Cerro MOcho - Puerto Natales
Cerro Mocho is located 25km north of Puerto Natales from where is always visible as a sentinel over the waters of the Last Hope fjord. Locally also called La Olla (in Spanish The Pot) for its bowl shape clearly visible when observing the mountain from the southern flank, it’s part of the four peaks that form Cordillera Señoret.
Among the mountains that surrounds the fjord and are half way between Puerto Natales and Torre del Paine National Park, is certainly the most accessible and easier to climb and an array of Patagonia hiking tours can be arrange in the area. The ascension however, is quite rewarding and grants you with spectacular views of Sofia lake, the Last Hope fjord, the Andean pre-cordillera and Torres del Paine.
Information about Cerro Mocho
Cerro Mocho is one of the four peaks that create Cordillera Señoret, together with Cerro Castillo, Cerro Campana and Cerro Pincol. This small mountain range runs parallel to the Patagonian Andes and its located approximately 80km eastern from it, forming part of the eastern Andean Foothills together with Cordon Chacabuco and Cordillera Prat. Cerro Mocho is the southern most peak of this range, reaching an altitude of 1435m (4700 feet approx.) is actually the highest of it and despite not having such an incredible altitude, it does represent an interesting climbing challenge since the ascent starts almost at sea level.
Certainly the most spectacular thing about this mountain is that from its summit you have an incredible 360° view of the Southern Chilean Patagonia; actually from the top you have an overall idea of the interesting morphology of this land. On the east you can observe minor ranges running north-south like Sierra Dorotea and Sierra Tomas Rogers which mark the border with Argentina; these small ranges degrade into the ecoregion of the Patagonian Steppe which covers most of Magallanes region from this point eastwards till reaching the Strait of Magellan. On the western side of Cordillera Senoret instead the geography gets much more irregular and a jigsaw puzzle of fjords and natural canals create the green and lush environment of the Chilean Fjords covered up with evergreen subantartic forest and snow-capped mountains. Once you reach the summit and you look North on a very clear day you can see the peaks of Paine Massif, with Los Cuernos del Paine and Paine Grande easily distinguishable and western of them the impressive whiteness of the Southern Patagonian Icefield.
Keep in mind that this area is not protected by any kind of national park, natural reserve or wilderness sanctuary due to it proximity to the city of Puerto Natales and since historically the valley where Laguna Sofia lies has been used as a sheep and cattle ranch from the beginning of the XX century. This means that the access to Cerro Mocho is granted by a public gravel road that reaches the shore of Sofia lake and after that you’ll have to ask permission to enter a private property; this is always granted as soon as you’ll respect the area, close all the fences and gates you’ll have to cross, respect the animals and leave no trace of your passage in the land.
Cerro Mocho as well as the whole Cordillera Señoret form part of the so-called Cerro Toro Formation; this is a geological formation of the early Cretaceous (approx 85 to 78 million years ago) which is part of the Magallanes Fore-Land Basin. At these latitudes the basin was active starting from the late Jurassic till the late Cretaceous and geological surveys and studies show that the maximum depth, estimated to be around 2000m, was achieved during the Cerro Toro formation.
Cerro Toro is therefore characterized by sedimentary rocks, typically thick and powerful layers of conglomerate interbedded by layers of sandstones and shale. Cordillera Señoret morphology is clearly shaped by these thick conglomerate layers, that's why Cerro Mocho (which means beheaded in spanish) posses a quite flat summit if compared to the neighbouring mountains such as Cerro Tenerife or Cerro Prat which are part of a different geological formation.
Since Cerro Toro was a depositional marine environment fossil such as ammonites, belemnites and inoceramus can be found on these layers.
Hiking Cerro Mocho
Conquering the summit of Cerro Mocho involves passing through different ecoregions, climbing up more than 1300m (4300 feet approx) and experiencing all types of weather conditions that Patagonia has to offer. Remember that you’re climbing a mountain therefore the experience and the effort is quite different from trekking on an undulating and well marked trail such as those you find in Torres del Paine W Trail; actually if you compare this trek with the hardest climb you do while hiking along the W Trek, Cerro Mocho involves more elevation gain and is more strenuous than the Towers’ Base trek.
There is in practical no marked trail leading to the summit of this mountain, therefore a certified guide is highly recommended, moreover since most of the trekking is bushwhacking we suggest you to bring hiking poles and wearing high-ankle boots and long hiking pants to protect you from the prickly bushes that we'll need to cross.
It takes approximately 7 to 8 hours to climb up the summit and get back down to Laguna Sofia; the first part of the hike is pretty easy and really helpfull to warm up your legs. After half an hour we start ascending through a southern beech forest making switchbacks and gaining some elevation, then we take a diagonal direction towards northwest crossing a shrubland area till reaching the edge of the Fangorn forest. This is probably the most beautiful part of the trail, walking through a mature native Magellanic forest where trees are big enough to grant us an easy way out of the treeline.
