Tales from today, preserved for tomorrow.

Lagunas Altas Trek

Overview of the Lagunas Altas trek.

To be a national park, there must be trails for visitors to enjoy. The first official trail of the future Patagonia National Park is the Lagunas Altas trek. It’s a spectacular walk and is definitely unknown at this point. I don’t know where else I would be able to hike for 3 days on such a beautiful trail and not see a single human. At least one writer for the International Business Times put this hike in his top 5 of Patagonia, and also acknowledges that its a hidden gem.

Day 1 – Western half of the loop

From what I had been told, the longer and more gradual climb is on the western end of the loop so I chose to tackle that first. This had the benefit of getting the most boring part of the trek (in my personal opinion) out of the way. Following a jeep trail for just over 4km and up 700m, it crosses through mostly uninteresting terrain with the occasional guanaco. Eventually as the trail got steeper, I started to leave the pampas behind and entered into the subalpine zone below Cerro Tamanguito.

Barba del Viejo (Old Man’s Beard) can be seen all over the trees in certain stretches. It does not harm the tree.

During my walk up to this point I decided there was no need to spend all of my energy and go to the peaks of Tamanguito and Tamango on this day, so I set course to travel just a bit further to the next source of water. After another kilometer, I reached the first of the several beautiful “Lagunas Altas” on this trek. The great thing about trekking in a not-yet-opened park is the lack of restrictions. Doing my best to not leave a trace, I found a perfect campsite just below the lake and set up for a 2 night stay.

This campsite comes with a built in table.

Day 2 – Cerro Tamango and Tamanguito

After a great night sleep and a good breakfast, I went up to the lake to fetch some water when I saw these puma prints along the shore. Since I hadn’t walked by this part of the shore before, I had no idea how long they had been there. But I’ll admit it made me cautious :) .

The plan for the day was to back track a little to Tamango and Tamanguito for a walk to the tops of each. They aren’t exactly high but they are the highest peaks in this part of the range so they were sure to be interesting.

Taken a couple of weeks after my Lagunas Altas hike, these photos show Tamango and Tamanguito with a dusting of snow.

I chose to do the higher and further away Tamango first, and to catch Tamanguito on the trip back. Tamango was a total grind. The worst part wasn’t even the kilometer of scree, but the several false summits that one passes on the way. Each time I thought I was reaching the top, I would notice a slightly higher peak. Eventually after passing some residual snow and lakes, there were no more slightly higher peaks in the immediate vicinity and I was on the top.

The highlight of the view from here was the incredible Monte San Lorenzo / Cerro Cochrane. I had done a lot of research on this mountain as a possible climb and it certainly would have been an experience. The huge massif dominated the horizon to the south, including some nicely formed lenticulars above.

After reversing my route and reaching the saddle between Tamango and Tamanguito, I started my next climb towards the much different summit of Tamanguito. Despite being shorter, this summit was much cooler than Tamango. Small and pointy, it was looking a little intimidating from below since I was flying solo and the thought of any 4th class scrambling seemed risky. One thing experience has taught me is that routes usually are easier than they look from afar, so I kept onward and reached the base of the rocky outcrop. As expected, it was a breeze at this point and I had no concerns as I pulled a couple of easy moves and was on the top with a 320 degree (Tamango blocking a portion) panorama of Patagonia surrounding me.

 

Going down the other side of Tamanguito was even more trivial and put me in the direction of my camp. After a fun little day of peak bagging I was soon back at camp for a hearty dinner and good night’s sleep.

Day 3 – Eastern half of the loop

The final day would be a day of lakes. The eastern portion of the Lagunas Altas trail winds through several alpine lakes before going back downhill to the Valle Chacabuco. After breaking down camp I continued on the trail while enjoying each lake that I passed. There was a decent amount of waterfowl but only hints of what I really wanted to see: a puma.

As I passed the last of the lakes, I could tell I was really getting into the heart of the puma territory here. The cats obviously used the trail more than humans, indicated by the ratio of human prints to cat prints (and fortunately the only scat I saw was that of a cat). The pumas stayed elusive though and I didn’t see any, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw me.

After leaving the lakes and the trees the trail became slightly less interesting again, winding down into the pampas where the guanaco roam. I returned to the estancia and set up camp at the Carpa Verde (green tent for volunteers) and reintegrated with the local population. On Monday the work would start.

 

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