Way Down in Cochamó

comments 10
Chile, Nov - Chile

Warning, super long post! This was a big highlight so far and we had a lot to say. If you want to just scroll down to see the pictures, they have a lot to say on their own.

From the island of Chiloé we caught a 5 hour bus/ferry combo back to the mainland, to the city of Puerto Montt, a true Chilean transport hub. It is situated in an amazingly scenic location, on a huge lake, with a number of volcanoes and the Andes mountains lining the far side of the lake. But Puerto Montt is more of a transportation hub than site seeing locale, with the waterfront dominated by the bus station and modern looking indoor shopping malls. The vibe was perfect for us, as we were there to prepare for our first backpacking trek, and needed to stock up on some supplies. We had fun visiting the giant, modern megamall. It was the busiest place in town, packed with more stores than any US mall we have seen. We felt like we were on a scavenger hunt, getting bounced around by advice from different employees to stores on all sides of the mall. We wound up with a new daypack, a perfect addition to our traveling family, as our Eddie Bauer backpack (my book bag from high school) is finally wearing down on us.

We stayed in a great hospedaje, which is basically a home stay, where the room is in the owner’s house and the owner serves meals from their own kitchen, usually for an extra price. We came home from the mall to witness a Sunday night family dinner with extended family. We didn’t get to participate, but was interesting to observe. The señora of the house was amazingly nice and made us feel right at home, even letting us use her kitchen to cook our own dinner. The house was situated on a hilltop with a view out to the waterfront and the volcanos. All the pictures we took in Puerto Montt were from a balcony on the second floor of the house. We used the night to reorganize our backpacks in order to lighten our load for the trek. The señora kept our extra belongings locked away for us, and after a huge homemade breakfast, she saw us off to the bus station early the next morning and said she would see us in 4 days when we returned from Cochamó.

It was interesting how we ended up deciding going to Cochamó given that we breezed over the Lonely Planet description of it, and hadn’t heard anything about it from other travelers when we were first close by, in Puerto Varas. But on our way out of Puerto Varas, we talked to one couple who had just gone. And then in Chiloé, we talked to two more people who had just been there, and they all raved about it. Lindsey turned to me and said, we have time, let’s do it. And I said, sure, why not! That’s when we made the plans to head to Puerto Montt from Chiloé, stay for a night, then head out the next day on a bus to Cochamó. No regrets on that decision!

Time for some background. First of all, Cochamó is the name of a small, coastal village at the edge of a vast, hidden wilderness. Our destination was actually Refugio Cochamó, a hostel-like cabin with accompanying campgrounds, a 5 hour hike from the village. The Refugio is situated in a valley of crazy granite peaks we heard compared to Yosemite, and the land is, interestingly enough, privately owned and has been for generations. Except for some light cow grazing, the current owners are all happy to preserve the vast majority of the wilderness areas in their pristine conditions for campers and Refugio-goers to enjoy, and have rejected attempts to cut down the timber on the properties. Fingers crossed that the Donald doesn’t get whiff of the place and put a giant Chicago River-style “TRUMP” on any of the mountain tops.

One of the biggest highlights was the hike in, which was also the hike out. The hike was definitely not a light walk through the woods. It followed a historic cattle herding path through dense and muddy temporate rain forest, alongside flowing snow melt streams with shaky log crossings, through green pampas that gave us intermittent views of humongous granite domes and dozens of waterfalls from melting snowcaps. At some points on the hike we walked through tall muddy trenches, and then there was a lower muddy swamp area we called the Fire Swamp (although no Rodents of Unusual Size were seen). About 1/4 was just physically difficult uphill climbing, but the rest seemed like an American Ninja obstacle course, balancing on wet logs and boards, or finding short cuts through the trees to avoid a boot full of water and mud.

The best moment of the hike was when we hit a pampa (an open grassy area) about 3.5 hours in, and saw the first couple granite mountain tops in the distance over the trees, the reason people compare this place to Yosemite. We both stopped and looked at each other and smiled, knowing immediately that the hike and the adventure were going to be worthwhile. And then back into the dense forest with only a couple quick granite glimpses until we finally reached the valley the Refugio is in.

Once we were out in the open in the valley, we were blown away again, as it wasn’t just the couple granite domes we saw in the distance, but we were literally surrounded by 6 or 7 of them. Hopefully, the pictures do them justice.

