After half an hour walking I cross the tarmac road, leading to Argentina. At this early morning hour there is no traffic. I quickly cross the road and continue on the other side. A herd of cattle gives way, causing a huge dust cloud.
I continue trailless across the flat plain, leading to Laguna del Maule. It is quite chilly, so I wear fleece and jacket. Once I need to cross the creek barefoot.
Walking towards Laguna del Maule
The lake is about 15x25 km wide and contains the caldera of volcanoes which are still quite active. It is possible, that in the not too distant future there will be massive eruptions...
I follow the eastern shore of the lake. For a short while there is a cattle trail, but mostly I hike trackless. After a flat, sandy stretch, the walking is mostly on rocky terraces above the Laguna, not too hard to walk.
Hiking the eastern shore of Laguna del Maule
There are quite a lot of birds and once I spot a huge fish. The water of the lake is crystal clear!
The stoney terraces give way for a wide white shore out of fine gravel and white sand. Speed hiking terrain!
At around noon I spot another pedestrian, walking towards me. First I think of another GPT-hiker, but than it turns out that the guy is carrying a fishing rod. Sargente Rakwitz is a carabinero, who's basecamp is not too far away near the southern end of the lake. He is very friendly and we chat a bit before we continue walking.
White beaches and clear waters
Until after noon there was no wind, but during my lunch break it takes only two minutes until a stiff breeze is blowing. Any packrafter should stay very close to the shore...
I walk around the southeastern bay, but am able to do a shortcut across a muddy plain, part of the lake at higher water levels. Only for a short stretch I need to walk barefoot, to avoid my shoes getting totally mudded.
View back into the southeastern bay
Soon the lake is behind me and I walk on cattle trails into a nice little valley, with a lively little creek. I want to camp low, because of the warmer temperatures and even fear that higher up, I might not find wood, therefore I pitch camp early.
Beautiful small valley
When I do a long evening stroll upstream, I realize that many small birds live in this sheltered valley. They are not too shy, so I take a number of photographs.
A bird rich valley
On my way back I see interesting clouds, messenger of changing weather?
Last light on the slopes
Early in the morning I continue walking upstream. The valley is still in shade and quite cool. All the birds not active yet...
I follow the valley upstream
It doesn't take long before I leave the valley and Jan's GPS- Route.
My friend Bernd has been to the area some years before and suggested to climb up to the border ridge from where superb views towards Laguna del Maule on the chilean side and Laguna Fea in Argentina are possible. As Bernd is probably one of the most experienced hikers in the world, with a great love of beautiful wilderness places, I can't resist to follow his advice.
Soon I am on barren brown slopes which are not too hard to negotiate, although I sink frequently in the soft sand.
The view reaches back to Laguna del Maule.
Laguna del Maule with Cerro Campanario
I traverse a steep, rocky slope before I get to the ridge.
Traversing steep slopes
The view towards the deep blue Laguna Fea is breathtaking, while Laguna del Maule looks less impressive from here.
Views from the border ridge
Following the ridgeline is not so easy, because steep, rocky outcrops often make long detours necessary.
Following the ridgeline
More views towards Laguna Fea from the border ridge
At about 2900 meters there is a cold, intense wind. Although my body gets enough exercise here, I need to wear my fleece. Finally the long descent down the rocky scree slope starts. Not the best terrain for my already hard beaten trail running shoes. They show some holes and the tread is almost totally worn down...
At about 2600 meters the first grass appears and there are even some cows. Huge pillars of moss grow in patches. This soft looking, but hard feeling moss I already know from Bolivia.
Patches of moss
After a last steep step I reach the floor of the valley and there are again cattle trails to follow. The valley of Rio Melado which leads to Laguna Dial I will follow for some days.
I pass a puesto with people outside, and later, where the valley bends to the left there are masses of goats and another puesto. Probably a settler is living here, the big landowners usually only keep horses and cows...
Down the valley
After passing a wide, open area, the river disappears in a gorge, where I find a sheltered, nice, grassy spot. For my taste this is too near to the puesto, but probably there are more downstream and the spot is really beautiful.
Fine camping spot
After cooking spaghetti I go for a stroll. Soon I find a trail that leads out of the gorge. The low evening sun illuminates the scenery with the multicoloured rock layers perfectly.
Evening light on colourful mountains
The next day is very special for me, as I am turning 50! During the last days I thought quite a lot about this birthday, which feels quite special. Of course, there are some thoughts how getting older will affect me and my still ambitious hiking plans. But for now I am very grateful to be here and be able to enjoy the walk. And as I still feel strong I am quite sure that I will be able to continue my wandering lifestyle for many more years to come.
