I've spent a few days in Santiago de Chile on a conference. Although my schedule was rather strict, I didn't want to miss the opportunity to take at least a little hike in the mountains of the Andes.
After examining Google Earth and upon the hints of SP member Sealla
I chose the summit of Cerro Provincia. This peak is the northernmost peak of the range called Sierra de Ramón, just east from the city of Santiago.
The planned route was the following: Starting from Puente Nilhue in the Mapocho valley; ascending on the ridge over the plateau of Alto del Naranjo; descending via the other northern ridge and after crossing the valley of Vallecito finally joining the ascent route.
The new transport system of Santiago is really good. The only problem is that its map is so dense that sometimes it is really a challenge to figure out the best solution of getting to B from A. But being a cartographer I didn't give up, and finally found that the bus no. 411 will take me to the "Camino a Farellones". It did so, although the driver was a little bit uncertain if I will manage to go further from there.
The route descriptions on the Internet advise to take a cab from this point. As I looked around, there were no signs of such vehicles, so I decided to hitch-hike. I was lucky, a few minutes later somebody picked me up, and after some twenty minutes I was dropped out at the trailhead at 9:30 AM.
The first few hundred meters are just an easy walk. It was a dirt road full of parking cars (it was a nice sunny Sunday). A few minutes later I reached the real trailhead at the old bridge of Nilhue. There was a checkpoint where I had to fill in a row in a log book.
After "logging in" I walked through a nice stone gate and started to ascend. I tried to walk as fast as I can because there were more than 1800 meters to ascend and descend in one day. (The starting point was at 980 meters and the summit is above 2750 meters and there are also some minor up and down courses on the route.)
The path was wide and very well marked with signs and information tables, but even without them it would have been hard to miss the track as there were several hikers going up and down. The terrain was a little bit strange for european eyes with the cactuses and other spiky plants but the weather was nice and I was eager to see the magnificent view of the giant mountains of the Andes.
I have reached the plateau of Alto del Naranjo (1860m) after one and a half hour. This plateau is a very popular picnic site. The one and only real big tree along the hiking route is also here. I settled down in its shadow and enjoyed the panorama for some twenty minutes.
After the pause I proceeded toward the summit. The track here followed the ridge with some rises and slopes for more than two kilometers. Later it started to rise at last pretty well, and the sun which I welcomed happily when I arrived to Chile from the November fog of Hungary became a hot overdrived radiator, so I had to stop and drink more and more often. At one of the first stops I accidentally decided to sit down to a stone which turned out to be a bad idea as all the stones transformed to egg-frying plates. I really admired the lizards who managed to became unfried...
The last part of the track involved some very easy scrambling also, and luckily at this altitude the rock wasn't so hot again. And finally I reached the summit...
Of course not yet :). This was only the fore summit, the so-called "Cumbre falso". But at least the real summit was really close now, and only a few meters higher in altitude. Finally I reached in three and a half hours from the valley.
On the summit I became really popular as I was the only one on the peak who had a map of the area. Soon I was surrounded by some local folk examining it enthusiastically.
I made a long break here and asked people about the other route which I chose for descent. Although it was marked on the map as a normal path, noone seemed to know it and when I glanced to the ridge it should have been I couldn't see any sign of the path.
However, I decided to try that route. I had a GPS with me with some contour map of the area, so I couldn't be lost even if I cannot find the path. Or at least I thought so...
Summit panorama of Cerro Provincia
After half an hour of resting on the peak I started to walk down. Luckily I've found a narrow horse track on the ridge. The prints of the horseshoes were clearly visible. It calmed me down as I was sure that I can walk down on a path which is suitable for a horse.
The ridge wasn't steep, so I proceeded quickly on the first part of the descent. I tought that I will get back to the valley in two hours if the terrain don't get harder.
How wrong I was... soon the slopes became very steep and unstable. The horse track disappeared and finally I could rely only on my GPS. According to its screen I was exactly there where the path should have been. I had to realize that my map was far ahead of its time, showing objects that still don't exist...
As I was already rather tired and the way back to the summit would have been too much, I kept "going" down. Actually it was much more sliding and praying not to hit a cactus, and sometimes climbing back when I found myself at a dead end with unpassable cliffs below me. But after three hours and a few stumblings I managed to reach a narrow path which finally took me to the Vallecito valley from where there were a decent track back to the valley. I reached the starting point around 6:00 PM.
A group of local hikers invited me to their car which was a relief because I wasn't sure that with a thick layer of dirt on my clothes and my skin I would be succesful in hitching. When I explained them that the path I wanted to take existed only on the map they simply answered: "Oh, it is very common here."
So I was taken back to the edge of the town. Another hour and finally I reached my hotel where I managed to slip in unnoticed (I was sure that the receptionists would never let such a homeless-looking person in:)
Track of the route
1. Don't believe the map. Look for visible paths on Google Earth.
2. Bring much more water than needed. It will be useful when you get lost and spend more time on the mountain than you planned.
3. Despite the miserable descent I'm really happy that I chose this hike. The wonderful views along the track and the panorama of the summit is really worth it.
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