Basking in the mud

Cochamo Valley, Arco Iris, Chile 2017

We we’re in a time crunch. The storm had maniacally thrown remnants of ancient trees onto the road, blocking the only route to Cochamo. Highway 65 stitched along the Estuaria Reloncavi fjord and, on its left, a wall of ancient trees towered. Row boats bobbed, a lone cow stood motionless, stranded by high tide on a sliver of land in the bay. One goofy orange-clad attendant stood pushing around the limbs, either meticulously or lazily, I could not determine. 

The directions per Refugio Cochamo denoted the entrance closed at 4:00 pm. It was 3:51 and we were dodging buses and babies in a Versa on a gravel road. At 3:58 we pulled up to the parking area, rushing with impending doom to get to the trailhead.  The lot and sandwich steward assured us that the trail would remain open until 8pm. How foolish to think that there were actual time restrictions imposed in South America.

We prepared our sacks and stuffs, opting for more than necessary – denoting the distance of the hike and not the elements and obstacles that existed along the way. It was amateaur packing at best. Cloth napsacks weighed down with inessential rubbish. My shoulders shrugged at ear-level while my arms hung – lifeless pendulums. The first hour was gruelling for what was normally such an easy trail. The rain from the days prior packed the crevasse with feet of mud. It was hard to adjust to the weight of the packs. Footwork wasn’t trustworthy, balance faulty.

River crossing to Refugio Cochamo, Chile 2017

During the 3 miles of mud-tunneled Viet Cong canals, we encountered, at a minimum: 30 high lunge steps, 50 pole vault body- thrusting swing arounds, thousands of Satanic horseflies, 20 rolling log river crossings (with false sense of safety), 15 false checkpoints and 100 minutes of cattle-crossing planks.

In return for our miserable existence, we reaped a river-bed lined with smooth, bleached logs, clear to the depths, a valley cradled by sculpted granite trickling with linear waterfalls, a sublime palpa filled with an idyllic commune, and the sole satisfaction of seclusion from the leeches of modern society.

// The light slowly made its way to my eyes. The short night had finally fallen near 10:20 and speckled the sky with glistening sequins and smocks of blackness. I had awoken during the night, convinced it was time for morning but was mistaken. For when day lasts for over a dozen hours, day becomes the norm.

​The dorm’s window that had earlier framed the gargantuan granite kings of Anfiteatro and Laguna displayed a dense fog – a disappearing act. I lay relieved, for if the granite was too wet the route to the top would be foolhardy to attempt. A reprieve from testing my courage, a cop-out. Only after studying the map and evaluating alternative trails did I realize that it would be foolhardy not to attempt the Acro Iris. A regret that would last infinitely.

Arco Iris did not offer an introduction, it began in the crux of the plot. The earth ascended straight to the sky, aligned with the trunks of the Alerces. Bamboo shot out of the mountainside, flimsy and silly compared to the thousand-year old Alerces that dominated the sky (whose roots had sprouted ‘new’ trees older than all the trees in Louisiana combined). We climbed for hours until we reached a slab of wet granite. A deteriorated rope lapped with the streaming water that ran down the center, the route up. There was no margin for error, we were on the edge. 

If you go:

Refugio Cochamo – Book in advance and plan on delays getting there. They offer pricey meals each day and if you’re vegetarian you will be eating a lot of rice. Warm showers! Bring insect repellent and a towel. Booze too.

Arco Iris – The trail became impossible, unkempt and in rough condition from the elements. No one that day was able to summit but the views were still worthwhile. Check out the trail description here.

Rental car – we found Seelman to be fairly priced and flexible.

In and around:

Volcano Osorno – Amazing place to ride or run. Plan at least a few hours, if not a whole day and night in Petrohue. The beaches may seem like a great idea but you will be harassed by gigantic horse flies.