Cerró Castillo (Aysén, Chile)

Party: Mum, Dad and I

The basalt spires of Cerró Castillo (2675m) are the crowning centrepiece of this namesake National Park (National Reserve?). A sprawling 18,0000Ha mountain park, 75km south of Coyhaique, it is covered by large névés and hanging glaciers. These mountains spill down into lovely valleys of southern beech(?).
With more and more people visiting, and prices soaring, it’s close proximity to the more populated part of Chile is contributing to it becoming the next Torres de Paine. A shame. One German walker we met said she counted over 800 people when walking down from the popular lookout of Cerro Torre. Hopefully Cerró Castillo is spared from this sort of traffic. Though in writing this, I guess I’m not helping :/


Prelude: 21 de Enero

After riding the Naviera Austral for two nights and a day we arrived in Puerto Chacabuco. With our newly found boat friends, we finally managed to cram into a small colectivo to Puerto Aysen ($500pp). We talked a while longer before heading to the bus terminal waiting with some noisy Indians for the 13:45 bus into Coyhaique ($2400pp). The Indians, now living in Canada, recommended sitting on the left… unfortunately the right seemed to offer far superior views. Oh well, so much for swapping seats!

Using the chip one of the Chileans had given me, I was surprised to find I’d received an offer from Eliana to host us. We had planned to camp with Aldo, but seeing that had fallen through, we accepted. After visiting the supermarket, Eliana and her brother picked us up from the edge of town. We crossed the river glimpsing Piedra del Indio for the first time and arrived at her home where I was surprised to see other tents already set up in the yard. It was a little crowded: 6 people in total. We set up next to a French guy and a couple of Argentinians. It was a little tricky to translate all the time, but we still managed and enjoyed some good conversation.

Day 1: Coyhaique to Sector Montreal

The Argentinians left and we spent the morning with Eliana. The weather was looking great so we decided to make a move. After helping clean, sweep and mop the house we headed to Unimarc to shop for the trip. It took a while. But on the up side, we only had to wait 30mins at the terminal for the bus to Villa Freí ($600pp). Not even enough time to finish the lunch we’d started in the small strip of grass!
The driver seemed a little rushed, but we made it to the last stop after nearly staying on the bus. We waited a short time at the bus stop but soon decided it was best to start walking the long, hot, dusty road. We didn’t get far. Just after the pavement ended was a ‘loaded’ cherry tree. We snacked for a time. Juice staining my shorts and fingers we finally made a move.

It wasn’t pleasant walking. We stopped in the shade a number of times, always thumbing down the cars that passed. All to no avail. Finally a car stopped (Though it first passed Jimmy by!).
It was Trace (+569*******2). She seemed a little stern at first:
T: where are you going?
A: about ten km
T: «can you be more specific»
F: After responding «Largo Montr…»
She interrupted, knowing exactly where we intended to go. It turned out she was neighbours with the private property we’d need to pass through (actually four properties it turnsed out!), and used to run tours into the park until access issues made it impossible and the section of the national park was closed. Interestingly she also wrote (or contributed to) the access management plan for the park.
A little concerned at first, I placated her with our plans, how much food we had, exit strategies if something went wrong, knowledge of the different sectors and the private properties in between. It worked and she quickly changed, telling us about the probable trail condition, presence of a possible dunny and the multiple entrance fees for the different tracks to Lago Cerró Castillo.

She also mentioned that she’d jump her neighbour’s fence before to visit the mirador and told us that ‘the owner should not be home’ at the moment, as she stopped in front of a small dirt road.
She turned around and soon we were again by ourselves. Heading up the camino, we climbed over an imposing locked gate and quickly ran into some locals. We approached cautiously knowing it was private property. Feigning ignorance we inquired whether we were on route to el mirador, a popular day hike. The first guy seemed uninterested in us and unsure of any mirador. He whistled to a gaucho who waited ahead for us. Passing some camionetas full of cut firewood with a friendly smile, the gaucho confirmed we were on route, and soon trotted off. Somewhat relieved we could continue and we followed in his tracks.
The smell of cover flowers, the lakes below, lack of dust and fresh air, all made it a much more pleasant walk than the main road. We soon reached a pasture with a herd of cows. One strangely in a small shed when we dropped down to the river for some water.
Taking the road behind the CONAF sign we continued up more steeply. According to my map we were already in the park but we soon reached a locked gate with a sign welcoming us to what must be the more official or recognised border. Despite the gate and apparent integrity of the fence, it seemed to do little to stop the cows from entering. There were plenty of recent signs of their passage.
We passed a junction with a large arrow and then a couple of minor gullies with some water. There were also wild strawberries – but unfortunately only in flower 😦
There seemed to be signs of logging from the recent past, but the forest looked well recovered and you could hardly tell? Or was it just close to the road? Later I second guessed myself…

