April 19, 2010

Cochamo Valley

A few weeks ago I headed out for a solo trek through Cochamo Valley. Only a few hours from Puerto Varas, it has been hailed as the new Yosemite, a climber's mecca perched above a damp, dark rainforest alongside the Cochamo River, whose hues range from clear to teal. To get there, you have to wade through mud, cross a river on a slippery trunk and brush the brambles from your shins. With a pack, it takes around five hours to reach a new refugio with a panorama of granite peaks. From there, trails sprout to waterfalls, granite walls and peaks. Goodbye world.

It's honestly excellent. The raw materials were always here, but the boon is about the setup, dreamed up by Daniel and Silvina. Climbers, they have been coming to the valley and camping for ten years. The refugio they've built caters to every need: fresh pizzas, spacious bunks and porches. A handmade map points out the trails and travel times. A website gives detailed directions on how to arrive. In this part of the world, this degree of service is true luxury. Prices are fair (8.000 pesos/US$16 for a dorm bed, 6.000/US$12 for a pizza).

The only part of the experience they can't soften is the transit, which requires some fortitude, good balance and the instincts of a golden retriever (without rubber boots, gaiters are a must here). Near the end, it's probably best to reach the Cochamo River crossing (created with skinny planks and a pulley) before dark. But by all means, don't miss it. Plan on at least three days to enjoy the upper valley. Don't forget your headlamp, a sleeping bag is useful for the refugio (theirs are thin) and cash for the baked goods better than anything available in town.

Refugio Cochamo is now closed for the season, but December comes sooner than you think.

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