near Cochrane, Aisén (Chile)
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14-03: I cycle from Cochrane to the fork near Laguna Esmeralda, and from there to the fork to Valle Calluqueo. Here I turn right by mistake, a mistake which however allows me to discover a beautiful valley.
15-03: I return to the fork and under dubious weather I reach the Fundo San Lorenzo, with a very rough last stretch.
16-03: this day is devoted to the so called De Agostini trek: hiking from the Fundo to the Refugio Toni Rohrer, which was the former base camp of Alberto De Agostini, the first ascensionist of the San Lorenzo. I went up further, reaching a saddle close to Paso del Comedor.
17-03: an exceptional weather suggests me not to return to Cochrane. I ascend to the Mirador east of Fundo San Lorenzo, and from there further up to the black tower in front of the Torres Ferugiio.
18-03: return to Cochrane.
These few lines are very poor when compared to the thorough description provided in http://www.panorama-photo.net/panorama.php?pid=18840
There you find the incredible casualties that I met in the San Lorenzo...
A copy of that text is reported below.
Not always travels go like one planned them. So, in the Aysén region I had not thought of any visit to the San Lorenzo massif, east of the Carretera Austral, having rated it less interesting than the mountains on the opposite side.
In Cochrane, however, I met five students from Israel who had been there for a short trek, and they told me that it was worth at least to go and have a look. In the trekkers jargon they spoke of the «De Agostini trek», which I later discovered to be included in the last edition of the Lonely Planet «Trekking in the Patagonian Andes». A guide that, curiously, I had with me but, having acquired my copy in Dublin in 2004, I suspect that I was not carrying precisely the ultimate version!
Father Alberto Maria De Agostini is one of the main names in the foundations of Patagonian mountaineering. After having explored the southern Andes like nobody else, he reached his most outstanding success at the age of 60, as (17-12-1943) he was able to reach the summit of the San Lorenzo, after previous recognitions of both the access and the ascent route.
In more modern times, there is another name which you invariably find when researching these mountains. It is the name of Gino Buscaini, an Italian top climber who also was for long years the editor-in-chief of the wonderful collection «Guida dei Monti d'Italia CAI-TCI». With him, the well-known "grey books" - especially those authored directly by him, reached an unprecedented level, not least because of his unique ability to capture the essential features of mountains in useful hand-drawn maps and pen sketches, artistically pleasant no less than informative.
My first and most beloved "grey" was the «Ortles-Cevedale», dating back to 1984, and carrying his signature. As a teenager, how many north-face ascents (which of course I then never realized) I dreamt on those pages!
Strangely enough, I had to wait until 1998 to learn about another aspect of Buscaini, the one which is of interest here. Namely, a new, improved edition of his book "Patagonia" revealed an unrivalled knowledge of the region. Rich in text, maps, sketches and photos this books witnesses years of faithful and regular presence in the site, together with his wife Silvia Metzeltin, a top climber as well.
One day of September 2002 I was with my bicycle on Passo Pordoi. I had joined my section of the CAI to climb a ferrata on the Sella and, while my friends were going home by bus, I waited a little before putting myself on the bicycle. Actually, the Pordoi looked out very busy that day, and I was curious to understand why. I was informed that the opening of a new centre owned by the CAI was taking place: if I wanted, I could participate. "No, thanks", I answered, "I am not so fond of listening to speeches of presidents, vice presidents and past presidents"... But when my informer added that the presence of Gino Buscaini and Silvia Metzeltin was also expected, I changed my mind: by waiting a bit, I had the possibility to shake hands with a man who had become one of my myths.
Later, unfortunately, in place of Gino came the news that Gino had dead of a stroke while walking to the Pordoi. Hard to believe, but the man who with his wife had performed the first ascent of Aguja Saint-Exupery in the Fitzroy, now had dead while walking on the quiet, wide meadows above Arabba!
But let us come to the San Lorenzo. At the fork on the Carretera Austral one reads «San Lorenzo, 28 km», such that I set out without tent and with minimal food provisions. Little detail which will become important later on: I saved weight even on spare batteries for the various devices. But then the kms turned out to be more than 70: at km 28 one simply finds a bridge followed by a fork, where I readily followed the wrong road. So, the first night I was by mistake in the Valle Rio Salto, hosting the remote and mysterious Ventisquero Calluqueo (panos will follow).
The next morning was very cloudy, but I decided to go on with the exploration. At a certain point, on the road to Lago Brown I fpund a "Desvio", deviation, with the arrows sending me up an amazingly steep and narrow track. No worry, at first: when being on a deviation, one simply waits the time to return on the main road. But then this track seemed to go more and more by its own and, in addition, was becoming increasingly worse. At a certain point - I had been already pushing the bicycle at times - I thought: No, this is neither road nor a track. There must have been something wrong, it is better for me to go back and to forget this San Lorenzo.
