It rained quite heavily during the night, but was quite sunny by the time we got up and got moving. The camp site was very new, and well laid out and set up (except for the cold showers !!). A cleaning crew came round and emptied all the rubbish bins and cleaned the showers and toilets, and of course collected the money !! Very impressed. It is all part of the Parque Pumalin which stretches almost from Hornopiren all the way to Chaiten, and is owned by an American called Doug Tompkins. It is Chile’s largest Park and one of the largest privately owned National Park in the world – If you are interested I understand there is an excellent web site (Not having wifi here I can’t check it out at this time !). But every facility I saw in the park is well maintained, well signposted, and a pleasure to use.
After a leisurely breakfast and pack up, I said farewell to Piet and Rika, and headed south down the road towards Chaiten, not really knowing what I was going to see or do – The Visitors Information centre at the last ferry terminal had been closed by the time I arrived, so I was unable to get any local information. The jungle though which we are driving is really very dense – lots of large ferns, and trees and dense undergrowth. Weather down here is a bit like that Crowded House song – “4 Seasons in One Day”, so you do things while you can, and take clothes to cover any eventuality !! I passed some beautiful views over a lake, and then drove along beside another bigger lake, Lago Renihue, for a while, with the road winding under rocks along the edge. Then crossed a river that had a LOT of dead trees in it – I couldn’t believe these had just been carried down by the river – Interesting.
Not an hour down the road from the camp site, I saw a parking spot for a hike (there are several along this road), so, feeling in need of some exercise) I pulled over to investigate. Silly me !!! The book actually says “Sendero Cascadas (3 hours round trip) an undulating climb through dense forest that ends at a large waterfall and the hike to Volcan Chaiten crater”. The punctuation in the book is exactly as I have written it, so I girded my loins and set off on an “undulating 3 hour round trip hike”. Suffice it to say that these are two separate hikes, I was n the Volcan Chaiten one, and it was neither undulating or 3 hour round trip – Unless you are Chris Bonington or similar !! It was a VERY steep climb for 2 ½ hours up the side of a volcano that erupted in May 2008, the blast just felling all the trees in the area, and the heat killing many more. The town of Chaiten that can be just seen in some of the photos at the end of the valley was almost destroyed by the wave of hot gases, apparently, and had to be relocated. It was a very invigorating climb, and the flora was many and varied, while the views and the evidence of the destruction caused by the eruption were quite awesome. However, having not done a lot of walking recently, I was VERY aware of the condition of my legs, and was very close to turning back when a couple considerably older and larger than I came down the mountain – And I thought “if they can do it, I can too” !! So I just made it to the top, and was very pleased I had – The steam coming off the sides of the crater were quite a sight, while the central crater had a lot of steam coming out of the middle – This is still one very active volcano. And being so recent, at the top I found things like charred wood that was charred on one side yet the bark was almost untouched on the other side – Obviously just caught in the hot (pyroclastic ?) blast there at the summit. And lots of black shiny volcanic rocks and stuff (you know what I mean !). Very very interesting.
Coming down was a struggle for me, especially the last half hour or so when my knees were trying very hard not to support me ! I was relieved to make it to the bottom. On the way up (and down) I had met a charming Chilean family who were in a big motorhome, and all their children climbed with them to the top – Lovely to see. I met a group of young American tourists (I deduced they were American when I saw them eating peanut butter half way up the mountain !), and English couple from London who are normally sailors but have left their yacht in Ecuador in order to see a bit of the inland ! And a delightful guy from Chaiten called Nicholas who crept up while I was eating my lunch once I got back to the car, and was playing Waltzing Matilda on his Ukelele (or similar Chilean instrument) and said “I thought you looked a bit homesick” !! What a lovely guy. Had a long chat with him.
Anyway, a great day, if not quite what I had expected. I am now totally exhausted and can hardly stand. So I drove the rest of the way into Chaiten, where the Tourist Information office suggested I sleep on a beach just outside town – So that’s what I am doing. I have had a cup of soup for supper (haven’t got the energy left to cook more), and now I have finished this, I am going to bed. It has been an exhausting but great day.
Pics here :-
Pics here :-