Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 5 December 2015

A Walk to Lago Paraiso

December 4

This was intended to be a short walk on a sunny day before an afternoon of relaxation in the hot springs at Aguas Calientes.

Fuelled by muesli, and after an 11 km drive up a dirt road, we parked on the wrong side of a deep drainage ditch (no damage done) and set off down the track towards the lake.

The forest was lovely but the views were limited. A Magellan Woodpecker flitted above us in the trees. The sometimes muddy path led past rampant bamboo to a massive log bridge with sunbathing lizards.

We decided, after a couple of kilometres, to take a route marked with black dashes on the map - an unsigned path. This led to an unexpected meadow where the cows looked as surprised as we felt.

We were expecting to reach a track linking Lago Paraiso with Lago El Palmar. But we reached a river. Despite the fast flow, we got across with the aid of a tree trunk. We emerged near a farmstead, but there was no sign of the track that we had been expecting. But we soon discovered a narrow path leading up to Lago Paraiso from a roadhead at Lago El Palmar. There was no track.

This path was the best bit of today's walk. Beautifully constructed through deep forest passing under immense trees - Mañío, with bark like that of plane trees, and even taller Coihue trees, to name just two of them.

The area has an indigenous Mapuche-Huilliche community, with small, remote farming hamlets in the Siempteverde ("Alwaysgreen") forest. But it wasn't all green, thanks to stands of bright red Fire Bushes. There were lots of small wooden bridges to guide us across side ravines. Water boiled down the torrent we had crossed earlier.

Eventually we reached a closed cabin and some picnic tables beside Lago Paraiso, our objective. There were fine views across the lake to the 1500 metre summit of Cerro Feo. The walk up there would be a good one.

We thought that from here it would be an easy walk back to the car. Wrong. First, another river crossing. Sue experimented with a steep log that had a few steps cut into it. That scared her and she nearly fell in. Eventually we found a way across via a combination of fallen trees.

A very rough path then led over a col and down past large trees with what looked like Liliputian forests at their base, to the point where we had left it earlier. We met five people on their way up to the lake, and two more near the start of the walk. Otherwise nobody.

We'd been out for about 5 hours and covered 14 km with 400 metres ascent.

Lunch had been 'ship's biscuits and peanuts' so we were pleased to tuck into some cans of sardines when we returned to the cabin at 3.30 and Sue had been for a chat with a CONAF lad we saw yesterday, to fill him in with some 'route advice' as he has to give advice to walkers, and he hasn't walked today's route himself.

(Can you tell, the unplanned 'cabin' accommodation and lack of a shop has led to minor catering inadequacies.)

Aguas Calientes means 'hot waters'. Our cabin occupancy allows us free entry to those hot waters, and this afternoon we took full advantage. We made a better job of cooking ourselves than cooking our lunch!

Duly poached (medium rare) we returned to domestics (hot water is good for filthy clothing - volcano dust gets everywhere) and a pasta meal from our camping box, rather than sit in an otherwise empty restaurant and receive our food in a rather odd order - yesterday my starter and main course arrived together and Sue had to wait until I'd finished them before she got her meal. She did eat a fair amount of my starter though!

Some advance planning was then achieved and we (ie Sue) sorted accommodation for the next three nights, which is a slight relief as the next three days are apparently a holiday weekend.

Today's pictures:
Starting down the forest path
The first and most impressive log bridge with sunbathing lizards
Flowers of an ivy like tree creeper
Sue, smugly dry after walking across the log above a torrent - I shuffled across and got a soggy bottom and wet feet
Lago Paraiso and Cerro Feo
The log that freaked Sue, before she turned back
Our cabin
The outdoor pool at Aguas Calientes  (can you spot Sue?)


Friday, 4 December 2015

Volcán Puyehue

December 3

A lie in was in order as we awoke to find ourselves in a cloud.

However, Volcán Puyehue was beckoning us through the mist, so after breakfast in bed (we are allowed to cook inside our tent here, and were even encouraged by Santiago, the park warden, to gather wood and light a fire) we ambled off up the hill well before 9 am.

Volcanoes are steep by nature. This one last erupted in 2011, so the ash has bedded down a bit, and the upper slopes were still clad in snow. Steep snow. Unfortunately the ash created a layer impervious to water, so nine out of ten trees in a wide area below the refuge have died. The walking routes were also largely destroyed, so the map we bought from Armin is rather useful. Both Ray and Shohan had tried and failed to get a map of the area, possibly because they tried before it was published - it turns out to be hot off the press, so they spent some time photographing ours!

