With daylight fading, Beth and I started off on the first day of a 3 or 4 day hike. The first day was supposed to be a 5 hour hike, but due to prior events of the day, we only had 3 hours of usable daylight left. The trail is easy going as it is on a 4 wheel drive track for the first ~13km. Since you pass through or over several gates meant for cattle ranching, it can be a bit confusing whether your still on the trail or crossing into private property (knowing more Spanish would have helped in deciphering signage). For the most part you just continue on the largest road/path for the first day.
Passing a small homestead/ranch roughly less than a mile into the hike
First glimpse the Cerro Castillo group as we entered the valley
Beth making another stream crossing as we begin to come in full view of the peak
For those people coming to this site in search of information about the hike I want to digress in the hopes of helping. We had a hard time finding maps online and could not get a hold of a proper topo for the region. Fortunately our taxi driver Boris could identify our lack of preparedness and stopped at some form of a ranger station a few kilometers before the start of hike and they provided us with a map (which I’ve proceeded to lose otherwise I would have scanned a copy). To help others I’ve started a Google map with some key spots indicated. I can’t guarantee the accuracy of the locations but the start of the hike and the ranger station should be spot on. After some post-trip web browsing I have come across some additional maps that may be helpful to future hikers. There appears to be a purchasable map here.
Link to Google Map of Key Points on Hike
Low resolution topographic map that has most of the major way-points marked. This map was helpful but also the source of some ambiguity due to the low resolution of the iso-lines. The descent from Morro Rojo crosses the saddle and passes to the south of summit; it does not attain the summit at any point although this map very nearly shows that.
We managed to get several kilometers under our belts before the sun tucked behind the mountains and we decided to set up camp for the night. I don’t know the Chilean restrictions on wilderness camping but we didn’t have much of an option at that point. If one starts early enough in the day there should be no problem getting to the official start of the park and the first campground.
Due to the extensive travel during the previous few days we slept in the morning of the second day of the hike. Once on our way we were greeted with incredible views of our destination.
After a few hours we came to the official park entrance where you have to pay 5,000 pesos per person. This is also the location of the first designated and maintained campsite. If planning to camp here, I would recommend continuing on for a few more kilometers until you reach the Rio Turbio campsite. The environment and scenery is much more attractive.
Upon reaching the Rio Turbio river bed and looking upstream toward our path
My recommendation for the first night campsite
Panorama of the valley floor. The pass can be seen left-of-center as the deep ‘U’ shape along the skyline.
The route takes you upstream along the Rio Turbio for a several kilometers before diverging to the south toward the pass. From here it is continuous uphill until the pass. The path takes you through a forest that, at least at the time of year we were there, had an endless number of caterpillars. Once you pass treeline the route follows rock cairns through class II scrambling.
- Panorama from the pass looking back at the colors above the Rio Turbio
The pass is a narrow corridor flanked by steep scree slopes. While the path is relatively flat for a few hundred meters, it’s not a place I would choose to linger; the slopes seem as if they are prone to sliding. While it might not be a catastrophic slide, getting pelted by rocks is never enjoyable. As we neared the other side of pass our fear of cold, high winds was realized. Against better advice, we had gone over the pass in afternoon which, likely, exacerbated the weather problem.
Beth is dwarfed by the steep scree slopes along the path
The descent on the other side is on loose, unstable rock and dirt. A difficult balance was struck between moving quickly to stay warm in the freezing gusts and to move slowly as to not loose your footing. As always, the views rewarded our efforts.
A hanging glacier that overlooked our descent off the windy pass
Nearing the jagged skyline
A forest in fall. The picture doesn’t capture the quiet, serene atmosphere of the late afternoon
Although not excessively powerful, the wind was incessant during the descent from the pass. With the sun setting and my hands numbing we made it to treeline on the other side. Paralleling the glacial-fed creek, we descended through fall colored, low canopy forests. Roughly 45 minutes after attaining the trees we found a campsite and quickly set to making a hot meal. We called it an early night.
The third day started even later than the second. Perhaps the lingering exhaustion from travel was compounded with the ~15 kilometers we hiked the previous day; or, perhaps, we were just lazy.
The day was sun once we started out. We were heading for the low point in our path; a confluence between the creek we were paralleling and the creek that drained Lago Cerro Castillo. It was demoralizing to be loosing elevation knowing that we would immediately be regaining it, however it was still a pleasant hike.
All of the peaks in the vicinity of Cerro Castillo bare a similar, jagged profile. I can’t remember if this was the main feature or a side peak.
Jens-y framed by forests, cliffs, and glaciers
We reached the confluence and began to climb once more. Nearing treeline yet again we were greeted by an idyllic, sunny meadow that overlooked most of our path since the pass of the previous day. More hanging glaciers loomed above. The meadow climbed slowly, broken by the scree slopes of Cerro Castillo, making it’s way to Lago Cerro Castillo. This was to be our decision point: continue around to the north-west side of Cerro Castillo for an additional night and day of backpacking or turn toward the base of the mountain and make our way to Villa Cerro Castillo.
Lago Cerro Castillo
The author trying to look stoic
After stopping for a much needed lunch we made the call to head directly toward the valley. Our concern was that we wouldn’t move fast enough the following day and miss our meeting time with our friends Kelcie and Orion who were scheduled to be driving north from Lago General Carrera around midday.
At this point we nearly made a costly mistake. Our lunch spot was actually just a 3-4 hour hike to the valley floor but the little bits of information we could piece together from online sources and our broken conversations with the locals led us to believe we had a long traverse around the northern face of Morro Rojo, a subpeak of Cerro Castillo. This is simply incorrect. The actual descent is much more straightforward and involves crossing the the ridge between Morro Rojo and Cerro Castillo and along a trail on the southern face of Morro Rojo. Luckily, we happened to encounter a sole day hiker that had come up from the valley and was able to point us in the right direction, saving us hours of hiking down a trail-less river valley.
Upon getting our bearings and crossing the Morro Rojo-Cerro Castillo saddle toward the valley floor, we were battered by intense, relentless winds. Gusts neared 80mph and required one to take shelter behind rocks or simply lie on the ground to avoid being blown off your feet. Thankfully the slope of the face in adjacent to the trail was not severe enough as to threaten an un-arrestable fall. Had this been otherwise we might have had to camp on the saddle to avoid being blown off the mountain.
Looking into the Rio Ibáñez valley during a brief reprieve from the wind. Villa Cerro Castillo can be seen in the far right-center
At this point I ran out of memory on my camera’s SD card. The end of the hike follows a clear trail until you reach treeline once more. At this point it splits into a maze of cow trails that aimlessly wander the slopes of the mountain. The philosophy was to continue to head down hill on the most well trodden trail and hope we wouldn’t stray too far from the town by the time we reached the valley floor. After several more hours of hiking (and several crossing through what we assumed was private property) we managed to reach the village. With light fading and the winds continually howling down the river we stumbled into a hostel and got a wonderful nights rest on the first bed we had slept on in 5 or 6 days.