Saturday, 7 April 2007

Cabo Froward 19-23 March

This 5 day hike was our last for the season and what a spectacular expedition to finish with!
This was not in our Lonely Planet trekking book and got 2 lines in the "around Punta Arenas" section of the Chile one. If only "windwhipped walk along cliffs" was accurate... "Tourist trail" this is not.
The trail traces the coastline out to the tip of the continent on the Magellan Strait where a cross stands.

We went as part of a group of 7 organised by Erratic Rock Hostel in Puerto Natales. Andy one of the guys from the hostel (an adventure racer who recently ran the Torres del Paine circuit in a new record: 18.5 hrs) was our guide showing us the way along. The rest of the crew was made up of another Australian, Phill from Brisbane, Paul from England, JP a young journalist with a nose for adventure who's interning at erratic rock having travelled down from Columbia and Andy's sister Kathryn who made a mammoth effort flying straight in to depart on the trek.

Don't get me wrong, we saw some beautiful views especially over the straits to truly uncharted adventure country: the myriad of islands that punctuate the seas towards Antarctica, characterised by canals and snowcapped mountains. The "trail" did however challenge us more than anything else we've ever done and made me find skills I didn't know I had. (I'm not sure I wanted to know I could carry a fully loaded pack over several metre high ocean boulders dotted with barnicles!)

Day 1 took us along a seaside road accompanied by a variety of seabirds and even dolphins that glided just 15m off shore. After the road had petered out and we walked along pebbly beaches for another hour or so until we came to an old lighthouse. This lovely old building is being renovated to house a museum. Below it are an apparently new hotel all locked up and a nature trail complete with official signs describing all the different plants like in a botanical garden. The only question is who is this mysterious hotel waiting for, with no road and only wooden fishing boats pulling up onto the sand occasionally it seems to be waiting for the Sendero de Chile to join it on either side. Could be a while! It's just one of those perhaps forward planning exercises that could only exist in Chile. The trail is well marked up through the forest from here with lovely sapling banisters and lookouts around to a beach where remnants of an old whaling station are still visible in the shallows. From here we continued around little bays and tide pools to an abandoned farmhouse by a river. It's great with 3 rooms, one with an old stove to warm up and cook in. We even had bananas with chocolate roasted in the coals. Luxury.

Day 2: The tide had gone out from the river by the house and it was only ankle deep as we crossed before continuing along the beach. After a short while we went up into the thick forest and up onto a peat covered ridge. Peat can be like walking on marshmallow and fun and then you'll get to a damp part and go in up to your knee which is less fun.
Coming down from the ridge we came to the big river crossing of the day. It was midway between the tides, luckily without any currents. The first bit only came up to my knees but the second bit dropped away and stripped down we had to cross with our packs floating or on our shoulders as the water came up to my chin. The water was a little chilly but we warmed up as we continued.
Rounding point was all rocks between the rising tide and impenetrable scrub. I've never been a keen climber and this really tired me but we all made it and then continued along the flatter rocks and beaches. Sadly the tide was not in our favour being around high tide for this last couple of hours and we had to get our feet wet again as we walked around over and under logs of dead trees by the waters edge.
Camp was protected behind the beach in the forest, again next to a river.

Day 3 we left the packs behind in a setup camp for the final section up to the cross. This day was long, about 10hrs round trip but not having the big packs made it easier. Much of the day is over tidepools and rocks before reaching a series of bays with rocky beaches with you guessed it - logs. This day was mainly mentally tiring for me as it's hard to know how much further you have to go. At the base of the hill at the point we had lunch. There are guys from the marine guard working on the trail up the hill. They were well set up with a permanent camp and they were very welcoming. Half of it was probably that they don't get many visitors. Only 2 other groups of 3 people had got this far in the last few weeks so they're a bit starved for new faces!
The guys have put stairs in and done significant work to stablise the slippery slope. The view the from the top was great looking out over the strait of Magellan below a huge cross. What a sense of achievement!
Cape Froward has had a cross on it since 1913. The remnants of previous blown over crucifixes is testament to the wind up there but the current cross, a huge metal pipe version has been there for 20 years since the Pope visited. [I think the Pope must of come by boat or helicopter some how...]
The trip back was again with a high tide so less options as we rounded the coast. We made it back as dark fell though by this stage it hardly seemed to matter whether we took our boots off for the final river crossing as they were totally soaked.

Days 4 and 5 were assisted by knowing the trail and thus significantly less of a mental battle as we retraced our steps. The tides were also on our side for once (the swing between low and high tide was between around half a metre to over 2m every day of the trek). The river that had been neck high 2 days before was now mainly sandbar and a short section up to my thighs and we could pick our way around the boulders with ankle to knee deep sections of water rather than climbing over them for the most part. How different it can be without a high tide! The farmhouse was welcome sanctuary after some more wading (I saw a pretty starfish in a tidepool) and we partially dried out before our final leg home.

Kathryn and us were picked up by a friendly couple of guys in a hire car so we didn't have to wait for the 8pm bus. The rest of the crew had the excitement of a guy who seemed to believe he was a rally car driver in his little sedan with family and 4 guys with packs. They almost beat us back in spite of waiting an extra hour!

So in the end would I have done it if I knew what we were in for? Probably not but I am glad we went.