Volcanoes, Mountains, Geysers and More

Greetings from the Lakes region of Chile. It’s hard to believe all that’s happened in the last couple weeks. We’ve passed through international borders, and just about every type of landscape imaginable since we last wrote from the shores of Lago Pirehuieco. The only road out of that small settlement leads to the Argentinian border. So, we took the opportunity to explore the other side of the Andes for a few days. The crossing went smoothly at the small border control offices on both sides, and our walk through the “no man’s land” between them was quite nice as we left Chile and entered Argentina’s Lanin National Park.

Once in Argentina, a very bumpy and dusty bus ride took us from the border to the closest town, San Martin de los Andes. We had a fantastic time in this beautiful getaway destination, and enjoyed exploring the the contrast in Argentinian food and culture (especially the incredible ice-cream they’re known for in that area!). After a couple of days of recovering from section 12 we were on our way back to Chile and the trail. We made a quick stay in the closest city to the trail, Osorno, Chile to resupply before jumping on another bus headed for the start of section 13. With our packs heavy and full of food for the next two sections, we started out from the small community of Riñinahue. We stopped frequently to pick moras (blackberries) as we walked down the long road towards the wilderness. Our hopes of hitching a ride had gotten pretty low by evening (with only a couple of cars having passed), and it was just beginning to rain, when a kind local gave us a lift in the back of his pickup. He showed us an incredible place to camp on the edge of Lake where we had perfect protection from the rain under an umbrella of tree canopy. We counted our blessings that night and fell asleep to the incredibly loud symphony of frogs.

Our spirits were not quite as high the next morning as we packed up in the pouring rain (that continued to fall for the next 48 hours). We hoped to cover some good distance that day, however as we climbed up the steep muddy road, the wind and rain got stronger as we gained elevation. All soaking wet from head to toe, it became clear that we’d need to head for a nearby refuge that the map stated should have food and water. Little did we know our images of a warm cozy cabin with food and water would soon be shattered. We got to the property as quickly as possible to be greeted only by the gangs of chickens, dogs and other animals, with no humans to be found. We searched around all of the dilapidated and collapsed structures on the farm, after knocking on every locked door of the only house that could have possibly been livable.

With really no other option, we took shelter under the roof on the porch of another uncompleted house on the property, to wait for the owner to return. We jumped up when someone appeared through the downpour a couple hours later. The kind man was a caretaker who comes to feed the animals every few days while the owners are gone. He called and received permission from the owners for us to stay as long as we needed, although we couldn’t stay in the refuge. We spent that night and the next on that porch, drying out just about everything we had which had gotten soaked in the monsoon we’d walked through. We had to get a fire going in one of the crumbling shacks to dry Garrett and Aljoscha’s sleeping bags (which they learned the importance of keeping in dry bags above all else).

There was no other option than to wait out the storm, since from that point we’d be ascending over 3,000 feet up to the exposed volcanic environment above. It was still sprinkling the morning we set out to continue on the trail, though the forecast showed that the weather would be greatly improving from that day on. We slid and stuck on the steep muddy path that lead up through the cloud forest to the entrance of Puyehue National Park. It was a pretty moving moment when we reached the park boundary. The forest changed from thick, wet jungle-like bamboo full of life, to a foggy wood of ñire trees, where it seemed you could here a pin drop. We silently celebrated our ascent as we continued through the thick air of the soundless forest. The trail became a narrow footpath, as we proceeded upwards until the woods abruptly ended and we were rewarded with our first alpine views.

The landscape became barren rolling hills of volcanic sand and rock. Knowing that water would be a concern during this portion of the section, we made camp next to the best flowing of the tiny streams that had just enough of a trickle for us to collect water. Too exhausted to make a real dinner, we shared a typical lunch meal of peanut butter sandwiches and all retired early for a good night’s rest. 

The next morning, we were all treated to a breathtaking sunrise for Aljoscha’s birthday. The clouds had descended down the valley, allowing us to see the extraordinary landscapes and volcanoes that surrounded. We had planned to get a lot of distance covered that day, however we couldn’t pull ourselves away from the incredible geysers and boiling mud pots that lied in the colorful hillside near our camp. The late start was well worth the experience though.  

