02 Dec Central Chile
Days 536 – 538 –
After a quick border crossing back into Chile, we wound our way by lakes and mountains in the beautiful sunshine for the afternoon. We arrived at a seemingly abandoned riverside campsite next to the trailhead of a hanging glacier hike we wanted to do the following day, that we’d read about in our 2013 version of Lonely Planet. Before the trip we downloaded some free older versions, because most of the attractions that we like don’t really change.
We started out bright and early the next day along the short two mile trail, which started out pleasantly along the river bank toward the glacier. Rapidly though, the trail turned to mud and water, and our pace slowed to a crawl. Nearing the end, the trail basically disappeared below heavy overgrowth, and we found ourselves duck walking through long tunnels through 4 inches of mud. Eventually the trail petered out completely, about a quarter mile before the glacier. Eventually after crashing around through the trees we found a spot where we could see to the glacier – only to find that it was gone. Climate change and an old guidebook ruined our day a bit. But it did explain the abandoned campground and unmaintained trail. We gathered our spirits and made the long trek back through the muck. At least we spent the day outside in nice weather.
In the afternoon we started driving towards Queulat National Park to see another glacier. It was still a beautiful day and we checked out some of the wild camp spots in the area, but nothing really looked good, so we decided to camp inside the national park, which was not cheap, but at least we could go see the glacier that sunny afternoon and then take a hot shower.
We spent the late afternoon down at the lakeshore, alone, with the incredible distant view of Queulat Glacier, high above, waterfalls coming off and feeding into the turquoise water. We were the only campers and had the whole park to ourselves after the rangers left in the afternoon. We could hear from our campsite the massive grumbles from the glacier as the ice shifted. It was a warm and clear evening as we ate dinner and planned to hike up a three hour trail to get a closer look at the glacier the next morning.
It started raining about 5 am, the first drops pattering on the campershell woke us up and we hoped it would end before breakfast. Eventually we had to get out of bed in the rain, which is always a pain. But we at least had a nice little sheltered picnic table to cook breakfast in, and by the time we’d cleaned up, it was barely raining. We decided to do the hike anyway, even though visibility was bad, in the off chance it decided to clear off.
After another short but surprisingly difficult, slippery, and wet hike through the forest, we held our breath for the glacier viewpoint that would soon come into view. But as we’d feared, a heavy cloud was completely covering the sky, and we could just barely see the bottom of the waterfalls coming off the glacier.
We were thankful that we’d arrived the day before to at least get a view of it, but it was a bit of downer with two bad hikes in row. Afterwards we drove in the drizzle, checking out a few wild campspots but not really wanting to stop for fear of a downpour. We ended up pulling into a campground off the highway that had a shelter to cook in and a nice hot shower. We parked on the grass with an amazing but obscured by the clouds view of the river and surrounding mountains.
Days 539 – 542
Driving through the rain and wind, we appreciated the views from the road as we passed Cerro Castillo, and made our way to Puerto Rio Tranquilo. Upon arriving we found out that another hike we wanted to do, this one over a glacier, was also closed. We were having pretty bad luck with glaciers. Instead we opted for a rare-for-us paid tour to some marble caves only accessible by boat. We spent the night camped on the public beach and did our tour in the morning. The weather was a cold but it wasn’t raining. The caves are actual marble in the lake shore, carved out by a glacier a thousand years ago.
Days 543 – 545
The washboard and road construction delays made the journey take longer than anticipated, so when lunchtime rolled around we were still 30 minutes or so from our next stop in Chile Chico. But lucky for us there was an awesome viewpoint of Laguna Verde to take in the surroundings while we ate a tailgate prepared lunch. The whole road was beautiful along the shore of Laguna General Carerra that we didn’t mind the delay. The weather was so beautiful we decided we had better take advantage of it. We knew there was a less frequently visited national park just outside of Chile Chico along the border to Argentina. So we just stopped for food and supplies in town and headed out to the park. We drove through what looked like high desert along the cliffs of a river, passed a lake full of flamingos, dropped down into a green forest and valley and arrived in Laguna Jeinimeni by midafternoon.
The lake was beautiful and, as was now usual, we were the only people at the campground and had the park to ourselves. We spent the sunny but windy afternoon walking along the lake shore and hiking up to a viewpoint.
We built a fire out of all the abundant forest wood and cooked our dinner over it. It’d probably been since camping in the USA that we’d had a campfire, so it was a nice evening activity in the cold spring weather.
The next day we drove out to do another day hike, Cueva los Manos (Hand Cave). We spent about 3 hours hiking through a valley with crazy rock formations. We made it to the cave with ancient rock paintings and hand prints, dated back to 7000 years ago. The landscape was stunning and the weather was still perfect. Although it wasn’t the typical classic “Patagonia” hike, this park proved to be just what we needed and a great way to take advantage of the nice weather. On our way back towards Chile Chico, we followed a side road down a steep bank to a grassy area above the river, where we spent the night. For dinner, as is common with our last night before crossing a border, we tried to finish eating all of our fresh food that would be confiscated the next day and had a strange taco dinner of leftover chicken, eggs, carrots, cauliflower, tomato, cheese, and avocado in a tortilla.