Nestled in the isolated native forests of the Cochamo valley in Chile; you can find the old cattle drive across the Andean ridge line between Argentina and Chile traversed by local gauchos over the centuries. In fact, this is the same route that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid used.
In the valley floor, Kurt Shillinger hosts an Eco resort called Campo Aventura. From his base you can do sorties up into the valley from anything up to 10 days – on horseback!
The visit to Kurt kicked off with a 5 hour horseback ride (we were really spoiled, it was only the 2 of us) up the valley to the mountain lodge, a 50hectare plot in the midst of this pristine, natural forest in the hidden valley. This is real wild, untouched land – dense rainforest, high mountain peaks, isolated. The valley and mountains are owned by local homestead families as it has been forever ie no declaration as national parks or reserves……just original, wild terrain.
The trail up the valley has been worn heavily due to local, traditional guacho traffic over the centuries. Sections are so deeply carved into the mud floor that the mud walls tower over you when you walk through them even on horseback!
Parts of the trail are so worn that they have been repaired by dumping giant logs across the path – imagine walking across soggy, unstable, muddy logs on horseback! At the best of times it is slippery on foot – these horses were phenomenal! We even struggled to walk some of the sections(occasionally when the trail was really tough our guide asked us to walk).
The trail alternated between solid ground, thick mud that swallows your Wellington boot completely (Cath nearly lost her boot in the mud), river crossings with giant river-washed and rounded boulders, deep, narrow, worn down trials with giant mud walls leaving little room for maneuvre, badly broken rocky ascents, narrow paths hemmed in by dense forest, boardwalks, some navigable, others requiring dismount, massive roots to step across with small landing zones for hooves, big step-ups/downs and deep river crossings.
The mountain lodge cabin is beautifully done; basic, tiny bedroom, big agar in kitchen providing heat to the whole cabin, small dining room table and that’s it (small bathroom next to us).
The next day we set off for a short recce deeper into the mountains. Again, frightfully broken trail – more so than the way up – beautiful. The weather eventually let up to give us a glance at the majestic big Walls on either side of us. This leg of the trip was about a 6 hour return ride. Another night in the lovely cabin, then back to the valley base camp the next day. The trail in reverse is so different in reverse that we might as well have been on another route!
This has been the most phenomenal horseback riding experience ever. The horses were unbelievably sure footed, the terrain was frightful and the experience invigorating.