trip report: Patagonia – Parque Pumalín Douglas Tompkins, January 2019

Parque Pumalín Douglas Tompkins is result of Douglas Tompkins conservation efforts starting in 1991. Today it is managed by CONAF as a national park that covers 988422 acres. Within the bounds of the park, there are enough maintained day hikes (parquepumalin) to keep you engaged for a couple weeks. While we didn’t explore every single hike, we did four of them on day 6, day 15, day 17, and day 18 of our travels on Ruta 40 and the Carretera Austral.

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This is part 8 of my Patagonia and Carretera Austral trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.

index

1 planning & research
2 trip report: getting in & Huemul Circuit
3 trip report: Ruta 40 & driving on the Carretera Austral
4 trip report: Marble Cave on General Carrera Lake & Glaciar Exploradores
5 trip report: Mirador Laguna Cerro Castillo
6 trip report: Parque Nacional Queulat & Ventisquero Colgante
7 trip report: Futaleufú
8 trip report: Parque Pumalín Douglas Tompkins
      8.1 Volcán Chaitén
      8.2 Volcán Michinmahuida
      8.3 Mirador & Ventisquero El Amarillo
      8.4 Cascada
9 trip report: getting out via San Carlos de Bariloche & Mexico City
10 final impressions, top 5, & budget
11 trip videos
      11.1 Huemul Circuit
      11.2 Carretera Austral road trip, part 1
      11.3 Carretera Austral road trip, part 2
      11.4 Carretera Austral road trip, part 3, Futaleufú
      11.5 Carretera Austral road trip, part 4

trip report: Volcán Chaitén

The hike of Volcán Chaitén is probably the most popular hike in Parque Pumalín Douglas Tompkins. It is a hike that cuts straight up to the crater of Volcán Chaitén, which explosively erupted in 2008 blanketing the region in ash and diverting the Chaitén River to flood the town of Chaitén.

trail information

  • gps track – alltrails wikiloc
  • type: in & out
  • distance: 3.2 miles (5.2 km)
  • elevation change: 2082 ft. ascent & descent
  • time: 2:39 hours (2:17 hours moving)
  • location: Caleta Gonzalo sector, north of Chaitén, Los Lagos, Chile (Google maps)

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report

We started late in the day since we disembarked the ferry at Caleta Gonzalo on day 6 of our trip, but we couldn’t pass the beautiful weather despite Meg feeling a little bit sick. Perhaps some activity and fresh air would help with her sinus or sea sickness.

There were plenty of cars by the time we arrived at the parking lot around 3:15pm.

The first quarter of a mile was as a slight uphill through green shrubs and trees with a feel of a jungle. A few feet in and we saw a sign informing hikers of the eruption that took place in 2008.

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At the quarter mile mark, we came to an unnamed stream that we had to hop over. This was the last source for water. From the opening here, our destination on the rim of the volcanic crater can be seen.

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Roughly 0.4-0.5 miles into the hike, the elevation gain starts to pick up. For the next half the mile, the gradient jumps to about 30% as the trail winds through the recovering brush. There is still shade here and there from large leaves of the brush and some benches along the way to allow you to catch your breath. We also start to get a views of the valley below.

All that changes for about a mile into the hike at about the shrub line.

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The rest of the 0.4 miles to the rim is one open, ashy/sandy dirt that you have to ascend at about a 42% grade. There were plenty of trail work done here to make the incline more manageable, but there was a part here and there that challenges to be aware of your footing. 

The views here on the way up just gets better and better. Unfortunately and unbeknownst to me at the time, my SD card in my camera decided it was done for the trip. So I can only supplement pictures from other sources for the rest of the Volcán Chaitén report.

Once you reach the crater, the still smoldering red inner cone expands in front of the you (image credit: Jorge Leon Cabello via flickr).

Caldera Volcan Chaiten - Parque Nacional Pumalin (Patagonia Chile)

It contrasts the green and blue lakes, brain like lava pattern,

and the arid rim with burnt tree husk to create the perfect desolate image.

