On the Road to Patagonia National Park

Arturo and Sabrina arrive one summer Thursday at the Balmaceda airport, immediately taking a shuttle bus to Coyhaique. There they must connect with the bus that takes them to the largest lake in the area, known as General Carrera in Chile and with the name of Lago Buenos Aires in Argentina. The idea of this trip was born from Sabrina, who is a fan of the outdoors. She contacts Patagonia Huts, to join a short traditional climbing program and combine it with treks in Patagonia National Park. Sabrina convinced her husband, Arturo, to join the trip to recharge her batteries and thus, when they returns startup their joint project of a market research company that they are planning.

After an hour on the bus, they see Cerro Castillo and Sabrina explains to Arturo everything they are seeing. While he listens to her, without saying it, Arturo can’t stop thinking about how hard the trekking they are going to do together for several days will be. Half an hour later, they have their first view of the emerald-colored lake that looks immense on the horizon. Raising your expectations about what you will find in Chile Chico at night. The community from which the park is accessed and from which the ferry crossing separates them.


Clean Climbing in Cerro Colorado

Next day afternoon, Sabrina, a 5.11 sport climber, is in front of a basalt wall very close to Chile Chico known as Cerro Colorado or Apidame. The wall, 5 pitches on its highest side, is known in Patagonia for its sunny micro-climate that always makes it a reliable climbing alternative to Chaltén, from which it is separated by a bus that reaches the community of Los Antiguos. She is camping, with her guide Andrés and 3 other climbers, who have escaped their routine for a few days to join a Traditional Climbing Program. Trad or Clean climbing gets Sabrina’s attention for considering it more respectful with the environment, ascending and leaving walls clean.

Excited on the wall and confident in her experience, Sabrina jumps into a couple of long routes placing marginal protections and slipping on all her attempts. Pepe, her belay, who had internalized the guide’s instructions, reacted securing her always on time. At sunset, already tired and a little frustrated during the conversation with Andrés, she cannot stop to think about the Taoist thought that “courage is the complement of fear. A person who is fearless cannot be courageous”. Chewing it, like the attitude to have when you realize that in trad climbing, the psychological demand is much greater than sport climbing for the same difficulty in the wall. In the morning, she and Pepe decide to climb a route that they themselves saw, which does not seem so exposed and which, according to Andrés, had not been completed before. With all the morning energy, they set off, reading carefully where to make sure and rest, until Sabrina reaches a point where there is no more to climb…

In a while they are back in the patio of Campamento Ñandú, their base in Chile Chico, eating pasta and making plans together. Sabrina does not stop looking at the small climbing boulder of the hostel. She is anxious, as she has not been for a long time, for her to arrive the other day to polish her position with the minimum effort in bouldering…

Getting to know Chile Chico and the Lunar Valley of Patagonia

Arturo, meanwhile Sabrina is in Cerro Apidame, decides to go shopping with Juan, the administrator of the Campamento Ñandú. They first go to see with their own eyes the view from Cerro las Banderas viewpoint, to clarify once and for all, that it is not a section of the Chinese Wall lost on the other side of the world, as Arturo jokes. At that spot, is feasible to know the reason for the straight line that divides the Lake marking the border, as well as the natural history of the landscape. Wanting to know more about the farms that can be seen surrounding the town, they go for fruits and vegetables. There, in addition to learning about the nutritional attributes by talking with small producers, Juan, who is a mechanical engineer, explains that these foods are the future, as they have a minimal environmental footprint compared to alternatives. Which are produced with environmental impacts that are neither thermodynamically reversible and nor included in the prices, being even more expensive.

Close to sunset, it is time for Arturo to moon walk. He goes to Valle Lunar, with its immense landscape, “psychedelic” cave paintings and its rock formations that really take you to another planet. Ascending to the rocks formation from the parking area, located about 30 km from the town, really reduces his anxiety about his performance in the trekking in the Patagonia Park. Not a minor issue, since an infective endocarditis in his heart which he suffered the previous year, eft him very weak and in the midst of a pandemic. The next day fully recovered, rides a bicycle to Los Antiguos and then joins the huge spaghetti party with Sabrina and the group of climbers at sunset … Much calmer for what comes …

Trekking in Patagonia National Park

Finally the day arrives. They will traverse the northern and wildest part of the park. Where you can only go with Patagonia Huts that has built a couple of huts to explore that area. At the entrance to the park, Jeinimeni Lake, they put on their light backpacks, as the tents and most of the food are already in the huts.  Andrés points La Gloria pass in the distance, a small peak that they must reach and says let’s go!

Arturo, more than happy, tries to hide his nervousness and sets off. Surprisingly they increase at pace and almost without realizing it they have waded the first river and slowly but steadily climbed the only steep path to the highest point of the entire route. There they see Valle Hermoso, just the picture they knew of the park. The group of 6 and 2 guides, rest looking at the valley, until Andrés again shows in the distance where they are going. Arturo puts on his backpack, breathes and takes Sabrina’s hand.

The walk continues through riverbeds surrounded by forest, until the landscape changes to the alpine. Where it is still possible to see the glaciers that formed those valleys. Suddenly a forest opens up again, coming across the Hut Glaciar after 8 hours walking. Arturo can’t believe it! He is tired, but fascinated with the place. They are warm, cooking and even have the chance to take a hot shower. Late, when he already in his sleepingbag in his tent, he thinks that everything he really needs is in the shelter and in his backpack.

Next morning, they prepare slowly to ascent to the glacier. They scremble up the mountain, and in the huge ice mass, Arturo totally forgets his concerns, listening to Andrés as he describes the glacier retreat, while he practices mountaineering techniques all that afternoon.

The conversation continues the next day, when they start to walk along the trail that was an old pioneer and smugglers route. Everyone realized that the ice cap with their glaciers they just left, are really the heart of the park and of all life in those valleys. They see how the water that runs from there changes the entire environment around it, passing through wetlands and forests whose vegetation has already occupied everything that man had done to move and raise cattle a few years ago.

Arriving at Hut Renoval, in the middle of a Coihue forest and at the furthest point of the park, Andrés tells them that the road built only in the ’90s and the new logic of commerce totally changed the type of work, opportunities and people’s livelihood. Falling this route into oblivion. Arturo and Sabrina, are struck by realizing in the field how fast our lives can change and how we must regenerate ourselves to face the changes. This experience is an awakening that motivates them to the maximum to do things well with their new business project, inspired by the creation of the National Park that has become a source of opportunities to protect nature and truly for a sustainable future in Patagonia.

Carretera Austral

Back at Campamento Ñandú, they meet Gato. A Patagonian guide through and through, who the next day will take them to their last destination of the trip: Las Capillas de Mármol (The Marble Chapels). But not before eating a traditional Patagonian Lamb Barbecue in the Hangar Lounge. The hostel’s barbecue area with its fireplace that is an airplane wing. During the conversation, the laughter and the wine flow over the food, savoring the value of those dishes. Arturo y Sabrina feel that they have begun to transform their world through this experience, with a concrete path to face global changes:  being very active at the local level, prioritizing the circularity of the goods they buy, tapproaching preventively to their health through physical activity and nutrition, preserving and regenerating ecosystems while they are in nature.

The party lasts for hours…with the melancholy of the end of a trip that is approaching. Upon awakening, El Gato takes them along the road bordering General Carrera Lake, one of the scenic routes in Patagonia, to Las Capillas de Mármol to navigate the deep turquoise waters, which are dimly reflected in the strange rock formations, that mark the end of your journey…