Greater Patagonian Trail 4 Siete Tazas- Rio Colorado

After a cold shower I walk back to the Pizzeria, which opens just for me and where I am treated to an omelette. On TV I get to know that big forest fires are devastating Central Chile. I can only hope, that this won't have an effect on my hike...

There is a shop in Los Quenes where I buy some food like chocolate and spaghetti. As the campground owner told me, the first bus to Curico leaves at 9 o'clock. When we reach the terminal I immediately can hop on the Bus to Molina. The bus driver is a funny chap, so we chat a little bit about Chile and Germany. From Molina there is a bus to Siete Tazas Nationalpark, but I have some time left. I buy more food at the large supermarket near the plaza, so that I have again provisions for 20 days. Then I hang out in the shadow of the tall trees around this central place, enjoying 1 kilo of chocolate ice...
The bus leaves the tarmac half an hour after Molina. We drive past empty fields and huge pine plantations. Then we descend up Rio Claro valley (Apparently the Spanish were not very creative with their river names...). There are a lot of campgrounds, the area seems to be very popular with chilean tourists. After passing Radal the road climbs steeply before I leave the bus at Parque Nacional Siete Tazas.
This is a busy place, and I need to buy a ticket for about 4 Euro!
There is a very good trail across the forest, but unfortunately it is not possible to do a bigger round or walking to Parque Ingles. 
The main sensation here are the falls of the Rio Claro, which plunges in seven consecutive pools. 

                                                                      Siete Tazas

At one pool a lot of people are sunbathing and swimming.

                                                     Water joy at Siete Tazas

I continue along the road for 4 kilometers until I reach Parque Ingles, the headquarter of the Nationalpark and a large campground are located here. Because of the wildfires all trails of the park are closed! But tomorrow I am sure I can sneak in. For today I install myself on the campground, at 1088 m altitude. People left two melons, yummy...

                                                The large Campground at Parque Ingles

While I am eating at the fast food restaurant of the place, two exhausted hikers show up, wow the first other trekkers I meet in Chile! It turns out that they did a 4- day trip towards Volcan Descabezado Grande, on the well known Condor Circuit. They enjoyed it, but seem to be tired.
To avoid that anybody sees me when I sneak into the closed park next morning, I start early.
For the first three hours to El Bolson I follow a fine, well trodden path. Some boards give excellent information about the park.

                                      Informative boards

                                             Well trodden path

I walk across beautiful southern beech forest, for the first time of the walk not only confirmed to the valleys.


                                                         In beautiful forest

After two hours the path climbs to a plateau, overgrown with dense scrub, formed by Nirre trees. 
They seem to like the volcanic soils.

                                                              Nirre scrub

El Bolson consists of three huts in a bowl shaped valley. There should be a refuge, but everything is closed.

                                                                          El Bolson

I ascent into a barren, beige volcanic landscape and reach the fertile, well watered Valle de los Indios, a stark contrast to the surrounding desert.

                                                   Valle de los Indios

While I am having my lunch break, I observe the nest of a pair of falcons in a tree nearby. The two young ones are already quite large and beg their parents for constant feeding...

                                                                    Falcon nest

After the Valle de los Indios the still good horse trail climbs in switchbacks to a pass at 2260 m. The air is unusual dusty so the view of the stony landscape is quite obscured.
At the Laguna de Animas below, I observe a family of Andean Geese for some time. They seem not to have much fear of man!

                                                              Andean Geese

                                                    Laguna de Animas

Not far above the lake I find a beautiful campground in a flowery oasis with a small creek. While in the process of setting up my camp, a group of riders approaches. They are too far away to chat with them, but from their look I take them for tourists. Quite wrong, as I should see tomorrow...

                                        Camp in nice, little oasis

After cooking dinner on my woodstove I take a walk further up on the horse trail. The landscape with black rocks, white sands and colourful flowers along the creeks is really surreal.

                                Volcanic landscape with white sand

                                            Creeks full of flowers

The setting sun turns the rocks into a warm red.

                                         Warm colours at sunset

                                                       Sandy valley

Mountain passes seem to be somehow irresistible to me, so I climb up to 2542 meters, from where I can see a snowy volcano and Laguna Mondaca where I will go tomorrow.

                                              View from pass 2542 meters

While I descend back to my camp the evening light in its warmth and clarity becomes even more beautiful.

                                                  A fantastic evening

Just before reaching camp I am able to enjoy the colours of the sunset.


In the morning before the sun rises it is quite cool, so I am grateful to wear my fleece. Now, in the morning light the landscape looks different, but fascinating as well.

                             Different look like in the evening

Soon I am at the pass again, and start the long descent towards Rio Lontue and Laguna Mondaca. The huge swell of cold lava makes me think of how it was here, when the volcanoes were active...

                                                 Descent towards Rio Lontue

                            View towards Laguna Mondaca

Often the white sand is so deep, that I wish to have gaiters. As I don't carry them, I often need to pour out my trailrunning shoes...