Once we get out of the woods the temperature starts to drop and we're much more exposed to the wind, we can see from there the fake summit towards where we'll head; according to the weather condition and the terrain situation we'll decide the direction to conquer the fake summit, once there we still have another twenty more minutes to get to the top of Cerro Mocho.
The summit plateau is often swept by strong wind gusts and wearing a nice and warm goose jacket is suggested, despite the cold however, you'll be granted with fine views of the Last Hope Fjord, Sofia lake, Torres del Paine, Sierra Dorotea, Sierra Baguales and perhaps even some Andean Condors gliding on top of your head.
The descend takes roughly three hours and is done by following the same path even though we can make some shortcut.
Fire-eyed Diucon (Xolmis pyrope)
A Southamerican tyrant flycatcher which can be found in Chile from the Atacama desert down to Tierra del Fuego. White throat and belly, with dark grey upper part and upper wings, approximately 20cm long its distinctive feature is the intense red iris.
Diucons are generally very confident birds and therefore are curious and can be easily approached by birdwatchers, as well as quite territorial. They can be spotted in Puerto Natales in open spaces and gardens and while trekking to Cerro Mocho in the first part of the ascent they can be seen on top of branches or hoovering around the ranch.
Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus)
The condor is the biggest bird in South America and in most of the western countries of this continent it's been historically an idolized species among indigenous people. Its wing span can reach 3,5 meters (approx 10 feet) and body weight around 10-12 kilos in adults; therefore condors like to glide and use thermals to save energy while flying.
They live and nest in natural cavities on rock faces and around Sofia lake there many of these locations, making the ascension to Cerro Mocho a good opportunity to spot them soaring around the valley. In one occasion while reaching the summit of Mocho we had the opportunity of spotting 5/6 of this magestic birds flying nearby!
Magellanic Woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus)
The Magellanic woodpecker is the largest of the genus Campephilus and among the biggest of the world. It's endemic of the Southern hemisphere living in southern Chile and southwestern Argentina in which it's a permanent resident of its natural habitat, the Nothofagus forest.
Feeding on wood-boring grubs and beetles this species of woodpecker is normally spotted in pair or small family group. Sexual dimorphism allows to distinguish males, characterized by a bright crimson head and crest, from females which are mainly black with a small red spot under the bill. While trekking to the summit of Cerro Mocho stay alert for their distinctive call especially when crossing the beautiful Magellanic forest before aiming for the fake summit.
Austral Pigmy Owl (Glaucidium nanum)
Locally known as Chuncho this is the smallest of the owl in South America, been found in Chile and Southwestern Argentina. Its natural habitat is the temperate and southern beech forest and besides beeing a solitary species is commonly found in the shrubland and wood around Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine.
It is a fierce predator capturing preys even larger than him such as rodents, lizards and big beetles. Mainly cover by dark to light brown feathers with small white dots in the upper part of the wings, its shape and its habit to perch on trees and bushes made it easy to spot.
Thorn-tailed Rayadito (Aphrastura spinicauda)
Rayadito belongs to the family of Furnariidae and is a small and nervous native bird of the temperate and subantartic forests southern of parallel 35°S of South America. It's main distinctive feature is the long and spiny tail divided into twelve rectrices.
These birds feed on small insects and grubs that they find on trees or bushes bark and they can be sharing the environment with Treerunners and Striped Woodpeckers. Their loud and nervous call preced them even though observing and photographing them it's quite difficul due to their quick and nervous movements.
How to Get to Cerro Mocho
Getting to Cerro Mocho from Puerto Natales you need to take the paved nacional route 9 towards the town of Cerro Castillo; after driving northwards for approximately 20km you take a left turn towards Laguna Sofia, from the turning point is another 4 kilometers of gravel road till reaching the lake shore. Here you can leave your car and start your hike by entering a privately own cattle ranch called Pingo Salvaje; make sure to respect the local habits which means closing every gate behind you to avoid the animals to roam around, asking permission to cross the land on the way to the summit and bringing back with you all your belongings and garbage.
There is no pubblic service to this point hence, unless you hire a car to drive here, you can take a taxi from Puerto Natales to Laguna Sofia or hitchhike on a car driving to Cerro Castillo till the junction and from there walk to the lake shore.
Accommodations near Cerro Mocho
The closest accommodation to Cerro Mocho would be Estancia Pingo Selvaje, this is the cattle ranch through which you'll have to hike till reaching the forest. This ranch provides horseback riding tours and has a small cabin that can be rent for a couple of nights.
Otherwise the closest town to Cerro Mocho is certainly Puerto Natales which has plenty of accommodations option for all budgets as well as supermarkets, restaurants, pizzerias and bars.