two hours of the trip was on a sealed road and then the last three hours was to be on a very rocky dirt road. Five minutes onto that dirt road, however, the bus gave up and with black smoke pouring out the side, the transmission fell out. The pool of red transmission fluid under the bus is not obvious in this photo, but it’s there…

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After an hour the bus was fixed, but only enough for it to return to base leaving us to wait for another one. Three hours later it arrived and we were on our way again. Three hours of jaw rocking dirt road meant no napping for me!

We were delivered to the small village of Yanama and discovered a group of three girls and a french couple who were also doing the hike without a guide. While the french couple were quite typical of many french people I’ve met in South America so far – they treated us like we didn’t exist and totally avoided us – the three girls decided to join the group. With eight of us, and two particularly chatty girls, my hike was going to be noisier than I wanted. So, I let the other seven head off and dropped to the back to walk alone.

The first part of the hike leads out of Yanama and down the hill via a steep dry track, crossing one dirt road on the way and eventually the river via a concrete bridge. I headed left as the trail widened leading through a couple of villages where every small child ran up and demanded bon-bons. Never give the kids bon-bons!

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Finally, I came to my first climb of the day. It wasn’t a large one but my lack of sleep caused me to struggle up it. I met the others at the top and stopped for a rest as they headed off again. I was hoping there wasn’t going to be many more climbs as the direct sunshine on top of my tiredness was draining. But there were a few. Eventually, I rounded a bend in the valley and saw a group of tents a couple of kilometres away and figured this was my companions. I set out towards them, making slow progress across some small hills.

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I was getting close to the tents when I came across a pair of cows on the trail, staring me down. Did you know that more hikers are killed every year by cows than anything else? It’s true! Google it. Not wishing to be trampled to death for getting too close, I went around, through a boggy area of ground. Exhausting!

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I finally made it to the tents to discover it wasn’t my group but a guide and his party. He pointed me further along the trail, so I struggled on. After another kilometre I still hadn’t located my amigos and with the trail leading up some hills, I picked a spot for a camp near the river and set up my tent. After cooking dinner and getting ready for the next day, I slumped into my sleeping bag and slept.

Day 2

From my planning, I was aware that Day 2 was the most difficult day of the hike. From my camp at 3,800 metres (above sea level) I would walk 13 kilometres and climb nearly a kilometre to a pass called Punta Union at a height of 4,750 metres. Followed by a further 3 kilometres down the other side.

While The Choro trek in Bolivia began 50 metres higher, I only had to climb 100m total before descending on that hike. If that 100m was hard because of the altitude, this one was going to be a very difficult day indeed fighting the altitude the entire way.

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I packed up and left my camping spot. After a fairly good sleep, I had more energy, so I set off along the trail with more vigour. But while climbing hills was still hard, it was easier than day 1.

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After a kilometre, I found the empty campsite where the other seven had camped. I headed along the valley slowly climbing as I went. As the day progressed I climbed higher along the valley. I consider any height above 3,700m to have a thin atmosphere – with less air pressure. Being a large framed, large lunged person, the higher I went the more trouble I had getting enough air and spent a lot of the time out of breath. There was a point where I had to take a break to catch my breath after every 10 steps; but only when climbing.

I climbed slowly over small knolls and past several tarns – small mountain lagoons, with towering snow covered mountains and glaciers across from me. I came over a knoll to see the ridge line I still had to climb, with the small gap at the top that was the pass.

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I continued on and the higher I went, the harder it became. Every five steps I had to take a rest to get my breath back. I even took my pack off every 100m or so for a longer break. As I climbed, my rate got slower and with only about 50 metres to the gap I slowed to only 3 steps before resting. Then for the final few metres it was only one step before resting. So…slow… But I did have a good view back along the valley.

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When I finally went through the gap, I passed an altitude marker and slumped down on the other side in the sun, taking my pack off and uttering, ‘Thank f**k for that!”

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Down was a lot easier and I powered through the switchbacks below a massive white glacier…

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…and above an azure mountain lake.

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I could see tents in the distance and marched on feeling more energised that I was no longer climbing. I stopped only once before I arrived at the tents 2-3 kilometres from the gap only to find it was another tour group. So, I walked on across the flat river plains following the river.

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Eventually, passing another guided group, I found the tents of my group and set up camp.

Day 3

The main part of Day 3 takes only 3 hours, so to extend it most people climb to Laguna Arhueycocha.

We started the day climbing slightly to a higher valley. Slightly is still difficult at 4,000m.

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On reaching the valley we left our packs with covers on as it had rained overnight. Even walking along the high valley without packs wasn’t easy and after a couple of kilometres I arrived exhausted at the base of the wall that climbs up to the laguna. The rest of the group decided to climb it, but I opted to stay at the bottom. I’ve seen plenty of glacier lakes in this trip, so decided to save my energy.

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There were some buildings nearby, so I decided to investigate those instead. They were only 50m away, up a climb of about 5 metres, but even that was exhausting. The buildings were empty, but looked to have been a camping area with a place for donkeys. While I was there it began to snow a little.

When the group returned, we headed back down the valley – an easier walk – donned out packs and climbed back down to the main valley. For the rest of the walk, we followed the valley and river along, firstly through a dry river bed thick with sand.

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Sand is difficult to walk on carrying a pack. We climbed about 10 metres up the other bank and followed the trail that undulated as it went. We passed along the side of a large laguna and took a break for lunch at the other end as we looked along the valley.

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We were to pass another laguna, but it turned out to be little more than a marsh. Perhaps it’s larger in the rainy season. Cows, ponies, horses and donkeys were everywhere as we walked along the sometimes sandy, sometimes rocky trail. Eventually I saw the campsite ahead and marched off, arriving to a set of rocky walls at a place called Llamacorral. I pitched my tent as the others arrived and we began preparing dinner when we got a visit from a pony who decided he didn’t want grass for dinner.

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Later, we made a fire in a deep rocky fire pit and sat around talking for the evening.

Day 4

The sky was clear the next day, so after breakfast I packed up my things and headed off, walking ahead of the group for a change. Most of the day saw me walking the rocky track along the side of the valley as the river snaked its way through the landscape. There wasn’t much to see as I walked and after 90 minutes I took a short break off the trail. When I was putting my pack back on, I saw the group go past.

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I marched after them, I saw a waterfall opposite which marked the halfway point of the day. For the rest of the walk, the trail descended following the river down through the gorge. With the sun high in the sky and the sandy trail, it was very hot. A distinct contrast from the day before with its slight snow.

