Coyhaique National Reserve

I search for a taxi for half an hour without luck – one guy’s waiting for someone who called him, one guy flat-out refuses to take me out there. Just doesn’t want to it seems. I keep walking around, trying to find a Plan B when I find a “rural tourism house”, a small trailer. I go inside and there are tons of brochures for staying at farms, trekking, etc. A girl at a desk asks me what’s up and when I apologize for shitty Spanish she starts speaking fluent English. I explain what I’m trying and she says “Yeah, taxis sometimes just don’t want to go out there.” Hmm. She says I could walk though, it’s only 5 k. That’s nothing, I’m in.

I walk out the end of town and it’s sun-raining. Sidewalk ends, pass the “Bienvenidos” sign at the edge of town. After about a kilometer or so downhill I hit a fork in the road. I’m gonna guess… right. After a little bit further I see a dirt road on the next right, heading uphill with a sign indicating the reserve’s up there. Sweet, I’ll be there in no time, the sign says 1500 meters!

Oooooof. Nope. Not so much. This hill is CRAZY steep. I’m hunched about as far over as I can go pushing myself uphill. Stop and drink water. Push further. Stop and drink again. Holy crap. The sky opens up and starts spitting on me so I throw the raincoat on quickly. This stretch, despite being half the length, takes twice as long as the first stretch did, but I get there, sweaty and with rain-soaked pants.

There’s a woman in the front office who, after confirming I speak rudimentary Spanish, takes my fee (1000 for locals, 3000 for gringos), walks me through a trail map and gets me to sign into a log book and sign off on a waiver / promise that I won’t light things on fire. When I get out the rain has stopped and I head down the trail.

It’s not what I expected – it’s very well-groomed and mostly under canopy rather than along a ridgeline for the views.

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There are quite a few “gnarly trees” around. I have no idea what these things are but they have spiky-looking “leaves” (are they leaves?) growing off both the limbs and the trunk. Really odd looking:

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A lot of little streams coming down off the hill, but bridges built over all of them. With the pine needle bed over most of the path, my new hiking boots are almost unnecessary, it could easily be done in sneakers:

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After about a kilometer I reach a small wooden rig that looks like bleachers. It’s for the view of town:

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I take off my boots and socks to let the dogs breath a bit. This is only the second day I’ve worn these kicks and they’re not quite broken in yet. Might as well lie down too, the sun feels good… annnnd… I fall asleep.

Cold rain wakes me up. It’s sun-raining again, time to get moving. The next kilometer is a lot more uphill but still fairly easy and still under the canopy. The trail opens up a bit and meets the access road that runs through the park, then both open up into a large clearing where there’s a campground, washrooms and a small museum (which is closed unfortunately). The museum has a water wheel spinning away in the stream behind it:

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I keep moving further up the trail and as I gain altitude the forest opens up more and more. This would be a fantastic place to camp rough, there are tons of great spots for a tent between and under the pines:

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Along with the pines are what looks a hell of a lot like recently-dead bamboo. I don’t know if it is – I wouldn’t have thought it’d be possible with the climate – but that’s what it looks like, just really skinny:

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I didn’t take a picture of it, but there was a small amount here and there that was alive, and it looked even more like bamboo. (I just checked Wikipedia and some types of bamboo do grow in Chile as far down as 47 degrees south… I’m just short of 46 here.)

The trail keeps climbing higher and higher. The handout map that I got at the park entrance isn’t topographic but it does have altitudes in meters interspersed here and there around the trails and points of interest, and it looks like it isn’t going to get much higher after this. Good for me cause the glutes are yelling. I hit a couple of small switchbacks and I’m to a large lookout platform with a concrete pathway leading from it:

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The concrete pathway leads to a parking lot – this is the end of the access road that people can take to get to the campground up here. There are about a dozen people milling around the site along with some tents, half a dozen small log shelters with wood stoves and a lake (Laguna Verde according to my map, doesn’t look green to me though):

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The trail mostly levels off after this point, with a few gullies and streams being the exceptions. There are boulders here and there along the trail, and many more of the trees look dead or dying. There must’ve been a pretty serious storm through here in the last year or two as well, because there are dead trees all over the places, some cut up to re-open the path.

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The path is still pretty easy going though, but there’s an extended route that heads higher up the mountain. The sign at the trailhead says it’s 10.5 kilometers and an estimated 4.5 hours. I don’t think I’ve got the time or the energy to do that today, but if I was camping here I sure would. Along the trail there are places where older bridges have been knocked out and new ones built; some of them are pretty neat designs, i.e. the one below where a log has been put across the stream and grooves cut into it to hold boards. There are three more lakes along the route as well:

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At one point where the access road cut across the trail there was this warning sign:

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I decide to walk the rest of the trail with my headphones off just in case, although if a puma did decide to jump me I don’t imagine I’d hear it coming anyway.

The trail starts descending, and fast. Several switchbacks and the shins are screaming. I hear what I think is a horse in the forest. What the hell? Oh shit, it IS a horse in the forest. Four of them, with a couple of youngins. One stares me down hard while the others head off in the opposite direction, apparently displeased by my presence.

The trail comes out to the front gate and after checking-out I head downhill. The sun’s out but the dark clouds are still in the horizon and rain’s visible here and there. Makes for some great views.

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I’m feeling it in my feet and my butt on the walk back to town. Five km to the reserve, 10.2 km of trails and 5 km back, very little of which was flat. The rain opens up on me hard on the way back too. As soon as a I get back to town I grab a steak and it’s pretty awesome.

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