The trail was in great shape and crossing a clear stream, we soon arrived at the old camp ground. The dunny was in great shape and we decided to camp there. I was a little worried about the weather in the morning, so (after receiving Mums permission- excuse me, I suggested this) I headed off at a jog to try catch the sunset at the Mirador la Paloma. Crossing one of the tributaries via a thin log that flexed a little too much, I quickly reached a large open meadow that turned out to be a little swampy. I thought I saw some huemules, but as I got closer they proved to be cows; fat on the lush grasses. I walked along the southern side, cutting a few corners here and there before climbing up through beautiful forest making it to the lookout just in time! There was a fantastic view over the two lakes and a third was just visible in the distance. A number of private residences could be spied: from shacks to luxury resorts. Opposite a tremendous waterfall dropped down through a cañón from a plateau above.

Watching the sun dip behind the horizon I polished off some peanuts and and hurried back, this time taking the trail on the north side of the meadow which didn’t seem better than the way I’d used earlier.

Dinner was ready soon after I set up my bivouac under the perfect shelter of a large rock.

Day 2: Sector Montreal: El Mirador and Scree Traverse

The weather in the morning was better than expected. Saying ‘bye’ to our camp we retraced my steps from the day before reaching the lookout in good time. In the increased light the different blues of the lakes were much more noticeable.

The track contoured around crossing a large stream before it seemed to stop abruptly at ‘el carreo’; apparently lost after various landslides. In the psst the trail contoured here reentering the lenga before crossing Río El Saltó to reach an established campground… The new route heads steeply up into the alpine through a meadow with lots of small streams and pools. It would have been a nice place if the weather hadn’t turned more hostile. I sheltered behind a large boulder whilst waiting for the others to join me.

We followed a stream up through a saddle and then down the other side. The route then stayed high, contouring on the talus above the lenga forest. This proved to be the most difficult, tiring and dangerous part of the whole trip. Traversing left the slope was quite steep, but vegetated with a thick heath. Crossing the first stream however the ground quickly transitioned to a loose scree. I already knew Mum would hate it and the wind and light rain wouldn’t help! At times the scree was very thin or not present at all making it a little dicey. In a couple of spots I even cut a number of steps to aid my parents.

We rested briefly after crossing the next stream and then at a brief lull in the wind we scrambled up the other side to reacquaint ourselves with the scree. After taking over 3hrs to cover around 2km I knew my parents were beat. As we dropped into the valley I spied what looked like a sheltered spot to weather out the afternoon. Sheltering behind a bush I waited for my parents to descend the steep slope and then scouted ahead leading them to a great spot next to a large boulder right by the stream. We pitched the tent during a lull in the rain and settled in for the afternoon, easily fitting in the film Togo (Alaskan dog hero) before sleep. (All that moisture was from cooking in the tent right?).

