Early morning views from Refugio Cochamo, with rain pelting down and the valley shrouded in cloud.



Argentina & Chile,

7th March - 28th March 2010

[11 - Resting at Refugio Cochamó]


  Foefie-sliding across Cochamo river on a walk once again, to locate a waterfall.


Sunday 21st March

The Refugio supplied a continental breakfast as part of the deal. Weather conditions as they were, we knew there was no possibility of ascending the mighty Mirador Arco Iris, which required the use of ropes in places, so we resigned ourselves to something less ambitious. It was a huge disappointment, as we well aware that we were potentially missing out on the views that would be afforded us from higher up. So the day was spent reading or chatting to other visitors. Some sat around doing crossword puzzles or playing Chinese checkers. After crossing Cochamo River via the foefie slide, a few of us later went for a walk in a vain, unsuccessful attempt to locate a waterfall further up the valley. Since my boots were being dried next to the donkey boiler outside, I risked using my crocs to walk in but on the way back, it started raining again, creating a treacherous surface underfoot. Kelson peeled off and went for a swim in the rapid. Back at the ranch, we sat down to a phenomenal pea-soup lunch prepared by Refugio.

Harald checks the states of his wet gear on the veranda at Refugio Cochamo early morning.



Chilean couple who made up a trio we met encountered on horseback the previous day, attempting to cross a river with their huskies.

Settling down to a soup lunch at Refugio Cochamo, we were stuck inside unable to ascend Arco Iris, whilst the rain pelted down.

I had taken on the responsibility of keeping account of shared trip costs and ensuring my diary was up to date. Ralph and Kelson used the Aoneker map of Cochamó valley and reading the trig points off it, plotted the route we were to follow by entering the map co-ordinates into a Garmin Foretrex 100 GPS. As I later did the same into my own identical GPS, I discovered an error in their calculations. A critical junction was to be reached in the next day or so and in reading an intended co-ordinate, they had incorrectly read one such that we would have ended up on the wrong path. Chilean jokes now abounded, such as "it's only another 1/2 hour to the Refugio". Would the potentially fatal GPS error have become the ultimate Chilean joke, as in "you really can't get lost"? In fairness, Ralph’s GPS skills proved invaluable on the trip and seems to have used his Foretrex 100 more extensively than I had mine, in terms of actually using the device to navigate rather than merely track.

Constant rain and mist throughout the day made for a photo opportunity but ruled out an ascent of Arco Iris.

Evening approached and a chill set in. We sensed that it was much colder than the day before. Daniel explained how Refugio Cochamó came into being (Cochamó.com) and how the conservation project got off the ground (Cochamó.org). He and his wife Silvina had bought the land and built the Refugio themselves. All the way up the valley, the land is owned by local farmers as well as people who don't live there all the year round (in their case, for half the year and not in the winter months). A threat arose from hydro-electric companies (in particular the Spanish company owned by the Endesa Group) wanting to dam and flood the Cochamó valley, as was being envisaged further south on the Pascua and Baker rivers, with devastating consequences.

Taking the task upon themselves, literally a fight for survival, they mobilised locals, made representations to the local mayor and the minister of conservation for the area, arguing their case in a seemingly endless series of letters and correspondence over a period of years. One such letter to the president of Chile resulted in the issuing of a decree which ensured that 80% of the water in the Cochamó valley had to be used for conservation purposes (if I understood correctly), meaning that a hydro-electric project was no longer an attractive, viable proposition for the large corporates. The main thrust of their argument for strategic reasons focussed on the commercial consequences to Cochamó valley rather than the Green argument (not always a popular approach to adopt, it seemed).



On Refugio's veranda: Kelson (top), Andre (with dog), Harald, Andre and Xandra.

Left-wing president Michelle Bachelet was President of Chile till 11 March 2010, having lost a presidential run-off to the now current president, centre-right billionaire businessman Sebastián Piñera. It is unclear what his views are on the environment. The earthquake disaster gives the president some breathing room when it comes to his own lofty goals. The government, which has already promised the unusual step of modifying the 2010 budget, said it will ease environmental and building rules to facilitate reconstruction. Critics claim "[Pinera] will have excuses not to follow through on his priorities. He said he'd create a million jobs, that he was concerned about the environment. All that now gets pushed to the background."







