A Steep Hike Ahead: Punta de Damas

As we rapidly scrambled our way up the crevice which snakes up nearly half the trail, we finally allowed ourselves a quick break at a well-shaded oasis with a rich, deliciously fresh stream of water. Eugenio pulled out his altimeter and challenged us to guess just how high we were. 2300 meters? 2400? 2350? My heart sank when my ears heard the truth: 1980 meters. Nearly four hours into the journey and we had another 1200 meters to go. Up. That's one heck of a climb.

Climbing Punta de Damas was Part Two of a five-step journey to reach Cerro El Plomo. After a breezy first step, we were challenged to conquer this mountain in just one day. Reaching the 3,172 meter summit of Punta de Damas and returning necessitates a full day of nearly non-stop hiking.

Crushing as the news of our slow ascent thus far could be, the refreshing water strengthened our resolve and we set off with determination. The trail almost immediately began to ascend more rapidly, and along it sprung up a happy population of magnificently pink flowers. A breeze began blowing up the canyon, taking my mind off the boiling sun and onto the dancing flora.

"Is that the peak?" asked Giancarlo.

"Don’t bother thinking about the peak! We’ve a ways to go yet." Our stalwart guide, Hernan Donoso, quieted the inquiries and plowed on ahead. The group followed in single file, our trekking poles clinking off the steadily rockier road. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 5 hours into the hike that we'd finally catch sight of the false summit attached to our destination. That, and the sight of the great Andes to the east, snow-covered San Ramón just to the north, and the entire metropolitan sprawl of Santiago to the west.

Over six million people living down there and we hadn’t seen one other soul on our way thus far. When asked why so few Santiagüinos went hiking, the answers from the group varied: general laziness; maybe an abundance of delicious, cheap wine. But Hernan explained why he particularly likes this trail: it remains empty year-round.

With the views surrounding us, we took another short break to eat and regain some strength. Our hands tangled as some began sharing snacks of chocolate cake, cookies and mixed nuts.

Our bellies and strength replenished, we shot across a level ridge and then gazed upon the staggering climbs ahead. Snow lined the path and somehow gave the impression of being easy to traverse. The snow was deceptive. We slid as we attempted to cross it. The incline increased, twisting through giant boulders and outcrops of gargoyle-like stones. A small mesa offered a moment's respite and the chance to fill up on snowmelt water. Then we looked up and saw what would ultimately be the final push – the steepest and rockiest part yet.

Thoroughly exhausted, we made the final push towards the summit. For every two steps up through the crunching gravel, we’d slide down one. The loose rocks chattered down the extreme slope, creating miniature rock falls. We heaved ourselves up the crumbling face, heads down. Finally, as we hit the last ridge, just meters away from the cross marking the summit, we looked up. Clouds wisped about below, jagged peaks scratched the sky around.

We’d made it. We exchanged high fives and hugs, took in the views, and stared down Cerro El Plomo in the distance.

Some looked with anticipation, others with bewilderment, wondering how we'd ever get to the top of that. But, for now, we didn't have to worry about that. We could relax. Oh, and then start the 5 hour journey back down.

Build-up to El Plomo:
Part 1: Quebrada Macul (~2000m)
Part 2: Punta de Damas (~3100m)
Part 3: Pintor (~4200m)
Part 4: Leonera (~5000m)
Part 5: El Plomo (5434m)

How to get to Punta de Damas (Starting at Parque Quebrada de Macul)
+ From the Grecia Metro station, take one of the buses that runs east on Av. Grecia (towards the mountains) or grab a taxi/colectivo in the same direction. Av. Grecia ends at the intersection with Diagonal Las Torres (NOT Las Torres, which is still far enough away). From the intersection, walk south (the city to your right) for about one kilometer.
+ Tel: 02-22750171 / 22750112
+ Open: 9:00 – 18:30
+ http://www.asociacionparquecordillera.cl/parque/parque-cantalao/parque-q...

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