Greater Patagonian Trail 5 Rio Colorado- Laguna del Maule

Next morning I descent to the River, looking for a place to cross, I still want to connect to where I had to abandon the hike at the uncrossable creek

When I am close to the river I have already big doubts, but look out for the best spot to try. Most rivers flatten out at some stretches and even form different channels, but not this one, which is confined to a gorge below a broad terrace. Finally I give it a try, but after some small steps the Rio Colorado becomes way to deep and swift, so I return. Downstream there are probably unclimbable cliffs, so I decide to try my luck upstream. 
I thought in this major valley there must be a lot of cattle and good tracks. But not so, the pathes are faint, and there are only some shy cows, hiding in the bushes. The going is difficult and slow. On the other side of the river the terrain looks much easier, but how to get there?

                                                              Rio Colorado

I know, that not to far away the hot springs Banos de Lloli are located. I saw them marked even on bigger maps on my side of the river, so I hope some kind of trail will lead there. But not so, I search for some time around the vicinity of the hot springs, shown on my digital map, but apart of some rotten fence and a number of horses I find nothing.

                                                           View back into the valley

Jan has drawn two exit routes after the baños, to leave the valley, so I try to find them. There is no trail and after some successful climbing I only see steep cliffs, which look rather unclimbable.
So I continue walking up valley, which becomes difficult because of a number of steeply incised ravines. But fortunately they turn out crossable at their upper ends.
On the other side of the river a waterfall comes thundering down from the heights.

                                            View to the other side of Rio Colorado

The valley becomes narrow and I am glad to find a trail which runs parallel to the river on the steep slope.

                                                    Steep slope above the River

I can see that it is not very var before the river leaves the gorge and supposedly will become crossable. But unfortunately I get to a stretch where the path has been slided away. There is only very slippery, loose gravel. When I step on it I immediately feel the danger, and cautiously walk back. What are my options? From what I can see, the unsafe stretch is quite long, therefore it would be possible that even if I brave the first dangerous meters, after some distance more, I would become trapped. I try to find a route a little higher up, but see nothing looking possible. Then there is the river. On the other side it is flat and I even see a good trail. So I descend into the gorge, but again know, that crossing here is impossible and trying it probably deadly. So I return to the eroded path. Some riders appear on the other side of the river, the first people since the day before yesterday! But surely they can't help me...
Next I start to dig steps into the loose gravel with my hiking sticks. Slow work with questionable results. After building the first steps I give up and think again what to do now. Returning all the way back would be possible, but something I really don't like to do. So finally I decide to climb out of the valley.

                                                                   Tight spot...

Luckily the ascent is easier than expected. I even discover an old, faint switchback trail. Finally I get to a green plateau and pitch my tent at the edge of the gorge. I feel relieved! There even is some water, which is very important, because my water bottles are empty and since the last hours I found no running creek...
After a short scout in the evening I find out, that tomorrow I will be quick again on the GPS- Track, which crosses the river a little further downstream.

                                                     Camp high above the Gorge

It only takes an hour next morning before I am back to Jan's GPS-tracks. A horse trail on a sandy slope above a creek leads to a pass at 2570 Meters. Like so often in this sun kissed region a perfect blue sky sets the backdrop to the beautiful scenery in the crisp morning light.

                                             Crisp morning light

                                                   View back towards Rio Colorado

                                                       Colour flash

After the pass a trail leads down into a valley, but soon I realize that I am wrong and ascent further without track.

                                    Trackless ascent to the next pass

Just before I reach the highest Point at 2760 meters, six majestic Condors circle above my head, trying to use the thermal to gain altitude. Awe inspiring!

                                               Condors circling low above me

For the last time my view reaches back to the Colorado.

                                            Last views towards Rio Colorado

Behind the pass I am again in a rather flat high desert landscape. There is not even a faint track and despite the apparent flatness, there are a lot of ups and downs. Surprises in this seemingly barren landscape are small birds, patches of nice flowers and even some horses. You never know, but it is hard to imagine, that the owner will ever look after them. I like the idea that they have gained their freedom...

                                                        Life in the high desert

And, hard to believe, there are gadflies as well...
It looks like there is no water, but when I want to have my lunch break, I find a small creek.
Anybody who would survive a plane crash here, would feel to be very far away from saving civilisation. It's easy to think yourself as small and vulnerable here...

                                                          Vast high desert

I descend to the Lagunas Aguas Calientes, blocked by a huge black lava field. The water is quite warm, an opportunity to take a desperately needed bath...

