Other accounts and travel writings

Cerro Castillo - Patagonia, Chile

From Jacs Taylor-Smith (thank you,Jacs!)

This is a stunning one day hike in the staggeringly beautiful Cerro Castillo range. It would be easy to overlook this walk and just keep chugging south en route to other adventures, but doing that would deny you a gem of a hike.  We completed many magnificent hikes in Patagonia but this one proved to be a favourite - a steep ascent with great variety in terrain, spectacular wide ranging views of the Ibáñez river valley and the reward of the magnificent Cerro Castillo hanging glaciers and laguna at the top. Glorious!

Directions: as you round the bend on the Carrertera Austral and enter Villa Cerro Castillo from the north / Coyhaique, take a sharp right back on yourself onto an unpaved track "Camino Estero del Bosque" that runs past Refugio Cerro Castillo. Follow the track; it bears left round a corner, over a bridge and you arrive at a car park. The kiosk for the trailhead is just beyond the carpark.

We were charged a $5,000 pesos CONAF fee and a $9,000 pesos landowner fee for the private land traversed in the early part of the hike. This is the Chilean nationals rate which, strangely, we were offered; it's usually $5,000 pesos more for international visitors. I saw some discussion online about the landowner's fee and this may now be waived; it's worth checking the current situation. There is a good map at the kiosk showing several routes to the top and guides who will offer to guide you or give advice. 

 

We did the walk on a stunning summer's day, on the 30th December, 2019 in 22 degrees. There are three distinct sections to the walk.

We set off through woods of Nothofagus beech trees, climbing quite steeply but always in the shade of mature and very beautiful woodland. The trail then emerges into open, grassy and exposed areas which become undulating, through camomile bushes and over many streams with logs straddling them for dry crossing. Then the climb steepens sharply again over loose scree, stones and earth paths. There are a few rope handrails in steeper sections. The trail is very well marked. 

The views en route are panoramic and stunning. The Rio Ibáñez valley is laid below you and the Ibáñez river snakes south towards Puerto Ibáñez and Lago General Carrera beyond.  But the best is yet to come. You come upon your destination on the southern side of Laguna Castillo where you have a grandstand amphitheatre view of the Cerro Castillo glaciers across the water, on the northern side. The hanging glaciers dropping down to the laguna are blindingly white with fringes of turquoise ice, set off by the brilliant blue of the laguna below.There are many spots to hunker down amongst rocks and take shelter from the wind, which was bracing and cold that day despite the sunshine and cloudless sky. We had lunch tucked into a sheltered bowl, rocks behind to lean against, our legs stretched out in front and the stunning panorama beyond. Our layers of wind proof clothing were appreciated and necessary.

Our stats recorded a 1066m ascent to the top and 7kms exactly in distance each way. We took 2 hours 44 minutes to walk up and 2 hours 15 minutes to come down; the return would normally have been faster but one of our family had an existing knee injury which was painful on the descent. There was water at the 5.8km mark on the way up which was icy and delicious.

By Jacs Taylor-Smith ()

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