The valleys of the Cuarto, Quinto and Mirta rivers are secrets of La Junta that deserve to be revealed. First for their beautiful and unspoiled landscapes, and second for the large amount of outdoor activities you can do. These valleys are ideal for hiking, horseback riding, fly fishing, kayaking, cycling or simply, for unleashing the photographer inside you that’s dying to get out.
To begin this tour, head 12 km north of La Junta on the Carretera Austral and veer to the right where the wooden sign indicates the entrance to the Mirta Valley (Route X-11). You’ll soon catch your first glimpses of the star for the rest of the route: the spectacular and always snowy mountainous range, Barros Arana, which you will have the pleasure of viewing from a number of different angles.
At kilometer 22 you’ll find yourself in front of the “El Tramitado” farm, owned by the Aillapán family, one of the many settlers who inhabit these stunning and hidden valleys. Here, there is a great 8 km hiking trail that crosses their land. It was built by the family with the support of Conaf, the National Forest Service. Sendero Aillapán travels through vast Patagonian forest following along the shores of a crystal clear river that pours from a large waterfall. After 4 kilometers of hiking, the trail reaches a glacial lagoon and the foot of an imposing hanging glacier. Depending on ice conditions at the time, it may be possible to enter the ice caverns, for close-up views of the different forms and colors of the ice, which range the spectrum from transparent to white, turquoise and blue. Be sure to bring your camera because there is little doubt that you will want to try and capture their beauty. And if you don’t, not to worry, you will never forget the experience. The trekking is pretty intense, so we suggest you camp in the Aillapán farm before or after, to be able to have time and energy for the other sectors of these amazing valleys.
Along the route, you’ll have excellent views of the Claro Solar Lake, where there is great fishing and small boat rental or charter. Several of the farmers offer access to the lake, such as Doña Julia San Martin, a member of the Women’s Agricultural Club of the Valleys, who can facilitate access to the lake shore, fresh vegetables for a picnic lunch and boat rides in the sector.
Around 31.5 kilometers, you will see an intersection. Turning right leads you to Route X-13, which joins La Junta with Lago Verde; turning left takes you into the Cuarto and Quinto valleys. If you have time, we recommend you take the latter, and spend a bit more time exploring these superb valleys.
At the end of this road you will reach the Cuarto River, and, at least for now, it will be time to park your car or bike, and start to walk. Approximately a hundred meters to the right you’ll see two giant trunks that cross the river and a wire to help you firm your steps: that is the bridge that you’re going to have to traverse! As crazy as that sounds, the residents of this sector cross this bridge every day, so go ahead and get a firm footing and slowly cross to the other side. There are some rumors that perhaps this rustic bridge will soon be replaced by a more modern one that can carry vehicles, so if by the time of your visit, the trunks and the wire have disappeared, well…unfortunately, you have lost a good story to tell back home.
Señoras Rosa Sanchez and Mireya Roses, members of the Women’s Agricultural Club of the Valleys, live and work in their greenhouses and gardens, just on the other side of this bridge. Every Monday and Friday they head out across the bridge with their vegetables and fresh eggs and marmalades, on their way to their club’s Farmer’s Market in La Junta. Neither are working in tourism, but if you are interested in your farming and gardening wisdom, you can visit them and their orchards and greenhouses and take home some fresh, organic goodies. Of course, if you’re concerned about how to get back across the bridge with your purchase, ask them to accompany you, because they are experts in crossing and will be happy to help you.
Back at the car, return toward the intersection that you crossed a while ago and this time stay straight, following the route toward X-13. You’ll cross over the Quinto River using a very narrow (but new) suspension bridge. Proceed with caution and follow the curvy road to its crossing with Route X -13 that leads between Lago Verde and La Junta. To head back to La Junta you should turn right (west) and proceed another 5 kilometers.