Day 3: Río Turbo and Laguna Turbo o Peñón

It felt late when I woke, but the sound of rain pattering on the nylon gave me no reason to get up. I dozed for a time and finally decided it was time. As I sat up I was disappointed to find water droplets clinging all over the fly screen above us. Several more fell as I watched. It made little difference to Jimmy’s already soaked sleeping bag. Mums too was fairly damp, and I’d somehow lucked out and remained relatively dry. It was disappointing as the tent was brand new. We’d noticed some discolouration when we set it up for the first time in Parque National Puyehue but hadn’t thought too much of it. It now looked like we had a dud – probably in storage too long. I inspected the waterproofing tape and it looked to be quite deteriorated too. We were going to have to replace it. A future thing to worry about 😦

We packed as it started to drizzle. Opting for a quick breakfast of pan de pascua and were soon on our way. The walking was comparatively much easier. The route following the lively stream up the gently rising valley. Occasional large cairns reminding us that we weren’t the first to visit the valley. Waterfalls fell down the sculpted rock to the right and jagged turrets/spires of rock rose high on the left.
The weather seemed to be improving but the occasional blast of wind would stop us in our tracks to wait until it abated.
Continuing higher an impossible peak of rock reared it’s head in the saddle above. It must be the namesake of the park I thought : Cerró Castillo… But when I checked my map later it appeared to lack a name, though I’m sure there is a detailed mountaineering/climbers map of the area that names the peaks. Other, outposts of rock came into view presenting a sight that was akin to some modern CGI fantasy film. I wondered on the geology of it all, but couldn’t think how the glaciers could have carved out their forms.

Reaching the saddle (El Portazuelo) we briefly rested, continuing past a subtle watershed where the direction of the seemingly continuous creek suddenly reversed. As more of the mountain came into view, the mundane lower flanks somehow detracted from the vista. I think my imagination had expected more. In the distance to the left, a road zigzagged up, scaring a colourful mountain.
The wind followed us down the large scree on the other side, a brief bank of snow giving a minute or two of reprieve from the uneven rocks. I grew cold waiting for my parents to catch me and often raced ahead to keep warm when I saw them. The cairns, now at much shorter intervals, contoured around to the left ducking in and out of the fringes of the lenga forest on what was a distinct track in places. Soon we followed the next drainage down and at the top of a waterfall, rested a moment, enjoying peanuts and airing out our feet.

At the edge of the forest it was already much warmer and it wasn’t far along the now distinct track that we warmed up. The trail soon joined an old logging road. A little overgrown in places, washed out in a spot or two but generally in good condition. We’d left the national park behind and soon reached a junction. The road to the right went to the luxury houses/resort we’d seen from ‘el mirador’, we headed left to link up with the tourist route through the main section of the park. The road here too was no longer in use. In a couple of spots we saw evidence of old structures but even their purpose was hard to discern.
Jimmy draped things over the fence line as we lunched (ate breakfast) by a small creek. Following the fence, we soon veered off to parallel the Río Turbio and then cut through to walk on the rocks at a great little camp site.
Linking up to join the main track we stepped lighter on the well groomed track. There were some great views of the surrounding Cordillera Castillo.

We soon approached Campamento secundo (now renamed Campamento Río Turbio?) but decided to push on a little further and camp by the junction to the Laguna Glacier Peñón. Finding a neat spot in the trees, we dropped packs and walked the 1.5km up the old moraine to the dirty lake. We met a couple of groups heading back down but were the only ones there as the sun slowly disappeared. The wind whipped across the surface creating small waves. A waterfall toppled down on the left. And a glacier, just visible between the towereing mountains, urged us to continue up, to explore around the corner. Instead we headed back, following the incredible amount of water exciting the tarn, and settled in for the night. I set up my mat between the dead arms of a fallen tree. Jimmy cooked up some tasty noodles with TVP, taco flavouring and Parmesan. Another of Mums biscuit packets for dessert.

Day 4: Río Turbo to Campamento El Bosque

We breakfasted as the sun came to meet us. It was a late start (almost 10) by the time we were heading up the track to the pass. In the trees longer than expected, we rested in the sun at one of the numerous streams on the way up. A group past us and another stopped also for water and dad and I chatted for a while. They were all from the USA, the guy seemed the most travelled and we chatted about Alaska for a time. The girl from Montana was actually working! She was a photographer and must have landed a pretty good gig to get paid to trek and travel. We walked together for some time but finally left them behind meeting mum up at the snowy Paso Peñón. It was a little precarious down the compressed snow on the other side but not bad. Still in shorts and t-shirt I pressed on ahead until the wind lessened.