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An hour later, I rounded a bend to find my group stripping down to their underwear at a nice spot in the river. The gingerly got into the freezing water. I was steaming hot, so I stripped down and threw myself into the river. No wading here, boys and girls, the only way into a freezing river is as quickly as possible. I was out just as quickly though and drying on the side.

Then, we were off again and 20 minutes later arrived at the end of the trail after passing a group of larger people heading back the other way. I wondered how they were going to manage the climbing. They were part of a guided group, so weren’t carrying much gear, but they didn’t look as fit as my group, and we struggled at times.

Five minutes after we’d signed out of the trail, we were walking past a house and the owner rushed out offering us cold soft drinks and beer. He told us he’d call a Collectivo – mini van – for us. It would take us to a larger town where another Collectivo would take us back to Huaraz.

As we were driven away in the van, we could see the gap from which we’d exited the hike and the surrounding landscapes.

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Conclusion

Because the trek was at such altitude, it goes down in my books as being the most difficult hike I’ve ever done. With day 2 being the most difficult day’s hike, even more difficult than day three of the Colca Canyon hike. Did my week in Lima at a low altitude cause me to lose the acclimatisation I’d previously gained in Bolivia and Northern Peru? Probably. I should have given it a couple of extra days in Huaraz before I did the hike. But these are the things you learn.

Next, I’m off north to the beach city of Mancora in far northern Peru before crossing the border into Ecuador. I’ll see what adventures await me there.

The Trail Wanderer.

Colca Canyon, Peru

Colca Canyon is the third most visited destination in Peru and is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. The canyon itself is just a massive yawning gorge in the middle of the vast tall mountain landscape of Peru. It’s an amazingly picturesque wonderland and a great place to spend a few days hiking.

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There are many tours into the canyon, most of them visit the same place, the tourist destination of Sangalle, also known as the Oasis. It has plentiful hotels and entertainment for those who wish to pay for a guide to lead them down the massive face of the canyon wall. And for those who can’t or don’t want to climb back out again, there are mules for hire. The Oasis…

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But a guided tour isn’t necessary. You can catch a bus from Arequipa to Cabanaconde, the township at the top of the canyon, and from there just walk into the canyon at your own timing and direction.

There’s actually quite a lot you can do in the canyon; numerous little settlements dotted across the other side, several archaeological dig sites, a waterfall high up in the mountains and a set of hot pools right on the river. You could spend a week here exploring. Plus, you don’t need camping equipment, cooking equipment or food, as it’s all available in the settlements (including beer). So, grab a couple of hundred Soles and get down there!

Day 1 – Arequipa to San Juan de Chuccho
Being picked up at 3 a.m. followed by a 7 hour bus ride is a god awful way to start a trek. Trust me on this! Especially when you’ve only managed 3 hours sleep the night before.

The bus arrived at Cabanaconde at 10 a.m. and in the heat, everyone else headed off with their guides to do their tours while I tried to find the start point of my solo hike. With the quality of the maps in general being poor and with no topographic ones at all, this was one of only tow navigation challenges I had. I asked one of the locals and was pointed out along the road the bus had come in along. A few hundred metres outside of town, I waved down a policia on a bike and he pointed me further on. At least I was on the right track. I eventually reached the San Miguel Mirador and looked back at Cabanaconde…

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…and across at a couple of the settlements on the far side of the canyon. These two are, Malata and Cosñirwa. These are just two of about ten scattered along the canyon.

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From the mirador I continued along the edge of the cliff following the wide trail to a large shelter with no walls. I stopped for lunch out of the heat. While it’s the middle of winter it’s still hot, reminding me of summer in Victoria, Australia, or late winter in Central Australia. Like those areas it’s dry, dusty and the sun shines brightly off the light coloured dust, making it annoying to discover that my sunglasses are broken. Yay! And I haven’t even started yet! Cheap Brazilian rubbish!

The trail is about 2 metres wide here and stays near the top of the cliff for a while. This path was recently closed because of rock slides blocking the path and while it’s officially open again, I’m still cautious.

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The trail continues on, always heading slightly downwards and I can see where the trail has been repaired in several places. The direct sunlight is very draining, not that I had much energy to start with. I come across some workman having lunch in a shelter and they point me the right way when the trail forks. The other way no longer functions, I guess.

Soon I reach an area where the trail begins to zigzag down the mountain. I stop for a break and take off my boots to dry my feet – good practice on a hot hike. Looking down, I see the settlement of San Juan de Chuccho, my target for the day.

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The trail zigzags steeply the entire way down the canyon wall and is long, hot and arduous. As I descend I see the bridge across the Rio Colca still several hundreds metres below that I’m aiming for with San Juan de Chuccho 50 metres up the hill beyond it.

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Finally, after hours in the sun I reach the bridge and take another rest. I see an arrow and the word Roy’s pointing off along the trail, so I when I muster the energy I follow. It heads further along the canyon then begins climbing to eventually come to the small set of clay huts that is San Juan de Chuccho. Roy’s, it would appear, is the name of a hotel here, the first one. I find the owner’s son – perhaps 8 – who takes me to a room. His mother appears moments later and takes me to a better one with a double bed, bathroom, hot shower, and a bay window looking directly across the canyon to the trail I’d just climbed down…

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And high up on the trail, the tiny figures of the workers fixing the trail.

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The price of the room? 20 Soles or about US$7.50. Less than camping fees in many places in Australia. I bought a large bottle of beer, a large bottle of water for tomorrow and booked dinner, each for 10 Soles. That’s expensive for the beer and water, but they have to carry it in by pack mule, so I wasn’t complaining. It was a couple of hours to dinner, so I took a nap, then after dinner I collapsed into bed.

Day 2 – San Juan de Chuccho to Llahuar
After 12 hours of sleep I was made pancakes for breakfast! Hell yeah!

After breakfast I packed and was off. It was already hot when I left, heading up past another three hotels and onto the trail that would take me the length of the populated canyon face to the hot pools at the far end. The trail meandered its way along the side of the canyon for 30 minutes before rounding a corner and heading up a gully. Along the gully a water channel had been created sending water from the small stream directly back to San Juan de Chuccho. Further up the gully, the trail crossed a bridge and began zigzagging steeply up the bank. I climbed, stopping regularly in the heat. 30 minutes later I arrived at the top and into the village Cosñirwa (the first of the twin towns I showed 6 photos up).