So after 5 hours of hiking with our packs, and finally seeing signs for the Refugio, we came across the Rio La Junta and a cable car hanging by one wire and a rope with the only instruction being “one at a time” in Spanish. The final obstacle until we reached the Refugio!  So I got in and went for it with gravity and my weight pulling me about 2/3s of the way across the river, and then I used the rope to go the remainder. Then I got off, pushed the chair back to their other side and let Lindsey fly on over.

Tired, but with big grins on our faces, we walked the last couple minutes through a small wooded patch to the Refugio Cochamó, our home for the next 3 nights. The place is pretty incredible considering everything used to build and run the place needed to be either taken from the surrounding forest, or schlupped via horseback up the same trail we just came through. The Refugio is a small, two floor cabin that includes two private double bedrooms, a dorm room that sleeps probably about 20 people (where we slept), surprisingly clean bathrooms, hot water for showering after 7:00 PM, and amazing homemade vegetarian meals they serve every night from locally grown food. Lindsey was in heaven!

Staying there for three nights, it was really cool to see how the dynamics of the place changed from night to night based on who and how many people were there, and even on where you sat for the communal dinner. Sharing in some wine or beer (the Refugio horsed those in) also didn’t hurt anything.

Our first full day there was a bit of a wash, literally. It rained all day, most of it a pretty decent downpour. We had heard that weather there is unpredictable so we built in an extra day in case of rain. Glad we did! Lindsey and I tried to do a quick hike to a waterfall, but headed back after realizing there were too many deep puddles to try to dodge and navigate around. So we broke out some rum we hiked in with, and a 500 piece puzzle, and hung out with the the other travelers who were also taking refuge from the storm.

The second full day was another story, however. The skies had cleared and only six of us remained after the others headed back down the entrance trek to Cochamó, so we teamed up and headed out together on a hard hike. Our leader was Chris, a 21 year old Ottowan who had done the hike the summer before and had brought his dad, John, out to see the Refugio and hopefully do the hike. Then we had our gentle giant, Scaustralian (Scot living in Australia) Ian, who we wound up traveling with for a few days after Cochamó, and Sven the German hiking machine. It was by far the most technical hike Lindsey and I have ever done. The higher we got, the more technical it became, where true mountaineers tied a plethora of ropes to various areas that were necessary to pull ourselves up the mountain, including an intense 10 foot, 45 degree rope rock climb which involved shifting from one face of the rock to another. There is no way we would have made it without the help of young, fearless Chris. Getting above the treeline to the granite, and looking over the valley is something we won’t forget.

When we returned from the hike, we found we were still the only six guests at the Refugio, so we all hung out, finished off our rum, threw some beers down, ate our well-deserved vegetarian meal, and played Eucre (with Chris and Jon being kind enough to incorporate a few of my old Michigan camp rules) to top off an awesome day. Then the following day the six of us hiked back down to town together, trading stories and jokes, and bonding over what we had experienced as a group. We said good-bye to Ian (who we would end up running into two days later) and the rest of us hopped on a delayed and crowded bus back to Puerto Montt. After saying good-bye to the Candians, we had dinner with Sven and then our Cochamó crew was disbanded.

We were left with muddy and wet clothes, but great memories. Our señora in Puerto Montt welcomed us back home, and even arranged to send our dirty laundry out for a late night wash so we could leave early again the next morning for another adventure.

We edited down our photos to the select handful below.  If you want to see the full Cochamó album on Flickr, click


  1. Been reading along and really love this place from what you wrote. Can easily put myself there from the photos and story.
    Glad you both and having the time of your life so far.
    It’s crazy boring at home….

  2. LOVE this. Great story. Great pictures. And want to go here now.

  3. Unreal guys. I’m super jealous. Love the long posts and the great narrative.

    Well played, sir and ma’am!

  4. Sarah Fortin

    WOW! Jealous of this hike. I am truly terrified of heights so I don’t know if I could do something like this in my lifetime. You are lucky to experience this all together! 🙂

  5. Nancy Davis

    Another fabulous post from an unbelievable writer. I just am in love with Chile! Keep enjoying! Xxx

  6. Wow does that hike up the mountain sound just unbelievably hard and scenic. I must say Danny that you are really lucky that you can do these things with your fiance’ and basically the love of your life. It is not usual ( no affront to Highland Pk gals as a general statement ) that girls from HP are going to do the kinds of things your doing by hiking, sleeping/staying where you are, being outside often in the rain and the adventures u are having together. I am very jealous, envious and all things attached to what u both are doing. Very happy that we can live vicariously thru your pictures and blog. Love you both very much.

  7. Hi guys! Awesome post…that place sounds absolutely amazing. I love the little “car” you took over the river. Keep the pics and postings coming.

Leave a Reply