                                       Lagunas Aguas Calientes

The creek which flows into the lake has surprisingly much water and is warm. No surprise in this volcanic area...

                                        River warmed by geothermal activity

I walk some kilometers across a broad, flat valley to another lake, which is almost dry. Only in a corner some water remains, so I pitch my tent here.

                                  Camp near an almost dry lake

There are hardly any low bushes here, so I need quite long to find a meager pile of tinder to light my wood stove...

                                                                     Precious twigs

The desert sunset behind the mountains is a fine spectacle.

                                    High desert sunset

Early next morning while it is still almost dark, the sun starts to illuminate the wide plain and distant mountains. What a beginning to a day!

                                      First morning light in the mountain desert

I leave the broad valley via a low pass, where I find some rock cairns and a faint path. Down below is a wide basin with two green creeks, stark contrasts to the surrounding landscape, consisting mostly of colourful sands and stones.

                                                       Green basin     

I fill up my water supply, but will be surprised, that further on I will quite often stumble upon another creek. There are rust and ochre coloured volcanoes, but the biggest impression to the landscape that lies ahead is that of white sand, almost resembling Sahara desert dunes! The descent out of the basin is slow but long, and of course, the tracks disappear again fast. Although there is a lot of green gras in the basin, there seems to be no cattle at all. Too far from everything....

                                                Colourful high desert

                            Ascending towards a mostly white, sandy landscape

While vastness and colours are incredible, the walking in the sand is quite strenuous.

                                                     High desert vastness

At the edge of the valley I ascent there are snow banks, buried and protected by white sand, what a strange sight!

                                                       Snow banks covered by white sand

I climb out of the valley and arrive on a flat plateau. When I spot a structure, I have a look with my binoculars and realize, that it is a border marking, Argentina on the other side!

                                        Vast plateau on the border to Argentina

I circumnavigate a mountain and climb a short distance to a pass, guarded by some strange white columns. 


Strange white columns

The view to the other side is just incredible: Salmon coloured slopes, reminding me of Bryce Canyon !

Surreal colours

The route down, which the gpx-track suggests, looks rather steep and not sure to be possible so I decide to descent directly into the valley, leaving my footprints in the white sand.

                                Descending across the white sand

                                 I have to descend into the valley

While first the going is easy and quick, soon the slope becomes very steep. I find it quite scary to discover, that there are masses of snow hidden by the sand. When crossing a side creek I am well aware that I am not walking on firm ground but on potentially already instable snow bridges. I quickly return to the steep but apparently safer sand slopes....

                                    The creek bottom is hidden by snow and sand

The sides of the valley are steep, but the sand gives enough stability to make the walking safe. Just before the valley narrows and steepens further I climb out to the other side. It wouldn't have been possible to follow it any longer! Here I am back on the GPS route.

                                   View back to my descending route

For a short while I walk on a rather flat stony plateau, pink hills around me.

                                                         Pink hills

But I haven't yet reached the broad valley below, in which swirling winds obscure the atmosphere in dust. I see only one probably possible descending route, but don't know if there is not a last impossible step hidden from my view. So the relief is incredible after I finally realize, that the descending route is indeed easy!
A nice end to a very beautiful but challenging hiking day!

                                             I descend into the broad, sandy valley

While I have walked more than 23 trackless kilometers I negotiated more than 1000 m of altitude change climbing to 3233 meters.
I find a nice little green oasis at the head of the valley were I can pitch my tent. It is quite mild here at 2635 meters and there are even some small mosquitoes. There is absolutely no  wood so I eat some hazelnuts I brought from Germany.

                           Camp at the head of the valley

Before dawn I wake up from the cold. My down sleeping back weighs just about 500 g, and might be a little thin...
While the sun already lights the upper slopes, the valley is still grey, almost colourless black and white.

                                View back to where I had come from yesterday

                                       Colourless before the sun arrives

The valley is easy to walk and drops rather slow, mostly in terraces.
For some time I follow horse tracks, assuming that they know about the best route...

                                                               Following horse tracks

When looking back I am able to enjoy views towards the pink mountains, where I had been yesterday in the evening.

                                           The pink mountains for the last time

Often the crust of the fine gravel is quite stable, only occasionally I sink in.

                                                                                     Easy to walk

Below 2300 meters there is more vegetation, sometimes green lush wetlands, surrounded by the white sand. Stark contrasts! I meet the horses which tracks I followed and the whole area seems more and more hospitable. 

                                          More vegetation below 2300 meters

I find a hot spring, covered with poisonous looking algae. When I put my finger in, it is clear, that apart of the unwelcoming look, it is way to hot to bathe...

