The legendary Carretera Austral leaves from Puerto Montt, hugging the coast of Seno ReloncavÃ. Just before the end of the first leg of the highway at Caleta La Arena, is Lenca, one of the entrances into Parque Nacional (PN) Alerce Andino. Situated between ReloncavÃ Sound (seno) and estuary (estuario), this 39,255-hectare park extends to the south shore of Lago Chapo. Within the park's mountainous territory is a large expanse of virgin alerce forest.
Alerce (Patagonian cypress, Fitzroya cupressoides) is the predominant flora species, covering 20,000 hectares. Some specimens are over 1000 years old and reach heights of 40 meters (130 ft). Other trees that cover this land are tineo (Weinmannia trichosperma), tepa (Laurelia philippiana), maÃ±Ão (Podocarpus spp) and canelo (winter's bark, Drimys winteri). CoigÃ¼e de ChiloÃ© (Nothofagus nitida) grows in the mountains in the western part of PN Alerce Andino. Common animals are pudÃº (Chilean miniature deer, Pudu pudu), puma (Puma concolor), guiÃ±a (kodkod, Oncifelis guigna), zorro chilla (South American grey fox, Psuedolopex griseus), chingue (Molina's hog-nosed skunk, Conepatus chinga), vizcacha (Wolffsohn's viscacha, Lagidium wolfshonni) and monito del monte (Austral opossum, Dromiciops gliroides). Birds are plentiful. Among the varieties here are Condor (Vultur gryphus), Carpintero Negro (Magellanic Woodpecker, Campephilus magellanicus), Huet-Huet (Black-throated Huet-Huet, Pteroptochos tarnii), MartÃn Pescador (Ringed Kingfisher, Ceryle torquata), Pueco (White-throated Hawk, Buteo albigula), Pato Real (Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos), Cachudito (Tufted Tit-tyrant, Anairetes palurus palurus), Torcaza (Chilean Pigeon, Patagioenas (Columba araucana) and Caiquen (Magellan Goose, Chloephaga picta).
This is a land that was carved by glaciers and movements of the Earth's plates. Sheer cliffs precipitously fall to deep valleys. The region rises from sea level to Cerro Cuadrada's 1330 meters (4323 ft). On the northern horizon is VolcÃ¡n Calbuco (2003 m/6510 ft) in neighboring Reserva Nacional Llanquihue. The largest lake is Lago Chapo, from which RÃo del Sur flows toward Seno de ReloncavÃ. Across the woodlands are more than 50 lagoons, including Sargazo, Chaiquenes, TriÃ¡ngulo, FrÃa, MontaÃ±a and CampaÃ±a.
The park is divided into four sections, each with its own guarderÃa (ranger station). From the village of Correntoso, three of these are reached: In the north is Sector Lago Chapo on the lake of the same name on the north edge, Sector Correntoso, the northwestern gateway into the park, and Sector Sargazo. The far southern part of PN Alerce Andino is under the protection of Sector Valle del RÃo Chaicas, near Lenca. Entry into this national park is $2.
A network of trails, or senderos lead visitors across PN Alerce Andino's undulating landscape.
Sargoza (Distance: 10 km/6 mi, difficulty: medium-hard, duration: 5.5-6 hours) â€“ This trek goes from the ranger station to Laguna Sargoza (2.5 km/1.5 mi, 1 hour) then on to Laguna FrÃa (8.3 km/5 mi, 4.5 hours).
Rodal Alerce PequeÃ±o (Distance: 2.3 km/1.4 mi, difficulty: medium, duration: 1.25 hours) â€“ begins at guarderÃa
AluviÃ³n (Distance: 2.6 km/1.6 mi, difficulty: medium, duration: 1.5 hours) â€“ begins at ranger station
Correntoso â€“ RÃo Pangal (Distance: 3.2 km/2 mi, difficulty: medium, duration: 1.5-2 hours) â€“ begins at ranger station
RÃo Pangal â€“ Refugio (Distance: 2.1 km/1.3 mi, difficulty: easy; duration: 45 min-1 hour)
Mirador Huillifotem (Distance: 1 km/0.6 mi, difficulty: medium-hard, duration: 1 hour) â€“ begins from guarderÃa
Sector RÃo Chaicas:
Chaicas (Distance: 8.7 km/5.25 mi, difficulty: medium, duration: 5 hours)
Saltos RÃo Chaicas (Distance: 3.8 km/2.3 mi, difficulty: medium, duration: 2 hours)
Laguna Chaiquenes (Distance: 5.5 km/3.3 mi, difficulty: medium, duration: 4 hours)
Laguna TriÃ¡ngulo (distance: 9.5 km/5.7 mi, difficulty: medium, duration: 6 hours)
The park's waterways also present sport fishing for brown and rainbow trout, farionela (Apolichiton, Aplochiton zebra) and percatrucha (South American perch, Percichthys trucha), especially on Lago Chapo. Boating tours up Estuario ReloncavÃ can also be arranged.
PN Alerce Andino has a temperate maritime climate, with annual rainfalls of 3300-4500 millimeters (130-177 in). In winter, snow falls above 700-meter (2275 ft) altitude. In July temperatures average 7ÂºC (44ÂºF) and in January 15-20ÂºC (59-68ÂºF). The best time to visit is November to March, but even during those summer months, warm and rainproof clothing are necessary. The disease hanta virus is a severe threat in the park. Keep to trails and read the section about Major Health Problems.
Sector Correntoso has five campsites with fire pits. In Sector RÃo Chaicas, 2.5 kilometers (1.5 mi) from the ranger station, is another campground with five sites, fire pits, water and bathrooms. The cost for either is $10 per night for up to six persons per site. At Laguna Sargazo, Laguna FrÃa and RÃo Pangal are basic refugios (refuges, $10).
Other places nearby Parque Nacional Alerce Andino: RalÃºn, PucÃ³n, Parque Nacional Vicente PÃ©rez Rosales, CochamÃ³, Puerto Varas, Lago Panguipulli, Curarrehue , Melipeuco, Puerto Octay and Lago Llanquihue.
Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...