Surprisingly, at the ford of a little stream (Arroyo Las Mentas, I will learn later) I saw two "camionetas" waiting. Two young people were transferring material from the larger one to the smaller one, which evidently was the only candidate to defy the coming difficulties. "Yes, this is the right track to Fundo San Lorenzo", they told me. "How can one call this a track? No, I just decided to go back" I answered. "Make what you want" they answered me "but remember: such is the place where we live"!
When they went on, I stopped for half an hour, with their last sentence, "así es el lugar donde nosotros vivimos", rolling in my mind. No, I cannot abandon, I finally thought, and I pointed the wheels once more in the upward direction. It was reassuring to reach the heart-shaped Laguna Corazón, how they had told me, but after it the stony track became even worse, if possible, while in addition it had begun to rain heavily. In such situations, besides cursing this or that stone, this or that steep bump, your mind typically develops some fixed "background thought", often very stupid, but nevertheless useful to fight against the minutes which seem to stretch so wide...
And the "background thought" of my last kms was truly a stupid one: "Well, in a region so abandoned by God, surely I will reach a place where not even the Buscaini have ever been". The last difficulty before the Fundo was a big river to ford, but that day the water did not even reach the waist, which in Patagonia can be considered a true luxury! So, few minutes later, I was opening the door at the trench of the Fundo!
I was promptly greeted by the owners, Lucy Gomez and Luis Soto, pleased to communicate to me that I was the second ever to reach the place by bicycle, and the first foreigner, the other performance having been achieved by a local guy.
On the other hand, tourists are not unknown here nowadays: Luis is in radio contact with the Cochrane municipality and, when asked, he arranges for the transportation - by strong 4WDs - of his hosts, mainly trekkers like the five from Israel, but also mountaineers aiming to climb the San Lorenzo.
Lucy led me into a nice wooden building, where I parked the bicycle and, later, I unfolded my sleeping bag on the ground. But before, as soon as I cleaned my glasses from the merciless rain, I realized that, hanging at the walls, there were plenty of inscriptions carved in pieces of wood. I started reading from the one that was right above my bicycle.
"Gino: las huellas de tu paso quedaron en la cima, bordadas en la nieve, agigantándose pare que las siga Silvia. El eco de tu voz será guía de otros andinistas, ahora que has marchado a escalar la montaña que te llevará a descansar en brazos del Señor."
"Gino: the tracks of your steps ended in the summit, bordered by snow, becoming giant-sized, such that Silvia could easily follow them. The echo of your voice will be a guide for other Andine climbers, now that you marched to climb the mountain which will carry you to rest in the arms of the Lord".
Very well in tune, indeed, with my former "background thought"!!! And later, invited by Lucy and Luis for dinner, I understood how, for the Buscaini, this was not a place in Patagonia like many others, but perhaps the favourite one.
The following day I performed the "De Agostini trek", consisting of a walk to what was the base camp of the successful 1943 expedition. Nowadays, near this very basic heap of old but solid trunks, there is also a modern wooden hut, the Refugio Toni Rohrer, maintained by Luis and Lucy, and named after a Swiss man who died on the San Lorenzo. The place conveys an acute and wonderful sense of isolation. Add to this that, early in the morning, I had met two climbers who had just completed the first Mexican ascent of the mountain, although in the storm they had not enjoyed any sight! So, now I was probably the only man inside the whole San Lorenzo massif. But this trek will be better described with the help of some future panorama.
The next day I wake up with the intention of going back to Cochrane. Namely, my food is finished, and the batteries of the cameras are finishing as well: after all, this was intended to be only a short side-trip! But the weather is getting amazingly beautiful and, while I am having coffee with Lucy and Luis, I tell them: No, I cannot go back today, one must make the most of a day like this. Actually, I am thinking of an interesting panoramic mountain on a close ridge that I spotted yesterday, but I have a major problem: my old mountain shoes, after having walked all the Paine and the Chaltén region, have come to an end, and now they lie buried on the shores of the Lago de los Cisnes (Swan Lake) at the southern end of the Carretera Austral. So, I am here with no more than a pair of sandals, while the mountain where I aim looks out rather rocky - not to speak of the fresh snow, the higher-altitude version of the rain that I received along the access track.
Luis claims to have a solution, and disappeares for a while. He comes back with a pair of solid plastic boots: they are the old boots of Gino, which he is keeping as a souvenir!! I try them, and they fit... Luis follows the wearing of the boots like a ceremony, and slowly murmurs his thoughts: «How happy will be Gino... now he looks down at the Italian... the Italian who came by bicycle... and now goes to the mountain... goes with his shoes».