From here a dirt road led through the village, but I don’t see a soul as I walked. On the other side of town, I follow the road up a little to the second town – Malata – a couple of hundred metres further on. I also don’t see anyone until a truck came rumbling up the road carrying passengers in the back. I guess this is the only form of bus in the canyon. I walked on and the trail forks, the road continues on, while an old trail leads up to it. I decide to follow the trail and about half way along, the footing becomes so precarious I couldn’t continue, but instead of heading back and taking the road like a normal person, I decide to climb up a rocky gully instead, about 30m with my 15kg+ pack. This was difficult and took time, but I got there with only a few scratches. I’m thankful for all that time I spent indoor rock climbing. Useful!

The road continued until I came to a small dugout in the rock wall where I was able to take shelter from the sun and again take my boots off. From my vantage point, I could see some of the ‘Oasis’ below and the steep zigzag trail leading down to it…

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And while I watched I could see several groups climbing down it, including this laden mule caravan…

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Heading off again, I continued along the road as it slowly climbed towards mirador Apacheta, the highest point I’d climb on this side of the canyon. This gave me a view further along the canyon, with my destination down near the river.

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After a break, I headed off again down a dusty path that I consider to be rather dangerous, not because of the long fall of the side of a cliff, there is that but because of the potentially painful fall into one of the three varieties of spiked cacti here. Ouch!

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As I headed carefully along the trail to a road and then along it, I passed two small communities, stopping at the second one for a refreshing bottle of Coca Cola. After a zigzagging climb down the next short bank, I crossed the river and headed briefly up the trail to my destination, Llahuar – pronounced ‘ya-oo-ar’ with a rolled r at the end. Two Ls together is a y sound, so Llama is pronounced Yama.

I stopped to rest and cool off with a cerveza – beer – before being shown to the aguas calientes – hot pools – belonging to the hostel, where I soaked right next to the river chatting to a solo french trekker who was doing the same. A perfect way to end a hot dusty day of trekking. Tomorrow I climb the zigzagging trail up the 1000m tall bank to the top of the canyon and back to Cabanaconde to end this little adventure. While it’s going to be difficult, being under the constant sun the entire way will make it worse.

Day 3 – Llahuar to Cabanaconde
After another 12 hour sleep, today began overcast and with pancakes for breakfast. I guess it’s difficult to bake or keep bread here… After packing, and donating some money to the French guy who hadn’t brought enough, I set off. The code of the hiker, always help other hikers in need. I climbed back up to the settlement I’d bought the coke from the day before and looked down the valley to the bridge that would mark the beginning of the hardest part of my hike.

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I followed the road down to the bridge and found a small natural geyser bubbling away next to the river.

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Then it was off up the trail and after climbing for 20 minutes I discovered I was going the wrong way, so had to head partially down again before finding another trail that lead me back up to the right trail. I didn’t need the extra work, but you get that. I began climbing and while it was generally overcast, and I was thankful to not be under the full sun, it was still warm. A way up the trail, I looked back down the valley to the tiny settlement of Llahuar and the pools at the edge of the river.

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A short time later, an aging local man casually comes climbing past me like he was walking up a slight hill. The trail was long and hard, and I stopped on many occasions for breaks. At point high on the canyon wall, the trail wound in along a deep gully, the first part that actually went slightly down before crossing a bridge at the top of the gully and again heading up the side of the mountain.

I finally reached the top of the canyon to discover the trail continued on along the top of the cliffs for another couple of kilometres, up and down several small hills before arriving in Cabanaconde. With the town finally in sight I quick marched to the centre plaza and found a hostel. It was a little crumby, but all I needed was a shower and a bed behind a locking door.

After my third 12 hour sleep in a row, I was on the bus and back to Arequipa, stopping briefly for a photo of the plains at the end of the canyon, before heading off again. On the way back, over the highest points – near 5000m above sea level – it snowed and I’m glad I wasn’t still in the canyon.

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Colca Canyon is a hikers’ wonderland, with so much to see. It’s not an easy walk, but for the fit there is plentiful places to visit and see, if you don’t mind climbing some pretty heavy trails with just a touch of altitude.

Next, I head north to the city of Ica, where I can gain access to the Paracas National Reserve, the Red Beaches and sand boarding.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

El Choro, Bolivia

The El Choro Trek is a three day trek that’s easily accessible from La Paz in Bolivia. I wanted to do different trek here in Bolivia, but without my own transport, many of the treks are difficult to get to. And while I tend to like hiking alone, the easiest means to do this trek is via a tour. This means I wouldn’t be carrying any food or a tent, as there will be a porter along with us to do that. This is the first time not having to carry all of my own equipment and it doesn’t feel quite right.

DAY 1 – La Paz to  Challapampa

The agency I booked through picked me up at 9.30 and I met the two other people I’d be hiking with, a french guy who spoke spanish well and some english, and an argentinian born girl who had been living in New Zealand most of her life. She spoke english and spanish perfectly. The guide with us only spoke spanish and his porter english and spanish. So, spanish became the spoken language of the trek and with my meagre understanding I decided hike alone for the most part.

The trek begins very near the start of the Death Road in a snowy mountainous area at a altitude of 4,800m. It was freezing that high up with an icy wind, so we couldn’t wait get started.

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The first 100 metres of the trek climbed to the highest point of the trail, 4,900 metres. This was the hardest 100m I’ve ever climbed in my life. With such thin air, I barely got 10 steps before having to stop and get my breath back, and I was only carrying half my usual weight! Eventually, we crossed over the ridge and the cold winds ceased. Ahead of us along the valley we could see the trail through the valley and a set of ancient Incan ruins at the base of the slope. The ruins were once a rest stop for travellers on the trail. Food and shelter was always offered for free.

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The trail weaved down the side of the mountain towards the ruins and it began to slowly get warmer, so we started shedding some of our warm weather clothes. At the ruins we stopped for a rest and watched as a Llama train came by. The Llamas and their master were returning from a delivery earlier in the day.

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We pushed on along the trail that from time to time was obscured by low cloud, through fields that housed other ancient ruined buildings and walls.

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Eventually, we came to a pair of newer buildings that were being used as farms raising Llama’s and drying several different kinds of small potatoes… We stopped for 30 minutes before pushing on.

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Much of the rest of the day was spent walking through the low cloud, so visibility was only several metres, meaning the focus went on the ‘road’ we were trekking along. We were told that it was originally built by the Tiwanaku, a race of people who would eventually become the Incans, and had been repaired by the Incans, so it was difficult to tell which was which. In the clouds, the stones get very slippery.

