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Into the Wilderness Slightly Unprepared

Coyhaique, ChileWith nothing to do but hang around Cohaique until my ATM card arrives in the mail Alan suggested that we should buy some sleeping bags, get dumped off somewhere near a national reserve and just start hiking. This sounded like a good idea to me so we spent the better part of an afternoon [...]

Coyhaique, Chile

With nothing to do but hang around Cohaique until my ATM card arrives in the mail Alan suggested that we should buy some sleeping bags, get dumped off somewhere near a national reserve and just start hiking. This sounded like a good idea to me so we spent the better part of an afternoon searching every shop that had the smallest possibility of selling tents. We found two cheapo tents for 13,900 pesos ($30) . A far cry cheaper than the 60,000-70,000 peso ($125-$145) tents we were finding in other stores.


Tents and ground mats purchased we were ready to go. Almost. Alan wanted a sleeping bag and to prevent starvation we thought buying some food and something to cookeat it in would be a good a idea as well.

Now we were ready to go.

For the first night we found a semi-secluded spot on the outskirts of Villa Cerro Castillo (pop. 400) on a ranchers land next to a river to pitch our tents. We watched the sky turn a golden red color as the sun set over snow capped mountains. While impressive it also causes the temperature to plummet. Fast.

From Patagonia Chile 2011-03
Great sight but cold

We couldn’t get a fire started that night so we went to bed cold and hungry. Alan crawled into his sleeping bag and I crawled into my sleep sack. In my infinite wisdom I decided against buying a sleeping bag because I didn’t want to the extra encumbrance for the rest of Chile and Argentina. My sleep sack was good for adding an extra 10 degrees of warmth though. It has never truly been tested and was only used previously on occasions in Central America when hotel room sheets had a few too many mystery spots on them.

That first night was nothing short of complete misery. I was cold but my toes were ice. Three pairs of socks weren’t enough and I don’t think thirty pairs would have made a difference. Misery loves company and Alan, even with his sleeping bag, wasn’t much better off in a sleeping bag that was made for cool summer nights.

Miserable in the morning we packed up and moved on.

When I trek into the mountains I have a few preferences.

  1. I don’t want to see people
  2. I don’t want to see cell phone towers planted on top of mountains
  3. I don’t want to see any other sign of civilization.

In other words I want to feel like I’m remote. Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo fills all of these criteria. After the night before smart people probably wouldn’t have begun hiking further into a national reserve that was completely remote but there was only Alan and I. Just to enter the park we walked 6 kilometers outside of Villa Cerro Castillo down a dirt road until we hit a river. Then turning right we started walking up the side of a mountain. After 2 kilometers we hit the entrance. There is no road to get there. Just a thinly worn dirt trail showing the way to a dilapidated set of wooden stairs going over a barbed wire fence and a wooden welcome sign.

Besides the cold nights Alan was also suffering from a chest infection and currently had a bum knee so we set-up camp near the park entrance for the night.

I crawled in my tent for the second night at 10:30 ready to battle the cold. I was prepared. Three pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, three shirts, a jacket, a hat, wrapped in my sleep sack plus my plastic tarp which I used as a rain fly the night before and rocks heated in the coals of the fire at my feet. At 3:00 am the encroaching cold was beginning to make itself known. By 5:00 am I was well aware of it’s presence. At 8:00 am I was cold and awake but it was sunny. I sprinted out of the tent and ran up the mountain looking for a spot not covered in shade from the trees.

Noooooo! Were camped on the south-western side of the mountain! Trees or no trees I wouldn’t feel the warmth of direct sunlight for another two hours.

The second day of hiking was nothing short of extraordinary. By early afternoon we climbed close to 2,000 meters since the day before to the top of the mountain and had a 360 degree view of Cerro Castillo, the surrounding mountains and the valley below. The 360 degree photo gives an idea of what I saw but like at Fitz Roy, you only get 1/10 of the actual experience.

From Patagonia Chile 2011-03
360 degree view on top of one of the many mountains

For the third night of camping I had a similar plan to stay warm as night two except the rocks were hotter and my tarp was wrapped tighter around me. Success! A full night sleep. It may have been partly due to five hours of sleep and 18 kilometers of hiking up a mountain in the previous two days but a full night of sleep was had. Alan on the other hand never found such victory and woke up cold and sleep deprived.

Return to Civilization

We walked back to Villa Cerro Castillo but there was no bus back to Coyhaique until the following morning at 7:00 am. We weren’t waiting until tomorrow so we went to the road and put up our thumbs. Up they went and 30 minutes later we had a ride, albeit only 10 kilometers up the road. An hour and half after being dropped off a black Kia Sorrento pulls over to take us the other 90 kilometers back to civilization.

From Patagonia Chile 2011-03
Waiting for a ride

Now, if only my ATM card would arrive.

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Filed under: Chile, Cubicle Ditcher

About the Author:

Sam Langley left a comfortable and profitable job with an insurance company in the USA to travel the world. He has been going for years, and has not stopped yet. Keep up with his travels on his blog at Cubicle Ditcher. has written 147 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.