We are delighted to announce that Luca just moved to Santiago, Chile for a year, so he’s going to be reporting from there! Aisling is still going to take care of European hikes (including a few last month that she still has to report on!). So here we are, the blog’s first extra-European Andean adventure! A guest post from Luca: First of all, a primer on hiking in Chilean Andes. There is much more wilderness in this country than anywhere in Europe. Although this is great for us, this also means that more care needs to be taken! For example, I was surprised to find a general lack of maps of the Cordillera, there are only few of the most visited peaks and parks but they’re nowhere as detailed and accurate as European maps. At the same time, the Andes reach very high altitudes very quickly; i.e. none of the Alps+preAlps business. Here in Santiago, the closest Andean peaks easily reach over ~2500m – And yes, they are REALLY close! Regarding the weather (Reminder: we are currently heading towards the end of winter here), this changes a lot across Chile (it stretches from the deserts of the north to icy Antarctica in the extreme south, longest country in the world!) but here in the Region Metropolitana it is typically mediterranean. It can get particularly dry, especially in the summer months, and this is reflected on the landscape (pics of that further below). Further into the mountains, peaks hit as high as 5000+ metres, up to the highest mountain in South America, the Cerro Aconcagua (6900+m), and the environment is glacial and unutouched by humans. Considering the amount of snow still up in the Cordillera peaks, I decided to take it “easy” (for Andean standards) and hike up a lower mountain just in the outskirts of the city, the Cerro Manquehue (1638m), which in the native Mapuche language means “place of condors” (Yes, condors!!), and is one of the Santiago’s favourites, particularly for its accessibility (see peak location in map below). A detailed (Spanish) version of the route can be found in the really handy wikiexplora , which ranks it as #1 of the “unmissable routes in the Santiago area”. Rather than climbing along the most popular, shortest way (above), I decided to climb along the route that leads almost up to the peak of the Cerro Carbón (1344m, see here for the route), traverses to the Manquehue, and descends on the other side to a road called via Roja. The route leaves from the La Piramide roundabout (there are buses that get there, however I decided to walk from the nearby Parque Bicentenario, and crossed the river to get to the roundabout) and quickly and very steeply climbs up to a hill full of antennas. After that, the climb goes through a series of steep and flat parts, where the flat parts are well marked as miradores (“view points”) from which incredible views of the city and the menacing snowy peaks of the Andes open up in front of your eyes.
The path through the miradores remains quite clear, and after being overtaken by a few mountain runners (fair play to them!), I finally reach the base of the last approach to the Carbón. The direction to its cumbre (“peak”) is marked by a sign, but I did NOT take it and instead veered right towards a well-defined ridge that leads to the higher Manquehue (see below).
From here, the path becomes less wide and slightly more ambiguous in certain places (remember the lack of a map!), but on a clear day mountain features are easy to read and the presence of a path becomes somehow less vital. Once I got to the end of the ridge, however, I faced a dilemma. The route I had read about on wikiexplora (see above), indicated to proceed straight to the peak along the spur, which however showed some exposed steep rock sections that, I will admit, did not look the safest to approach with no climbing equipment. In addition, a big rock was marked with an arrow clearly indicating not to proceed straight ahead. In the end, I noted a small path that veered left and contoured on the side of the Manquehue, so I began following it, deeming it to be a better idea than risking a scramble on my own. After some contouring and climbing at a gentler angle, I passed some cliffs whose base was surprisingly hollow (great for sheltering in case of bad weather!) and then the path started climbing back up straight for the peak! In this last approach to the peak, the path became very steep and rocky (quite unpleasant!), but the motivation was high to finally get to the peak so it didn’t take me too long 🙂 I then rewarded myself with a couple of sandwiches (the total ascent took ~3-3.5h), sunbathed for a while and took some nice pics of the incredible view. Unfortunately the sky started to cloud over…Here’s a view looking back to the Carbón (maybe you can also spot the antennas I mentioned at the beginning!) and the route I followed: Finally, I descended through the main path which is quite steep and rocky (hiking poles would have been great!) but goes without trouble all the way to the bottom. It was also very crowded; apparently this ascent is very popular in the weekends, particularly later on towards the summer). Worth noting is that the end of the path at via Roja is still quite far from the city; it took me another ~30 mins walk (unfortunately, on the road) to get to the nearest city road (with buses, taxis, etc). Another option would be to hitchhike down – but having heard that robbery does happen at times around these paths I preferred to stroll down. So yes, do not bring valuables! I would also advise against venturing on these paths in the rain or just after it – the ground is soft, muddy, and quite steep in some sections (particularly the climb/descent from via Roja) that will easily turn into little rivers and seriously compromise your balance. Having said that, it is indeed a nice hike and I would definitely recommend it: the views are definitely worth the effort. Hopefully spring will be here soon – there is a lot of hiking and adventuring to do around the city and hence to be looking forward to! Until then, this is all from your correspondent in Santiago de Chile!