Day three begins with an ascent toward Laguna Azul from the previous nights camp at the base of the waterfall (this river probably has a name, but I can’t remember it…a side loss from waiting several months to write a blog post). Fire damage continues to be quite extensive during this ascent, making the path somewhat difficult to follow. The trail runs west from the waterfall campsite a few hundred meters along the river before making a sharp turn south up toward Laguna Azul. A base rule of thumb for the Sierra Valdiviseo Circuit is to stay high when in doubt! The above photo is just beyond the waterfall camp and is probably the best place to cross that river.
The ascent toward Laguna Azul follows through several rocky (yet marshy) teasing terraces. Just when you think you’re just about at the top, another terrace appears. The hiking is quite easy though as bushwhacking is kept to a minimal (versus the terrain north of Refugio Benban).
These shots were taken about halfway up to Laguna Azul. Paso Benban 2 is toward the right-side of the photo.
Laguna Azul. This is the one point along the trek that we made a slight navigational error. The correct route toward Paso Mariposa is to the extreme right of the photo, however our mistake led us slightly to the south of the correct route. After about an hour, it became rather clear that this path was an impossible route with the equipment that we were packing. A quick move north found us back on track. The route up to Paso Mariposa is marked by carins, but they can be difficult to notice depending on snowpack. Be sure to add rocks and/or repair the cairns as you pass them.
Laguna Azul from the top of Paso Mariposa.
The otherside of Paso Mariposa looking down toward Lagunas Mariposa (a series of several connected lakes). The decent down to these lakes is probably one of the steepest descents I’ve ever accomplished. Loose scree is an understatement. It’s certainly not too be taken lightly and is a probably one of the best reason why one would want to begin their trek at Refugio Benban and run East to West instead of West to East. The one bonus of such as steep approach is a well marked trail leading down toward the valley.
While it probably wouldn’t take much to detour down to Lagunas Mariposa, we were making our best to pick up the pace and beat a storm that was a few hours behind us. As such, we continued along the East side of Mariposa valley. The trail is relatively well marked with footprints and cairns.
The final Pass. Paso Valdiviseo looking down to Valle Carbajal and the Rio Olivia. We tried to push right down into the valley that night, but got hammered by rain roughly halfway down.
The fourth and final day included the slog down Valle Carbajal down to the highway. This is probably the least exciting portion of the trek, hence the low number of photos. Navigating the Valle Carbajal consists keeping the Rio Olivia on your right at all times, jumping over massive beaver-killed logs, hopping beaver dams and mucking through peat bogs.
This is Laguna something…I can’t remember the name despite it’s prominence as the last major landmark before one needs to cross the Rio Olivia and traverse back to the highway. The Rio Olivia was high…really high…we trekked 2-3km down from the recommended crossing location and couldn’t find a safe and appropriate place to cross. The alternative was to continue down the Valle Carbajal directly to the highway…but this would have consisted of about 15km of marshmallow peat. With another storm not far behind, we were determined to find a way to cross. Finding what looked like a relatively shallow point in the river, I waded across. Only up to my chest as I reached the other side, I decided that this was probably the best chance we had to get across. I carried my pack over my head, tossed it over onto the bank and made a clumsy climb into the thorns on the other side. Dan did the same. Once on the other side we quickly found the old, muddy logging trail which took us another 7km down to the highway. Hitching was easy after that.