Stunning views of Cochamo Valley's rain forest shrouded in mist.

The case of the Endesa Project further south is highlighted in scary detail in articles such as Basic Facts: Baker & Pascua Rivers, Proposed Dams and Transmission Lines, Toward Freedom: Patagonia’s Pascua River Threatened By Massive Dam Project and even in the National Geographic article on Patagonia in its 2010 edition. As is currently planned, the two dams on the Baker River would create artificial lakes flooding more than 4,300 hectares (10,700 acres). Flooded lands would include some of the best agricultural and ranching lands of the region. The three dams on the Pascua River would create artificial lakes flooding more than 1,600 hectares (4,000 acres). Flooded lands would include some of the world’s rarest forest types. Even more troublesome, they say, are plans to build a 2,300-kilometer transmission line between Aysén and central Chile, where consumption is highest. Planned by Canadian-owned Transelec (Brookfield Asset Management), the power line would cut a 70-meter swath through countless acres of wilderness land, require 5,000 towers and, once completed, be the world’s longest. At the time of writing, an environmental impact study is pending.


Another foefie-slide across Cochamo River on a short walk to locate a waterfall, before lunch.


Another foefie-slide across Cochamo River on a short walk to locate a waterfall, before lunch.



The walk to locate a waterfall near Refugio Cochamo presented Kelson with an opportunity to explore the icy waters - note the therapeutic effect!

Yet Daniel and Silvina are not resting on their laurels either, for the struggle to save the Cochamó valley will continue, the corporate organisations motivated by greed and profit will be back to fight another day. Loss of the valley to such schemes will mean an end to a legendary 300 year old trail steeped in history, once used by Indians, Spaniards, Jesuit missionaries and the notorious outlaw duo Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It will mean an end to the livelihood of farmers with huge consequences for Cochamó itself.

Daniel is a born and committed rock climber. As pointed out on the Cochamo.com website dedicated to the sport, it is also clear what stands to be lost in terms of utilisation of the valley for recreational purposes, if the hydro electric companies get their way: "Thousand metre granite walls border the valley along the Cochamó River. Valle Cochamó's rock provides route potential beyond the imagination. The area has already become a world class climbing destination, with first ascents from people from almost every continent on the globe. If you're into long routes, sport routes, bouldering, establishing new routes or just hanging in a gorgeous landscape, Valle Cochamó is one of South America's best. Many climbers familiar with Yosemite Valley have found Valle Cochamó to have many common features, as well as differences. Comparing the two may be sinful, but as you enter between the glacially-formed granite walls, it's difficult not to. Long bold lines make their way to the top. Cochamó, however, lacks some of Yosemite's obvious aspects. Traffic, motors and generator noise don't exist since there are no roads. Ranger Jo won't say you have surpassed your two-week limit stay or arrest you for sleeping in a cave. Camping will not likely fill up either. Freedom reigns in the Valle Cochamó".


Passing the time in Refugio Cochamo as a result of the inclement weather outside.


Daniel shows us the recently constructed hydro-electric power reticulation, based on the Outback Power System's Mate 2.


XA 50-meter head of water is able to generate 3.6 kW of power, charging four batteries in turn, from which they are even able to run power tools.

The resourceful Daniel showed us their own power reticulation project which they had completed only recently. Given their location close rivers in the steep valley, using 600 metres of pipe thus achieving a head of 50 metres, they are able to generate 3.6 kilowatts of power charging four batteries, in the process diverting excess energy into heating the water, using the Mate system device supplied by Outback Power Systems. The vertical drop (head) creates pressure at the bottom end of the pipeline. The pressurized water emerging from the end of the pipe creates the force that drives the turbine. Once you have the flow and head figures, you can roughly estimate the potential power available, in kilowatts (kW), via a basic formula. Sufficient power was being generated to drive power tools and as he spoke, a wooden climbing wall was being constructed in a workshed as a birthday present for his son! No guesses as to what he was going to be doing someday in the near future, when he gets older!

Patagonia, Argentina & Chile

[Intro-Pre Trip] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [GPS Tracks]

Other Tour Group photos (Picasa):  [1 - Kelson & Elena]  [2 - Ralph]  [3 - Harald]

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