I thought it was appropriate to attempt a second rainbow. This time Cerro Arcoiris in the Cochamó Valley. It was possibly the toughest and most technical day hike I have done in a while (equalling the challenges of Tasmanias Mount Anne Circuit maybe even…). But first there was the adventure to get to the trail head…
I waited for an hour for a bus that never came in Puerto Varas. Eventually I gave up and got on one heading in a similar direction – Empenada. I met a lovely local on the bus who loves koalas and she told me to visit Laguna Verde from Empenada on the way. So I departed the bus and walked to the entrance of the National Park Vincente Pérez Rosales, about 5 minutes down the road and then to the Laguna Verde, a further 5 minutes into the park. It was a quiet little place that seemed to lack any visitors, but was buzzing with birds and insects and life! A nice little stop on my journey to the Cochamó Valley.
I returned to the bus stop and met some young boys fromSantiago headed the same direction. It was only another 10 minutes until the already full bus pulled up and we all piled inside, bags and all on this over full mini bus. Standing and balancing my bag for the next hour wasn’t so bad for the views I could see. Everyone around me chatted and an excited buzz was present on the bus full of young adventurers all going to a place together. Instantly making friends, a large group of us got off at Cochamó village and were hustled onto another bus heading down the road towards La Junta. The road turns into a trail about 13kms out of the camping hub of La Junta where you can also find a Refugio to stay at if you aren’t into camping and cooking your own food, which makes the place all the more special – only those willing to walk in get to see the spectacular place that is the Cochamó Valley.
We registered when we arrived and luckily they let us go through, as none of us had made a reservation, we were told to stay at camping Trawen. So we began the walk, all of us loaded down by big bags and lots of food (nobody sure of how long they would stay). We walked and walked, through dense forest and jungle on tracks we shared with horses and pack horses and cowboys. Relatively flat, the track was fairly good in the dry sun. We took numerous breaks and enjoyed the afternoon sun on our faces and the green luscious grass on our backs, getting to know each other as the walk went on. I think it took us about 6 hours in total to get to La Junta, but it was a beautiful walk that found us suddenly surrounded by giant granite cliffs and towering mountains all around!
There are a few options for camping but I strongly reccommend Trawen and the lovely girls who own it! They’re so welcoming and full of generosity! With a building for sheltered cooking, open showers, and a few drop toilets, this was a perfect campsite and a perfect location next to the river and close to most trail heads.
The following day was a big day. It was The Day.
I set off around 10am with my day pack full of snacks, water and a raincoat (and flashlight, beanie, emergency first aid kit, etc.) and the track seemed alright at the start, though slightly annoying in that it just went up and up and still, up. Through thick jungle, twisted vines snaked up trees and red flowers hung from branches, the trees were so old they appeared massive and ancient – covered in soft moss. The constant uphill didn’t seem so bad by the time by the time we had arrived at the roped section.
For what seems like a long time you are literally hauling yourself up vertical sections. It seems dodgy and in some places it is a bit sketchy, but with some good footing and a lot of solid tree branches and roots to hold, it’s not so bad. I’m told that the ropes are replaced and reset every season, though in places they weren’t so secure, so be sure to trust the earth more then the ropes.
After this section you can see how far you’ve climbed and the views continue to improve. You continue up another section of dense forest for a while until the path finally emerges out of the shade and into the sun! I was at the first lookout place, which provides beautiful views and was my lunch stop.
The next section is yet again more aggressive.
With no path to follow, I chased the cairns up and over boulders, getting higher and higher – it’s nearly as vertical as the section with ropes, only there are no ropes and you can see how far you would fall if you fell. Be careful. Exercise caution. Enjoy the views.
Up further and further I climbed, the air got thinner and colder and eventually snow fields appeared – perfect for refilling your water bottles.
Eventually the thought of the jungle path felt like a distant memory! The view from the top when the clouds blew over was magnificent. Words can’t do it justice. Every direction was something beautiful, and for more excitement and maybe good luck, a huge Condor flew overhead!
The ascent was hard, but going down was just as difficult… make sure you leave enough time for it before it gets dark!
Isn’t it funny how looking back at a hike you think of the adventure and the fun and the views, the sense of accomplishment and the pride you have at getting yourself up there. But at the time, while climbing that mountain, your brain is saying, go back, and your muscles scream at you to stop, and even though you push through, you curse at the cuts in your knees and scrapes on your hands at the time…. but we see the pain as an adventure in hindsight. Life is so strange.
By Li Bai
You ask me why I dwell in the green mountain;
I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care.
As the peach-blossom flows down stream and is gone into the unknown,
I have a world apart that is not among men.