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Our day ended upon reached the very small settlement of Challapampa, where our guide and porter set up the tents and cooked our dinner. From the high point of 4900m, we had descended to 2400m. And while it rained during the night, it was a lot warmer.

DAY 2 – Challapampa to San Francisco
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Today we hit the Cloud Forest, a fairly untouched area of the valley which is usually covered in cloud. For only short periods of the day the clouds parted, but for most of the time, we could see the cliff edge, but beyond it only cloud.

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The trail meandered along the side of the valley for much of the day, climbing and descending small hills as we trekked along the thinner ‘Incan road.’

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The valley disappearing in cloud…

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…and opening up again.

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One wonderful part of the day was the plentiful different species of wild flowers that were growing along the sides of the trail. My super zoom camera getting great close up shots of most of them.

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We stopped for lunch at a small set of huts and rested for a while. Most importantly they served cerveza! Beer, in spanish.

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The rest of the trail was fairly straight forward, again with plentiful wild flowers. We eventually reached San Francisco, a tiny collection of huts, where the guide and porter erected our tents and cooked our dinner.

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DAY 3 – San Francisco to Chairo
We left San Francisco just after day break and headed away down the hill towards a river.
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As we slowly worked our way lower through the forest, we met a couple of wild donkeys who, after being initially fearful of us, just stood there and let us go past as if we weren’t there.

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We arrived at the river and crossed on a fairly new wooden suspension bridge. We were alerted to the carcass of a horse in the river under the bridge. We stopped on the other side and prepared ourselves for the climb to come, known as Subida del Diablo – the devil’s ascent.

The Subida del Diablo gets its name because it’s a very difficult climb up slippery Incan paving stones at a fairly steep incline that just keeps climbing.

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Once at the top, we stopped for a break at a place owned by an old Japanese man. Stories say he is a war criminal fled to South America after World War 2, but who knows. There is a camping spot at the back of his property next to the cliff line giving wondrous views along the valleys until the clouds again came rushing in.

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The trek continued for some time along the trail high up in the mountains. From time to time we could see the river below us, but clouds would race in to cover it quickly. Eventually, we started our decent until we could see the village of Chairo below us. It didn’t take us long to get down to the village where the guide ordered us lunch from the local cook house and we sat eating until our van arrived to take us to Choico, where death road finishes.

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We waited in Choico for an hour before catching a minibus back to La Paz. 3 hours later I was delivered to my hostel for a well deserved shower.

Overall, El Choro was a good hike where we spent much of our time climbing down. By the end, our calves were sore from the constant descending. While the low clouds meant that much of the view was hidden from us for parts of the hike, it was still good to get out into the wilderness and away from the city for a while.

Next, I head down to southern Bolivia to the Salar de Uyuni, one of the largest salt flats in the world.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito

About 2 hours by bus south-west of Córdoba is the small Condor Gorge National Park. There is no formal transport to the National Park, you simply book a ticket to the nearby town and ensure the driver drops you off on the way.

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Córdoba province is at the northern ‘dry’ end of Argentina. Most of the upper regions are desertlike pampas, not sandy like the Sahara desert, but arid dry plains much like the Australian Outback just not as red.

After my two hour bus ride, I walked beyond the national park sign and along a dirt road between two private properties until it finally opened out into rocky rolling hills. After 10 minutes I arrived at the registration building and signed the book to say I was in the park.

There’s only one main natural attraction in the small national park, the gorge. It’s about 2 hours walk (according to the admin staff) to the southern lookout. You can continue down to the river and up the other side to the northern lookout, but that’s about it.

So, I set out from the the administration building and headed up the road a little further until the sign sent me onto a rocky trail heading up a gradual hill.

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I was told there are markers every 15 minutes on the way towards the southern lookout, but it only took me 10 minutes to reach each one, so I guess the markers are for the family groups and slower walkers.

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About 30 minutes in I reached the top of a cliff and looked down across the hazy pampas to the lake and the small villages scattered below. Then, as I began walking again, a condor swept up and floated on the air currents not 2 metres above.

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10 minutes later and I came to a sign warning me about Pumas and snakes. This actually gave me the sense that I was walking in Australia again with its dangerous wildlife. It’s like living on the edge!

Half an hour later I arrived at a split in the trail, to the left it headed to the southern lookout, to the right down to the river and up the other side. I took the left track and climbed down the side of the cliff a little to where the lookout was. I stopped there for lunch looking down on the gorge below and the small river running through it.

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The walk so far hadn’t been terribly hard, although it was rather hot in the sun with no trees for shelter. After lunch, I headed back to where the trail split and took the other route, following it until it began heading fairly steeply down into the gorge. It’s about a 500 metre climb down to the river, but it didn’t take me long and eventually I came out to the bridge and crossed to the other side.

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With the hard part to go, I paused under the bridge for a few minutes before starting back up the hill. It took me a fair amount longer to get back up the side of the gorge because of the constant climbing, but after a couple of rests along the way I did eventually make it and headed back across the rolling hills to the administration. Just as I left the admin building, I saw a bus go by on the road in the distance and knowing that they only go past every hour, I slowed my pace. After waiting almost another hour and unsuccessfully flagging down 3 other buses, one did stop for me and I was whisked back off to Córdoba.

Overall, it was nice to get back out on the trail after a couple of weeks wining and dining in Mendoza. It was great walking on a hot trail again like I used to in Australia and definitely different to the last few months hiking around the cold south.

With my next stop being Buenos Aires, and with the lack of National Parks in the capital province, I will try to walk as much as I can around the city.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Cerro Catedral, Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, Argentina

After a week studying español in Bariloche it’s time to get back out on the trail. This weekend, myself and a companion from my hostel are planning to climb Cerro Catedral (yes it’s spelt correctly) to Refugio Frey, where we plan to stay the night and do some day walking around the lakes.

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Our original plan was to do a 3-day hike, walking on to the refugio after Frey, but the amount of ice on the higher trails meant the climb beyond Refugio Frey would be too dangerous.

We packed and caught the bus for the 20km trip to the township of Catedral, a town set up for the ski slopes above it. The weather was beautifully clear when we headed out and remained that way for the entire weekend. A rare weekend for this time of the year in Bariloche and perfect for the hike.

