Punta Arenas to Cochamo, Dec. 4-7, 2021

Tony Crocker

Staff member
Though most of us had been up for 24+ hours from Santiago through the eclipse flight, there was a mixup with the Punta Arenas hotel so we did not get into our rooms until noon. So we walked to the Strait of Magellan waterfront and this monument dedicated to him last year on the 500th anniversary of his passage.


On Dec. 5 most of the eclipse flight people took a boat out to Magdalena Island where the Magellenic penguins nest during the Austral summer.


Upon landing I first checked out the penguins in and near the water.



A roped pathway took a loop up a hill past the lighthouse,


One seagull nested almost in the walkway.


The higher elevations were more occupied by seagull nests, but the boundary between bird colonies was convoluted. A few Magellanic penguins made honking noises somewhat like the jackass penguins in South Africa.


Here a penguin strolls past a pair of mating seagulls.


Overview of dense bird colonies with Punta Arenas at far distance:


There were a few penguins far from shore.


The penguins can dig burrows with claws and beaks.



Another noisy one is here as we walk down the hill.


We were back to the hotel before 1pm, and eventually we took a cab with Scott Radford to the national forest. On the way we had a view of the local modest 800 vertical ski area.


We hiked a mile or so to Mirador Las Minas, overlooking a glacier carved canyon and the city of Punta Arenas.



We left a drizzly Punta Arenas Dec. 6 and flew to Puerto Montt with some impressive views from the air. Here Lago Fierro and Lago Leones are fed by the northern Patagonian icecap, and the stream flows from them to Lago General Carrera.


Islands 35km south of Puerto Montt:


Driving to Cochamo along Lake Llanquihue with views of Osorno and other volcanoes this was surely the warmest day I’ve seen in Patagonia.


We stopped by the coffee shop at Southern Trips to confirm the arrangements for the next three days. After we checked into our room at La Frontera, we took proprietor Paula’s suggestion to take a dip in the Cochamo River.


We woke up to pouring rain from 7-9am but it let up by the time we met guide Fabian at the office at 10:30. We put most belongings in dry bags which Fabian cinched to the horses. We drove in Fabian’s truck and trailer to the trailhead, then rode the horses 3 ½ hours to Refugio Cochamo including a half hour lunch break.



Weather was typical thick overcast and the morning rain raised the river here enough to soak my left boot on the crossing just before camp.


There are a couple of rope pulleys crossing for people or items that don’t want to brave the river. Here we also get our first good look at the granite walls.


Overview map of the Cochamo/Puelo region from the Reloncavi fjord to the Argentine border.


Cochamo’s history is unusual, as its river valley at 75km from Chile’s northernmost fjord to Argentina is the shortest such distance in Chile at low altitude and was thus used in the early 20th century to drive cattle to the coast for slaughter and shipping rather than hundreds of miles to the Atlantic.


Some of the horse paths are in trenches dug over many decades or on wood planks laid to mitigate the mud. It rains at least 100 inches a year and possibly much more. Vegetation was lush temperate rainforest much like New Zealand’s Milford Track. But there are numerous vertical sheer granite walls which give it the moniker “Yosemite of Chile.” The valley is privately owned but the steep terrain and rainfall have prevented any development or logging other than ranches on the valley floor. Commercial transit has long since moved to longer but easier road and lake crossings. The granite walls up to 2,500 vertical attract world class rock climbers.
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