Parque Pumalín Volcán Chaitén hike 2019
Rick from besthike.com on his hike a few weeks after we visited.

We spend a good amount of time walking along the rim for different perspectives. We started down once Meg started to feel a sick again. This lead us to speed down the steep slope as fast as possible. I was very appreciative of her toughing it out as much as as she did so we could catch Volcán Chaitén on such a beautiful day.

ratings (range: 1-5; click link for detailed breakdown)

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view: 4. Volcán Chaitén was my favorite hike of the 4 we did here in Parque Pumalín and it was by far the most popular here as well. The headliner was the view from the crater both of the inner cone and outwards of Río Rayas draining out to the ocean. The latter is also the view that accompanies you up as you ascend the steep side of the mountain. Lastly, both the recovering jungle vegetation at lower altitudes and burnt out huskes of the vegetation past at higher altitudes both adds their own perspective of the volcano, from the revitalization to the destruction it brings.

difficulty: 2. The hike was straight up and down of 2000+ feet over a short distance, however it didn’t feel too bad because of the amount of trail work the rangers have put in here. Harsh sun or stormy weather can boost the difficulty here.

technical: 1. There is no technical aspects to this hike even through it is steep. Again, plenty of trail work has made pretty much a stair workout with minor sections where you have to watch your footing. These minor slippery ash/sand spots are the only argument of borderline 2 rating here. There is no navigation technically as there is only one way you can go and it is plenty popular.

trip report: Volcán Michinmahuida

trail information

When we were looking at possible hikes in Parque Pumalín Douglas Tompkins, we didn’t find much information about the longest hikes in the Caleta Gonzalo sector. So we thought why not, especially after a couple refreshing nights in Futaleufú. We decided to camp near the trailhead at the El Volcán campgrounds just a stone’s throw away on night 14 and we were the second at the trailhead on day 15.

  • gps track – alltrails wikiloc
  • type: in & out
  • distance: 14.9 miles (24.0 km)
  • elevation change: 2884 ft. ascent & descent
  • time: 7:11 hours (6:43 hours moving)
  • location: Caleta Gonzalo sector, north of Chaitén, Los Lagos, Chile (Google maps)

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report

In line with the lack of nority, even the sign for the trailhead off the road wasn’t very pronounced. There was only room for a 5-6 cars here with a more informative sign about the trail.

From the parking lot, you can also check out the brown colored Río Rayas, which isn’t the color you would think of typically in Patagonia but it is what you would think of associated with volcanic ash.

This trail starts in the thick jungle and pretty much stays in the thick jungle for the first 6ish miles of the hike. The elevations starts off at a flat 2% grade and very slowly creeps to 11% gradient by the time we made our way out of the jungle.

We paced pretty fast through the jungle except for times we had to work our way around blowdowns since it was very flat with the only major elevation gain in the form of ladder/stairs built by the part rangers. There wasn’t much of a view except a peak here and there.

We were just shy of 4 miles about 1.5 hours into the hike. Adding to the annoyance of blowdowns were the muddy trails which became streams at parts and plenty of spider webs across the trail. If you are looking for water sources, the running streams here is probably your best bet for a reliable and clean source until you return. The hot sun was the next annoyance as we came to a brushy area.

On the plus side, we saw plenty of vegetation and flowers along the way. The included huckleberries, what I think are Peruvian Lilies, and some white flowers.

It was also somewhere here that we pass the group that started ahead of us.

Another hour in and we are closing on 6 miles and starting to come out from the jungle. The first sign was that we met up again with the stream that would become Río Rayas. It was still very ashy here and I wouldn’t run it through a filter.

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Next came more ladders and way markers pointing to areas to scramble up some rocks to signify the roughly 15% grade in elevation gain.

After about 3 hours and about 6.6 miles, we finally escaped the jungle and the peak of Volcán Michinmahuida makes its presence known once again. We continue up the mountain passing a solar monitoring station and then the trail began to become less clear.