We headed out along a wide dirt road away from the huge car park for the ski fields. After a short walk, we left the road and walked up a short thin trail to the official beginning of the trail and a wooden hiker…

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The first part of the hike meandered south along the base of the rocky edifice of Catedral Norte, heading away from the chair lifts and the ski fields.

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Along some parts of the trail sat snow from an earlier snowfall, although much of it had melted leaving a thin layer of mud.

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The trail continued on its fairly flat way across the southern base of the mountains heading towards Lago Gutiérrez…

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The trail crossed many small arroyos flowing down from the mountain, many flowed beneath a layer of ice. This created some very beautiful natural icy sculptures.

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The trail rounded the base of the mountains, with a clear view of the lago as we headed west up the gully towards the refugio. The trail became icy as we walked and we had to watch our steps to ensure we didn’t slip off the path. There were sections of the trail that looked like normal dirt but you could occasionally put your foot right through it leaving a 10 cm deep hole. Ice forms in layers beneath the mud, pushing it up and making it fragile. Some places it was obvious, but other places you didn’t know it was there until your foot went through it. Beneath the ice was more dirt, so it wasn’t dangerous, just strange to walk through the icy mud. The ice itself hardens into layers of hexagonal rods about 3cm thick, and there always seemed to be three layers of the ice.

Walking through a cold forest gully, we avoided as much ice as possible. The climbing began across some muddy tracks until we came to a flattened areas where an emergency hut had been built under a massive boulder. The boulder slants down making the inside back wall of the hut. Inside there is a flat platform to sleep perhaps 3 people and a fireplace.

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With the light starting to fade, we pushed on along the gully, sighting the roofs of buildings at the top. As we walked, the top of the Cerro Catedral range could be seen off to our right with a light dashing of snow around its jagged peaks. We continued climbing up through some slippery mud until we came over the crest and crossed an icy arroyo to see the refugio ahead of us.

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Refugio Frey is expensive to stay in and provides little more than a mattress upstairs and no heating. We cook our food in a tucked away corner and settle in for the night with several other people including 3 young and rather noisy preteen boys.

It wasn’t too cold for most of the night, but as it headed towards day break it began to grow a little colder. I arose just before sunrise and headed outside with camera to catch the sun upon the mountains at the back of the valley beyond the frozen laguna. I watched the sun shine pink on the mountains opposite before lighting them up in a golden light.

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We decided to climb the wall of the valley to Laguna Schmoll. To get to the other end of the valley we decided to walk across the frozen lake. This was rather fun as it was fairly solid. The children at the refugio got out on their ice skates and stayed there for much of the day. At the far side of the laguna is the arroyo that feeds it, we walked across the ice but this wasn’t as solid and I broke through on two separate occasions. Thankfully, my trusty boots are waterproof, so it wasn’t too much of a worry.

The climb up the rocky wall of the valley was fairly easy, although there was snow in several places and some ice. This part could have been climbed with packs, but it was the next part that we weren’t supposed to do without crampons.

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Another pair of hikers had also climbed to the laguna, but they couldn’t speak english and I’m not totally confident with my spanish yet, so I left my companion to chat with them while I investigated this new valley.

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After stopping for lunch, my companion and the two other climbers decided to climb the icy wall without crampons (or packs). I scouted it a little and decided against it and let them go. On the other side of the lower valley is a ridge that leads to another set of peaks. This is sun drenched and has no snow or ice on it, so I decided to climb this instead.

I made my way back down the rocky wall and around the side of the laguna towards the short ridge, with the refugio across the lake.

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Then in the warmth of the sun, I made my way up the side of the ridge. It was an easy climb and standing atop it could see down both valleys. This is the mountain Pico Bara at the end of the ridge…

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The climb up Pico Bara was fairly easy and there were several different ways to climb it. It was a lot of fun, crossing from the back side with some snow, to the sunny side and back again. The views from the top were pretty impressive, both looking back along the valley…

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…and down upon the refugio a couple of hundred metres below.

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After a brief stop in the chilly wind, I headed down again. It didn’t take me very long to reach the bottom, where I met up with my companion and donning our packs we headed off back down the mountain.

The trip down was a lot quicker than the climb, as you can imagine. It had taken us about 4 hours under pack to climb to Refugio Frey and 2 hours and 30 minutes down again. We were really pushing it, but still missed the earlier bus by 15 minutes. We waited another hour over a couple of beers and caught the next bus back to Bariloche for a well deserved shower.

The Trail Wanderer

Cerro Lopez, Parcue Nacional Nahuel Huapi, Argentina

In the mountains around Bariloche there are many different walks. I had originally planned a hike called The Nahuel Huapi Traverse. This is a-4 day hike through the mountains from Cerro Catedral to Cerro López, starting about 20km from Bariloche. But since it’s almost winter much of the trail is closed because of extreme ice and snow. There is, however, still access to some of the refugios that I’d have been staying in. So, I have split the hike into two shorter ones. The first is what would have be the final day of my longer hike, up Cerro López to Refugio López.

From the hostel in Bariloche three of us from the hostel, two ladies and I, have to catch a bus the 20km to the start of the walk. It’s sunday and we have to put money on our loaned bus card and when we get to the store to do that, it’s closed. So we have to run 5 blocks to get to the next store. It’s very cold this morning, but after a five block run in my warm clothes, I’m more than hot.

Forty minutes later we arrive at the beginning of the walk and it feels icy. We headed off through the forest on a rocky trail. The wind is very brisk and there’s a mix between being hot from sweat and being frozen.

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The climb began steeply up the mountain and was challenging, especially after a few weeks of little hiking. We pushed on in the light but chill wind and stopped for a break to look back at the lakes…

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After 5 minutes, the sweat down out backs had turned to ice, so we pushed on following the red dots…

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The first 1/3 of the climb was perhaps the hardest and steepest, the second 1/3 flattened out a little, although was still fairly intensive until we came over the ridge to a lodge over looking the lakes. The lodge was closed for the season.

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The scenes of the lakes was just too vast below us to fit into one photo. Looking back towards Bariloche, the lake actually looks bluer than the other portions.

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On the peninsula below us there’s a clear patch where Hotel Llao Llao is situated. For some reason the sun only wanted to shine on this particular area.

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From the Lodge, we continued walking steeply up the hill and as we walked could see the pink Refugio Lopez perched on a ridge high above the autumn coloured trees.

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We followed the trail that became a slippery dirt trail. It lead to a 4WD track and we followed it for a while before it rounded the top of the gully and headed up steeply towards the refugio. Another 20 minutes later and after a short scramble we arrived. We knew it was going to be closed, so didn’t plan to stay longer than to eat some lunch.

