Rounding out our overnight Patagonian adventures was a 2-night stopover in the Cerro Castillo National Reserve. Between the last report and Cerro Castillo we had returned to Punta Arenas, been foiled by the weather on Tierra del Fuego, flown to Puerto Montt, jumped in a car and driven half the length of the Carretera Austral.
Located by the village which shares its name and just south of Coyhaique, Cerro Castillo (“Castle Mountain”) is probably one of the most popular areas for walking on the Carretera. Most people do a daywalk from the town to a viewpoint above Laguna Castillo, but with a bit of time up our sleeves and a favourable weather window, we were keen to spend a little more time. Rather than starting at the village, we elected to start a little further back up the road and do an out and back from the car. Whilst it would have been nice to do it as a thru-walk to the village, public transport options and our lack of experience/confidence with hitchhiking meant it would be a pain to get back to the car. Beautiful Lenga (Fagus) forest on the way to our first campsite.
Consequently, our first day was a lovely stroll through beautiful beech forest from Las Horquetas to Segundo campsite, with a couple of creek crossings requiring us to get the boots off. Though apparently one must normally pay a minimal entrance fee to enter the reserve, we couldn’t actually find anybody to pay… So a free trip for us! Perhaps the most interesting part of the day was meeting a few gauchos (Patagonian cowboys) rounding up their cattle on horseback. Just something fun and different to see!
Segundo camp (also Campamento Rio Turbio) is in amongst the trees down in the bottom of the valley, fairly close by to the Rio Turbio and with great views. It is around an hour or so past the first campsite, which amongst its other amenities has a small hut which would appear to be for rangers. There are a couple of tables and benches at Segundo, and a toilet too, but for us the best feature of the campsite was the big bag of snickers/energy bars we found apparently abandoned upon entering! Sitting in the crook of a tree, we wondered about who would leave such a bag of delicacies behind, and figured somebody might be returning for it. Seeing as how it was still there two days later when we were returning, naturally we were forced to do the right thing and remove all that litter. That the litter was wrapped around chocolate was just a bonus.Getting ready for a great day out. The sun would shine on us all day, which was not necessarily that common on this roadtrip!
Anyway, we had a settled, albeit chilly night, sharing the campsite with only one other couple. Making it out of the tent at a reasonable hour, we scarfed down our breakfasts, readied the packs and set off for a return trip to Cerro Castillo.
A slow climb through some beautiful forest eventually brought us to Portezuelo el Peñon, the crossing of which was accompanied by plenty of snow and wind, but was otherwise relatively simple. After making our way across the pass, we headed back down into the beautiful colours of the beech and had a short break at the third of the proscribed campsites, which featured all the same extras as Segundo, but in addition had the occasional fantastic view of Cerro Castillo.In the forest on the way up to Portezuelo el Peñon.Plenty of snow on the way over the pass, but with fantastic views of the surrounding peaks and valleys.
From there it was uphill once again until we reached the shores of Laguna Castillo for a well-deserved lunch and some magnificent views. From down by the shore we could spot a few daywalkers above us on the rim overlooking the laguna, but nobody seemed keen to add more elevation to their return by coming down to visit us. After lunch we headed on up to the rim to sample some views over the village and surrounding valley, which were suitably impressive and well worth seeing. Fagus and great views on the way between the pass and third camp.Laguna Castillo in front of its namesake mountain. Apparently it is climbed only infrequently and is an undertaking of significant complexity.
If we had been continuing with the walk as normal, most would have continued on to Campamento Neozelandes (Camp Kiwi) around the corner, but instead we turned and started the long walk back to the tent at Turbio. The pass was no less snowy and probably even more windy on the way back, but it was with the contentment of a good day’s walk that we arrived back at the tent in the early evening. The dinner table was shared with a lovely couple from Japan, and the sleep afterwards was sound.
The following morning was a lazy one, with us not leaving camp until midday and ambling back to the car. Rivers crossed and the last few kilometres of 4wd road walked, we arrived back at the car happy to have had the chance to see such a beautiful place. Following this walk it was onwards and southwards for us, eventually making it all the way down to Villa O’Higgins and back to Puerto Montt before making our exit from Patagonia and onward to Peru and the spectacular scenery of the Central Andes.
As before, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share!