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There were a cairn here and there and a trail like path here and there as the shrubs turned to rock and loose volcanic ashes. We continue to gain elevation now at about 18% grade up on volcanic moraine follow by another.

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At 7.5 miles and 3.5 hours, we reached the toe of the glacier.

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Though you wouldn’t have known it at times as it covered with a layer of volcanic dirt. Looking back down, we clearly didn’t know parts where we were actually on the glacier.

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We tried to stop here for lunch, but were quickly swarmed by huge horse flies that made it very difficult to sit still. So we begin our hike back down. The view of the Río Rayas drainage nestled between Volcán Chaitén and other unnamed peaks

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The rest of the way was a long slog back through the jungle. With the headwaters of Río Rayas so full of volcanic silt, water is actually harder to find on this hike. We ended up filters some still water sitting in a pool formed by the large rocks, which isn’t the best option. However, we were pretty sure it wasn’t too bad this far up and far from any farm animals. So the moral of that story is to have plenty of water on you.

On our way down, we only saw 2 additional groups on the trail so you’ll have a good chance of solitude on this hike.

ratings (range: 1-5; click link for detailed breakdown)

view: 3. The views once we were past the bushline of the snow covered Volcán Michinmahuida and the unnamed glacier hanging off it was indeed worthwhile view. So was the look back down the climb we made through the jungle and out toward the ocean down the Río Rayas drainage. The river itself wasn’t so colorful as it was saturated with volcanic ash and silt. The main issue was the 6+ mile hike each way through a rather boring jungle. But if you are looking for solitude, you’ll get your space on the way through the jungle.

difficulty: 3. The trail was a long distance with plenty of mud, blowdowns, horseflies, and overgrown brush through the jungle to make your life difficult. Once you are out, then you have loose volcanic ash, a direct cooking from the sun, and even more horse flies to deal with. The total elevation was not too bad at 2884 feet for the distance, but it was so long.

technical: 3. Through most of the jungle, the trail is pretty clear and plenty of trail work done so really no worry about navigation or technical skills. Only minor technicality there are the minor scrambling as you near the brushline. Once you are above the brush line, navigation and route finding skills are needed to continue on ward and there are no sign posts and just inconsistent cairns and worn path. The additional technical aspect to this being on the ice of the glacier and not knowing it. Hidden cravasses or the ice giving away are real hazards that you should know how to deal with or be cautious of continuing too far toward the toe of the glacier.

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trip report: Mirador & Ventisquero El Amarillo

Since we hiked the longest hike in the Caleta Gonzalo sector, we thought we’d knock out the longest one in the El Amarillo sector as well. Plus it’s another hike to a glacier and that’s what I came to see here in Patagonia. I have waterfalls I can see at home. After a rainy zero day, we were fully recharged and ready on day 17.

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trail information

  • gps track – alltrails wikiloc
  • type: in & out
  • distance: 18.0 miles (29.0 km)
  • elevation change: 2970 ft. ascent & descent
  • time: 7:11 hours (6:52 hours moving)
  • location: El Amarillo sector, south of Chaitén, Los Lagos, Chile (Google map)

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Our actual hike combined 2 in the El Amarillo sector, the Mirador hike and the Ventisquero El Amarillo hike. This was because the Ventisquero El Amarillo hike trailhead is at the Camp Ventiquero, which was accessible on a one way dirt road accessible for all wheel drive (4×4) vehicles (blue marked road in the map below). There are reports that the dirt road is doable in a 2wd especially on a dry day (iOverlander), though the rangers warn against it and it may contribute to damaging the dirt road. I suspect the most difficult portions of the road is on the way out from Camp Ventiquero involving a steep hill.

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Having already had issues with getting our rental car stuck on a dirt road early in the trip, we settled for a longer hike and camping at camp Grande the night before.

report

Our starting trailhead for the hike was the junction where the 4×4 dirt road intersected the road for Camp Grande where we stayed the previous night. There was enough spots for several cars.

