PART TWO: Sandy Summits Cerro La Campana

5:00am came far too early for all that evening commotion, so we rolled over and hit snooze.  It was closer to 7:30am when I stuck my head out of our tent to take in the view.  Mostly I was checking to see if Sandy was anywhere in sight. She wasn’t.

If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you may want to do that first!

Cliff side on Cerro la Campana

As I reached for fresh clothes in my pack, she came around the corner of the tent from where she had nestled in right by our heads.  She executed a beautiful yoga vinyasa of downward dog into sphinx pose and looked at me sheepishly. We were ready to take on Cerro La Campana!

8 morning stretch (1 of 1)

The Llama and I marched up the trail about 100 meters to where we found the lighter sitting with a note “Muchas Gracias and Thank You Very Much.” I could smell campfire smoke lingering in the early morning air.  I was relieved that Jesus hadn’t caused a forest fire, but felt a mix of guilt and resignation. We returned to our camp to make coffee and breakfast before hitting the trail.

Clouds break over Chile

The morning light was pale and the valley below was blanketed in clouds.  The air was pleasantly warm and the sun had just touched the rock face of the mountain summit.  Sandy was excited to be guiding us upwards again.  She intuited all the places we would pause to rest along the way, while we peeked into mine-shafts and filtered water where the stream intersected the trail.  She’d disappear into the brush and we’d come across her a few minutes later, snoozing at the base of a sign indicating we had reached the next point of interest.

court walking up trail (1 of 1)

The sun was gaining strength by the time we reached the Placa Darwin.  Charles Darwin summited Cerro La Campana on his journey aboard the H.M.S. Beagle in 1834 and wrote his observations in A Naturalist’s Voyage Round the World. One hundred years later, The Scientific Society of Valparaíso installed a plaque commemorating the time he spent on the mountain. Since then biology and geology buffs from around the world have made a point to visit the spot when in Central Chile.  The plaque reads:

Pasamos el día en la cima del monte, y nunca me ha parecido el tiempo más corto; Chile se extiende a nuestros pies como un panorama inmenso limitado por los andes y el oceano pacifico.

Charles Darwin plaque Chile

It is true that there is something about a wild and expansive environment that can make one feel small and insignificant.  To climb is to confront the mass of rock before us, the range of hills and mountains that extend out as far as the eye can see to the east, and to the west a sleepy valley with the suggestion of ocean on the hazy blue horizon.  Considering the natural powers that create and destroy mountains over centuries, the huffing and puffing effort I muster is laughable in comparison.

Hiking Cerro La Campana, my attention was drawn to one way humans make an effort to combat this feeling of impermanence.  Everywhere I looked—painted on rocks, scratched into trees, marked onto arrows guiding the way up the trail—I saw names and initials and dates proving others had been there.  Sure, the mountains and the sea dominated my view, but when I started paying attention to mankind’s mark, I realized how ubiquitous it was.  Even the plaque nailed into the rock was little more than a fancy way of saying “Charles wuz here.”

Tagged rocks

On one hand, this frustrated me.  Having benefited from the pristine beauty of Oregon’s forests, which can make you feel like no one has ever stepped foot there before you arrived, this was a new feeling.  Here we are, human beings showing our power in a national park, and this is the expression we choose?

On the other hand, I thought of the history of silence in this country and other Latin-American countries.  People living on this continent in THIS generation have experienced censorship and fear in ways that I can’t personally relate to.  If leaving behind initials and a date is an act of rebellion, a small way to overcome oppression, or to remind oneself of his or her own existence, then it can be beautiful too.

As we hiked, my thoughts wandered back to Valparaíso, a city absolutely covered in graffiti.  It wasn’t always that way, and it’s still in evolution. Every few days or weeks or months we’ll notice a new piece of work.  The street art movement started in the early ‘90s, shortly after a return to democracy following the seventeen year dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet. With the change of political regime, Porteños felt a new freedom of expression, and tags and political artwork began to cover the city streets.

Valparaiso street art

Graffiti in Valparaiso

Graffiti remains a trademark of the colorful city. There was a community effort recently where painters gathered in a specific neighborhood that had been neglected.  They filled the walls with color and art.   Residents started to recover a sense of pride and coordinated efforts to keep trash off the streets.  Tourists are now motivated to visit this area and view the artwork.  They spend money in the shops and restaurants that previously only served locals.  In this way, a tradition of graffiti can help lift communities otherwise ignored by UNESCO grants and government investment.

The Llama and I did not beat the sun to the summit of Cerro La Campana that morning as originally planned, but we were the first ones to make it to the top that day.  We enjoyed the feeling of being completely alone together, strong and euphoric from our place sitting on top of the world.

