In order to reach Refugio Cochamo on the first day of the hike up Cochamo Valley, one is required to foefie-slide across the Cochamo River.



Argentina & Chile,

7th March - 28th March 2010

[10 - Cochamó to Refugio Cochamó]


  Additional photos courtesy Ralph Pina, Harald Weber & Andre Greyling.




Two maps show the traditional route along the Cochamo Valley to El Leon, though we deviated from this by heading south along Lago Vidal Gormaz.


Saturday 20th March

Dawn broke on the day we were to head off up the Cochamó valley and after Kelson's customary porridge breakfast, our transport arrived in the form of an extended Ford pick-up. The skies were grey and heavily overcast. Rucksacks were piled in the back along with three of us (the rest of the crew sat in the front) and soon we were taking leave of the village of Cochamó that we had become so fond of in such a short space of time, travelling along the dirt road leading up the valley, which ended quite abruptly. It had started raining and would do so for the rest of the day! To say that the trek from this point onwards was arduous, would be an understatement, made worse still by the weather conditions and the effect ithad on the path. From the point where we had been dropped off, we covered only 9.7 km in about 7 hours!

We slogged and toiled our way through the rain forest, mud, trenches (some of which were deeper than we were tall) and pools, sometmes over slippery rock, tree stumps, logs and planks. The planks had been placed there by some good Samaritan's desire to construct some semblance of a pathway; however, with so much water about, in my mind, it placed a whole new meaning on the term "waterlogged", as the logs for the best part remained submerged! The route that El Gaucho Trail follows, is also used by local farmers to bring their cattle through to the markets of Cochamó. The question on our minds was, how on earth they even managed to navigate through there in the first place! We reached a stream and removed our boots before wading through the water. We entered a valley that so resembled Yosemite - large granite cliffs on either side shrouded in mist, vast forests extending virtually up to the peaks from below, the tips of the uppermost trees silhouetted against the sky. It was surreal, like a scene from Avatar.





The path along the Cochamo Valley shrouded in mist as we were subjected to almost constant rain.


Encountering Gauchos (Huasos) on horseback on the so-called Gaucho Trail, the only available path in the absence of any roads.

En route we encountered Gauchos or possibly Huasos, recognisable by the thick, woollen poncho over their shoulders, herding their cattle. At one point, about to cross another stream, now a fast-flowing torrent such that each step required the utmost concentration to achieve stability on the cobblestones whilst the force of the water didn't throw one off balance, we were passed by three people on horseback. Kelson had checked and the trench was the only place to cross, other routes blocked off by dense undergrowth. The trio on horseback, including a woman, were attempting to coax their dogs, two huskies, a male and a female, across the stream.  Xandra jumped into action, shouting to them above the noise of the water that we might be able to carry them across! Yebo! A leash was placed over each of the dogs in turn and the smaller, younger female was dragged through the waters first. The problem was that the larger male was having none of it! It simply would not budge and resisted with all its might, to the extent that the leash slipped off its neck entirely! They eventually succeeded and attention reverted back to our own attempt to get across. My concern was that I was carrying my Nikon Digital SLR in a camera bag strapped across my shoulders, so I certainly wasn't keen on it ending up in the water!


Taking a break just before finally reaching Refugio Cochamo.

Just before we reached Refugio Cochamó, our destination for the day, we had one more river to cross, literally, where the only means across was by way of a foefie slide powered manually via a pulley system. We had reached a large hut filled with other backpackers which served as a kitchen and dining room only, their pitched tents scattered outside. One by one we climbed onto the wooden transport into a seated position, draping our legs over the front and with our rucksacks on our laps, whilst two or three compatriots operated the pulley, until we were all across. The sign indicating the entrance to the Refugio came into view, yet we were not sure what to expect, to which Kelson remarked, perhaps nothing better than the hut we had just seen! It was here that I noticed a trickle of blood around my ankle and it was presumed that I had been set upon by a leech.



The towering Yosemite-like granite peaks of Cochamo Valley which gives rise to the obvious comparisons.


It's Andre's turn to foefie-slide across.


Foefie-sliding across the Cochamo River.

Refugio Cochamó was nothing like what we imagined, a large triple-storey log cabin perched on a rise with steps leading up to the entrance and a sheltered veranda all round its perimeter with wooden logs piled underneath, surrounded by the most beautiful valley imaginable, a non-tourist version of Yosemite. Located just across from where La Junta River meets the Cochamó River, the newly built Refugio is run by its owners Daniel, Silvina, Zen and friends, strong on ecological values. Silvina welcomed us warmly. The rules were simple. Wet, muddy clothing had to be removed but could be hung outside on the veranda, though it was unlikely to dry. The Refugio was a place of warmth metaphorically too. Visitors, mostly Chilean, sat on benches around tables in a large dining area, whilst the kitchen was a hive of activity. Gas cookers located in a small bar area gave us an opportunity of heating some water and brewing a tea. A large bookshelf against a wall in the dining room provided enough reading material. It turned out that our trio on horseback with the huskies were also staying there for the weekend and lived just south of Santiago. We were shown to a large room upstairs with a double layer of bunks, roughly around 30 in total. As darkness fell, candles provided illumination, though we had our headlamps too. A hot water donkey boiler system later enabled us to take a brief shower, in relays of two. The bathrooms were kitted out with all the trimmings of any normal bathroom. Lights were to be found in the kitchen and bathroom, so we wondered as to the source of power. These questions would be answered later.

A first glimpse of Refugio Cochamo, a most welcome sight indeed!



The inner sanctum of Refugio Cochamo; Hostess Silvina on the veranda checking out rock-climbing details on the laptop.


Unbelievably, the Refugio provided tomato/cheese pizzas for dinner that evening to order and would be providing breakfast and dinner for the remainder of our stay, the price having been negotiated by Elena. Pizzas came to about $6000 (Chilean pesos) each and they were divine. To the astonishment of others in our group, Ralph and I polished off ours with aplomb! The day had been tough, at times bewildering but had also been a life-changing experience. Some might ask why one would want to go through what we did that day, the exertion, the mud, the rain and the cold......for fun. At times the thought might have crossed our minds as to what we were doing there in the first place, the Fukawi syndrome, yet we knew we were in a unique part of the world, doing what few people ever get to do and see in their lives. Whilst the thoughts of the group focused on putting one foot before the other in not risking a fall, a greater responsibility lay on the shoulders of our guides, Kelson and Elena, tasked with planning, organising and ensuring that we reached our destination safely, despite us signing the customary document indemnifying Treksa as a company.


Patagonia, Argentina & Chile

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