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Our initial 1.5 miles was a road walk through the jungle with roughly a 5.2% grade until we reached the trailhead for the Sendero Mirador. For here, it was our steepest elevation gain of the day at roughly 24.8% over 2/3 of a mile. The trail was well maintained with plenty of stairs.

There were two viewing platforms once we reached the top of the hill. The first was to the southwest looking down toward El Amarillo and the unnamed mountain.

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The next was a few more steps looking down the glacial carved valley toward Michinmahuida Glacier. The peak of Volcán Michinmahuida was obscured in the clouds on this day.

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From the second platform, the continued down the trail that dropped at a -31.1% for the first 1/3 of a mile before crossing the road again

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and dropping another quarter of the mile to Camp Ventisquero.

After logging 3 miles already, we were at the trailhead for the Ventisquero El Amarillo hike. For the next 3 miles, we could hike among the open valley and flat valley with a very mile 1.0% grade. At the start, there were some boardwalks.

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But they were short lived and replaced by sticks to mark the trail. The trail continued through the waist level grass in the open. We were glad for the cloud cover on this day.

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Around the 5 mile mark for the day, we have to figure out a way across the stream that would eventually run into Río Amarillo.

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The trail isn’t very clear at this point and we had to figure our way across the stream once again.

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Once we crossed back over the stream, we were able to pick up the trail again as it headed into the woods at the 6 mile mark.

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The trail would stay up in the woods for about a 1/3 of a mile undulating up and down. You had to use your hands here and there. There are a few clear streams coming down from the mountains here as well, they are your best bet for a clear water source. We filled up our water here.

At the 6.6 mile mark from the beginning of our hike, we recrossed the stream again, but the crossing we well marked this time.

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The next part of the trail cut across a sandy wash

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until we reached the woods. The trail then continued above the banks of the Río Amarillo.

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The sun started to shine through more as we passed the first of a couple green ponds around mile 7.8.

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The terrain started to become more rocky and the glacier grew in our field of view as we hit mile 9 of the hike.

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The final half mile or so saw a slight incline at about 7.0% grade, but the difficulty came with the lack of or misleading trail markers. So it was slower going as we had to figure out the right rocks to go over.

We reached the end of our hike at an overlook of the glacier after about 4 hours of hiking and 9.5 miles.

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There was a large group that ventured closer to the glacier itself, but we were ok with our viewpoint from here. The edge of the glacier here was also covered in dirt. Plus it was very windy here. This made our lunch break a brief 20 minutes before we started back.

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When we returned to Camp Ventisquero, we had covered 16 miles. We decided to take the dirt road back out since it was shorter.

It was a steep quarter of a mile out of the camping area with an grade about 19.1%. The dirt road had 2 strip of pavement on it to help with traction. This would probably the most difficult part without an AWD vehicle.

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The drop on the other side was equally steep at a -18.2% grade over 0.7 miles. This long unpaved drop is the reason why the dirt road is one way only. At the end of the dirt road, we come out to Camp Grande where we stayed the previous night. We would have a little bit more before we reach our car. At 18.0 miles, this was the longest day hike we did on the Carretera Austral.

ratings (range: 1-5; click link for detailed breakdown)

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view: 4. Unlike the Volcán Michinmahuida hike, this hike was in the open which provided continues views up and down the glacial carved drainage. Along the way, there are rivers, rock faces, meadows of flowers, both alive and dead trees to bring variety to the hike. The final viewpoint at the toe of Michinmahuida Glacier is almost the definition of a hanging glacier in my mind.

difficulty: 2. Most of the difficulty here is only the distance. While the elevation change for the hike approaches 3000 ft, the only aggressive elevation change is to the mirador and on the 4×4 road getting to the Ventisquero campground and trailhead. Should it be a sunny day, you’ll be baked pretty good since there isn’t much cover so added difficulties may arise.

technical: 2. River crossings and minor navigation skills are needed for the hike through the valley. However, the trail is well signed for the most part with sticks so you should be able to find your way. There is also some scrambling in the middle forest section.

