Sunday, 31 March 2019

Greater Patagonian Trail: GPT 4 - 3

My time on the GPT was now slowly coming to an end. With less than two weeks left before my flight back to Germany it became clear that I would probably not be able to hike all the way up to Santiago de Chile. Therefore I was not very disappointed when I heard that section 5 was closed due to another volcano alert. I skipped forward to section 4 which was not rated as particularly attractive. As I was soon to find out this rating is completely wrong.

After more than one day of continuously ascending in dry mediterranean landscape I reached two alpine lakes - and a herd of wild horses and cows.

As I did not want to be woken up by a four-legged friend, I camped a bit further up and away from water. When I looked out of my tent into the sunrise I saw a big cloud of smoke in the distance and realised only after a while where it came from. This was not a forest fire - this was smoke from an active volcano! And this volcano was the reason why I was not able to hike section 5! Although this volcano was more than 50 kilometers away I felt pretty uncomfortable and tried not to think about a volcanic eruption ... But when I woke up in the morning the sky was clear again and all the smoke had disappeared.

After some climbing over rocky slopes I reached another beautiful mountain lake in the morning and could not resist the temptation to take a swim. Continuing up to the next pass I came across two arrieros on horse back - and right on top of the pass 4 G cell phone reception ...
I must admit that I ignored the spectacular mountain scenery for half an hour while checking on my smart phone what had happened in the world.
The descent was as long and dusty as the ascent and when I finally reached the valley bottom I could not even find a campsite!

A small water fall in the valley was a very popular picnic spot and very crowded in this hot summer evening. Luckily I did not have to pay the entry fee as I was walking out. First it was too busy and crowded to camp, then everything was fenced in and in the end I had nearly reached the road. With a little detour I eventually found a decent campsite but I could still hear the noise from a nearby youth camp.
I woke up next morning to a rare phenomenom in this area: fog! I even had to pack a wet tent ...

 As soon as I had reached the road I came across a mini-market where I could buy some more snacks and delicious freshly baked bread. I needed this motivation because there was a long road walk ahead. It would have been unbearably hot and dusty in the sun, therefore I was more than grateful for the fog.
But where the route presumably turned off the road there was a huge fenced-in private property with a farmhouse right at the entrance. No way I would be able to sneak in there. So grudgingly I continued walking on the tarmac road which meant a huge 10 kilometer detour!

When I saw a bus shelter next to the road I decided to try my luck, sat down and waited. And for sure, after only half an hour a bus arrived and saved me 16 kilometer road walk! I was so happy that I bought some ice cream in a mini-market before finally embarking into the mountains again.
The GPT route took me along a very popular valley where now dozens of families were picknicking and camping. At the end of the dirt road a locked gate was decorated with several "no entry"-signs. All the locals ignored it and there was even a soical path around the gate ...
Unfortunately a couple of kilometers later there was another gate like that with even more "no entry"- signs. I climbed it and felt very uncomfortable. I walked several kilometers with seeing anyone and already felt relieved when all of a sudden I heard a truck approaching. I disappeared into the bushes. The car stopped just a couple of hundred meters later. I decided to walk around it off trail. Very bad idea! I ended up fighting my way through blackberry bushes, lost half an hour of time and got several scratches.

Plus I discovered that there were discarded beer cans and old fire rings all over the place. Despite all these "No Entry"-signs this was a popular fishing area. The people I had tried to avoid were probably harmless fishermen trespassing here as much as I did.
When I climbed out of the valley I encountered a group of arrieros descending you told: "If we had know that you are here we would have brought wine ..." Luckily they were going the other way ...
And when I finally had found a nice campsite I was visited by a lonely cow.

Next day was very hot and very dry - and unfortunately I had not brought enough water from the last water source. The trail dragged on forever under the relentless sun and I was cowering under a bush to get some shade during my thirsty lunch break. When I finally reached a water source in the evening I drank 1,5 liters straight ...
I was now a bit worried about the rest of this section because there was a river crossing ahead which Martin had not been able to do two months ago. I hoped that the river would now be passable after snow melt. I fortified myself with a lot of blackberries which were growing at lower elevation.

The river was very cold and very swift and I had to concentrate hard to find the best way but I made it safely to the other side. Relieved I took a thorough bath to wash off all the dirt before I started another long ascent.
I had been warned by other hikers but the route now took me through one of the worst bushbashes of the entire GPT. Apparantly now cattle was driven up here and therefore there was no trail. But when I finally reached the pass the view into the next valley more than rewarded me for all the hard work. It is so typical for the GPT to go from "this is horrible" to "this is so beautiful" within five minutes ...

Unfortunately on this occasion it changed back to "this is horrible" within one hour. As usual the "trail", in this case a faint horse trail" was routed high above the river in the valley and in several places I was afraid of slipping. But by now I was already so used to this kind of hiking that I just walked on until I found a flat spot near the river for camping. Although I did not know it then this was my last night on the GPT ... In the morning I wondered if I could make it out to civilisation in one day. It was more than 30 kilometers to the next road - but God, I needed some time off the trail after the last hard days.

And the day started difficult indeed: Within half an hour of walking the trail disappeared completely into blackberry bushes. I first tried to fight my way through the thicket with the help of my trekking poles but I soon gave up. Without a machete there was no way I could make it through several hundred meters of the thorny jungle. I ended up wading directly in the river! Eventually in lower elevation the trail got better and better and I was hiking faster and faster despite the fact that I still had to get up and down several little passes. In the evening I passed some wonderful campsites and stopped briefly. I could stay here another night and hike out to the road next morning instead of rushing it now. But I felt that the hike was over for me. As spectacular as it had been - I have now had enough!
But this is the GPT and therefore it had another surprise waiting for me: When I emerged onto the brandnew and paved road there were plenty of trucks carrying sulphur from the mines - but no bus!

Beach near Valparaiso
There was a huge container building nearby in the middle of nowhere so I walked over and asked the security guards about public transport. There was none - I was told. But this was workers' housing and I could ask people exiting the premises. The first truck was occupied by three worker who happily gave me a lift into the next village from where a bus took me to Rancagua. I must admit that I booked myself into a push four star hotel to get a bit of luxury.
After some brainstorming in the hotel I decided next morning that I would indeed spend my last week in Chile sightseeing instead of returning to the trail. The last missing sections were not the most attractive ones and I basically had had enough. I spent my last days in Valparaiso and Santiago de Chile before flying back to Germany.

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