Patagonia Verde – a refuge for biodiversity

Summer has been never ending down here in the far south. So the last 4 weeks we’ve been continuing our voluntary work for Adventure and Science by exploring dense, endemic Patagonian (rain) forests, forgotten valleys and ridges and packrafted some of its threatened rivers. Some of the areas we’ve been through are luckily protected in private or public parks but huge areas are still designated, unprotected wildlands. Except for the knowledge of locals, there is a great lack of information on these areas. So we’ve been gathering data for the Pacific Biodiversity Institute which will hopefully aid in the eventual conservation of wildlands and biodiversity.

Packrafting Rio Yelcho - Corcovado National Park, Region de los Lagos, Patagonia, Chile

Packrafting Rio Yelcho – Region de los Lagos, Patagonia, Chile

Hiking through a drowned forrest, Reserva Nacional Lago Palena, Chilean Patagonia

Hiking through a drowned forrest, Reserva Nacional Lago Palena, Chilean Patagonia

We mainly lost ourselves in the Valdivian temperate rain forests in, around and on the periphery of protected areas like Vicente Perez Rosales, Corcovado, Lago Palena, Rio Puelo and Lago Puelo. The packraft has been inflated on pristine rivers like the Yelcho and Petrohue but sadly the plan to packraft a part of the threatened Palena has been drowned in pouring rain, which abruptly halted the summer. So we’ll have to come back for that one, later on 🙂

In stead of writing an extensive trip report, we’ll treat you with a selection of pics from our explorations of the last weeks. Hopefully this will inspire you to come over here and hike the Patagonian forrests or float them rivers. Because tourism could be an important step towards conservation…

Rain has been pouring down the last few days, but it’s clearing up again, so time has come to continue feeding our Patagonian dreams.

Extensive, native lenga forrests on the mountains bordering the fjord-like Nahuel Huapi lake, Argentine Patagonia. From the ferry-ride towards the core of the national park, from which we started a 2-week double trans Andean trek into Chile and back into Argentina.

Extensive, native lenga forrests on the mountains bordering the fjord-like Nahuel Huapi lake, Argentine Patagonia. From the ferry-ride towards the core of the national park, from which we started a 2-week double trans Andean trek into Chile and back into Argentina.

Balancing over fallen trees, Virgin Patagonian Lenga Forrest, Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina

Balancing over fallen trees, Virgin Patagonian Lenga Forrest, Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina

Glaciar Frias, tumbling down from massive, extinct volcano Cerro Tronador (3491m), PN Nahuel Huapi, Argentine Patagonia

Glaciar Frias, tumbling down from massive, extinct volcano Cerro Tronador (3491m), PN Nahuel Huapi, Argentine Patagonia

The mighty Andean Condor (wingspan 3m) flying towards Laguna Frias, Argentine Patagonia

The mighty Andean Condor (wingspan 3m) flying towards Laguna Frias, Argentine Patagonia

Liolaemus lizard in the Valdivian Rain Forrest, Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, Patagonia, Argentina

Liolaemus lizard in the Valdivian Rain Forrest, Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, Patagonia, Argentina

A chilean gaucho left his gear hanging to dry. Valle Ensenada, PN Vicente Perez Rosales, Chilena Patagonia

A chilean gaucho left his gear hanging to dry. Valle Ensenada, PN Vicente Perez Rosales, Chilena Patagonia

Alvarado's rancho in the Valle Ensenada with glaciated SW-flanks of might Cerro Tronador towering above. Valle Ensenada. Chilean Patagonia.

Alvarado’s rancho in the Valle Ensenada with glaciated SW-flanks of might Cerro Tronador towering above. Valle Ensenada. Chilean Patagonia.

Gaucho flavours fill the kitchen. A fresh meal at rancho Velazquez. Valle Ensendada. PN Perez Rosales. Chilean Patagonia.

Gaucho flavours fill the kitchen. A fresh meal at rancho Velazquez. Valle Ensendada. PN Perez Rosales. Chilean Patagonia.