I'm sure it was perfectly safe as it was only icy in places, but the gradient of the snow on the upper slopes made me wish I had an ice axe. We reached a rock band at 2100 metres where I decided to stay put whilst Sue went to the 2250 metre summit and peered into the snow filled crater.

From where I was I could see evidence of volcanic activity, but the black rock from the 2011 eruption wasn't quite visible.

We were back at camp in time for a very civilised lunch at a picnic table. There were no new arrivals, and only Shohan remained from last night's crew. He had lit a fire in the refuge and was going to clean it before going down.

We went down. Steeply. 1000 metres. At first, where a lot of the trees have died, there was a good selection of wild flowers - celandines and dog orchids being the most common, thanks to there being a fair amount of light. Further down, where fewer trees had died, there weren't many flowers that were able to flourish in the low light beneath the leaf canopy.

Lapwings and ibis guided us back to El Caulle, where we signed out and were given tea by Santiago. We needed it. We had run out of 'plan' and pored over the guidebook for a while.
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Meanwhile, Sue has compiled her own take on today, which I've decided to include in full below, despite the duplications, as I know certain readers will appreciate that. 

Here we go:

"We woke in the tent around 8am, to high cloud that soon descended to the level of camp. Had tea and muesli in bed, as there are no restrictions on cooking, or even lighting fires here. It had been encouraged by Santiago, where we signed in.

At 8.45am, we set off from our 1400m camp with just my rucksack to climb to the crater of Volcán Puyehue at 2250m. Cloud swirled but it was quite bright. Initially through clumps of grass, we soon got onto fairly solid volcanic slopes, where the route was marked with cairns or short stakes. Although we broke through the cloud, there was another level of high cloud above, so everything was a bit monotone. A cool breeze blew and we needed jackets.

It was a slog. The slope steepened. From the rocky gravel, we moved onto snow. It was soft enough to make steps but it was hard work. At one point there was a view across the slopes to the area of the eruption in 2011, all very grey and partly covered with old snow.

Martin decided not to continue and waited in a sheltered spot at 2100m, whilst I continued, up a section mainly clear of snow to gain a ridge. Here, I turned left on a clear path to reach the crater at 2250m. The bottom was covered in snow, but it was an impressive sight, with some cloud below me. Later, Santiago told us about a Red Bull-sponsored event, where a group of people were dropped by helicopter into the crater. Flares were set off to  simulate a volcanic explosion, and they had to climb out of the crater using ice axes. Once on the rim they could ski down to the refuge. Mad!

I didn't stay long as Martin was waiting below, so once I'd put on gaiters, I retraced steps and was soon back. We then had to negotiate the snow slopes which I enjoyed yomping down, but it was a bit too steep for Martin and he took the slope carefully. We re-entered the cloud before reaching the refuge again (needed the marker posts) at 12.30pm. We could have taken the traversing path part way down, but neither of us fancied it and there was probably insufficient time anyway.

Despite being in the cloud, it was bright and we had lunch on one of the picnic benches, brewing a welcome cup of tea. Rolls, yesterday's cheese and a tin of sardines fuelled the imminent descent.

The tent was struck and we set off back down at 1.30pm. We had noted that quite a lot of the trees were dead, both around the refuge and further down, and Santiago confirmed that it was as a result of the 2011 eruption. 

Initially in cloud in the trees, we eventually dropped below it to emerge into the green pasture where the bull, cows and calves were contentedly grazing. The cloud was clearing well, but not sufficiently to clear our volcano.

Where ibises had been yesterday, lapwings were today. As we approached El Caulle restaurant, we laughed to see the tiny Yorkshire terrier chasing a cow across a field. He really is very feisty for a small dog!
Santiago enjoyed a chat (we were down by 3.45pm) uand made us a (free) cup of tea. 

Shohan arrived in time for a lift to Aguas Calientes, on the road to Antillanca.
Not having any accommodation organised, and wanting to be inside rather than in the tent again, we have ended up in a cabin, quite expensive by this trip's standards but a bit of luxury. Number 22 is spacious with an open dining, kitchen and lounge area (with two single beds) and separate double bedroom and bathroom at the back. Outside is a patio. There is a stove for heating. The kettle was soon on!

Showers were welcome after no facilities last night, and we had a meal at the restaurant, the only two dining. Big salads, chicken and lasagne, with cold beers. Through the window, we could see a blackbird with a mouthful of wriggling worms, ready to feed its young."

