Chilling in Chilean Patagonia, at Basecamp: Donini Bivy!


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Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Original Post - Mar 27, 2013 - 10:31pm PT
We are just back from two weeks of old fart adventures in Southern Chile (Patagonia) with our SLC buddies Jerry & Angie, and my old climbing & rafting friend Mark.

Most of our visit was to Jim & Angela Donini's cabin on the 2nd largest lake in South America. Our climbing legend friend Jim, was unable to visit Patagonia this year due to climbing & slide-show commitments, but his wonderful wife Angela, was our able hostess and tour-guide.

Within 50 miles of their cabin, we drove & hiked terrain with: desert, rain-forest, awesome glaciers, huge rivers (with giant trout & amazing waterfalls), and magnificent views.

Here's our best bivy view Sunset & Sunrise photos:

Sunset on Lago General Carrera and the Northern Icecap of Patagonian Chile. The peak at center right with the long ridgeline is the highest in Patagonia: San Valentin, 13,350 Ft. (our lake's altitude is nearly sea-level---718 Ft.)

Yes! Our lake elevation is roughly 2 1/2 vertical miles below those awesome summits!!

Sunrise alpenglow on the same spots.

Where we were!

Follow the red arrow. We flew Santiago to Coihaique (Coyhaique), then drove south to Lago General Carrera.

After flying into a regional airport BBA and renting our truck, we drove 30 miles north on good road to Coyhaique, the region's big city (100,000 people) and shopping hub, for our first night in Chile at Donini's favorite place for lodging.

Patagonia House is a B & B, was a little difficult to find, but is very modern, clean, and has English-speaking staff, which is somewhat rare in Patagonian Chile. Best of all: was finding a new friend in the manager Ruth.

Ruth is our hero, since Delta Airlines had failed to forward luggage for my wife Heidi & me to Chile. After days of hounding Delta customer service, Ruth finally got our missing bags to Coyhaique and put them on a bus to our rural location. She also loaned Heidi hiking boots and clothing to supplement the gear we had worn on the plane and had in our carry-on luggage.

We simply can't image any other hotel manager in the world doing so much for us. Ruth also has a well-established Patagonian tour company, is a Chilean native and speaks excellent English: Her company is: Salvaje Corazon (wild at heart)! They can do trips for: Fly fishing - hiking - camping - Photo Safaris and bird watching as well as logistics. Web site is :

After a morning grocery shopping excursion, we managed a mid-afternoon departure from Coyhaique, and had a rainy drive south, with our full size-Toyota Diesel pickup (Hilux), on paved roads for about 60 miles, then we had 110 miles of, at times narrow & challenging, gravel roads.

Jerry was our driver of choice and did a great job of keeping the shiny side up.

We finally arrived at the Donini's cabin near dark with Angela waiting at the hard to find front gate.

Our vacation really starts after 3 days of travel to get to our destination!

We then celebrated "cheating-death" on the drive! Photo by Angela at the Donini-Bivouac-cabin. Fritz, Mark, Heidi, Jerry, & Angie.

We did see two roll-over accidents that had happened minutes before, during our driving in Patagonia. The numerous road-side shrines prove that the gravel roads can be fatal to the fast and incautious.

Day 4: The six of us including Angela went for a hike above their property to a stream with a very long series of waterfalls, always with a view of the lake.

Our wonderful host & friend Angela, doing a little "bouldering" at the waterfalls, with Lago General Carrera in the background.

Fritz & Heidi at an "infinity pool" above the lake.

There were cows upstream, so we filtered our water. Jerry & Fritz "making water = drinking water" with the Katadyn Hiker Pro. (4th day for me in the same travel-clothes. Thank God for deodorant!)

Another 10 days of scenery & adventure to follow----and the suspense builds!

Will Fritz & Heidi ever see their checked bags again? Or are our bags doing a separate Chile vacation----running up big hotel bills and sharing our precious gear with pimps and loose women?

It just makes me wonder?


Trad climber
The state of confusion
Mar 27, 2013 - 11:15pm PT

Talk about Donini envy!

Gym climber
A dingy corner in your refrigerator
Mar 27, 2013 - 11:34pm PT
This does not suck !

Social climber
Mar 27, 2013 - 11:44pm PT
I've been to the Donini manse a couple of times, too. Here's what I remember

Social climber
Mar 27, 2013 - 11:47pm PT
And this:

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Mar 28, 2013 - 12:37am PT
Fritz, have you burned yer undies yet? Bear up, lad!
I couldn't believe all the shrines we saw on perfectly straight stretches.