On the loose summit rocks I find a place where to realize the 360° panorama which I am presenting here. When four or five shots are missing, however, I feel something strange about the boots. Concentrated on the viewfinder of the G1X, I decide to complete the work (add that the battery is very close to die out...) before checking what happened. And what I detect is this: The old glue of one boot has cracked, such that now the rubber sole lies aside in the snow, while I am leaning on the snowy rocks only with the plastic body...
I try to tie up the sole how I can, and this lasts enough to reach a higher summit towering nearby, but in the following steep descent my improvised solution proves unreliable, such that I need to return to my sandals, which cautiously I have taken with me - actually, managing with care, I achieve to descend without harm. Meanwhile, after boots and Canon battery, it is the turn of the GPS batteries to die out. Left to myself, I reach the big side moraine, dominating the valley and the Fundo, far left of my ascent track, but it is just a pleasure to walk in the thin forest enclosed between the moraine itself and the flank of the mountain. It is such a pleasure that I go well beyond the old route - no harm, I think, because at worst I will join the De Agostini path of yesterday and follow it.
But another surprise is expecting me, when at certain point the moraine ridge shows up a huge stone topped by a noticeable cairn. The whole composes an image that I am sure to know already: but how can this happen? Neither today nor yesterday did I pass here. Actually, I need a few seconds to find out the solution: This morning, at breakfast, Lucy showed me an album of old photographs, ended by a shot of the basic ceremony by which she, Luis and Silvia had strewn on the ground of the San Lorenzo half of the ashes of Gino... And this was precisely the location!
To end the incredibly long story, I simply translate the last lines of the narration (forum.thetop.it/viewtopic.php?t=9591&start=12) that I wrote down two days later in the Cochrane public library, while consulting a copy of "Patagonia", donated and autographed by the two authors.
«Now I am here. In front of me, *his* stone, the stone of the man whom I had waited in vain on the Pordoi. And, behind me, hang his boots, whose pressure I clearly feel against my back. That strange mixture of happenings and coincidences which we call "the fate" seems to have maneuvered even the GPS batteries such that, by *losing* my path, I could *find* the place where it wanted to carry me.
I stop for a long time close to this stone... All around, a frame of mountains with already snow-covered summits, in the full afternoon of an already autumnal day, a Patagonian day of nearly oppressive beauty.»
Main town on the Carretera Austral south of Coyhaique.
Fork to San Lorenzo
Do not trust the wrong information that the San Lorenzo lies only 28 km from here!!
This is seen also from the Carretera Austral.
On the river coming from Lago Brown.
Fork to Calluqueo
Turn right to Calluqueo, Go straight to Fundo San Lorenzo and Lago Brown.
Bridge on Río Calluqueo
The terrain is very rough here. Danger of stonefall.
Beautiful view on lake and glacier.
I came to no point and turned back here, since it was too late to go on.
I passed the night here
Estancia La Delicia
Run by Don Olivieo Paillacar.
Fork to Las Mentas
Here is one of the key points. Coming from Cochrane, if you go straight you head to Lago Brown. You are in time to turn towards Fundo San Lorenzo following the route that I did on the way back. Turning right, you head up straight to Arroyo Las Mentas - Laguna Corazon - Fundo.
Arroyo Las Mentas
The name is after its shape. Close to the lake, the fork of the track. Returning from the Fundo: left to Arroyo Las Mentas, right to Lago Brown.
Fundo San Lorenzo
This is the key place. A farm run by Luis Soto and Lucy Gomez, who offer basic accommodation to visitors.
Here I was hosted at the Fundo.
Viewpoint on gorge
Here we are at the narrowest point of the valley.
Refugio Toni Rohrer
Maintained by Luis Soto and Lucy Gomez.
Moraine behind Rohrer
Here finally you exit the wood, and the view opens on the whole valley
Start of climb
The steeper section begins here.
Viewpoint on little laguna
End of the steep stretch. Rough stony terrain.
it is good to remain very close to the lake
Highpoint at saddle
Here I turn back, since without gear it is not recommended to attempt the access to Paso del Comedor.
The house of Lucy and Luis. Here you have meals if you are hosted by them.
West flank of Mirador
A wonderful ascent on open terrain
Ideal summit for the observation of the San Lorenzo.
Saddle below Mirador
Few metres below the Mirador.
This dark tower marks the highest point of the track. Exquisite viewpoint. Called Torre Grande on the map of the San Lorenzo.
Wood behind moraine
Cairn of Gino
You are encouraged to read the long text reported in the description of the track, in order to understand the significance of this place.
Ford of Rio Tranquilo
The difficulty depends of course on the conditions.
Viewpoint on Laguna Corazón
On the track to Lago Brown, little after the fork.
Track to Lago Brown
Here you join the track, in 2014 under construction, to Lago Brown.