Today's pictures, in chronological order, are pretty much self explanatory. The last one shows the bamboo that doesn't seem to have been as badly affected by the ash as some of the trees and is now rampant on the lower slopes of the mountain.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

A Walk to Refuge El Caulle

December 2

Nadia and Armin's breakfast spread on a communal table was magnificent. There was muesli, fresh banana juice, brown bread, ham, cheese, mashed avocado,  jam, and slices of two different fruit tarts, with liberal amounts of tea and coffee.

Thomas was again good company, but the young couple who had kept us awake briefly with their loud voices in the other half of our semi-detached cabin turned out to be Russian. We found that out by looking at the registration book that all visitors have to complete. We could have guessed that they were of the only nationality that consistently 'blanks' us. They are from an alien culture.

As usual, all the Chilean people we met today were delightful. Helpful, smiling and obliging, from the petrol pump attendant to the Park warden.

Our first port of call was the small lakeside town of Entrelagos. Less charismatic than Puerto Octay but with a much better supermarket and a petrol station.

Anticura was our next objective. £5 for two lattes and £2 for access to some waterfalls. At the café we met Helen, an English lady who has lived in Santiago with her husband for more than ten years. They are here on a business trip, trying to advance the use of renewable energy such as geothermal, solar and wind. We discussed Valparaiso. Thomas had denigrated the place last night and advised us against visiting. Helen confirmed that the city does suffer from graffiti, broken lifts and other problems, but she assured us that the people are friendly and the buildings are interesting. So we will visit as planned.

The waterfalls were forceful affairs, unlike yesterday's graceful cascade. Worth a visit though along lovely heavily scented paths, before lunch on a bench.

Then we drove back along the road to a track to a restaurant that doubled as a CONAF (Park) office. We signed in with Santiago and his yappy dogs, and spent another £10 each on access across private land. This is pretty normal here and makes us think how lucky UK residents are to have their wonderful public footpath system.

By 2.30 we were hauling our packs up the 1000 metre climb to today's destination. A flock of honking Ibis in the fields encouraged us on our way. Before long the track inclined to a steep path through woodland. Catkins dripped from the trees. Ubiquitous dog orchids waved us past with their silent turbines. We took a short break every half hour or so.

After about 8 km and at around 5.30 pm we emerged from the woodland to flatter ground below the cone of a volcano, Volcán Puyehue, at around 2250 metres, about 800 metres above us. We dropped down a little to the Refuge and a meadow at 1450 metres, with picnic benches and a thunderbox toilet.

The Refuge El Caulle is an unmanned shelter a bit like an upmarket Scottish bothy. An Israel man, Shohan, drifting after four and a half years of army service, had installed himself inside and was expecting others to follow. But it was a lovely afternoon. Gary, a biker from Southport, and Ray (Dutch) had already pitched their tents, having arrived earlier and gone up to the summit. We joined them by erecting our Nallo tent and the five of us spent the warm evening cooking and mingling until the sun left us and darkness descended at around 9.30 pm, by which time the local Caracara birds were being very curious and attentive.

Today's pictures:
Outside Hostal Zapato Amarillo
Two waterfalls at Anticura
Setting off towards the Refuge
Dripping Catkins on the ascent
First view of our destination
Setting up camp, with Refuge El Caulle behind.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Las Cascadas

December 1

Breakfast was on the terrace together with Stefan, Susanna and Nico, and another fine view of Osorno on a sunny morning.

Excellent.

But we had nothing planned, and whilst we'd have liked to sit there all morning, a couple of hours was sufficient for us to be itching for the next adventure. Nico was very helpful with suggestions and we found it difficult to tear ourselves away from the delights of La Quila (www.quilahostal.com). If you get a chance, do try to visit, and pass on our best wishes to Nico and Neutrina (?) (the dog).

So at about 10.30 we hopped into Sparky and headed off along the lakeside. After a very short way we were enticed up a 1000 metre plus climb to the end of the road up Osorno, at around 1200 metres. From here the only way up (another 1400 metres to the summit) is by chairlift  (not working) or by foot. The car door opened and a piece of paper of unknown importance took to the skies. We got out and were sand blasted. The views, reportedly magnificent, were almost obliterated by the swirling airborne particles.

We retreated to a calmer spot lower down the hill to enjoy impressive views over Lago Llanquihue and Calbuco.

Our next excitement was a very rocky surface that challenged Sparky's rather limited clearance, up a 3 km side road to Las Cascadas. Then a walk up a lovely path past a new to the trip three petalled white orchid or lily, a good metre in height. After a kilometre and a few thin bridges, the thump of water crashing into the deep valley lined by ferns and other jungle furniture got louder as the waterfall grew closer. Birds squawked a vibrant warning of our coming, as we made our way through the dark canopy of bamboo and vines.

