Cerro La Campana- Chile
Let’s start with some facts: Cerro Campana lies in the Campana National Parc. It is the center of Chile in the 5th region near Santiago, Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, so a day trip from either one of those cities is possible. From the top of the 1880 m high mountain you can see the Pacific Ocean one side and the Andes with mountain Aconcagua on the other side, as Charles Darwin himself once observed. To see this spectacular view, many people climb up the steep 7 km long Sendero el Andinista. This is the most famous hiking trail in that region, as it is the one that leads to the top, but it is also the most difficult.
The hike starts of fairly easy, going up in serpentine through a forest. As we walked up we met people on their way down, who were actually running. Cerro Campana seems to be a popular training place for athletes. You have to understand that the dirt trails are pretty narrow with pebbles, roots and dry, loose earth covering it. Would I attempt to sprint down the hill, I would probably land on my face after a few meters. For everyone who wants a little more excitement, without endangering themselves: There are dry river beds that can be used as shortcuts that connect the slopes. In spring these riverbeds are filled with the melted water of the snow, but in summer and autumn they are mostly dry. However there are still two places with natural, drinkable water, where you can fill up your water bottles.
And that’s when things changed
And you will have to drink a lot, to keep your strength up. The first 5 km are not easy, but definitely doable. From the 5 km point, one already has a pretty nice view and that’s why some people stop here and go back down. In the last 2 km you have to go up half of the altitude difference of the total hike. We started at 600 m and after 5 km we were at 1200 m. There were 600 m more to overcome. Just as we reached the tree line, we also hit the clouds. We had been walking underneath an overcast sky all day long, but then we broke through the clouds. (Clouds are not as soft and fluffy as they look, they are cold and wet.) A sign then warns you of loose stones and gravel before the dirt trail you were following before disappears and you have to find your own way up over the rocks. That is when the hike turns into a climb. Using your hand and feet you scramble up the side of the mountain. Some of the rocks are probably around 50 cm high, which is a great workout for gluteus and thighs. People have different techniques on how to conquer the mountain. Some prefer a slow and steady pace, otherwise go in short fast bursts interspersed with breaks. Some listen to music, some start swearing loudly, others result to tears. The problem is that you don’t see the top until you are almost there, so you can never know how much further it is. One of my friends actually turned around just before we saw it. You will ask yourself: is it worth it?
It is. Sadly it was a very cloudy day when I went up there, so an ocean of clouds obstructed our view of the Pacific ocean below. It didn’t matter, that might have been even more magical. We did see the Andes, standing tall above the clouds, lining the horizon. The mountain Anconcagua really stood out from them. He is 8000m high and the highest mountain outside of Asia. Just as a reference how hard this hike was: We started out with a large group of 45 people, of those only 30 made it to the top, taking anywhere between 3 hours (but you have to be very fit to pull that off) and 4,5 hours. We stayed up for for 1-2 hours, getting our energy level back up, eating the snacks that we had carried all the way up.
Even though this was one of the hardest hikes I have done so far, I can only recommend it. Just be prepared. If you plan to go, get to the park early. It closes at 5.30 pm and you have to be back down by that time. For the way up you should calculate around 4 hours, for the way down 3 hours and of course a long break at the top to take pictures and enjoy the view. The people at the base camp will write down your name and again at the 5 km point, so that they can be sure, that everyone actually makes it back down. Also it is important to bring a lot of water and snacks. What the base camp of the mountain is lacking, is a little store to buy just those things, so don’t forget to pack them yourselves. Sunblock will be important as well and maybe a shirt to change into, when you arrive at the top, sweaty as one can be. The rest of the National Park offers other, easier routes for hiking. In one of the sectors stand native palm trees, one of the few places where they still grow wildly. If you are lucky you might also see hummingbirds, mountain foxes or a condor, one of the national animals of Chile.