Follow 265-CH, a high-speed dirt road, out of Chile Chico. Turn off onto a 4WD track which heads towards a small horse farm. The 4WD track continues up the plateau past the farm. There is very little coverage on the plateau but plenty of flat ground for camping. About 8 km after turning off of 265-CH onto the 4WD track, the route begins the long cross-country journey across an open plateau of tall grass. Occasionally, there is a small trail to follow, but it is probably more efficient to travel cross country in a straight line. See if you can spot any guanacos hiding in the hill or flamingos floating on the small ponds during this section. Try and find the 4WD track which is possible to follow for the last 2 km before the route joins X-753 on the south side of the plateau.
X-753 is a lightly trafficked dirt road surrounded by exposed but very flat land. More trees appear as the route gets closer to Lago Jeinemeni.
Shortly after encountering the sign welcoming you to the Reserva Nacional Lago Jeinimeni, there is a ranger station. The rangers require all hikers to register and pay the park entrance fee (3.000 CLP). For the upcoming trail section (which is a popular and well-marked track), the rangers require you to spend your first night at the Refugio Valle Hermoso, which is approximately 15 km from the beginning of the track. There is a 5.000 CLP fee to camp there which is to be paid at the ranger’s station with the entrance fee. There is also a campsite at the beginning of the track on the shore of Lago Jeinimeni.
The Regular Hiking Route follows a 4WD track along the east and south shores of Lago Jeinimeni. The 4WD track eventually transitions to a single track trail near the outlet of Lago Jeinimeni.
After encountering a split in the track marked clearly with wooden signs, take the track towards Valle Hermoso. The rangers informed us the trail that the Regular Packrafting Route follows on the south side of Laguna Esmeralda to Lago Verde was not good.
The route from Laguna Esmeralda to the first pass located just north of Lago Verde is along a rocky river bed and marked with short wooden poles.There are a handful of river crossings which can be dangerous at high flows. An orange pole marks the turn off from the river bed onto the trail leading up to the pass. Ford the river to the pole, and begin the steep, but short climb.
After rounding the northern edge of Lago Verde, the route follows another rocky river valley also marked with wooden poles. Occasionally the route winds into the brush. The Refugio Valle Hermoso is located in the trees south of the river bed and is marked with a wooden sign. No campfires are permitted, but there is a small building with a fireplace, a picnic table, and a latrine.
The route continues for several km along the rocky riverbed with poles and cairns marking the way. Be prepared for several river crossings. About 2 km from the Refugio Valle Hermoso, the route leaves the riverbed and begins climbing up to the second pass. A surprisingly nice trail descends alongside the Avilés River and terminates at Casa Piedra, a stone house at the put-in for the the Río Chacabuco. If wind makes packrafting difficult, it is possible to road walk to Valle Chacabuco along X-83. There is a campsite (8.000 CLP) at Valle Chacabuco as well as a restaurant.
We did not complete the section from Valle Chacabuco to Cochrane and have no knowledge of route conditions.
Cochrane is a decently sized town with three mid-range supermarkets. The largest one, which is a grocery and department store, is located adjacent to the town square. There are many lodging and restaurant options. Be sure to withdraw an ample amount of money here because most of the businesses in the next town, Villa O’Higgins, only take cash and there is no ATM.