By Andrew Newcomb (Colby College)
Having completed our final exams and projects, we set out on Thursday the 5th for a five day backpacking trip. After a whirlwind morning packing session, we drove an hour east in the valley to the Stone House (where we have camped before) and hit the Aviles – Jeinimeni Trail at noon. The trail runs for 48km north and then east into Jeinimeni National Reserve, beginning at the Stone House in Valle Chacabuco and ending on the far end of Lago Jeinimeni where it meets the road to Chile Chico.
Our first day on trail was a hot one. Wearing shorts and t-shirts, a rare occasion on this trip, we hiked across the flood plains of the Chacabuco Valley and into the Aviles River gorge on the north side. Immediately the rock walls rose up above us, but the trail soon took us up a small ridge that drops off steeply to either side, and suddenly we found ourselves above the river hiking across a flat plateau with six and seven thousand foot peaks rising above us, and the river roaring far below.
After two hours of this we came back to the gorge, now five miles from where we started. Here the river has cut a narrow slot canyon that a cable suspension bridge has been built across. We crossed, some of us more carefully than others, and then hung out, had a snack, and took plenty of pictures.
We pressed on and made camp on a gravel bar by the Aviles where Emily and Greg made some of the best mac ‘n cheese I’ve ever had.
The next day was a long one. Twelve miles up the Aviles and then over a low pass and down to the Jeinimeni River Valley. The whole way was sunshine, forests, gravel bars, and at least 15 river crossings (no one managed to keep count). It got to the point where we just walked through the fast flowing, sometimes waste deep water, and let our boots get soaked. In this remote valley we suddenly found ourselves following just the river itself, crossing it almost constantly and with glaciated peaks rising above eight thousand feet on all sides. And we were all alone. No place has ever felt more remote or more like a scene from the Lord of the Rings. We really were a fellowship that day.
At the end of the day we reached a perfectly blue glacial lake – Lago Verde. We camped on the sandy beach there for two nights, sleeping out under the stars together. As we lay on the beech we looked for shapes in the clouds because it was still so light out at 9pm. On our rest day we did a small day hike (with four more river crossings!) and a few of us jumped in the ice cold lake. We also managed to eat pretty well there. Celina and Alice made a great lentil soup for night two and Erin and myself made pasta the next night.
Day four we hit the trail, or rather gravel bars, again and hiked all the way back up the river, soaking our boots once again, and over the low pass to the Aviles valley. We traveled fast that day. Our packs were light and our spirits high. We made it all the way back to where we had camped our first night by 3:30 in the afternoon. For sure, the easiest feeling twelve miles I’ve ever done. All the while we never ceased staring at and being amazed at the glaciers and snow capped mountains that shroud the valley. Our last night on trail Mateo and Walker made rice, cheese, and onion quesadillas for everyone. A meal well earned.
We finished up the last eight or so miles the next morning. We hiked through another day of sunshine and summer breezes. We quickly made our way down and out of the valley and found ourselves back at the stone house and our trucks by one in the afternoon. For the second longest trip of the semester (after our journey to Villa O’Higgins) it felt like we had just left the trucks that morning.