                                                          Deep, white sands

                                                   Into the former lava filled valley

In the valley the main thread of the Greater Patagonian Trail turns towards Volcan Descabezado Grande. As I want to continue my route where I had to abandon it at Rio Colorado, I walk on to Laguna Mondaca. 
The lake is situated at just 1450 m, a huge drop from the pass! To my surprise there is a hut on the shore, and a boat with outboard engine. Like often on the GPT I have a bad conscience, because I saw the "No entry sign". But the guy who turns up, just gives me directions how to continue, because first I don't see a trail in the high grass of the valley.

                                                             Laguna Mondaca

In the lush valley there are a lot of spiky seeds and annoying gadflies.

                                                                       Grassy valley

To my surprise I reach a tented camp with a helicopter parked on the ground. First I think of the apparent tourist rider group I saw yesterday in the evening. But when an older man starts talking to me, it becomes clear, that this is the owner family of the estate who have some kind of annual meeting here. One of them has health problems, therefore he took a company helicopter to join the others! But again, to my surprise despite the signs, no word that I am illegal here! To the contrary the man explains my further route and says that on another pasture, in a high valley his brother is staying with the cattle!
The trail comes and goes and eventually the flat valley ends and I have to climb a steep, dark escarpment with a number of thundering waterfalls.

                                                           Steep ascent

Again I pass a no entry sign and there even seems to be the hut of a guard, but I see nobody.

                            Despite the signs, apparently no problem for hikers

Steep parts change with rather flat terraces. It is fascinating to see how a multitude of waterfalls comes cascading down the dark Basalt gorges.

Already far away I get some last views on Laguna Mondaca.

                               View back towards Laguna Mondaca

                                                           Series of cascadas

Once I meet an apparently grumpy old man and a young boy who are riding towards Laguna Mondaca. They don't even stop to have a word with me...

                                                             I meet two riders

After reaching a pass at 1954 m, I descent into a wide bowl shaped valley, cows paradise!

                                                                   Pass at 1954 m

There are numerous small streams which make the valley lush and attractive for the cattle. There is no trail, but the walking is easy, I just need to avoid the wetlands which causes some detours.

                                                          Big bowl full of cattle

I had hoped that at the other side of the valley a path will turn up, but no, there is no room in the steep gorge which empties into the bowl and the basalt escarpment at the side is too steep to negotiate by horse or cow. It is already quite late so probably it would be sensible to make camp and scout for a way next morning, but I want to know what's on the other side. So I leave my bag and climb the basalt cliff, which is not very difficult.

                The basalt cliff at the end of the valley has to be climbed

On the other side there is another wide valley, apparently without cattle. The descent is quite steep but I manage to find a suitable route and return with my backback.

                                               The valley on the other side

While I lay down to photograph some beautiful flowers, a boulder begins to roll and almost crushes my hand. Luckily it only hits one fingernail which turns black...

                                                     Hard deserved photograph...

After a tough but rewarding day I finally pitch my tent in the valley and look forward to what the next day will bring!

My feet have a few raw spots, because of all the sand. I put some Leukoplast on them and continue in the morning without further problems. 
Soon I find a horse trail again which apparently circumnavigated the cliff on the left side.

Easy to walk

Most of the time the walking is quite easy, but I have to look out for the plants with the sticky, thorny seeds, otherwise I need to stop frequently to pull them out of my socks and skin...

                                                 Annoying, sticky seeds

I leave the valley over a flat pass at 2380 m,  and reach a wide, barren volcanic landscape, reminding me a bit of the Altiplano in southern Bolivia.
Apart from the mostly good visible path, one could think to be the only human in the world...

                 Wide open landscape, reminding me of the Altiplano

I descent to a creek, which I cross with my shoes and socks on. While I am having my chocolate break on the other side, my garments are dry again!
I follow the river up on the steep scree slope, but again, easy because of the horse path.

                                                  Walking the slopes above the valley

When the valley flattens out, there is hardly any vegetation left. Beautiful high mountain desert!

                                                High mountain desert

I reach a lake with a rust coloured mountain in the background.

                                           View back to the lake

After the lake, the cattle tracks disappear and I follow the GPS- route, across the wide seemingly lifeless plateau, distant volcanoes always visible. The landscape is fascinating in its nothingness but would it not be me, a seeker and lover of vast spaces and desert solitude, the scenery could have an intimidating effect...

                                        Into the wide open,  under the sky of blue

At 2524 meters I start the descent to the Rio Colorado. Soon the side valley becomes steeper and steeper and only rarely a stretch of trail is visible. It is not easy to find a suitable route down, but after some tough descending I get to an almost dry lake. From there a path starts again, leading me to the slopes high above the deeply incised Rio Colorado. As the trail seems to run parallel to the valley, but not going down, at some point I continue cross country. Especially the last stretch negotiating a boulderfield is not easy.

                                                        Rio Colorado valley

Finally I put my camp up on a grassy meadow not far above the river. Here I am again at just 1689 metres, the vegetation is much denser than higher above.

                                                     Camp at Rio Colorado

In the evening I scout downstream, but soon end at invincible cliffs above the river. Crossing the torrent looks almost impossible...                         

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