We admired the falls through a haze of spray before dropping back down the path to a rocky area where we could enjoy a bite of lunch. Hummingbirds busily harvested the fuchsia, a dipper flew close overhead, birds of prey circled over the canyon, ferns dripped and bumble bees fertilised. The roar of the river seemed very insignificant compared with the crash of the waterfall that we'd just left.

Next we took Sparky down the wrong exit and spent some time reversing back out of my mistake...

Zapato Amarillo Hostal in Puerto Octay was our next target, as Nico had told us that the Swiss owner, Armin, would be able to sell us a map of somewhere interesting. We inadvertently took the scenic lakeside route, past huge herds of dairy cattle and some magnificent lakeside mansions. But the road wasn't surfaced, so it took a while. Apparently there's a Nestlé milk powder factory nearby that supplies much of the western world, hence the large numbers of dairy cattle.

Armin did indeed sell us a map, and the place looked so nice that we wanted to stay, so he also sold us a room in his little empire. We have a semi-detached bungalow with a different view of Osorno compared with the previous three nights. Other hostal buildings have grass covered roofs. In fact, there seem to be acres of grass, and Armin sports a pale green hue from his efforts to cut it.

We went off for a 5 km stroll around a nearby peninsula, on which a magnificent but closed hotel, the Centinela, built in about 1916, hides the fact that a future King Edward had stayed there in 1931, according to Thomas's guidebook.

The town of Puerto Octay is full of small shops all claiming to be 'Supermercados', though one of them seems to be full of old slot machines, videos and various gaming paraphernalia. Plaques outside the wooden buildings disclose their vintage, ranging from the 1880s to the 1920s. The wooden church has a beautiful wooden interior.

We enjoyed cokes outside a café before purchasing the provisions we need to be able to flex our itinerary over the next few days, during which contact with the outside world may be lost for a while. Then it was back to our nice room to sort out gear, before returning to Puerto Octay to a restaurant recommended by Armin. It was shut, but we got an excellent meal at Hotel Haase, which looked as if it would be expensive but wasn't.


An elderly chap from Hamburg, the aforementioned Thomas, joined us for the meal. He reminded me of Humphrey. He is also staying at the hostal, on a three week trip that has included the Torres del Paine 'W'.

Today's pictures:
A view to Lago Llanquihue and Calbuco, from the slopes of Osorno
Las Cascadas
- one of several rickety bridges
- unfurling ferns in the constant spray from the Falls
- the cascade
On the peninsula, where I chatted briefly to Pete Hill in Bath (until he realised how much it might be costing him)
Our new view of Osorno from our room at Hostal Zapato Amarillo
Our room at Hostal Zapato Amarillo

That may be it for a few days, depending on what we get up to, and as I write this we have yet to discover wifi in Puerto Octay, so bear with us if you don't receive any response to comments (if any have been made).

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Estuario de Reloncavi and the Cochamó Valley

After we'd created a plumbing problem and I'd broken the cistern handle ("Chinese rubbish" observed Nico) a later breakfast allowed us the luxury of a much appreciated lie in on another fine, sunny day. 

The drive to Cochamó was mostly along paved (tarmac) roads. A pleasant village with an old wooden church and a good view down a fjord to distant mountains.

After a coffee in a quaint little café we left the Estuario de Reloncavi and headed up the Cochamó Valley for 6 km to the roadhead. On the outskirts of Cochamó a police checkpoint, to our relief, confirmed that we had the correct documents for Sparky (our car).

After the ritual of signing in to visit the National Park, we headed up the muddy valley full of horse dung in our trail shoes. This is to the south of Calbuco, the active volcano, and as last April's ash and other debris mainly blew north, it didn't land on today's path. Instead of being like a walk over sand dunes (yesterday), today's walk was like an elongated version of a walk in Lud's Church in the Dane Valley. Hence the views were not as extensive as yesterday's. Never mind, it was a pleasant enough walk, with at one point the choice between a rather rickety wire bridge or a giant leap over a raging torrent. We chose the bridge.

We lunched around here, during which two of the few people we saw today went past. They were Matthew and Emily, from Huddersfield. They had spent a few nights up the valley and were a bit low on victuals. A few squares of chocolate helped them on their way.

After about 6 km (two hours) we decided we'd seen all that we were going to, so we turned around. Sue had kept stopping to photograph some of the plants in the forest's microclimate. Mostly green. Trees dripping with lichen. All I got was ferns and very tame but very blurry (in the low light) birds.