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We could have continued walking up the mountain to the top, there are markings, but it’s not recommended because of the new snow…

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After a while we headed down again, faster than the climb. The slippery part was more difficult coming down and I slipped, skidding down on one knee, but kept my graces by not actually falling over.

Once we arrived at the bottom, we realised that we had 2 hours to wait for the bus. There’d been two other groups on the trail, one being two local guys waiting for a ride. One of the girls in my group asked it they had room in their car and next thing we knew we were being driven into town. The locals here are fairly friendly…

Today was a good if not strenuous walk with fantastic views of the lakes, and while it was supposed to rain it held out. Even more thankfully, it hadn’t snowed, although a few flakes had fallen. For the next week I’m taking a spanish course, then one of the girls and I are planning an overnight hike up to Cerro Cathedral, what would have been the first part of the traverse.

The Trail Wanderer

Villarrica Volcano, Parque Nacional Villarrica, Chile

Situated just over 20km south of Pucón is the Villarrica National Park and its most prominent feature, the three volcanos that cross the Andes. The main cone of the three is the smoking Volcán Villarrica with the others being Quetrupillán and Lanín behind it when looking from Pucón.

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I’d originally planned to walk the Villarrica Traverse, a 6-day hike starting on one side of Volcán Villarrica and around the southern base of both Villarrica and Quetrupillán to a small town called Puesco on the other side of the National Park. But after waiting for days for the late autumn rain to clear for an extended time, I unhappily cancelled my plans. While I don’t mind walking in the rain for short periods, walking in the rain at a temperature of 2 degrees celsius is not something I really enjoy doing.

So, I decided to do the most popular and busiest attraction of the Parque Nacional, climbing to the crater of the 2,800m snowcapped top of Volcán Villarrica.

I was up at 5.30am for a 6.30am pick up. Breakfast was supplied by my hostel, who was also providing beer and a BBQ afterwards, all included in the price. We were taken to another hostel and provided with the gear for the climb. I opted for my own boots, but took everything else – including crampons and an ice ax. We were then driven along the pot holed dirt roads up the volcano to the ski resort at the base of the climb.
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We unloaded form the bus and gathered for the talk. We’d be walking to the base of the snow cap and stopping, waiting for the guides to check the wind speed and determine if we could continue.

The climb would be in four parts, the last being the snow cap. We set off along the steep lower face of the volcano, the scree and dirt being soft and slightly difficult to climb. As we climbed, we split into groups, the younger group, the two larger American ladies, and me. There’s a reason I call myself the Lone Trail Wanderer, I like to walk alone in the serenity of nature and the quiet. The young group just yabbered away the entire climb and the less fit american girls quickly dropped back.

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In the quiet, I climbed the steep trail, zig-zagging up the side of the mountain, and trying not to be blown over by the wind, which was gusting rather strongly, blowing dust and pebbles around me. Up ahead, I saw one of the young crowd stumble in the wind and nearly lose her footing. Looking back, the lake below could be seen, and the volcanoes to the south, while sitting below the sun, and while not making good photos, still looked amazing.

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We continued walking and climbed along a gully of rocks out of the wind and took some respite before topping the ridge and heading towards the first stop, the top of a ski lift and a large wooden building, again out of the wind. We stopped for a rest and some photos before heading on. The next stop, an old burnt out ski lift building a little further up. Just before we left, the two larger girls finally arrived wondering why they had decided to climb the mountain – in words I won’t repeat here.

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The next stage was easier and again I let myself drop back to walk in the quiet again, we walked behind a ridge for most of the way, so enjoyed the lack of wind ripping at us. We stopped at old burnt out brick lift house but didn’t go in.

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The third leg became steeper again and the volcanic sands made each step harder. I again drifted back from the ongoing and incessant chatter from the other group. There was no sight of the american girls behind us and I would later discover they hadn’t gone past the second stop. We came to the base of the snow cap and were briefed on the next stage. On went the warmer clothes, the gaiters, and out came the crampons and ice axe. The guides then climbed the ice shelf to test the wind. 10 minutes later they returned to tell us that the wind was blowing 80km/hr and it wasn’t safe to continue further. Okay, no problems, they knew what they were doing, so all good. This led to half of the group arguing with the guides for the next half an hour, trying to persuade them to take them anyway. Eventually, the guides were persuaded, but I decided it more prudent to not go. The views were amazing though, although I discovered that the lens of my camera had failed. It had been giving me grief much of my trip. Time to buy a new one…

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The four of us who hadn’t gone waited for 30 more minutes in the icy wind for them to return, but when they didn’t, we headed down. Down was very quick. Because of the volcanic sands, you could slide each step and when running you skidded down rather quickly. Back at the first chair lift building we collected the two American girls and continued down, arriving at the base soon after to wait for the other climbers. They arrived an hour later and we all were back in the bus and heading back to Pucón for beer and BBQ.

It was a shame we couldn’t get right to the top – even the four that tried didn’t make it because of the clouds rolling in quickly. But the weather rules supreme in Patagonia and you must bow to its might.

The Trail Wanderer

Parque Nacional Los Glaciers – Mt Fitz Roy Triangle

Across the border and about 8 hours by bus north of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine is a small town called El Chalten. El Chalten is inside the north end of Parque Nacional los Glaciares and is the only way to walk around Mt Fitz Roy. If there was no Mt Fitz Roy, there’d be no El Chalten.

There’s also no actual hike called ‘The Triangle’, it’s purely name I gave it, because the 3-day hike is, well, a triangle. The walk itself isn’t especially difficult and most days are rather short. But, much like the Overland Track in Tasmania, it’s the side tracks that allow you to adjust its difficulty.

Day 1 – El Chalten to Campamento Poincenot

The wind was fairly brisk as I headed out of my hostel. And because the hostel doesn’t provide breakfast – a first for me so far this trip – I stopped at a nice little cafe/bakery down the road. Then, late in the morning, I set out towards the northern start point of the hike. You can start the triangle from both ends, but I chose the northern end because, well, I wanted to.

I found the entrance to the parque fairly easily and followed the trail up the hill beyond the sign. The trail heads up and around Cerro Rosado, a small rocky mound just over 800m above sea level – El Chalten is 400m. I soon come to a rocky outcrop with a good view back to town.

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Further on, I came to a mirador looking north along Rio de Las Vueltas and the mountains beyond with their light topping of overnight snow.

