By Malte Sieber for ContactChile
Traduction by Julia Brenner and Nicole Reisen
It’s Friday, the weather is good and I’m looking towards the mountains. Time to climb a hill, enjoy nature, breathe clean air!
In Santiago we have the mountains in front of us: Imposing and abruptly the San Ramón mountain range of several three-thousanders rises at the eastern edge of the city, further behind surpassed by Andean giants like the Cerro El Plomo (5424 m), which is always easy to recognize by its glacier cap. On weekends, numerous paths tend to get overly crowded by hiking lovers of the capital city. Some climb smaller others bigger summits, some in trail running mode, others – like me – with the camera around their necks.
This time we have chosen a trek in the Cajón del Maipo which begins at the southern outskirts of Santiago and includes the upper reaches of the Maipo River and its tributaries, which in some places have carved huge gorges into the mountains. This is the same with the Colorado River, which owes its name to the reddish rocks through which it winds in a deep canyon.
The Mirador del Río Colorado provides a great view over this rugged Andean valley – as mentioned in maps, but hardly known under this name. An additional attraction has lent it a new name: Mirador de los Cóndores, as it is a place where it is practically guaranteed to be able to observe condors from close proximity. This view point is located directly above an enormous cliff where dozens of the “king of the Andes” are nesting.
The scenery can already be guessed when approaching from the street – if you look closely, you will see the condors sitting in their nests. The route takes you 64 kilometers (all asphalted) from Plaza Italia to the starting point of the hike, of which 19 kilometers are along the Ruta G-345, which winds its way into the Colorado Valley (see map). If you’re wondering about the large number of trucks, construction sites and workers’ camps along the way, you should inform yourself about the controversial hydroelectric power station Alto Maipo, which is being built here without taking the landscape into consideration – but that’s a different topic.
You can only get here by car (or by hitchhiking), public buses only take you to the junction of the G-345. The start of the trail at 1290m can be identified not only by the large letters “El Cóndor” painted on a cement pipe, but also by other cars already parked along the road. The route passes through an area that belongs to the Chilean army and was only made accessible to the public a few years ago; there is no entrance fee. The path starts at a fence gate and is well recognizable and marked. We climb steadily, but not steeply, past wonderful columnar cacti. In the shade of lush trees – above all Quillay – it is easy to rest, first views open up to the upper Colorado valley.
Pretty much halfway (km 2,6) we can fill up the water bottle at a shepherd’s summer hut. During summer season they offer refreshments here.
After approx. 2 hours of ascent (4.5 km) we finally reach our destination at 2030 m altitude. The view widens, we are on a huge plateau, which suddenly drops 800 meters deep into the Colorado valley. The snow-covered Andes in the background – an impressive panorama! A big sign indicates the Mirador de los Cóndores and asks the visitors to be quiet and not to disturb the birds.
And they won’t let you wait very long. First, we spot some of them circle in greater distances. Then, suddenly one of them shoots over the edge of the rock in front of us. We duck involuntarily and can hear the wind in its feathers! Vultur gryphus, the Andean condor with its characteristic white ruff and its wingspan of up to 3.5 meters is the undisputed master of gliding: it can circle for hours without flapping its wings. It feeds exclusively on carrion and is therefore an important link in nature’s food cycle. “Our” condor comes back again and again and finally brings a comrade along. Together they peer down at the homo sapiens, who holds out strange flat boxes and black tubes towards them.
We continuously find new photo motives along the cliff and places to simply dangle the legs and enjoy the spectacle. Further down we observe the young birds practice in the thermals and further up, the old ones circle, always against the backdrop of the white sugared peaks. Finally we start our way back, after a good hour we will return to the starting point. Our stomachs growl – time for lunch in one of the many rustic restaurants in the Cajón del Maipo.
places to simply dangle the legs and enjoy the spectacle. Further down we observe the young birds practice in the thermals and further up, the old ones circle, always against the backdrop of the white sugared peaks. Finally we start our way back, after a good hour we will return to the starting point. Our stomachs growl – time for lunch in one of the many rustic restaurants in the Cajón del Maipo.
A few important tips:
– This hike can be done all year round; the months of June to October are recommended as of the snow-covered mountains build a beautiful background. In summer you should leave very early to avoid the heat (great part of this route is exposed to the sun).
– Those who can, should choose a working day. On weekends and public holidays the trek gets very crowded – several hundred people can be expected!
– The only thing that helps to avoid the crowd is starting early in the morning…
– Sun protection, hiking shoes and sufficient water are a must.
– The usual rules apply: Take your garbage with you, don’t bring pets, don’t make fires, don’t feed wild animals and – especially important for condors – no drones!
– This and many other treks are to be found in the walking maps Alrededor de Santiago and Cajón del Maipo, published by the Trekkingchile Foundation.