Written by Neon
We came into Cochrane hot and thirsty from the road walk in. Thankfully, it was another very walker-accessible town, and we were also welcomed by (of course) a friend of a friend who is now our friend. He allowed us to stay in his yard, which was amazing, as all the fruit on his trees had just ripened and we (especially me) ate our fill. Our host was quite gracious, though requested that we not talk him up too much, so I will only say multiple days of rest, relaxation, and great conversation were had. We did the usual around town things, such as attempting to find maps, figuring out our next section (we actually figured out the next two sections!), eating as much town food as we could stomach, and resupplying.
Walking out of Cochrane, we walked along trails into Reserva Nacional Tomango, which runs along the northern side of Lago Cochrane and is a habitat for the endangered Huemul, a small deer-like animal that is becoming more rare as its habitat becomes smaller. I had never heard about Huemul before, but everyone knows about them down here, and asks us if we’ve seen any(we haven’t). It is amazing the number of people who care and know about their surroundings down here.
As a favor to our host from Cochrane, we stopped by a his friend’s Estancia right outside of Tomango to drop off some maps. Unfortunately, he was not there, so we just left a note and camped in his yard for the night, meeting all the chickens and the cat instead. We walked on the next morning, and into Parque Patagonia. The valley opened up before us, and we curiously wandered to the visitor’s center to have lunch on their manicured lawn. The giant stone buildings and the watered lawn with a prop plane sitting on it seemed odd, and I felt out of place sitting in such a lush lawn after spending countless hours among trees, rocks and underbrush.
Let me explain: Parque Patagonia is one of Doug and Kris Tompkins’ (founder of The North Face and his wife) projects in their beloved Patagonia. Even after Doug died of Hypothermia in late 2015, his name and legacy have continued in Patagonia. Some people love what they’ve done with the land they’ve bought up, some people hate it. It’s always interesting how much more one learns coming into a conversation with an inquisitive mind. ‘Why give land back to the government, they’ll just ruin it?’ ‘How can he not have ulterior motives?’ ‘Why don’t people understand that what he’s doing is amazing?’ Anyway, I had and still have mixed feelings about the Parque and their non-profit Conservacion Patagonica, which is why I was excited that we got to check it out and decide for ourselves what we thought.
From the visitor’s center, we made it out to Valle Chacabuco to continue our walk north. There were actual campsites which threw us off, though the bathrooms were not yet functional, so it didn’t throw us off as much. We had met a couple other Americans, and I found it nice to be able to converse in a language I was fluent in as opposed to my usual stumbling Spanish attempts (though I am always grateful for everyone’s patience in said attempts). We talked into the evening, and I went to sleep dreaming of the next few days, thinking maybe these guys could keep up.
I was mistaken, the guys had a more relaxed plan through the valleys. Fidgit and I had planned on taking 3 or 4 days through and ended up cruising the trail, finishing it in 2 days…..I guess that’s what happens when you put solid trail in front of thru-hikers. Valles Chacabuco and Hermoso were very beautiful, with older refugios and fun walking. The 10-12 river crossings we did down Valle Hermoso didn’t change my mind. The water was, of course, glacier melt. A fire in the refugio to dry out our clothes was just what we needed, and we had one. We walked to the Jeinimeni Ranger Station the next afternoon, and lunched under a tree out front. The ranger was so kind, asking us multiple times if we needed/wanted a ride into Chile Chico, telling us how far it was (60km-ish), and attempting to remember the water sources along the way. We thanked him for his kindness and hit the dusty road with vigor, as Fidgit wanted to see the ‘Cuevo de los Manos’ he had mentioned was along the way.
Walking the road into Chile Chico was more interesting than the road into Cochrane because the scenery slowly changed, and I felt there was more to look at. Who knows, maybe I had just gotten more used to a couple days of road walking into/out of town. Either way, Fidgit got to see the ‘Cave of the Hands’, we only ran out of water a couple times, and we made it into Chile Chico on Fidgit’s Birthday!