15-Jan-2009 -- This is the seventh confluence that we visited during our trip to Peru, Bolivia and Chile (see map). The story starts from 12°S 77°W.
We stayed in the town San Pedro de Atacama just 23 km from the confluence point. With this fact in mind, I simply had to go. It seemed close enough to reach it by physical means (bike & hike). San Pedro is crowded with tourists that use their rental bike to ride around town. So it was easy to rent a bicycle on the eve of the trip.
Without any preparation I set off at 6:20 a.m. from our hotel, equipped with a bottle of water, GPS device and a camera. At the last intersection before leaving town I had to make the decision between road 27 towards the east (Paso de Jama) or 23 towards the south. Spontaneously I opted for the later and rode my bike up to almost the minimal distance of 13.5 km to the confluence. Since there was no other track available I decided to go off-road from there (later, I found out that I just had missed the road to the ALMA observatory if I had continued the main road for another kilometer).
My original plan to ride cross-country with my bicycle turned out to be too optimistic. Biking was difficult in the sand and mud where I sunk in. I had to push the bike and soon when I found myself carrying it over my shoulders I realized that it would be smarter to abandon the bike. So, I set a waypoint at a distance of 10.6 km and left bicycle and backpack behind. It doesn’t sound smart to leave everything but GPS and camera behind, but this way I could make a lightweight approach by running.
The first 5 km went smooth over soft sediment. Then I entered the lava bedrock with a steeper slope upwards. A first little canyon appeared and I found it funny to climb across it. But soon more and more canyons appeared – each deeper as the previous one. They appeared suddenly on the otherwise level ground. Soon I encountered the first canyons that seemed to be impassable. I had to hike at the ridge for a while until I found a section where I could cross. Some canyons could be entered but not left safely on the other side. But after hiking in the canyon for a while I found an exit. One canyon I managed to cross with a big leap on the other side.
Finally, after crossing about 10 of the deeper canyons, I reached the site at 9:24 a.m. I saw the
monument laid in stone by previous visitors. Since I had promised Elionora to be back in our hotel in San Pedro at the very latest by 12:00 noon, I was overdue with my point of return. Crossing the canyons had taken lots of my time.
On the way back I took a smarter route that required only two (but therefore really difficult) canyon crossings. Suddenly my GPS receiver turned off – the battery was empty. Luckily, I had not forgotten to bring a spare battery. But, to my surprise they were totally empty as well! Now I had a problem, because somewhere in the desert I had to find my bike and backpack again. I had still to run 9 km! So I ran with GPS off. I know that batteries recover, if they are not used for a while. After running an hour to the hopefully right direction, I dared to switch on the GPS for a minute, look at the distance and direction and then turn it off again. After 3 iterations I saw my bike ahead. Now it was 11:00 a.m. when I was back to my bike and backpack. But my struggle was not over yet: the rear tire was totally flat. I quickly changed the spare tire – only to find out afterwards, that the toolbox did not include an air pump.
Now it was already 11:20 a.m. and I was still in the middle of the desert with a broken bicycle. You won’t believe it, but I managed to reach my hotel at 11:58! Anyway I had to push the bike 3 km back to the main road (running). But as soon as I got there, a group of tourists picked me up, put the bike in the rear and I was enjoying plenty of cool water while riding at a speed of 120 km/h towards San Pedro.
Clearly, this point is dangerous and should not to be visited alone – in particular not without water and mobile phone. I did it my way but do not recommend copying my example.
CP Visit Details:
- Distance to an asphalt road: 13.3 km
- Distance to a road: 6.8 km
- Distance to a track: 6.8 m
- Distance to houses: 8.0 km (ALMA Project Office)
- Time at the CP: 9:24 a.m.
- Hiking time (distance): 2 hours 4 minutes (10.6 km)
- Measured height: 2940 m
- Minimal distance according to GPS: 0 m
- Position accuracy at the CP: 6 m
- Topography: Slight westward slope. Flat terrain apart from a labyrinth of deep and narrow canyons with abrupt ridges.
- Vegetation: some scattered humble cacti
- Weather: sunny with little haze, 26° C (felt temperature)
- Description of the CP: On a slight western slope to a volcano range bordering Bolivia and Argentina. Vulcan Lincancábur in sight. Remote location in a stone desert.
- Given Name: The Unfathomable Canyon Confluence
Story continues at 24°S 70°W.