Cerro Castillo, Chilean Patagonia : a walk into the hills

In which we seemingly spend 24 hours on different trips…

Cerro Castillo
Sunrise at Cerro Castillo

Cerro Castillo in Chilean Patagonia is a striking set of rock spires, above a glacial lake. It is a 6km, 1200m trek to reach a ridge, affording grand views of the range, the first 4km of which can be done via horse. We got into the tiny three-block town that serves as a base for the peak mid afternoon, planning to make the trip the following day. Time and tide, and indeed weather and horses, wait for no man. So things took a turn for the spontaneous. The following internal narratives cover the ensuing twenty four hours. Turns out they were quite different experiences…


A: Looks like taking a horse into the hills is logistically unlikely and the weather window closes tomorrow afternoon, quick mental check, we can make it by dark if we set off now and hike to the col. Should be no problem. Lets pack and go.

D: Is this really happening? We don’t have a map to the trek, the path is unmarked – her only guidance was ‘get to the saddle’. What on earth is a saddle other than the horse thing? Daphne, have some faith, you are not the trekking expert here. 


A: Still packing, obviously.

D: Why is this so complicated? Get all the food, the tent and all the warm clothes. Oh and my mum’s gloves. Right let’s go. 

17:00 (25mins into trek)

A: Shit it. Forgot tri-pod. 2k ‘warm-up’ run to go fetch it then. “Back in 20 mins”

D: You are kidding me! That’s 50min walk there an back!!! We can do this without a tripod. We can actually shoot everything on an iPhone but best not mention that. Got my book and shade. Can wait. Is it going to be dark when we get there now? 


A: This. Is. Beautiful. Old growth beech tree forrest, lush and verdant forest floor and dappled light streaming as columns through the trees. The only the sound is the river below us in the valley.

D: Did we not agree that we would not trek on days when I exercise? He was right there when I was huffing and puffing through P90X this morning. Need to make my points more clear. Don’t be a pushover Daphne! 

My legs hurt and I have a horrible stitch in the left side of my stomach. Which side is the appendix on? Right, I think it’s right. Good, it’s not my appendix. Altitude sickness. That must be it. Press on, just get to the f*ing top. 


A: The light through the clouds, looking down the valley. The silver line of the river. Might be an ‘Ansel Adams’ shot in this. Filters, check, tripod check. Take five minutes to shoot this. Daphne is struggling, not entirely sure why.

D: Where has he disappeared off to? Which way does the path go – left or right? Ugh. I’ll go left looks like the fastest way to the top. Andy will have to find me. I’ve got all the food. Why on earth did I agree to this? 

Cerri Castillo
The Ansel Adams inspired shot


A: This route forms part of a trail running circuit I read about. Since she is wearing a running club hat, I’ll tell her. Oh, not trail running, road, but well into climbing, but didn’t bring their gear. Me neither. ‘Yes it is a pity, yes there are so many opportunities to play toys in Patagonia. No we are heading south, to ‘Del Paine’  Probably the W route like you guys, depending on time’

D: I am going to kill him. Actually no, I will kill her. He probably has not noticed. But, girlfriend, I am standing RIGHT HERE so stop flirting. Hallo??? I am still here. Honestly sweetie, noone cares if you did the W, the Q or the whole freeking alphabet at Torres del Paines. Stop flirting with my boyfriend. 


A: Daphne is not enjoying this. However, the light is changing again, the soft evening gold bringing out the warmth of the yellow broom bushes. Beautiful.

D: This is actually beautiful. Why on earth is it so difficult though? Maybe it’s a repeat of the Amsterdam marathon situation. Note to self: don’t start things if your heart is not in it. 


A: Attempts to engage Daphne in the wonder of the perfectly still, calm evening full of glorious light and the expanse of the mountains has not met with success. “It will probably rain later, I don’t know why we set off knowing it might rain” Yes, and we might be struck by a meteor. But I refrain from mentioning that, because I am a grown up. Just.

Appears to have reached the ‘don’t talk to me’ stage. Classic. Leave her to it for a bit then, salvage my evening with some solitude in the mountains.

D: Please don’t talk to me. I am just concentrating on getting there. When is this torture going to end? I thought it was a 3.5 hr trek? Or was it 3.5hr to where you drop off the horses? Just need to get there now. 


A: Final effort to lift Daphne’s mood, the classic ‘extra biscuits and diverting conversation”, comes just in time as we crest the col and meet the magnificent Cerro Castillo in fading light. The sugar boost and conversation have lifted the mood sufficiently to play photos, happily. Tent up… there, on the col, a spot made for the perfect pitch with epic view.

D: Oh thank God we are here. Where’s the camp-site? Ah… that patch of dirt right there in the middle of all stones… Just go with it – it will all be worth it in the morning. Photos, fine. You get three poses Nelson. After that I am eating and getting in my sleeping bag. 


A: Noodles and soup consumed, alarm set for ‘pre-dawn’ time to get some rest. Not bad, 1200m ascent, on spur of moment.

D: It’s freezing. Is there ANYTHING else I have available to wear? Where’s my hat? Must wear hat. 

Cerri Castillo
Camping up at the glacier, mid photo play


A: Alarm. Sky check, clear. Force to vertical, shake frost from camera bags and start on solo march to ridge line in darkness with head torch.

D: I am freezing. 


A: A three minute window of burning orange is sweeping down the face of the range. Damn, I’m in the wrong spot. No time to move and recompose.

D: I am freezing. 


A: And its gone. Accept that “the light will change and  it will be gone forever”

And I’m now frikkin freezin’. Time for a hot coffee and to watch the light bring life to the Andes from the shelter of a rock high above the plain. Cold I may be, but also incredibly happy.

D: I am (still) freezing.

Cerri Castillo
An hour and a half like this, for a three minute window. That I was in the wrong place for. Win some, lose some.


A: Back to tent, rustle Daphne a hot drink. Seems much happier. The heat of the sun is melting the frost from the tent and what started as an iphone selfie (sigh) is turning into a full on shoot (hurrah).  Got Daphne behind the lens, an exchange of technical operation and artistic eye, apparently.

D: Let me teach you a thing or two about fashion posing my friend. Walk slowly and take the hoody down. 


A: Still shooting.

D: Your clothes are too dirty for a photo-shoot 


A: Packed up, got some shots that should be fun to review. Sad only that we have to leave this place (lack of food and, looking at the clouds, a front is coming in, likely to be windy later). So a leisurely stroll back to the valley floor

D: Right, let’s do this. 


A: The famous patagonian wind is upon us! The clouds of dust look like a wild fire sweeping up the valley. Adds a bit of ‘grit’ to the proceedings. (see what I did there). Only another 20 mins to go though.

D: I am covered in dust. Everything is covered in dust. I can taste it in my mouth and feel it in the roots of my hair.  Need to shower asap and wash ALL of our clothes. 


A: Watching a film of dust settle across the glass of water inside the converted coach / kitchen, awaiting well earned sandwich. Solid 24 hours that.

D: This is not London. The sandwich will be ready when she feels like it. And I was here before that guy!!! Don’t push it – your spanish does not stretch that far. 

Cerro Castillo
The famous patagonian wind is picking up
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