Written by Neon
We walked out of Liucura and immediately climbed up and around the large hill along the outskirts of town. As we walked, there were a couple of people riding their horses towards us along the same path/old road. Fidgit and I arrived to them, and they asked us our plan for our route, as they were concerned. Fidgit got out the GPS and maps and told them the lake we were planning on getting to that evening. They said they had come from it, and it was far. They were able to give us some more detailed directions to get to the lake, warning us about tricky turns and pumas as well. We walked on, making it within a couple kilometers of the lake we had mentioned before camping near a puesto. As we were preparing to get in our sleeping bags, a small herd of horses ran up and began eating in the meadow we had set up in. They would look at us curiously and run away a few meters if we made any sudden movements, but generally left us alone as we tucked in for the night. When we awoke, the horses were gone and the valley had filled with a light mist. We packed up and moved north along the route, going up and over a pass before lunch. Right after lunch, we had a truck drive up. The driver was very excited when we told him what we were doing. He and his two passengers got out of the vehicle, talked quickly in Spanish to Fidgit and took many photos. They were kind and friendly, giving us some food for our travels and asking many questions before departing. That evening, we walked up and over another pass and across a valley to prepare for the ascent of our largest pass yet. Looking at it from the valley floor, we were unsure as to how we would cross it.
The first thing we did in the morning was walk up to the pass, loosely following the GPT route, and we were able to find a faint trail that led us up and over the 2140 meter pass with no troubles. Coming down, the other side was exposed and rocky, at times steep. I ran out of water, and thankfully we came down quickly to the valley floor where I was able to refill and take a break. The clouds had been slowly building through the day, and as we started looking for a place to camp, the rain began slowly, building as the minutes passed. We came to the mouth of the valley and crossed a river in the rain. Looking ahead on the GPS, we saw a puesto marked and decided to head to that. We came upon the puesto a couple kilometers later and were able to set up for the night inside – continuing to stay mostly dry and warm. I always appreciate those who leave their seasonal puestos unlocked for weary travelers.
Waking in the morning, the rain had stopped, so we packed up and headed on, enjoying the lack of dust along the trail. We made it up and over a small pass and continued to follow the valley to a small lake. As we pushed through some overgrowth, Fidgit thought she heard a cat-like noise, and we thrashed back into the open to go around so as to not disturb the cat/animal. We had been warned so much about them at this point that I think it was getting to us. When we rounded the other side of the brush, it turned out the animal was a horse tied up in the meadow. I sighed a big sigh of relief, and we walked on along a small lake and promptly into a bog on the other side, soaking our feet. As we kept walking along the valley floor, we crossed the river many times, so I didn’t mind my feet being wet from the bog. Now I could rinse them in the river! Sock laundry, right? I was also appreciative that it was warm out so the wet wasn’t as bothersome.
After following the valley floor most of the day, we came up and over another low pass to a valley that had multiple puestos and a refuge. We slept in the refuge to be near the next low pass we would go over. In the morning, we went over the low pass and onto another valley which we followed to the northern end where we tuned off to another route option that went up to an alleged hot springs. After a steep ascent and a lunch break, we made it to the ‘hot spring,’ which ended up being a pool filled with volcanic clay next to a few steaming holes in the ground that smelled of sulfur. Disappointed, we marched on to another high pass. As we crossed the pass, we saw a large plume of smoke coming off a near-by mountain. At first glance it looked like a forest fire, but upon closer inspection it was a volcano seemingly erupting at a constant rate. Since we weren’t sure what the protocol for volcanic eruptions was, we took some photos and kept our eye on it as we began our descent.
As it turned out, the descent was the sketchiest thing I’ve done in some time. We couldn’t immediately see where we were going, as there was a small hill between the pass and the descent. As we rounded the hill, we saw part of where we would descend. There was a steep landslide area, rock spires and intermittent loose boulders with scree beyond it. The spires had steep, exposed drop-offs on either side of them, making what we were looking at doing nearly impossible without ropes. “That’s what we’re to go down?” I said in my head, unbelieving.
We began to slowly pick our way down, continuing to make sure the route on our GPS was indeed going this way. It was. As we descended, Fidgit and I kept a few meters of space between ourselves, so if there was rock fall or one of us slipped, the other would be a safe distance away. I would go across the area first, and Fidgit followed after I was out of rock fall zone. Along the top of the descent, we navigated around and through the towering spires, unsure if the next step on the scree field would hold or slip out, causing us to careen down the scree field. Thankfully, in the middle of the descent there was a thicker coating of marble-sized scree, so we were able to walk along more assuredly, sinking ankle-deep into it each step. It then thinned out again around the base of another spire, with each step slipping away underfoot as quickly as I could take the next one. I nearly laid down and hugged the ground when we were back on it solidly. It took us four or five hours to pick our way down the three kilometers from the pass to the valley floor. Deliriously tired, we set up camp and passed out.
We awoke the next morning rested though weary, with new and different muscle soreness. We were so grateful to be following along a cow path that we covered a lot of ground that day, continuing to keep an eye on the GPS route to make sure we were on track. As we were getting closer to our next resupply point, we were also realizing that we may not have enough food to get there. We had already been cutting back and paying attention to our dwindling food, and we cut back even more to make sure we would make it into a resupply. We were setting up camp that night as a Huaso riding by on his horse stopped to talk with Fidgit for a bit. It was the first other person we had seen in three or four days and quite friendly, waving as he rode away. I went down to the nearby stream to get water and wash my socks, and while I was gone, he rode back and offered us a loaf of bread, which Fidgit accepted after making sure that he had enough food for himself. I returned from the stream, and we happily ate our fill, knowing that we would make it to our resupply with the help of that kind man’s bread.
The next day, we did make it to the small shop to get enough food to make it up to Trapa-Trapa. The owners were kind and helpful, they even asked their father to give us directions, as he was a local guide. We left after a resupply and a cafecito, wishing them well on their budding business. I felt like I was waddling away- I hadn’t been that full in days. We road-walked nearly the rest of the day, getting lost in some lava rock near the end of the day before going along the southern end of Laguna El Barco and finding a camp spot near the trail head we were to follow. Weary from both lack of food for the past few days and sun exposure, I slept well that night.
We awoke the next morning and climbed up to an exposed, aged lava field, crossing the open area quickly. I enjoyed the cool breeze as the clouds passed lazily above us, giving us some shade from time to time. A few days ago, we had seen a volcano erupting, and were able to ask the shop owner about it when we had resupplied. He had told us that it was indeed a nearby volcano erupting, but that it had been going on for about FOUR YEARS so no one paid much attention to it anymore. From our vantage point along the ridge, walking north, we were able to see the smoking volcano most of the day. Thankfully the smoke was blowing east and we were walking along west of it.
We tucked in that night near a herd of cattle and were enjoying our dinner when they all decided to move on right past our tent. Fidgit had spent a couple of seasons on a ranch in Montana, so she had more confidence in keeping them away from our tent, while I was trying to stifle my want to move away from the giant horned beasts. Neither animal nor human nor gear was harmed, and we walked down the trail into the small community of Trapa-Trapa the next morning.