Tag Archives: Waterfalls

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

Iguazú Falls, Argentina and Brazil – Impressions

On the border of Argentina and Brazil are the mighty Iguazú Falls.  One of the seven new wonders of the world, the falls connect a national park in each country. The falls are among the seven largest waterfalls in the world, a third larger than Niagara Falls.

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From the Argentinian township of Puerto Iguazú it’s easy to see both sides of the falls.  The Argentinian side has many wide cascades of water at several levels while the Brazilian side has the Devil’s Throat, a U-shaped section of the falls. Here are details of both with prices correct as at June 2013:

Argentina – Cataratas del Iguazú

The trip from Puerto Iguazú by bus takes about 15 minutes. The Argentinian side is the more expensive of the two parks at $170 pesos (about US$34), but it has the larger tourist area. There are several different walks in the park and a boat tour that takes you up close to the cascades. The boat tour – the Gran Adventura – is fairly expensive at $350 pesos (US$70) but I booked it anyway. Near the booking area I came across some South American Coatí scavenging for food.

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It was raining on the day of my visit, so I bought a cheap rain poncho. After booking the Gran Adventura, I had an hour to kill so went for a walk around the park along a trail creatively named, ‘The Lower Trail’. Because of the rain and an excess of water going over the falls The Upper Trail was closed, which was a shame as it leads across a series of bridges to a platform above the Devil’s Throat.

The lower trail leads down the bank, past many smaller waterfalls to several lookouts with different views of the flatter side of the falls. At one point, the trail gets very close to the cascades where the spray is thick in the air.  Thankfully for the poncho I stayed mainly dry.

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The Gran Adventura begins with a 30 minute safari through the rainforest where a guide introduces several different native trees and I got to see my first ever monkeys in the wild.

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Then we were strapped into the boat and shot off at full force along the river.

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With so much of the thick dirty brown water coming over the falls, the water eddies like crazy and even the big jet boat was thrown around. With the amount of spray coming off the falls it was difficult to get close to the churning water coming down the Devil’s Throat…

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…so we spent more time getting close to and drenched by the cascades section.

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Then it was a crazy ride back along with the river, back into the safari trucks and out of the park.

Brazil – Cataratas do Iguaçu

The trip to the brazilian side of the falls takes about 30 minutes, including a short stop at customs. Because it’s considered a tour, no fees or visas are required.

Brazil’s park is larger overall but with a smaller tourist area. It’s cheaper at $41 Reals ($US21). To get to the viewing platforms, you need to take an internal bus which can drop you off along the way depending on what tour you want to do. They also have  boat tours similar to the Argentinian side.

The park’s main path is slightly shorter than the Argentinian side but has better views, beginning with a view across the river to the cascades section of the falls…

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As you get closer to the Devil’s Throat, the trail zigzags up the wall to a viewing platform right at its side, which provides awesome views of the upper river pouring right down the Devil’s Throat.

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While there was a section also closed because of the height of the water, the views were still amazing.

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With no rain today there were plentiful moths and butterflies about. They will land on everything at a moments notice.  If they weren’t so colourful, they’d be considered pests.

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Overall, the falls are a definite must see. While you can be happy seeing just one side, it’s not hard to see both and well worth the money spent.

Next I’m off to see the wonders of Brazil and Rio De Janeiro.

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

Montezuma Falls – West Tasmania

My trip to Tasmania has been rather interesting. I’m sure there’s an Aboriginal name for it which likely means: ‘Land where it rains, oh and some mountains’. That sure wraps it up for me so far!

After spending several days in Hobart, it’s time to move on. As I’d driven along the east coast to Freycinet then the south coast to Hobart, I figured I should go see the west coast. So, I pointed The Pointy Brick west and drove.

Strahan is a tourist port town on the west coast set on the north side of a large harbour. It and the raging sea to the west – 8000km to Argentina – is beautiful.

There are places to climb on this side of the state, but as I don’t climb in the rain, I looked for something else to do. Rain tends to make waterfalls look awesome, so I decided to go find one of the biggest in Tasmania. In the rain, I drove 50 km inland to the turnoff and then 6km further to the car park.

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The trail to the waterfall is 4.8km and is graded easy. The first thing I came to was a bridge across the river to the main trail.

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The trail was stony, although with all the rain, it was often waterlogged and muddy. Thankfully I’d decided to wear my hiking boots, so my feet remained dry.

The trail meanders through the rainforest, following the river. In places along the route there are smaller waterfalls…

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This one only as tall as I am…

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This area of the mountains used to be an old mining area and the trail itself is where the old tram line used to run.

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Towards the end you are able to enter an old mine shaft for a short distance…

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Then with the roar of water ahead, you reach a cable bridge heading out of the undergrowth.

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Halfway across the bridge is the best place to see the 104m falls that flows under the bridge and down along the valley…

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While it was a long walk to see a waterfall, it was worth the effort. A beautiful place in Tasmania worth visiting.

Tomorrow, I head to Mole’s Creek where I’ll be doing a full day Adventure Caving in the caving capital of Tasmania.

The Lone Trail Wanderer