Parque Nacional Puyehue

Posted by on Mar 5, 2013

Parque Nacional Puyehue

I regressed to Osorno in Chile for a new camera and American dollars! I was accepted by Gonzalo to surf his couch when he contacted me somewhat apolegitically to tell me he had planned to go hiking with a friend in Puyehue National Park at the base of the Andes, and that I was welcome to accompany them. Well damn! Hiking in the national parks in southern Chile is only one of my top travel priorities! After a pause of about half a second, I accepted!

After buying a replacement camera in Osorno, we took a bus to the town of Aguas Calientes and from there we walked and hitched the 18km to the ski resort of Antillanca – we even saw a Puma from a distance on the road ahead of us! We arrived in the dark and pitched our tent close to the path that leads up from resort to the volcano crater of Raihuen.

The next day was the main hike and we started (relatively) early as we needed to cover 18km, which isn’t that much, but we had to go over the pass and then hike down to the shores of Lake Rupanco – not exactly a flat route.

The vegetation became smaller as we ascended, and stopped entirely as we neared the crater. The wind also picked up and I started to truly appreciate my hi-tech jacket with it’s water and wind impeding capabilities while remaining thermic, and, believe it or not, breathable. It’s made of a variety of synthetic fabrics with big names which I can’t remember. Hiking is hot work, so much of the time I was in a shirt, but when an icy wind greets you….. well yeah…helloooo jacket. Thankfully, it didn’t rain at all.

Crater Raihuen is an old, grass covered stadium dotted with rocks. We had planned to camp the first night in the crater but didn’t reach it. In the background, higher peaks emerge at times from their perpetual wreath of clouds and one can see snow in small pockets – snow that never melts. The path continued to climb after the crater until we reached the pass. Here it was cold and rocky scree surrounded us on all sides. We could see a panorama of mountains, the rock covered summit of the ski slopes with dormant chairlifts. Tree covered mountains away to the west with the flat-lands of Chile beyond, and on the other side craggy peaks which appeared and disappeared behind clouds. The slope before us surged away in a large, gently descending gradient towards the south. But that was after we descended from the pass. The path wound away from us, cutting a line in the slope, but we decided to take a shortcut given how long it had taken us to get there and headed straight down the rocky slope. From above it didn’t look very far before it joined the path but in reality it was about 500 meters of very sleep gradient. My legs we shaking a bit by the time we rejoined the track.

We stopped for a lunch of rice cooked in stock, with tuna from a tin. The smell was bit ‘time-to-feed-batkin’ initially, but actually deliciously satisfying and … warm. At that point my companions agreed that my advice to take rice had been good advice! Thanks Dad.

After lunch we plunged on at a much faster rate. As the vegetation grew, we entered a silent beach forest – nestled in the descending valley. It was magical. Eventually we heard the sound of water and before long we came across a mountain stream. The water burbled over the rocks in a happy splashing sound as it tumbled down from the mountain. A drink of this ice cold, fresh and enlivedwater is very refreshing, but to put your feet in makes you wince, up the the knees ‘%!·&9’. By the time you’ve dunked your head you’re giving one of those Ambabs/Boagrius mountain-man roars with your head thrown back and arms open from the elbows with tightly clenched fists. Like the pale-orc for instance.
But enjoyable.

After two more hours of rapid pace, the refreshing mountain stream was forgotten, but we had arrived in the valley and were on the wrong side of the river. Here it was truly beautiful. Lake Rupanco spread out before us and mountains rose directly out of the water on the other side. To the east, the ever-present peaks showed the way to the real mountains of the Andes. The river we now faced was of the sort you see in western movies – in some place like Oklahoma. A fast running rocky river that looks absolutely idyllic until you have to cross it – when it turns into a slippery treacherous menace. More so with a 15kg pack and no shoes. I must admit that this is where I faulted. I didn’t slip and go swimming with my pack, but it took me ages to cross. On the other shore, the patiently expectant smiles of my companions was more a source of chagrin than encouragement.

We camped in a beautiful patch – grass covered, surrounded by trees and 50 meters from the bank of the river.

The next morning we rose late, and potted around – I went for a full swim in that same part of the river I had battled previously. The water as the same bone-chilling temperature as the stream (another thing that made it difficult to cross). Now I was fully submerged. There is a certain clarity of mind you get when you body is suffering like this. I think the clarity comes from a mild state of shock and the fact that such cold water draws you into the present. You stop living in your thoughts and just absolutely experience the present in all it’s freezing clarity. And then it’s over, and you on the bank furiously towelling yourself down and enjoying the warm glow that follows. You mix this with the beautiful location and the solitude and you have a moment, a snapshot memory you will never forget.

We took the easy route out, catching a boat that took us about 7 kilometres to a nearby town where a bus was headed for Osorno. Travelling away from that beautiful place via boat provided good closure to the experience – separating it from it’s surroundings.