Around the corned I couldn’t help but think ‘wow’! Below the jagged peaks above, hanging icefalls on the eastern flank of Cerro Pelón gave birth to uncountable waterfalls that cascaded over the glacier smoothed rock. We joined others, snacking on peanuts for a very late morning tea.

We dropped down the talus with the water to join the river at the bottom. More photos and then as we neared the treeline Cerró Castillo edged out from behind the mountains distracting us from the waterfalls behind.

Cerro Rojo to the left and Castillo to the right.

Entering the forest we sat down to discuss our options. Serendipitously, some Germans passed by to help solidify a decision. As it turned out, the pass ahead was typically closed after around midday apparently due to high winds. They’d even seen/heard of a park ranger stopping people. We decided to have a ‘half day’ and camp at the new Campamento El Bosque. As it turned out, La Tetera was closed and Bosque had moved up the valley quite a bit further from its old location. So apart from making our own camp it was the only real option. A choice now made, we headed back into the sun for lunch and relaxation.
The clouds started to blow in dropping the temperature and there may have even been a few drops of rain

Eventually the dropping temperature urged us on and we walked down beside the eastern branch of Estero del Bosque eventually crossing a bridge. Passing the confluence with the western branch, we walked through the now abandoned site of the old Bosque campsite before crossing the western branch too. In several places, avalanche paths offered impressive views of the surrounding peaks.

The new Campamento el Bosque had a strange atmosphere. It was like everyone wanted solitude and were trying their best to ignore others to stimulate the experience. I’m not really sure how to explain it but it wasn’t overly therapeutic. Jimmy cooked dinner and I tried socialising with some Germans. I didn’t feel overly welcome, but the next night (at Neozelandes) we did seem to get along a lot better.
Most groups were heading up to the tarn above the campsite, but we opted to relax and do it in the morning. I bivied by a log and draped some sheets over creating a primitive lean-to.

Day 5: Campamento el Bosque to Campamento Neozelandes

Maybe the first to rise, we put on our shoes in the brisk air and keen to get walking followed the emerging trail behind the strangely open dunny (you could see through the sides). Quickly leaving the forest behind, we continued up the moraine of a long* receded glacier climbing upwards towards the peaks already touched by the sun.
Reaching the lake we were happy it was better than the last side trip. If it had been a little warmer it would have been perfect. We enjoyed it nevertheless but didn’t stay long before leaving the icebergs behind and dropping back down to camp for breakfast.

We continued up towards Cerro Castillo leaving the woods around the old Campamento La Tetera (a much nicer spot!). Passing another waterfall dropping down from a névé, we followed a chattering stream up to the impressive Laguna Cerró Castillo, what a sight! It was a fantastic blue and nestled in a basin below the towering peaks. It was easy to see why this has become such a popular spot.

We followed a track around the edge of the lake soon cutting directly up the talus to the crowded lookout above. We left our packs at the saddle near a tarn and bringing some snacks joined the other people sitting around on the rocks in homage to the basalt turrets of Cerro Castillo.
Some other tourists helped us take a family photo.

It would have been nice to stay longer, but it was somewhere around midday and if the pass over to Valle Parada really did close in the afternoon we needed to get moving – we could already see a few groups climbing like ants up towards the ‘pass’.
I, however, decided I was too close to not quickly summit Cerró Rojo (we’d talked to some others who’d just been part way up); so with mum’s support, I zipped up the scree to see what views would afford me.
Only 5 mins up you popped out onto a small ledge with amazing views over Valle Ibáñez as far as Lago General Carrera! You could also make out the small town below (also named Cerró Castillo). I soon continued up passing an interesting balancing rock that if it wasn’t for the size of the rocks I would have assumed were placed by people, but the larger rock was around as tall as me.
I made it to the top by a quarter to one. The views on the way up had been great and I think surpassed the lookout below, but like most of these things it’s objective. Up here the immediate presence of the mountain was lessened. But the extra height allowed you to see much more. I could see Portazuelo El Peñón, better understand the layout of Estero Bosque and even see the glacier lake we had visited in the morning. It might have been my imagination, but it looked like the icebergs had moved around.

