In Peru, we had porters (Machu Picchu - Der Weg ist das Ziel), but in Chile, we decided to try it out ourselves.
For years my father-in-law has undertaken his annual “Hüttenwanderungen” (multi-day hut-to-hut treks) in the Alps and encouraged us to come along. However, we had always shied away at the thought of carrying more luggage than a day pack. Somehow, in Chile, we dived right in at the deep end, and armed with tent, sleeping equipment, cooking pots, and 5 days' worth of food, we set off on our first multi-day trek carrying all our own luggage. And in the process, we discovered a new hobby :-)
The destination? The beautiful Río Cochamó Valley.
Our 12km hike from Cochamó to the La Junta valley took us through rainforest and along an old ox-cart path that was used in former times to transport seafood from Chile to Argentina and beef in the opposite direction.
Horses now ply the way through deep ridges, taking supplies or tourists to the refuges in the La Junta valley.
While the transport route still exists and continues on to Argentina, most visitors only make it as far as La Junta – a mountain paradise for a multitude of rock climbers. When the valley opened up at La Junta, we were surrounded by huge granite mountains and it was clear to see why the region is touted as Chile's “Yosemite”.
The camp had a beautiful setting, and some pretty quirky toilets with effective waste management to boot:
Pleased with our first day's efforts, we eagerly set out on day 2 of our trekking adventures, only to be met with a muddy, boggy, far-less-trampled path that reminded me of my school visits to the Lake District.
We crossed ice-cold streams and battled on until we reached El Arco and a tiny shelter where we spent the night with 2 Israelis, 1 outdoor-loving Canadian, and a bunch of Argentinians who, with their tinned foods and family-sized bottles of cooking oil, took camp food to another level.
Not keen to encounter a path worse than the previous day, we headed back to the climbers' basecamp of La Junta on day 3, where we tried our first mate tea with our new-found Argentinian friends and were encouraged by a group of young 20-something Chilean gals to hike up Arco Iris before we left.
In fact, we were impressed by the number of young female Argentinians or Chileans who were out trekking, complete with pans and Crocs dangling off their huge backpacks. I'm sure that many Brits their age would be busy straightening their hair or searching out next season's UGG boots as opposed to trekking and camping.
The Arco Iris hike was described as one of the toughest in the area, but if these young Chilean beauties had managed it, then we should be in pretty good form. Ha! How wrong we were. After a steep ascent through the forest and the odd rope climb, we thought we had nearly reached the top, but instead we had a good deal of rock scrambles and an ice field ahead of us.
We wheezed up to the top, but boy were we greeted with the most amazing panoramic views to which the camera fails to do justice. Where else can you see a fjord, a hanging lake, waterfalls, a volcano, and rainforest all at once?
It had been a long day hike, and we were thoroughly exhausted by the time we returned to camp, not to mention bewildered at how conditioned the Chileans were – but then we realized that we were about 10 years older than them. Oooh, the harsh reality!
On day 5, we were more than ready for a hot shower and a bed, so back down the river we headed to Cochamó town. With our first porter-experience behind us, we decided we quite liked this multi-day trekking lark and felt we could now take on the trekking adventures that lay in wait in Patagonia.
And to my father-in-law; for those future Hüttenwanderungen in the Alps – count us in!
Written by K