Standing in front of mountains on Cerro la Campana

The stranger Jesus followed soon after, and as he sat down in the shade of a boulder to enjoy the view, he took out of his sack a glass bottle of water and a ceramic mug.  Sandy eyed him warily from a distance, but he set out another mug and filled it for her.  She lapped at the water happily for a moment, and then continued poking her nose into other corners and crevasses, no longer suspicious of him.

Man gazes off from mountain summit

The Stranger we call “Jesus”

The Llama and I had a satisfying lunch of yesterday’s leftovers with a million dollar view, and read markings from people who had summited before either of us had been born.

“People carried spray paint all the way up here just to do this,” the Llama remarked.  It is pretty incredible to think of the intention and forethought required to carry spray paint on a 7 hour uphill hike, just to leave your name at the top.  Maybe some people already had the paint in their garage.  But I’m sure some paint was purchased expressly for the purpose.

Standing on the summit of Cerro la Campana

We saw initials that had been originally written in the 1950’s and had been rewritten and re-dated through the ‘80s.  Weddings and birthdays were commemorated.  Two boys, ages 12 and 14, claimed their feat on a cracked boulder.  They must be in their 30’s now.  At the highest point, a battered Chilean flag was attached to a flag pole.  People had attached scarves and key chains and other memorabilia to the pole.  The message is clear—you don’t have to be Darwin to be remembered.  Celebrating a day when you climbed a mountain, whether alone or with others you love, can be enough of an act of greatness.

I can’t blame anyone for leaving his mark in his own way. Here I am, writing my stories, thoughts, and experiences and leaving them here on a blog. It’s my own ego speaking.  But the next time I’m hiking and I see “Carlos Rules,” or “NC+GC=4ever” written on a sign, I’m going to think of this blog post.  Maybe you will too.

The Llama and I couldn’t help wanting to bring Sandy home with us.  But while we were playing on the rocks and enjoying the view, two other wild dogs summited with hikers.  She was distracted and we descended without her.  It was a relief not to have to say goodbye at the park gates.  To have thought that she’d prefer to be fenced in and fed from a silver bowl would be another kind of narcissism altogether.  We know she’ll take excellent care of other visitors to the park, and we hope to be back to explore some of the other less-popular trails that cross through Parque Nacional Cerro La Campana. Maybe we’ll see her then.

Dog on summit with Chilean flag

This backpacking excursion ended, like all good hikes should, with a personal pizza, a vegetarian completo, and two very cold beers.


100 meters: About 325 feet

Placa Darwin: A plaque commemorating the visit of Charles Darwin to Cerro La Campana.  It also marks a transitional point on the trail where the route changes from dusty forest trail to rocky scramble.  There is a good proportion of visitors to the park who make it to Placa Darwin and then head back down the mountain without summiting.

“Pasamos el día en la cima del monte, y nunca me ha parecido el tiempo más corto; Chile se extiende a nuestros pies como un panorama inmenso limitado por los andes y el oceano pacifico.”

Translated: “We spent the day at the peak of the mountain, and never had time seemed so short: Chile extends at our feet like an immense panorama bordered by the Andes and Pacific Ocean.” Reading through A Naturalist’s Voyage Around the World, which was of course written in English, I could not find a quote that accurately matched this sentence.  I think it’s a translator’s creation, but I like the sentiment.  What Charles Darwin did write was this: “We spent the day on the summit, and I never enjoyed one more thoroughly. Chile, bounded by the Andes and the Pacific, was seen as in a map… Who can avoid wondering at the force which has upheaved these mountains, and even more so at the countless ages which it must have required to have broken through, removed, and leveled whole masses of them?”

Augusto Pinochet:  Where do you start with a somewhat contemporary dictator?  I’m linking here to Wikipedia for a quick history lesson if you’re interested.  There are many alive who still defend his legacy, though the count of those who were murdered or disappeared under his rule sits at over 3,000 and growing.

Porteños: What residents of Valparaíso call themselves.  Technically, the word means a resident of a port city.  The most common use of the word is for locals of Buenos Aires, Argentina, which is a much bigger city than Valparaíso.  But in Chile, there is no doubt who the Porteños are. 

Completo Chileno: A Chilean Hot Dog.  Covered in condiments, the completo is everywhere and is can be eaten at pretty much any time of day. Vegetarian versions are a bad idea, though they can be particularly interesting.  I had one stuffed with cold green beans, guacamole, mayonnaise, and chopped tomatoes.  This one was stuffed with soggy french fries, guacamole, and an aioli sauce. It hit the spot. However, if I’m eating a completo, you can pretty much bet I was starving and couldn’t figure out anything else to order!


4 thoughts on “PART TWO: Sandy Summits Cerro La Campana

  1. Anita Urbanski says:

    Thank you for sharing your awesome adventures. Your beautiful words and gorgeous pictures make you seem nearby. Thanks to Sandy and all the “California Dreamers” who make your journey easier. I will share these stories and pictures with my grandchildren some day.

    Liked by 1 person

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