La Puna to the Calchaquí Valley: Part 1 - Los Patos to Compuel
ElevationAscent: 779' 238 m
Descent: -3,465' -1,056 m
High: 14,615' 4,455 m
Low: 11,262' 3,433 m
GradeAvg Grade: 5% (3°)
Max Grade: 22% (12°)
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“A multi-day backpacking trail connecting La Puna with the Calchaquí Valley.”— Frank Trotter
The trailhead for this run was a campsite on the Rio Los Patos in the Argentine La Puna at about 14,000 feet. Just to the west 19,000 volcano Galan juts out of the plains creating a surreal tableau. The small Los Patos river cuts across a portion of this vast high altitude desert and provided trout for dinner and water. The group met a group of gauchos on horseback who wanted to explore this area with us.
On the La Puna side of Compuel Pass there are no trail markings - follow the GPS track on a gentle climb for about 4 hours to the apacheta marking the pass. As one descends the outline of several trails that are beaten down by llama grazing here appear - follow the one closest to the track depending on the level of water flowing in small steams.
About an hour down from the pass there is an adobe hut where the woman tending the llamas lives. Say hello if your Spanish is good and consider buying a llama rope that she makes. Continue down valley holding to the runner's left side.
A bit further along the valley narrows and forces the trail up and over a rocky section - fairly steep in places but relatively easy to navigate. Once past this outcropping continue on down valley.
We camped in the front of a grouping of buildings maintained by a couple tending sheep, cattle, and llamas. The people here are somewhat friendly but fully accommodating. There is plentiful water and many potential camping sites here near the houses and nearby.
La Puna is a vast Andean high-altitude desert – in Argentina about 69 million acres. Years ago, thousands of people lived up here raising Llama and subsisting on goat milk and sheep meat. Now there are a few tufts of spiny green plants here and there, skittish vicuna bands, and a very few birds. There is one known resident not involved in mining. Everyone else has headed to the cities or gone to work in the mines.
About four hours into the walk we arrived at the apacheta indicating the crest of the pass into the broader Compuel valley. The Andean tradition dating well before the Spanish is to honor Pachamama with offerings of food, tobacco, coca, earth, or whatever moves the travelers. We all added to the pile, then headed down the valley.
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