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The trail continued on slowly climbing towards the plateau. After a time I arrived at a sign announcing a fork in the trail. One way leads to Mirador Mt Fitz Roy while the other to Laguna Capri, then both meet again on the other side. I walked to the lookout but much of the mountains were covered in cloud.

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It did looked like the sky was clearing so I went for a short walk to kill some time. After hearing a tapping sound I discovered a pair of black and red woodpeckers hammering away at some old trees. I stopped to watch for a bit and when I returned to the mirador the mountains were a little clearer, but not much. I headed on down the trail and found a spot out of the wind to have lunch. By the time I was ready to leave, only the main spire was covered in cloud.

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Not far along the trail I found the fork back to Laguna Capri and went to check it out.

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I then headed on towards the campsite, following Arroyo del Salto.

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I crossed the plateau and rounded the base of the hill under the spires. Shortly after, I arrived at camp and set up my tent. Still early afternoon, I went to check out one of the two main side trails from camp, I took the easier one and headed off down Rio Blanco towards Laguna Piedras Blancas. After about 30 minutes I found an obvious trail that led me over huge boulders to the laguna.

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On the way back it started getting icy even before the sun had gone down. This means cold overnight, but usually clear skies in the morning. During the night I popped out of the tent to see the vastness of the stars and to check out the peaks at night.

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Day 2 – Campamento Poincenot to Campamento De Agostini

It was cold overnight, but especially the last couple of hours before dawn, with the sun rising at 8.30am. By then I’d slept about 10 hours anyway. There’s not much to do on a hike after dark and going to sleep by 10 is considered late. In the cold, I emerged from my tent to take early morning pictures of the mountains before heading back to the warmth of my sleeping bag to brew coffee.

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After breakfast, I packed but left my tent up and with my day pack, headed up the other side track, to Laguna de los Tres, under the towers of Mt Fitz Roy. The climb started in the forest near the camp but after the ‘climbers only’ camp at Campamento Rio Blanco it turned rocky and stayed that way, climbing steeply for the rest of the half kilometre climb. About half way up, the trail started to turn to ice and I became more cautious with my steps, then three quarters of the way up, there was snow, but not huge amounts. I eventually arrived at the top and sat looking over the lake with the peaks towering over me. The lake is 1170m above sea level, while Mt Fitz Roy towers to 3405m.

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After a while, I headed down and caught the view across the valley to Lago Viedma.

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I stopped for lunch back at camp before packing up my tent. Thirty minutes later and I was following my steps across the plateau and taking the trail to the south. It was fairly flat and I walked past Lagunas Madre and Hija.

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Then the trail dove into trees with the occasional grassy clearing. After 2 hours the trail headed steeply down into a valley to Rio Fitz Roy where I stopped for a break. Following the river, I came upon a fantastic view of Cordon Adela – The Adela mountain chain – in all it’s icy glory backing onto the South Patagonian Ice Field.

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For the rest of the trail I walked steadily towards the cordon and finally arrived at Campamento de Agostini just short of Laguna Torre. The lake is fed by Glacier Grande that hangs from the bottom of the range. I pitched my tent and climbed up to look at the laguna, but with the sun hidden behind the mountains it was fairly dark.

Day 3 – Campamento De Agostini to El Chalten

Again it was icy in the last hours before dawn, so I brewed a coffee to keep warm. Then, I stood at a viewpoint waiting for the first rays of light to hit the Adela Cordon.

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Once I’d seen it, I packed up and again left my tent. With my day pack I headed around the top of the laguna and climbed towards Mirador Maestri. On the way there were a couple of views of small waterfalls, but once I got to the mirador I was a little disappointed to find that it was just closer to the cordon than from the other side of the laguna. I did get better views of the laguna with light though.

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I headed back to camp where I packed up my tent and headed out back along the trail. For the most part, following the rio, the trail was fairly flat. I passed the junction with the trail I’d come off yesterday and continued on flat beside the river. As I got closer to El Chalten, the trail began to climb a small set of hills to eventually arrive at a mirador looking back over the cordon. This was designed for day walkers to be able to see the mountains without doing the entire hike and is similar to the mirador near Laguna Capri. The trail headed over a couple of ridges before descending towards town.

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Overall, the Mt Fitz Roy Triangle is an excellent short hike experience around some amazing mountains. It’s cheaper than Torres del Paine but still has plenty to see. There are slightly less day walkers, although that might be because it is the low season.

Next I’m heading back to Puerto Natales, where I board the Navimag ferry and cruise through the fjords heading my way up Patagonia to Puerto Montt.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine – Day 9

Day 9 – Final Day – Refugio Lago Grey to Refugio Paine Grande

Today is a short day and is the official last day of the circuit for my companion and I. The walk between the Refugios is not long, about 3.5 hours. We were up early and aiming to arrive at Refugio Paine Grande in time for the catamaran that would drop us at our bus.

It had rained most of the night, nothing heavy just constant. I awoke in the dark and quickly dressed and began packing my gear. Usually the first thing I do is start brewing coffee, but as I’d lost my water bottle yesterday when the wind whipped it out of its pocket and cast it down onto the glacier, I figured it would be quicker to pack and have breakfast afterwards. Before long I had everything, including my wet tent, packed away and I was in the warmth of the cooking room heating water for coffee and soup.

We headed out by 8.30 and straight away began climbing a hill in the chill wind. It began to rain as we walked along the side of the mountain with Lago Grey below us. The trail dipped up and down through the valleys.

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There looked to have been a sprinkle of snow on the peaks above us as we passed a raging waterfall well stocked with water from the rain.

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The trail continued and as we crossed a couple of ridges, the wind was so icy coming off the glacier and the rain so constant I was forced to put on my waterproof jacket. If it rains when I’m hiking, I tend not to worry about my jacket. While it protects me from the rain, I still sweat, so get wet inside anyway. It does make a good wind breaker though, so in this case it helped a lot. We passed a couple of miradors but the wind was too fierce to consider standing out in the open looking back at the glacier.

We then climbed a hill around the side of a laguna…
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…before crossing a final ridgeline to follow a kilometre long gully down towards the blue of Lago Pehoe, where Refugio Paine Grande is situated.

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Eventually we arrived at the bottom and walked the short distance to the refugio. 30 minutes later and we were on the catamaran and heading away from the park.