Apparently it takes about five hours to reach the first camping place up the valley. We met a good number of heavily laden climbers ascending to that camp, as well seven or eight weighed down packhorses. We are told that some people spend the entire summer climbing up here.

After our very brief trip we signed out and drove back down to Cochamó, where we found Matthew and Emily. They appreciated a lift to Ensenada, from where they would easily get to Puerto Varas for a rendezvous with some friends. They have been on the road for four months. Matthew will miss 'pigs in blankets' and his gran at Christmas time.

After dropping M and E off, Sue and I spent a while by the lake trying to decide on the rest of our itinerary, with limited success, before adjourning for some fish at a local restaurant  (Val de la Murta) and heading back to La Quila for more fine views towards Osorno.

Today's pictures:
Inside Cochamó's church
The fjord at Cochamó
In the Cochamó Valley
- crossing the wire bridge
- the woodland walk (2)
- unfurling ferns
Dusk at La Quila, with Osorno and Puntiagudo 

Monday, 30 November 2015

Volcán Osorno (The Slopes)

I'm afraid we start with more sad and distressing news, alluded to in an earlier posting.

Sue Brookes, who joined us recently with her husband Graham for our weekend in Leyburn, suffered a serious stroke whilst out shopping a week ago, following  which she passed away yesterday  (Saturday). Our thoughts are very much with Graham and his family. Sue was a lovely person with a gentle countenance. She will be much missed.
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We woke at 7.55. Just in time for 8 o'clock breakfast (pictured - top, the other pictures being in chronological order in line with this text).

We'd had a relatively late night after Nico's excellent lentil and sausage meal, but he had a disturbed night - having been woken at 1 am by some late arriving Columbian guests!

Our plan for the day was confirmed as being sensible, so we set off under a clear blue sky above a white capped volcano to Petrohué, 25 km away.

After registering our entry into the National Park - obligatory in this part of Chile, we embarked on a 21 km, 7.5 hour stroll with about 800 metres ascent. It was good to get our walking legs mobile again after the relaxing interlude of the last few days. Good also not to have to carry rucksacks full of camping gear. Just as well really as conditions underfoot were rather heavily tainted. The recent volcanic eruption had deposited about 50 to 70 centimetres of ash and pumice in this area. That meant we effectively spent the day walking on sand dunes.

Our route took us through a corridor of bright yellow broom, to some way up the lower slopes of Osorno, which last erupted in 1850. After contouring for a while and crossing the sites of three lava flows, we turned left to head for a Mirador that sported fine views over Lago Todos Los Santos. Continuing past that, another 200 metres was gained before we decided to pause for lunch before heading back down. At around 800 metres in height, some 600 metres above the lake, we were still a good way below the start of the snow on Osorno's cone. Apparently it's a five hour climb from a refuge below the snow to reach the 2652 metre summit, ice axes, crampons and rope all being required.

After romping back down to the path junction at which we had earlier turned left, we turned left again along the Sendero Los Alerzales track. A collie dog had attached itself to us for a while, but it decided not to take this path. From here on we only saw a  couple of people. (Sue counted 16 all day.)

After rising to a rickety viewpoint, the path decended to the lakeside, where after collecting some lake water to quench our thirsts (yes, even the lake water is drinkable here) Sue stripped off and went for a swim. This is Not Allowed, as she found out later when she told the Ranger and we signed out of the park. (She had one of those "I went for a swim, Oh No I Didn't" conversations and thoroughly confused the Spanish speaking Ranger.

Before that, the normally easy beachside path had been made a bit more laborious to negotiate than normal by the thick layer of ash deposited in April. Caracara birds carefully monitored our progress.

Apart from the flourishing Broom, the flora and fauna seem to be making a recovery from the ash and stones dumped after the eruption. We even found a Magellan Orchid that had succeeded in bursting through the thick layer of debris.

On return to the car, we found a worried huddle around another vehicle in the car park. It was Chris, last seen on day 4 or 5 of our Torres del Paine Circuit, on a day out in a very battered hire car with a couple of girls. He seemed very pleased to see us and we soon got the car going with the aid of some jump leads that someone else produced. It's a small world!

Then it was back 25 km to La Quila and a welcome pot of tea on the balcony overlooking Osorno, which we continued to admire until the sun finally left it's slopes much later.

Some neighbours of Nico, Pierre and Magali, joined us for a while. Lots of beer and wine was consumed whilst Nico prepared another excellent meal for us and the two Germans, Stefan and Susanna.

Pierre spends half his time here and the other half running a hotel in the Massif Centrale in France - www.regordane.com in Garde-Guerin. His life only has two seasons, spring and summer.