It was nearly one, so I figured I best make a move. So following the same route back I dropped down to my pack. On the way down I saw a bright yellow tent hidden behind some boulders. A ranger? I had a look to confirm that it indeed was a tent for the rangers or concessionaires. In fact I would on an unexpected subsequent trip. There is even a backboard, stove etc).
After pointing out the route to a couple heading down to El Bosque I made good time up to the ‘pass’ which at 1689m was the highest point of the trip. Indeed there was a ‘ranger’ at the top. I only picked it because of the radio I saw attached to his belt. We talked for a while about landmarks, whether I was the last etc. and then I moved on. I saw Jimmy on a rock below me and gave him a wave. I didn’t realise he was on the track and continued cutting across the scree gully before realising there weren’t enough signs of traffic for it to be correct (some latter reading revealed that there might actually be a couple of options). Looking at the map I confirmed that the track indeed went down the ridge. I cut across. Once there I looked up; I couldn’t see Jimmy, but couldn’t see him below either. But the way the ridge dropped away I couldn’t see far so I continued down soon spotting mum below. She hadn’t seem Jimmy. Dang it! He must have waited up there. So we stayed put eating lunch while we were waiting for Jimmy not to turn up. Finally I decided to climb back up a bit – and then further. Eventually I spotted him and someone else coming down. Oh no. I think it was the ranger. I hoped he hadn’t attracted unwanted attention. We soon reunited and continued down to the junction next to Campamento Los Porteadores. There is a nice stream here where we quenched our thirst discussing whether we should camp here or push on up to Neozelandes. We had enough time so we pushed on. It was a good choice. It was probably my favourite camp of the trip, and additionally it had a history. A small mountaineering party from New Zealand established a base camp in 1976 to make a number of first ascents in the area (for example, that’s where the name for Punta Duff comes from).

It was a large campsite, and whilst there were quite a lot of tents it was easy to find a spot to camp. I found a spot back in the woods, where I could bivy on the sand and set up a lean-to if required.
We met up with the Germans from the night before. They seemed much friendlier this night showing us photos from their foray up to Laguna Duff as well as sharing some tips for the Vuelta al Cerró Huemul circuit.

The view in a clearing just before Neozelandes

Day 6: Around Neozelandes (Laguna Duff)

We slept in as part of our plans for a lazy day. Eventually I packed most of my camp, folding my Tyvek sheet over some other things and putting a log on top. I left my pack inside my parents tent and shouldered mum’s pack which included some grub for the day.
It was an easy walk with great views. There are several lakes formed by end moraines, the most popular is definitely Laguna Duff and there was actually a group camped up by the lake sure with a fire and everything. This didn’t bother me overly, but I didn’t like that they were washing with detergent in the pristine lake. I wanted to say something, but they seemed to be Chileans and I didn’t want to start the whole ‘tourist telling locals what to do’ argument.

We spent some time walking around the lake viewing it from different angles and lunched by a boulder to try and escape the wind. Soon we headed back down to climb the big rock in the valley that we saw on the way up. It offered some good views and after that we decided to call it a day and not visit the other glacier lakes.
It drizzled a bit on the way back. We paused by a small stream for an hour or so before strolling into camp. I quickly packed my things away – wishing I hadn’t left them out in the weather – and shared my parents tent for the night.

Day 7: Return to Coyhaique

We woke early to head out. The forecast said their could be snow higher up. I was surprised when the guy in front of me was randomly checked for a ticket by a ranger . I passed them without issue and hoped that my parents,who were behind me, wouldn’t be held up. I waited at Porteadores for them and we were soon reunited and heading down Estero Parada which has cut a deep cañón through the rock.
We did a small side trip down to have a look at the cañon, which was quite deep with strong water flow and probably dangerous to descend. On the other side, a condór was sitting on a ledge; maybe it had a nest?
We headed back up to the track and soon climbed over a stile which marked the boundary of the park. Following a fence I was surprised when a guy zoomed past me. I talked out to him and we chatted for a while. He was Canadian and had been up and down Cerro Castillo numerous times after various problems that didn’t seem to warrant heading back down – like breaking a walking pole – but each to his own. I asked if any food was available at the ranger station below, and to my surprise he offered me some of his.

