Approaching Tito Bahamonde's farm at Vidal Gormaz.


Argentina & Chile,

7th March - 28th March 2010

[12 - Refugio El Arco to Vidal Gormaz]



Monday 22nd March

Up early to pack before breakfast at around 08h00, we left the Refugio behind and set off towards the river. Silvina and her cohorts were there to wish us, no doubt feeling sorry for us as well. The only reason we were sad was that we were going to miss the warm bed, showers, delicious pizzas and comforts we had enjoyed. Before long the rain began to fall. The weather forecast was not promising at all and the worst lay ahead, according to Daniel, though by all accounts, ought to show signs of clearing up by the Wednesday. Daniel had walked the route just recently and told us that the trail had been in a decent condition when setting out but was later found to have been wrecked by farmers and their cattle herds at the time of his return. We were informed that we had three additional streams to cross before reaching our destination for the evening, Refugio El Arco. These were not deep by any means but due to the heavy rains, they still flowed with some force.


Lunch stop on the route between Refugio Cochamo and El Arco on day two of the Gaucho Trail.


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

Crossing yet another river with extreme caution; Navigating through muddy trenches or dongas, at times we were up to our ankles in thick, sticky mud, as Andre demonstrates.

Since Refugio Cochamó is at the confluence of two rivers, we found ourselves crossing the same river twice in quick succession. Kelson stressed that we had to pick up the pace, causing some consternation and disagreement in the ranks as to our progress thus far. The muddy, slippery terrain became the norm and I took a tumble or two on a few occasions, at times almost up to my knees in thick, sticky, glutinous sludge, as we navigated up and down trenches. Sometimes the trick was to step up onto the narrow embankment on the edge of the trench but very often one was forced to step down into the mud if the route was blocked and then simply wade through anyway. I managed to bend the walking pole, also spraining a thumb in the process, cursing my own ineptitude. We stopped for a short lunch at a hut, locked and unoccupied, located on a slope surrounded by towering granite rock.

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

Crossing another river before finally reaching El Arco's hut in torrential rain.


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

Almost oblivious to the beauty of this waterfall, we were more concerned with reaching the El Arco hut before nightfall.

By the time we reached the final river crossing just before reaching Refugio El Arco, we followed Kelson's lead and waded through the water in our boots, which at that stage had become drenched anyway. Our attention however was diverted to a water cascading into the pool we were crossing. Today's Chilean joke emerged as "it will be easier than yesterday" and "it's a four hour walk". A cheer rang out upon reaching the hut, which resembled the one we had encountered just before crossing the river Cochamo to Refugio Cochamó the day before. It was dark and cold with a pit in its midst and no tables or chairs to speak of. An area on one side was designated the sleeping area where we laid out our ground mattresses side by side. Wet clothes were removed and later after dinner, a makeshift arrangement of interlocking walking poles allowed us to hang items of clothing next a fire to dry. Soles were removed from boots, in turn positioned so as to allow any excess water to run out. Steam began to rise off our clothing as the water evaporated. Some were noble enough to venture outdoors to collect wood for the fire (we struggled to find any) or fill water bottles for cooking. It was indeed a far cry from the comfort of Cochamó Refugio before. The rain bucketed down all night. We made the best of it and enjoyed our pasta dinner regardless.

Tuesday 23rd March

This was undoubtedly the hardest section for me personally, similar conditions to the previous day but much steeper. Some days are good days and others bad, but this was not a good day. More rivers had to be crossed and we had no sooner removed our boots and put them back on at one such stream, before having to do so just minutes later. A conference ensued and Kelson persuaded the group that, to save time, we were going to have to wade through without removing our boots. From the previous day's experience, we knew that waterproofs and gaiters were proving futile anyway.  We successfully navigated the critical junction point as determined by the correct waypoint and soon after that, reached a small pond where we stopped for a short lunch. Wet and cold as we were, Elena urged us to press on. I cursed as I slipped and fell in the mud once more and Harald's presence provided much-needed moral support. it really wasn't a good day! There were some lighter moments, Andre asking Harald if he could be permitted to make light of his fall, only for the roles to be reversed just a few moments later. Some time later Andre had waited at a pond and pointed to a where I could place my foot on a slightly submerged stump for support. Unfortunately for me, I placed my foot next to the stump and careered into the water, raising another laugh in the process. The sun came out and we passed along a most beautiful lake which we mistook for the lake we were aiming for. Once I uttered an expletive in frustration, which resulted in word being passed down the line to Kelson in front by mistake, who then stopped as per the strategy we had agreed, to ensure that we stuck together as a group and not lose line of sight.

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

Negotiating the stretch between El Arco and Vidal Gormaz on the third day, we passed several beautiful, idyllic lakes.


Vidal Gormaz and the farm of Tito Bahamonde.


Around El Arco we had gradually begun encountering larger Alerce trees in the forest. Fitzroya cupressoides is native to the Andes mountains of southern Chile and Argentina, where it is an important member of the Valdivean temperate rain forests. The scientific name of the genus honours Robert FitzRoy, who achieved fame as captain of HMS Beagle during Darwin's famous voyage. Common names include Lahuan (the Mapuche Native American name), Alerce (South American Spanish), and Patagonian Cypress. It is a very large  evergreen tree, the largest tree species in South America, normally growing to 40–60 metres tall and up to 5 metres in trunk diameter. In fact 35 million year-old fossilized foliage of Fitzroya was found in northwest Tasmania, demonstrating the ancient floristic affinities between Australasia and southern South America. Indigenous Chusquea culeou (bamboo) which dies after blooming and releasing its seeds, proved a menacing obstacles. One step on a length of the stuff wearing wet boots and one ends up flat on one's backside, as Andre and I discovered in quick succession.







Settling in at Tito Bahamonde's farm on Vidal Gormaz, our stop on the third day of the Gaucho Trail (though we had deviated from the traditional route)

We descended through a forest towards Lago Vidal Gormaz, passing through an open expanse of dead tree trunks strewn across the landscape, reaching the farm of Tito Bahamonde, having covered 10.3 km in 8 hours. Elena successfully negotiated for us to camp on his land and use a hut to cook and make a fire to dry our clothes despite the fact that Tito wasn't too keen on Gringos, as Elena later informed us. This is where Elena's skill, feminine charm and fluent knowledge of the language came into play, as it was apparent that the two communicated exceptionally well. We understood Tito to be in his eighties, which we could scarcely believe. Tito had also assured Elena that the next day's section along the lake would be much flatter and easier, another Chilean joke perhaps?




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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