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Final Note

With the weather in Patagonia known for being very changeable, we were blessed with having 7 wonderful days out of the nine we were on the hike. The Parque Nacional Torres del Paine is a wondrous place with many great attractions. While the popularity is one of its downsides, I’m glad I went in low season as peak season would be just insane, with far too many people. Still, the mystical mountain peaks, both with and without snow and, the Lagos and Rios surrounding it, the Lagunas within it and the wonderful sights on all sides of the park were amazing. I’m glad I decided to do the circuit as the far side of the park is quieter and entirely different to the front side, with the glaciers, the pass and the south patagonian ice field in the distance.

I also enjoyed my companions for the hike, Chris, the young American guy I walked with most of the hike; Pip and Dan from Sydney and Sam from London, who walked as a threesome, but were with us at camps except the last (as they got stuck behind the landslide). Thanks to these people for making the experience what it was. Also, thanks to the many people we met at various parts of the hike, especially the two american couples on the back side – but who didn’t start with us – the Aussie couple who were from my hostel, and the group of young american girls studying in Santiago (kept Chris busy!).

Next I’m off to El Calafate in Argentina for a couple of rest days near the lake, before off to El Chalten for a three day hike around Mt Fitz Roy.

The Trail Wanderer

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine – Day 8

Day 8 – Campamento Los Perros to Refugio Lago Grey

Today is slated as the hardest on the entire circuit as we’re climbing over the windblown Paso John Gardner, more than 1350m. This is one of the main attractions of walking the back side of park.

As Campamento Los Perros is hidden away in the forest, I couldn’t tell what the weather was doing when I woke. But, it was just before I’d finished breakfast that I discovered I was the only person left in camp. It would seem that everyone else had decided to get an early start. So, I packed up quickly and headed out.

The trail heads straight up a hill for some time, through the forest and a rather large patch of mud. I continued following the trail, stepping over mud and the occasional fallen tree as I worked my way slowly up the pass. In the forest I could hear gusts of wind above me in the trees. After an hour I came to the end of the trees and out into rocks. The wind was now gusting over me heavily as I moved and I was forced to lean down into the stones to stop from being blown off my feet. You can hear the large gusts coming, so when a large one has passed, I rushed along the rocky path to the next set of trees. Yet while I was sheltered from the wind I was again subject to the mud.

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Then I’m out into the rocks again and again am being blasted by the wind gusts. It’s a quick march across the rocks, stooping low for the heavier gusts which are picking up small stones and blasting them against my arms and back of my head. I raced down towards the river along the trail and around the final patch of trees and my last protection from the wind. I then marched up the trail as quickly as the stones and wind would allow, ducking and setting my feet and poles to stop from being blown around too severely.

The views back down the valley where I had come are pretty with the red of the trees and the flowing river.

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I pushed on up the pass as it began to get steeper but no less ragged with the wind. At one stage I was lifted from my feet and landed 2 metres back, skidding in the rocks. While this could be scary there was a real sense of exhilaration of constantly fighting the wind. Further up the pass I could see the wind whipping water from various streams into mist and I could hear the wind whistling madly through the snowy mountain tops. I pushed on, climbing a steeper area, resting briefly close to a glacier until the wind chilled me enough to push me further on.

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Finally, about 200 metres from the top of the Paso, I came over a ridge and the trail flattened out. It was then a short walk through a windy gully to reach the cairns at the top of the paso. The wind was howling past me when I came over the top and light rain was being propelled full force at me. After 7 beautiful days, it would be typical that on this the hardest day of the hike, the weather would change to make it even harder.

At the top of the pass, you look down on top of Glacier Grey, but to get a better view, you walk down about fifty metres through the icy winds to closer to the edge of the ridge. It’s not the greatest atmosphere to take photos, but I did what I could in the wind and rain.

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I had to stop and put on my jacket, more to break the icy wind coming at me than to avoid the rain. Putting on a jacket in these high winds is challenging, to say the least. I made it to the edge of the ridge and looked down on Glacier Grey. I’ve seen plenty of glaciers, but not from directly above and Glacier Grey is a mighty specimen, stretching 6km across the valley to the icy snow covered mountains on the far side, very much like Antarctica. The glacier is said to be more than 100km long, but this finger of ice disappeared around the mountain in the distance.

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This small piece of ice – yes small – is a part of the southern Patagonian Ice Field, one of the three largest fields of ice in the world.

The trail heads down steeply on a slate and scree slope, weaving on a defined path, then follows the glacier, a kilometre below, to where it forks at Lago Grey.

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At a certain point the trail leads into the trees that have turned fiery autumn red, and finally there is some respite from the wind. The trail begins its slow downward heading, with plentiful steps.
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After several hundred metres, it finally ends at Campamento Paso. Going down in no wind is still harder than going up in lots of wind. I was planning to stay here tonight, but when I discovered the Pass had only taken just over 4 and a half hours, I decided to head on the extra 4 hours to Refugio Lago Grey with the hope of finishing the hike tomorrow.

After a 5 minute break, I pushed on. Half an hour into the walk, the rain became heavy and the wind continued. There was a hand drawn map in the shelter at Campamento Paso that showed the trail heading steadily downhill to the Refugio, but it wasn’t like that at all, in fact, much of the first half was going up. At many times there were good vies of the glacier as you walked.

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There are a couple of gullies on the walk that are too steep to climb. The park rangers have set up steel ladders to help walkers.

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Just after the first of the ladders, the trail leads around the top of a cliff line. There is only a foot wide path with nothing to hang on to, wind dragging at you and a fall of half a kilometre to a glacier. It was perhaps one of the more frightening experiences of my life, as I literally crawl along this path hanging onto large rocks. Twice I actually lay in a gap waiting for the wind to die down so I could continue. Apparently, the next morning, some of this very cliff line slipped away and the walkers behind me were stuck, so it was lucky I decided to walk on when I did.

The trail continued but most of it was inside the forested area and I was pleased not to be exposed more on this particular day. I climbed another of the steel ladders, crossed a long wire bridge and climbed down several quiet forest gullies. There was a mirador along the way, right above the end of the glacier. I stayed briefly to watch, but after 8 hours walking and the cold, I didn’t stay long. Murphy’s Law, however… nothing happened while I was watching, but as I walked away… a large section of ice calved from the glacier into the lake.

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The last hour of the day was spent staggering through the trees until I finally arrived at the Refugio. That night as I cooked in the refugio’s common cooking area, I gave advice to new hikers on the trail who had started the hike that day.

The Lone Trail Wanderer