Walking kilometers, we have done. Trekking for several days too. Climbing submits, as well. But so far, all our hikes always ended up with a nice meal not cooked by us, and a night in a tent nor carried nor pitched by us. In prevision of our upcoming 9 days of trek in south Patagonia, we decided it was time to take the pluge and do our first trek in autonomy. A recommendation from an outdoor shop sales guy and here we were: on active volcano Villarica close to Pucon, Chile ; ready to conquer the first part of the Villarica traverse with a bit less than 20kg of equipment between us two. What could possibly go wrong?
“Do you think we should do it?” That’s Adnan, interrogating me on the night before the trek. Now that we are fixing the last bits, we are shared between excitation and envy just not to go there. What if we were not ready? “We are ready, we start to have so real hiking and trekking experience, now we just have to jump“. None of us has ever done a trek in autonomy, so we are just trying to use our good sense and the experience from accumulated hikes.
Our biggest concern was “How much does one eat in 24h?“. When you trek fully in the wild, the last thing you want to happen is to be starving. Our first constatation: food takes space! A big saucisson, some slices of cheese Gouda, bread, apples, noodles… My little backpack was getting full. And I am not mentioning the 5L of waters we plan to carry between us two, having little idea if how much water was really available along the trail.
It always looks closer than it IS
On the D day, we start quite well, we have a regular progression and are covering kilometers fairly quickly. It’s going quite up and down but we are covering 3.5km per hour, not bad when you are loaded. Universes changes: mystic forests, deserted lava fields and the view of the high clouds over Pucon for kilometers. We should reach the spot were we plan to camp around 17.00. Lovely. Time to relax, enjoy the nature and some nice saucisson. I am almost regretting that I didn’t pack a bottle of wine.
After several hours of hike, a sign on the track “Zanjon de Coñaripe”. What? Are we really only there? The doubt start in my head, this doesn’t sounds good. My feet and legs, a bit rotted after 2 months of reduced activity (and plenty of heavy meals, thanks Brazil, Uruguay, north of Argentina and Chile) are killing me. Every little muscle hurt.
We cross a lava field as big as several football pitches. Is it not over yet? At this point, we have been hiking for 6hours and we are both exhausted, on the edge and within seconds we start arguing. Adnan goes ahead ; I stay behind and leave some distance between us – well, not that difficult with my shape at that moment…
When we finally see in the distance a forest, we are relieved: we know there lies a place where we can pitch our tent for the night. But when you hike, it always looks closer than it is.
Finally, after 29km of hike, we reach the river and the bottom of the valley. Exhausted, we cross the bridge and discover the site were we will spend the night. We just collapse.
And then, start again!
But when you trek in autonomy, efforts do not stop there. It’s now time to unpack and pitch the tent, prepare the food… Etc… All of these before being able to relax… This is the moment where you miss being on a tour…
When done around 8.30pm, we crawled, exhausted into our sleeping bags.
We slept 12h.
On the next day, we have breakfast in the tent as it was raining. We pack the tent under the rain and walk another 12km under a thin but continuous rain before finding a cab to bring back to the closest village. Two bus rides later, we are finally back in Pucón!
It sounds awful. I have to say, it was fun. And I can’t wait to start again!
Lessons learned – Hiking advice from the road
- Never ever trust a free map – even if it’s from the national park (the campside on their was around 19km from the start of the trail… Our tracker says 30km…)!
- Forget the fancy: Deshydratated food is the way to go when you are trekking
- A good mattress will save your trek: we don’t regret our investment in these inflatable mattresses!