Oh, and watch out for caimans.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
WA, & NC & Idaho
Mar 28, 2013 - 10:40am PT
Looks like the trip of a lifetime, Thanks for sharing!!!!!

Mountain climber
Mar 28, 2013 - 11:18am PT

Trad climber
The great state of advaita
Mar 28, 2013 - 11:23am PT
That was an ugly job, but somebody had to go down there and do! Thank you for volunteering! Ha ha! Looks awesome.

I remember that view out Donini's front window from a slide show of his a year or so ago. Stunning! Thanks for sharing.


Trad climber
under the sea
Mar 28, 2013 - 11:43am PT
Fux yeah... I go to a cabin on a lake too...

Thousands of tiny rocky islands....and only a few people..

Hey Jim...let's exchange vacations sometime! lol!

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 28, 2013 - 11:59am PT
Glad you folks are enjoying our adventures and photos! Here's some more.

Day 5: The six of us piled into two pickups (Angela has a 4-WD version of our rental Hilux) and headed south to the outlet of Lago General Carrera which passes through a couple smaller lakes and then forms the largest river in Chile: the huge, and noted for trout-fishing & whitewater thrills, Rio Baker.

We drove down stream some miles, parked and hiked into a series of scenic falls on the river, for a lunch break.

Angela took this great panorama of the falls, with the very muddy Rio Nef joining the Rio Baker at center-left.

Although there are white-water river outfitters on the Rio Baker, none of us could imagine rafting and surviving the falls. However, Kokatat's blog site recently had a link to expert kayakers having the trip of a lifetime on the same falls and downstream canyons of the Rio Baker. Our falls are apparently called "Double-Drop," although I think they deserve a grander name. Here's a link to the story and video:
Rio Baker-The King of All Chilean Rivers!

After our hike, we drove further down Rio Baker then turned up the Rio Chacabuco and headed east for more miles. We toured Doug Tompkins & Kris McDivitt Tomkins' ranch which is the base for another of their Patagonia Parks. It is a beautiful desert valley full of guanacos, with swans, and flamingos in the wet spots.

Doug & Kris have been buying up property for 20 years in Patagonia and making reserves, preserves and parks out of them, protecting them from development. Eventually, they will all be donated to the Chilean Parks System.

Guanacos & Pink Flamingos!

After a lunch break we went back up the Rio Baker, fished without success on the river, then tried a small lake, which was full of hungry 4"-8" rainbows. We put all the baby fish back and returned to the Donini Bivy for the evening views.

Day 6: Another road trip, this time east along the south edge of the lake for about 100 km to the larger town of Chile Chico which is next to the border with Argentina. We drove south up the Rio Jeinemeni (heny-meny) for several more km to a fishing spot. Jerry & I fished with little success where Donini (El-Jim by then) had caught a huge trout, while the rest of the group explored the desert environment.

This road trip is mostly on good gravel, but it had some very scenic road sections of steep bumpy gravel road with 1000’ drops into the lake & obvious large & frequent rockfall from above. Jerry (Mario) drove the "guy-truck", while Mark and I whined at him to go slower on the one-lane blind-curves above the huge drop-offs. We won’t be going there again----soon.

Desert scenery up the Rio Jeinemeni. Of course El-Jim & Angela have climbed the steep side of the volcanic plug at center right.

Day 7: Local hike above the nearby waterfalls.

After a slow start to the day, we decided to skip a road-trip and hike around the Donini Bivy.

All our gourmet meals were at the Donini cabin and Jerry & I were under pressure from the group to produce a "trout-dinner." We caught an adequate mess of small rainbows and browns out a scenic nearby stream, that we shared with cows. It was a lot like fishing in South Idaho mountains and the fresh trout were a tasty treat.

TONIGHT! Our bags arrived on the bus! Woohoo! Clean underwear, shorts,camping gear, trekking poles, fishing gear, hiking & wading shoes and a lot more stuff we had survived without-----with a little help from our friends.

Fritz wearing spare Donini pants before the bags arrived!

Next: The huge peaks, hanging glaciers, classic waterfalls, foaming grey-water, and jungle of the Rio Exploradores.


Trad climber
Millbrae, CA
Mar 28, 2013 - 02:23pm PT
Wow, Fritz, what gorgeous photos! I really enjoyed the description of the travels, except for the scary roads part! Sounds like a perfect vacation.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Mar 28, 2013 - 03:47pm PT
Scary roads? Au contraire.....half the fun of being there is negotiating those roads. Hell, i've only had one accident so far- no fatalities!

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Mar 28, 2013 - 10:12pm PT

Yeah, Jim, but were you wearin' your pampers????