                                                            Super hot spring

Two riders approach me, the first people I talk to since some days...
It turns out, that they are carabineros on patrol. They are very friendly, but after some chatting they like to see my passport and even take a picture of it. Their base is not too far away, and they say, they chose to stay here for 30 days, because they get double payment! In this remote area, they very rarely meet somebody, apparently no smugglers or horsethiefs here...

                                                         Carabineros on patrol

Soon after the encounter I wade the creek barefoot and continue walking by following another creek upstream. Because it flows in a gorge I need to ascent a bit before traversing the slopes above the river. Finally the valley opens and I put up my camp early. I want to use sun and warm temperatures here at 2300 meters to wash clothes and myself. Badly needed!

                                          I camp early to wash my clothes

Later in the evening I go for a stroll, already scouting my route for tomorrow.
A good trail leads rather steeply up the valley. While ascending I get a view back into the valley, where I slept.

                                                                View back 

Further up the valley flattens out before reaching the pass at 2580 meters.

                                                             Plateau at 2580 m

Still in the distance a new peak appears: The sharp silhouette of Monte Campanario, located on the border to Argentina.

                                           Monte Campanario appears for the first time

I descend into a broad, green valley, full of cows.

                                                     Home of the cows  

Near their puesto two young arrieros do a shooting contest with their air guns. They seem to be a little shy, but at least we exchange some words.

                                             Young arrieros doing shooting exercises

When the valley becomes steeply incised, the good horse trail traverses the slope above the river. 

                                                          Horse Trail above the creek

A lizard hides between the rocks.

                                                      The lizard is hiding

On the other side of the valley two arrieros drive a herd of cattle to another pasture. Unbelievable in which kind of terrain they are able to go safely with their horses!
After circling around a mountain I descend into a grassy bowl with some horses, and a provisional puesto, but see nobody.

                                                                     Grassy bowl

Then it is another steep ascent following a little creek. Up to the bowl the horse trail was easy to follow, but now I walk cross country and finally reach a nice plateau with short grass and water, an ideal campground! Unfortunately the zippers of my inner tent don't work any more. While trying to fix it with a rock, it breaks...

                                                  Beautiful camp

After dinner I go for a stroll, ascending a short distance before I reach a plateau which ends at a pass at 2820 m. The views to the now much closer Monte Campinario in the evening light are gorgeous and I fully appreciate that I am here in such wonderful moments!

                                              Evening views towards Monte Campanario

To find a good spot for the sunset I climb higher, which is quite easy but let me enjoy the mountainous surroundings all the time.
I don't get to a perfect place, but anyway, only high camps can offer such fantastic evening strolls!

                                   The sunset of a memorable evening

Soon it gets quite cold and I am grateful to carry fleece and rainjacket. Just as the last light fades I reach camp.


The night is very cold, and even that I wear all clothes I carry, I 'am shivering in my too light sleeping back. O.K the comfort temperature is +7 degrees Celsius, and now it is freezing...
In the morning there is some ice in my water bottle...
Thin sleeping bags and just a jacket as ground isolation is not warm enough, so I am thinking about replacement when I reach the next city. At least I close the inner tent with the broken zipper with some band, to keep the wind out.
I ascend back to the pass I already visited yesterday evening and descend trailless to the other side. The first meters are quite steep, but then the going is o.k
Near a creek I spot some beautiful yellow flowers and red berries are already ripe.

                           I descend into a broad valley

Down below there is a lot of cattle, but I don't meet any arriero. Although no human seems to be around first I smell smoke and then spot a small fire on the grassy slope. How did it ignite?

                                                                         Surprising fire

Before the ascent to a steep pass, I find the remnants of a dead cow, with some long, black feathers nearby. Probably the Condor had a feast here...
After reaching the pass I descend mostly trackless into another valley and climb again up the next, less steep pass at 2700 m.

                                    Down into the valley and then up to the next pass

There are grass and yellow flowers almost up to the top.

                                               Yellow flowers on the ascent

From the pass I can already spot the blue waters of Laguna del Maule, surrounded by brown and grey dry mountains.
I am looking forward to reach the large lake tomorrow.

                                           First view towards Laguna del Maule

                                      Adapted to the dry environment

I put up my camp still a good distance above the road, which connects to Argentina.

                               View back to Pass 2700 m

1 Kommentar:

  1. Sehr interessanter Bericht und die Gegend finde ich absolut beeindruckend!
    lg Bernd