The track dropped down steeply to meet the river where the gorge ends. We spent some time by the water before cutting through the farmland and back to the road. We’d made it! Well not quite… it was still about 5km back into town.

I was hoping we could get a lift back into town but it never happened. I caught up with another couple walking out, and we talked for a while. At the direct route was a sign breaking the entrance prices down. Only two years ago it was free to enter the park, and now the fees have skyrocketed. Its a shame. To me, parks should be free for all to visit. But I guess if its surrounded by private property it complicates things :/
I waited for my parents at the bridge near the end of the road. As I found out from a local, the water was good to drink (it was in fact Estero Bosque! – we spent quite a few more nights here on future visits. We soon walked into town and joined others at the bus stop. Kolten (the Canadian) also arrived. He’d been socialising at the concessionaires station and sold them his unbroken walking pole (which he later regretted).

We spent a long time by the bus stop. Mum and Dad tried hitchhiking for a while, some others showing bad hitchhiking etiquette by stationing themselves just a little before them.
Dad picked a bag of cherries which he shared with everyone.
Lots of dogs chasing cars on the road. Three legged dogs (may be from all that chasing). Dog love for Kolton.
We started sharing our peanuts, Kolton bought some bread and cheese to share, and the other couple shared their rubbery lolly: Turrón de Maní.

After many hours waiting a bus finally showed up (despite what some locals said, I guess they were trying to sell us their camping); $5k pp back to Coyhaique – cheaper than normal. A german girl caught the bus last minute – hown can you be that lucky. Unfortunately mum left walking stick behind 😦

Back in town we walked back to Elianas (grabbing some bread for her on the way?).

Overall a great trip. Though I didn’t enjoy all the concessionaires and the increased prices. My Parents didn’t enjoy the cross country section on day 2.

GPT Section Report:

GPT32, South, 7-days

Coyhaique to Villa Freí:

There is a bus from the bus terminal in Coyhaique to Villa Freí.

From there it was a hot dusty road.

Accessing the park :

You have to pass through 4 private properties to enter the first sector of the park. We met some people. Had short friendly chats, but no problems with access.

Just before you enter the park (where there are two trail options) there is easy access to the river via a cow trail. However water in general was no issue and I didn’t carry water for the entire 7 days through the park.

The camp site used to be an official campsite before the sector was closed due to access problems. The dunny is in great shape.

Through the first sector :

The trail is in great shape until after the mirador. You then cut upwards into the alpine which is also easy walking. After passing through a saddle, you contour around above the treeline. This is the most difficult part of the section. Quite a bit of step scree traversing. Not for everyone.

Once you drop into the valley waking is again easier. There are some occasional cairns that become more and more frequent as you drop into the other valley. As you contour left an intermittent trail is evident. When you enter the lenga forest (-45.97321, -72.10278) there is a great trail down that turns into a road here : (-45.97886, -72.10358) (Jan: maybe you want to update the track files to reflect this?)

Then is road walking to join the popular walk.

Popular sector of Cerró Castillo :

There are some side trips not included in the track files. They’re on the map you get.

Note that the old Bosque site (-46.06197, -72.16016) and La Tetera (-46.07200, -72.18390) are now closed. You can not camp there. For most people this means camping at the new el Bosque : (-46.06418, -72.16964)(Jan : maybe you want to update the track files?)

Get to Laguna Cerró Castillo before 12 to beat the walkers heading up for the day. But this shouldn’t be an issue as you need to cross the pass early : an important thing we would have liked to know is that the pass (-46.08030, -72.21103) can be closed in the afternoon due to strong winds. There is literally a ranger there that can turn people around.

Not much water over the pass either. And the poza cerca el mirador doesn’t look welcoming. Carry water here.

In the next valley there were more rangers and we saw some people get checked for permits.

It’s a shame this park is now being comercialalised 😦

Getting back to Coyhaique :

Not much traffic. The last bus heads back at 6pm


I’ll try upload some map photos and a breakdown of the entrance fees when I get the photos off my camera.

Cheers, Felix.

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