Aljoscha (along with Robyn) got the birthday present of carrying extra water for the group this day since we knew there would not be anywhere to fill up for a long while. We passed through dunes and valleys of pumice until we reached what looked like the walls of Mordor. We scrambled across some low points in the towering black wall of sharp rock. The constant ascending, descending, and side-hilling on the sand and loose pumice stone made for a tiring hike, broken up by steaming hillsides covered in bright neon colored moss. We worked our way to higher elevations with the other side of each hill holding a surprising alien-like addition to the desert landscape. There was some birthday luck with us that afternoon when we came across a fast running stream a few kilometers before the water we were headed for, detailed on the map. We found a somewhat flat area to camp next to the stream on the vast open pumice field. Garrett and Aljoscha spent the remainder of the evening and the next morning climbing the surrounding knolls to capture the incredible scenery. 

We captured some amazing footage as we climbed ever higher towards the Puyehue Volcano. As we reached the highest point on this section of the trail we were relieved to find the “mountain pass” was much more gradual an incline than most of the rolling peaks we’d had to go up and down to get to that point. More of the nearby volcanoes came into view as we rounded the side of the range towards Puyehue. Every few steps seemed to reveal even more incredible views until we reached the base of the summit trail, where we’d camp and begin our climb of the volcano the following morning. Admittedly, we had been expecting to come around one of the corners and see the peak of Volcàn Puyehue, similar to the dramatically sharp, pointed, white volcano peaks that we could see in the distance. Although it was a bit more like the rocky summits we’d been climbing the last couple days, only much higher. Yet, we never could have imagined how mind-blowing the peak would actually be.

The sunset from our basecamp left us speechless. Then came the night... The clear high altitude air made for some of the best star gazing any of us have seen. We couldn’t stay up and stare at the stars too late though since we would be getting up in just a few hours to begin our climb to the summit. We loaded up with a hearty dinner of quinoa, couscous and instant mashed potatoes that Anthony cooked and then we went straight to bed as the milky way stared down from above.  

We were up early, getting ready for our climb in the dark, just as the bright stars were beginning to fade. We started out with headlamps lighting the way. The sky changed to brilliant colors and the sun began to paint the mountains red as we climbed higher. Reaching the summit was perhaps the most powerful moment on the trail yet for some of us. We knew there was a crater at the top, although nothing could have conveyed what it was like to look into that massive bowl atop the volcano.

After sufficient celebration we began our long decent to the valley below, and the end of section 13. The roughly 6,000 ft. decent was tough on our knees, especially Garrett who is basically depending on one (with a history of ACL surgery on the other). The steep slope seemed to go on forever, and we all were slipping into the madness we’ve come to dub “trail madness” by the last hour or two, as we hysterically joked about the plight of the towns’ people whom our hunger would be unleashed upon; Or the Pizza-Hotel that we’d find when we got to the road.

We did indeed eventually make it down to the road, and were all ecstatic to find the small home of a local family that offered great food, lodging and of course the world class Chilean hospitality. We spent two nights with the family who shared with us stories and rich history of the area and their native Mapuche heritage. We learned of the native identity of people in that Mapuche community on the banks of the Golgol River, which transcends modern nations, as they’ve seen the area go from Argentinian territory to Chilean over the generations. They had a deep connection with the land, that we now could understand after walking the trails that they’d helped to form many years ago. It was the ultimate end to what might have been all of our favorite section of the trail yet!...Even if we never did find that Pizza-Hotel.

Now we're headed back north to complete some of the sections we previously missed because of the fire situation in Chile that has luckily calmed down. Our goal is to finish Sections 7 through 5 northbound and then head back down south to finally make our way into the boundaries of Patagonia. Stay tuned for more updates and continue to follow our social media sites to see exactly where we are and what’s happening while we're on the trail. We're only halfway through the trip and after this first half, who knows what else will be in store for us – only time will tell!