Ohhhhhhh, I couldn't resist. I'll buy you a drink
next time!
Captain...or Skully

Mar 28, 2013 - 11:39pm PT
Man, some folks get around, huh?
Digging it.

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 28, 2013 - 11:45pm PT
Day 8: This was the best scenery day with a road trip around the west end of Lago General Carrea , then northwest into the Rio Exploradores Valley, full of coastal rain forest, waterfalls off the ice cap all around, spectacular views of hanging glaciers, rivers running grey with glacial debris, and alluring mountains that would be tough to approach, let alone climb.

Two misty peaks in the icefield, from a lakeside view. Both are Donini 1st ascents. Note the wild roses in the foreground. Patagonian roses have mutated into a long-thorned people-ripping menace.

Cemetery, Patagonia style.

One of many scenic mountains during our drive down the Rio Exploradores.

one of hundreds of waterfalls.

Fuchsias were blooming everywhere.

After much spectacular scenery we parked for a hike up to the terminal moraine for Mt. San Valentin's huge glacier. We did have to pay an entry fee to walk up a board-walk (that protects the soft soil of the rain-forest) to a scenic overlook. We packed our lunch up there, and enjoyed the great views, while feasting on the somewhat precarious moraine top.

North Ridge of Mt. San Valentin the highest mountain in Patagonia at 13,500 Ft. Alas, the top was hiding in clouds.

More waterfalls, mountains, and the very out of control, Rio Exploradores.

The rain forest jungle was a little tough to travel in. Angela called a stop at a waterfall on the way back up the Rio Exploradores, and we explored the jungle up to the base of a nearby waterfall. It would be "very-interesting" to drag a heavy climbing pack up through it to the peaks.

Mark had a little "jungle-incident" on the way out, and covered himself with mud. It's Ok, we are friends.

A final look up at Mt. San Valentin----almost cloud-free, with the churning mass of the river born from its glaciers in the foreground.

Oh! A future project for El-Jim. A roadside photo of a little pinnacle alongside the Rio Exploradores.

Much more to follow--- Our exciting climb to the summit of Mt. Fossil Ridge, the Marble Caves of Lago General Carrera, the race back to Coyhaique, and Santiago urban adventures!

Stay tuned!

Peter Haan

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, CA
Mar 29, 2013 - 01:40am PT
Fritz, it's terrific and everything, but it just isn't the same without J-Do!

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
Mar 29, 2013 - 02:06am PT
I did not know this guy traveled out of the Pacific Northwest!

Captain...or Skully

Mar 29, 2013 - 09:13am PT
That's seriously funny, Simon. ;-)
Ol' Squatch gets around too, eh?

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 29, 2013 - 08:59pm PT
On with the adventure!

I do agree with Peter, re his comment:
Fritz, it's terrific and everything, but it just isn't the same without J-Do!

We knew Jim had good reasons not to go to Patagonia this year. It was a wonderful adventure and we are all grateful to Angela for being willing to host & guide us.

Besides: Donini makes us climb ----and suffer, most every time we get together.

What's up with that??

Day 9: We had a long & pretty drive on a one lane road, up from Lago General Carrera), to the unmarked trail head for "our mountain."
Mt. Fossil Ridge is about a 8 mile round trip hike with a 2,000 Ft. gain & loss.

During the upper part of the hike and at the summit, we were above timberline & enjoyed spectacular views all round including the lake, Mt. San Valentin 13,350 Ft., and remote Mt. San Lorenzo 12,200 Ft. (the second highest peak in Patagonia).

Angela, Mark, Angie, & Jerry at the summit with Mt. San Valentin at upper left.

Mt. San Lorenzo far to the south. It is a remote peak and a difficult & dangerous climb. El Jim mentioned the AAC was sponsoring an American group that was going to climb a new route on its east side (left side of photo).

We drove through a meadow full of (somewhat shy) Ashy Headed Geese on the way off the mountain.

On the way up the road to our Bivy at Donini Base-Camp-----a "quick-brown" Patagonian Fox jumped over our route.

Then we were back at Donini basecamp!
Heidi, with Jim Donini's ice axe, and Mark setting up the ice block for a hard strike. After a tough day, Heidi was fresh out of the shower and "needed" ice.

We were using Gin & Tonics to fight off the Malaise affecting us. It appears "The Malaise" was brought on by our Yankee minds trying to comprehend water-draining counter-clockwise, and the reverse crescent of the new-moon.

Gin & Tonic appeared to be the solution!

This was the night of our best sunset action. View is to the west towards the Northern Icecap of Chile and its astounding mountains.

Of course we told stories that evening. (it was Friday night!)
We do have a few climbing, rafting, & adventure stories between us.

More Chilean adventure to follow!
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