It felt so good to have people come and visit. But with this pleasure also comes the disappointment of them leaving. After friends or family leave it makes me miss “home” a lot and I’m left feeling a little depressed. We are on this incredible journey, and I don’t like to take any of it for granted, but we aren’t immune to life’s emotional ups and downs. But then it happens… you travel to a place that’s so pure and full of life that it changes your perspective in one instant. You feel connected again and experience the overwhelming sense of joy that comes from spending time in the great outdoors, and experiencing these amazing places. I’ll never forget this life lesson – being physical outside in nature can do wonders for your spirit, your mood, and your outlook on life. Cochamó was this for me.
Cochamó valley has been called the Yosemite of South America. But there is one big difference… no cars for miles! The only way you can experience Cochamó is to hike in 5 hours with all your supplies. And over the last 20 years Cochamó has become a famous mecca for rock climbers from around the world seeking to climb the tallest rock faces in South America, along with trekkers/hikers and lovers of nature, all willing to make that journey to experience the place.
Before we started off for the valley, we spent a day preparing our food for the 5 days we would be spending camped out in Cochamó. We had done multi-day hikes before, but never for this long and without great options for healthy snacks in the stores. So we made homemade peanut butter, no-bake granola bars, and hummus (thanks vitamix!). We left Titus and hiked in 4-5 hours on day 1 with our 10 pounds of food (ugh!) and settled into Camp La Junta, which is where all the rock climbers tend to stay, as well as a myriad of young college-aged Chileans with guitars on their summer vacation, and a swarm of biting Tabano horseflies that would stay with you as long as the sun was up. The hike was beautiful, but the real show was waiting for us when we arrived in the valley… it’s then that you can see beyond the forest trees…WOW! We picked a spot on the grass as home-base for the next five days and started to ask around about day hikes.
What is so cool about the hikes in Cochamó is that most of the trails were created by rock climbers for access to the amazing granite rock faces, so they tend to be very interesting routes through the mountains (i.e., direct routes instead of the most easy). The first day-hike we heard about was a 7 hour round-trip hike to Anfiteatro (talk about a long approach for the rock climbers!). So the next day we made our avena breakfast (oatmeal), packed our lunch/snacks and started out for Anfiteatro. We would soon learn that the hikes in Cochamó valley were no joke, but that the views and nature we would encounter would make it soooo worth it. There were never-ending streams to cross, downed trees, and beautifully massive and ancient Alerce trees (the older cousin of the giant sequoias in California).
The next day we decided to do a short day hike and hit a natural water-slide, the Tobogan. We started our hike and got to see some sport climbers on some low rock faces, and quickly lost the trail that headed straight up the mountain. Oh well, water-slide time! The Tobogan is a massive granite waterfall that mimics a giant slide, and ends with a dunk in a glacier-blue (and cold!) lagoon. People recommended watching someone else go first down this massive granite rock, so you don’t “mess up” coming down and break a bone, but with no one in sight, George jumped in and tried his luck…fortunately it worked out well (phew!). Check out George coming down in all his glory.
The HIGHlight of our Cochamó Day-Hikes – Mirador del Arco Iris
We did a few other day hikes, but people around camp kept telling us about an amazing and difficult day hike called Arco Iris. We made sure to save our energy for this one and headed out early one morning to make our way straight up the mountain to a vista (mirador) that would be one of the most stunning of our trip. But this would also be one of the most challenging one-day hike we’ve ever been on. After hiking through a beautiful and very steep forest for 3 hours, we arrived at a few ropes to climb in order to continue… I was more than a little hesitant to climb up the wet, slippery granite using only what appeared go be old ropes, and a sheer drop-off below that would send you tumbling 1,000+ feet. But I conquered my fear and the payoff was worth it! The day was perfect, the weather incredible, and you could see the entire valley from the snowline. My heart was pumping and it felt incredible to be connected again. Thank you Cochamó!
Cochamó really is a special place, and I hope to visit again in the years to come. Its comforting to know that despite the valley being private land (yes, privately owned by multiple people…unbelievable!), there is a sense that the locals here understand what a special place it is, and are doing what they can to protect it. It’s the only place I’ve seen in Chile explain conservation techniques being implemented and how you can help “leave no trace”. And if we all do our part, it will be a special place for many years to come.