50 and still walking....
The valley is sometimes broad and at other times more narrow. There are some puestos far from each other, but I never get the expression, that many people are living here. The walking on the good horse tracks is easy and fast.
Around midday a group of riders approaches me. As usual I ask if they speak english and it turns out, that this is a group of french riders from Paris who do a week long organized ride here. The load of their packhorse has to be better balanced, therefore we have some time to chat, a real birthday present!
I meet a group of french riders
Unlike most days in Chile, when the sky is perfectly blue, today there is a milky haze. It looks like the weather is going to change....
Spots of thick brush
Sometimes the river disappears in a gorge
I find a beautiful place to camp on a plateau above a gorge. Thanks to modern technology I can receive some birthday messages! For the first time I use a device which does not only allow me to send messages via satellite, but to receive as well.
The gorge below
For some time it seems like it will be bad weather. There are thick clouds and cold wind gusts. But in the evening it is calm again, and I enjoy the view on the illuminated slopes around me.
Last sunrays of the day
Next morning thick clouds are threatening. Immediately after breaking camp I need some time to find the horse tracks again. In spots, especially in little ravines, there is quite a lot of brush.
Unusual cloudy morning
Already at 9.30 light rain starts to fall further down the valley, but soon enough reaches me as well. When the rain becomes more intense, for the first time of this trek I wear my raingear and seek shelter under a overhanging rock, when the downpour becomes heavier. But luckily the strong rain lasts only a short time and soon I continue walking. It is interesting how different and green the newly refreshed landscape presents itself. A nice change from sun and blue skies...
For some time there is even thunder in the air, but already at noon the sky clears and the sun comes back!
I only pass two puestos and see a whistling rider on the other side of the river which often changes from tight gorges to open valleys. Sometimes I need to wade when the trail changes the side. Although the Rio Melado is quite long, the crossings are easy and I do them barefoot.
The sky clears
Later in the afternoon I turn left into a side valley, where I get on the main route of the Greater Patagonian Trail. Although with rain and clouds the landscape was quite beautiful I found the walking in the valley a little monotonous and am looking forward to Laguna Dial which is not far away. But anyway for today I have enough and pitch camp. While I am cooking two grey hummingbirds visit the wild rose bush next to me. But unfortunately they are too fast to get a picture...
Before dinner is ready, disaster strikes: The stone which I had erected to stabilize my stove collapses and I loose some spaghetti. What can be worse for a hungry hiker!
Camp before Laguna Dial
Later I do a short evening stroll, and follow the trail above a basalt gorge, in one place a little exposed.
Short steep spot above the river
The next morning is perfectly clear and blue again, although unusual chilly. After one and a half hour climbing I reach the very beautiful Laguna Dial when the sun just has illuminated the shore. There is a perfect camping spot so I regret a little bit not to have walked here yesterday...
I reach Laguna Dial early in the morning
Soon the track climbs steeply up a hillside and I am stunned to witness how a man drives his herd of goats down the slope.
A riding woman with a packhorse follows him. Settlers who wants to sell their goats somewhere or just moving to a new pasture? We greet each other, but there is no time to chat.
Hard work and/ or idyll?
The track climbs to a pass with beautiful vistas on the lake.
Laguna Dial from a pass
A valley is filled with dark old lava rocks.
In former times lava spilled into the lake
Mostly the slopes rise steeply from the lake, but there are flatter stretches as well. Beautiful camping areas on this roadless lake!
Later in the morning the temperatures here at just 1350 meters are high again and I can't resist the temptation to take a cooling bath in the fantastic clear blue, but cool waters of the lake, when I reach a nice bay.
Nice swimming spot
There are quite a lot of birds, ducks, geese, divers and smaller ones.
Bird rich lake
Most of the time the good horse trail traverses the slopes above the Laguna.
Following the lakeshore
There is a lot of up and down. While I am descending to the shore I notice that there are hundreds of goats. About 10 people have put up a provisional camp.
Hundreds of goats in a bay
Finally I reach the end of the lake. Down below somebody has his camp and there are even two small boats with fishing rods attached!
The southwestern side of Laguna Dial
I follow a valley upwards. For the first time since Siete Tazas there is green Nirre brush. But a little higher just yellow grass remains.
Ascending a valley
As I want to camp at a probably waterless pass, I cook in the valley below and then walk on into the evening.
Just below the unspectacular pass at about 2000 meters I pitch camp. Another fine day with beautiful Laguna Dial as high point comes to an end.
Camp below pass at 2000 m