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trip report: Cascada

On our last day of the Carretera Austral, we had an afternoon ferry out of Caleta Gonzalo. So we decided to head there early and do the short Cascada hike. The listed time was 3 hours and we were ahead most of the listed times, so we thought we had plenty of time arrived 3 hours and 30 minutes before our ferry.

trail information

  • gps track – alltrails wikiloc
  • type: in & out
  • distance: 3.9 miles (6.3 km)
  • elevation change: 1093 ft. ascent & descent
  • time: 2:30 hours (2:10 hours moving)
  • location: Caleta Gonzalo sector, north of Chaitén, Los Lagos, Chile (Google map)

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report

The trailhead for the hike was just at across the welcome center. The initial portions were pretty well maintained with the trail almost exclusively on boardwalks or stairs.

A short distance in and we came to a small cascade.

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After the first hill about 1/3 of a mile in, the trail left the easy boardwalk and became a bit of a muddy mess. There were still ladders here and there, but plenty of spots that you need to scramble up and around slippery boulders. The elevation profile isn’t very uniform with a 5.2% grade over the first 1.5 miles.

At the 1.5 mark, the trail crosses a river. While there are a few cairns at the initial part over the first branch of the river, the place to cross the next branch is a bit unclear. We scouted up and down the river and there wasn’t really any easy crossings without getting your feet wet or where you’d have to be willing to jump around rushing water. The slick rocks made this prospect less settling. There were also no signed on the opposite shore indicating an recommended route, so you have to use your head and figure out your way across safely. The trail on the opposite bank just goes along the river, so you won’t have problems finding it once you are across.

After we crossed the river, it was a quarter mile before we had to climb up muddy roots and slippery ladders for 0.18 miles at an grade of roughly 24.1%.

Once we reached the top, there were a few more steep and slippery ladders back down to the river. I do emphasized slippery as I fell on my butt and saw my phone stop just short of plunging down the canyon into the rushing river. At the bottom of the ladders down, there was some rock hoping to reach the last set of ladders.

That wasn’t the end of the difficulty as we had to scramble around the the boulders at the top of the ladder and then hop on the rocks that followed before the waterfall revealed itself.

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I wish we had more time to explore the hidden waterfall but unforseen navigation, muddy trail and ladders, and scrambling took a bit longer than we had anticipated as we reached the falls at 1.5 hour. So after a couple pictures, we booked it out finishing the hike at 2.5 hours and plenty of time to catch the ferry. We couldn’t afford to miss the ferry so we didn’t regret the rushed hike.

Surprisingly, we only saw 3 people in 2 groups the entire hike and that was on our way out.

ratings (range: 1-5; click link for detailed breakdown)

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view: 3. The highlight of the hike was the hidden waterfall slowly revealing itself around the canyon wall as you scramble among the boulders in the river. The slow reveal in addition to the fact that we were the only ones there made it felt like we unlocked the hidden beauty of Caleta Gonzalo. I wished I had more time to explore the area in greater detail. Otherwise, the river crossing provided for great views despite the navigational challenge it presented. The hike was mostly through a wet forest with boulders here and there that provided for views to break up the otherwise boring green tunnel.

difficulty: 2. The overall elevation profile of the short hike wasn’t bad at roughly 1000 ft over 2 miles, but it was very muddy, wet, and slippery affair. This felt like the definition of a jungle hike.

technical: 3. This hike caught us completely by surprise and at the worse time when we were on a time constraint. Perhaps it was the time constraint that has me rating this as a 3 where it probably should be a 2. It has navigational aspect of this hike is that you had to navigate yourself across the river. There was also plenty of scrambly terrain with the most technical aspect at final approach to the waterfall where you have to scramble around slippery boulders with the rushing river below. A fall would be no bueno there.

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