An Unexpected Adventure in Chile

Take a glimpse into this off-the-beaten-track trekking trip in Chile with this Mountaineers group and be inspired for your next vacation.
Cheryl Talbert Cheryl Talbert
Mountaineers Global Adventures Leader
March 06, 2018
by Cheryl Talbert, Mountaineers Global Adventures leader

Morning light was just beginning to illuminate the tops of the white granite cliffs surrounding our green valley when Señora Anita arrived to make breakfast. She stoked the wood stove in our tiny refugio and with impressive grace and speed, whipped up fresh rolls, an egg casserole, hot coffee, and tea — all without the benefit of heat controls other than adding and re-arranging wood and coals. Our group sat on a bench, sharing warmth of the stove, sipping coffee, and marveling at the culinary performance in the morning light.

We had just made our way across the northern Patagonian Andes from Bariloche, Argentina and were in the Valle Cochamo on the west coast of Chile, known to a few in rock-climbing circles as the ‘Yosemite of Chile’. The name was well and truly earned, with several seriously challenging multi-pitch walls of sheer granite not far above the valley’s campsites and refugios. 

We nearly had the place to ourselves this late Austral summer morning. Just a few scruffy rope-bearing vagabonds were spotted in the campground as we passed the day before. This region, in the southern Lakes District of Chile, is a wild expanse of snow-topped volcanoes, ancient endemic forests, sheer granite cliffs and — of course — hundreds of lakes. Despite the natural beauty, most travelers who come here stay further north among the crowded hot springs and well-publicized volcano climbing routes around Pucon. A local Chilean adventure outfitter helped us devise an off-the-beaten-track hiking and trekking itinerary in the Southern Lakes District. Our extraordinary guide, Andres, proved to be an uber-energetic promoter of all things Chilean. We’d already stayed at a guest house on the shore of Lago Todos Santos with stunning views of the Osorno volcano and a lovingly prepared meal of Chilean wine and local specialty dishes, our base for a dramatic hike around Osorno. Now we were at Sra. Anita’s watching her conjure a miraculous breakfast to fortify us for our climb to Anfiteatro, one of the sweeping cliffs of Cochamo.

Breakfast consumed, we climbed a faint boot path through the towering ‘cathedral forest’ of centuries-old, massive Alerce trees (a rare local cedar), thick with moss and dappled with filtered sunlight. After a couple of hours of serious elevation gain, the broad white-granite expanse of the Anfiteatro cliff finally revealed itself, towering hundreds of feet overhead. After blissful hours playing on the rock walls, at last, we settled at their base and Andre introduced us to the social rituals around the sharing of mate, a traditional South American hot drink made from dried and ground Yerba Mate leaves and shared with boon companions by passing a gourd cup with a silver straw (left hand only, please!). Then it was back down through the forest to the valley and another gourmet meal from Sra. Anita, complete with more fine Chilean wine carried up-valley for us by Andres.

Life-list adventures can certainly be found in dramatic, well-publicized destinations. But extraordinary life-list adventures can also be found in unique, authentic experiences in lesser-known places such as this.

Learn more and check out upcoming Global Adventure trips here.

This article originally appeared in our Fall 2017 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.

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