Our way down Chile

Trip Start Dec 07, 2005
Trip End Apr 10, 2007

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Thursday, February 2, 2006

Our hiking trip in Futaleufu Part 1

We spent the end of February on an amazing hiking trip near the Futaleufu River in Chile. For 7 days, we Daniela and I hiked and camped with her cousin Cathy (who also works as a guide on the river and trails here with her fathers company, Earthriver Expeditions), Cathys boyfriend Miguel, and Miguels cousin Mark.

Getting to the camp where we would start our trip was a journey of considerable proportions in itself: we started off with a 7-hour train ride, followed that with a 5 hour jaunt on the bus, and washed that all down (or up, actually) with a hideously rocky 7-hour catamaran journey. Luckily, by the time the boat docked a Chaiten, the bus for Futaleufu had already left. So we spent the night in a hostel and the next day got a ride from one of the Earth River guides to their camp. We spent the night getting all of our gear together at the camp, and packed our clothes, tents, and food for three days into waterproof rubber backpacks. By the time we were finished, each pack weighed in at 15 kilos (33 pounds). Normally, the trekking trips are accompanied by pack horses which carry the food, tents, and other gear, but, being the animal lovers that we are, we carried our own stuff.

We set off in a van the next morning, headed for the town of Futaluefu. There, we bought bread, cheese, and cereal for the next three days. Then we took another 5 minute ride out to where our hike would begin.

We started the ascent along what is, for the locals in this area, the main road to the protests of our backs and legs. The hiking was the toughest either of us has ever done, and the scenery was the most beautiful we've ever been surrounded by. It was still tough going, though, as the terrain stayed pretty difficult for the duration of the day's hiking. We hiked up, up, up each hill and then carefully descended on the other, our sweat and strain rewarded with sweeping views of the pastures in the valleys below or fresh, cold mountain water to drink after a tough bit of trail.

We hiked for four hours the first day, covering about 12 miles. We arrived at camp in mid-afternoon and set up our tents at the side of a lake bordered on three sides by mountains. After resting for awhile, we made some dinner with the help of the family whose house is right next to the camp and dined with two of their young sons, Fabian and Christian. The boys were great hosts, and the family was wonderfully generous with us. They invited us inside for dessert and mat, an herbal tea that is traditionally drunken in Chile and Argentina, later that evening. We stayed and chatted with them until about 11 o'clock, and then hustled off to our tents to rest our bones.

In the morning, we brought cereal and powdered juice to the breakfast table, while our hosts provided eggs, rolls, and homemade jam. After our wonderful breakfast, we thanked our hosts and the oldest son led us out to the edge of the property to show us a gigantic old growth tree and then to show us where the trail resumed. Soon, we were high above where we had spent the night, hiking on a ridge around the lake and waving to Christian, Fabian, and their dog, Chaiten, down below.

By now, we were a little more familiar with the terrain and had a little feel for the rhythm of the trails. The hiking was still tough, but the incredible views never stopped and we had good conversation and even some singing (miguel and mark sang selections from the veggietales catalog for us. Its a kids show...sample lyric: everybodys got a water buffalo/mine is fast and yours is slow/where they get them i dont know/but everybodys got a water buffalo) to keep us trekking.

On the second day, we reached the school where Fabian and Christina would go in the fall after a couple of hours of tough hiking. The kids in the area stay at the school for the week, so they only have to hike back home for the weekends. We continued on, eventually reaching lago espolon, where we caught a boat across the lake. On the other side, two earthriver guides had two four person kayaks waiting for us. They took our bags (to drop them off at our camp site) and Daniela, Mark and I climbed onto one kayak while Cathy and Miguel boarded the other. We kayaked for a couple of hours and finally found the small beach where our stuff was waiting. We set up camp, jumped in the lake, and then had some dinner as the sun (and the temperature) went down.

Each morning we woke up to a brisk chill, but by the time the sun crested the mountains (about 9 am), the air warmed up very quickly. By breakfast (10 am), we were shedding our jackets and starting to get warm. By 11, we were heading out of camp with our gear packed up and ready for another day on the trails. By 12pm, we were working on a decent sweat, and getting our rhythm down. We usually stopped for a snack around 1 or so, which was nuts and raisins or chocolate or bread and cheese sandwiches.

So at about 1030 or so on our third day, we climbed back into our kayaks and made our way across the lago espolon to a small dock. We were kayaking for a couple of hours, this time with our packs lashed to the boats. The sun was hot, but the water was cold and clear, and mark, miguel, and i all jumped in at various points to cool off. One of the best parts about being out on the lake was the complete absence of bugs...at various points during the previous couple of days, we were trailed and assaulted by big, black flies during our hike. They would only bite occasionally, but they were a constant buzzing annoyance to our trip.

We landed at the dock, where two more guides were there to help us take the kayaks out of the water and load them onto an earthriver pickup. We changed into our hiking shoes, filled up our water bottles, and jumped in the truck for a 5 minute ride to the trail. We hiked through some more pasture, heading towards the bottom of a steep trail that would take us up to the first of four earthriver camps we would overnight at during the next four days. We arrived at the foot of the trail at 5 pm and had a leisurely dinner (granola bars, chocapic cereal, salami and cheese sandwiches, juice) and rested for an hour. At 6, we started up the most intense hike of the entire trip.
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