Deeply eroded horse trails betray that this now little used trail was once an important trade route over the Andes. Valle Ensenda. Chilean Patagonia.

Deeply eroded horse trails betray that this now little used trail was once an important trade route over the Andes. Valle Ensenda. Chilean Patagonia.

Bivaouc at the Lago Cayutue. Volcan Puntigiado fills the horizon. PN Perez Rosales. Chilean Patagonia.

Bivaouc at the Lago Cayutue. Volcan Puntigiado fills the horizon. PN Perez Rosales. Chilean Patagonia.

Rio Ventisquero. Rincon Bonito. Parque Pumalin. Chilean Patagonia.

Rio Ventisquero. Rincon Bonito. Parque Pumalin. Chilean Patagonia.

Asado de Cordero. Roasted lamb. Summarizes the Patagonian kitchen. Rincon Bonito. Chilean Patagonia.

Asado de Cordero. Roasted lamb. Summarizes the Patagonian kitchen. Rincon Bonito. Chilean Patagonia.

Bivaouc at Palma - Alegria rancho where we enjoy endless Patagonian hospitality. Little foreigners penetrate into these valleys so we were invited multiple times with the local farmers and immediatly accepted as if we were family. Valle del Rio Ventisquero. Chilean Patagonia.

Bivaouc at Palma – Alegria rancho where we enjoy endless Patagonian hospitality. Little foreigners penetrate into these valleys so we were invited multiple times with the local farmers and immediatly accepted as if we were family. Valle del Rio Ventisquero. Chilean Patagonia.

Following a creek towards the Rio Petrohue which we were going to float towards the Pacific. Volcan Osorno rising above. Chilean Patagonia.

Following a creek towards the Rio Petrohue which we were going to float towards the Pacific. Volcan Osorno rising above. Chilean Patagonia.

Taking a break along the shores of Rio Petrohue. Region de los Lagos. Chilean Patagonia.

Taking a break along the shores of Rio Petrohue. Region de los Lagos. Chilean Patagonia.

Scouting for fallen trees and rapids in the Rio Petrohue. Chilean Patagonia.

Scouting for fallen trees and rapids in the Rio Petrohue. Chilean Patagonia.

Bivaouc on an gravel bar on an island in the Rio Yelcho. Chilean Patagonia.

Bivaouc on an gravel bar on an island in the Rio Yelcho. Chilean Patagonia.

Packrafting Rio Petrohue. Chilean Patagonia.

Packrafting Rio Petrohue. Chilean Patagonia.

Packrafting Rio Yelcho from source to the Pacific. The river borders the Corcovado National Park. Chilean Patagonia.

Packrafting Rio Yelcho from source to the Pacific. The river borders the Corcovado National Park. Chilean Patagonia.

The Patagonian Sky at dusk. Lenticulars betray high winds. Lago Verde. Aysen. Patagonian Chile.

The Patagonian Sky at dusk. Lenticulars betray high winds. Lago Verde. Aysen. Patagonian Chile.

Pioneers who set huge fires ablaze Patagonian valleys in the early 20th Century did not think about ecological consequences. Erosion and huge, dead trunks on higher flanks are the silent witness of human's search for devolpment at any cost.

Pioneers who set huge fires ablaze Patagonian valleys in the early 20th Century did not think about ecological consequences. Erosion and huge, dead trunks on higher flanks are the silent witness of human’s search for devolpment at any cost.

A small opening in the huge, virgin forrests that clad the valleys of the Lago Palena National Reserve. Aysen. Chilean Patagonia.

A small opening in the huge, virgin forrests that clad the valleys of the Lago Palena National Reserve. Aysen. Chilean Patagonia.

Bivaouc in virgin forrests at the shores of pristine Lago Palena. Chilean Patagonia.

Bivaouc in virgin forrests at the shores of pristine Lago Palena. Chilean Patagonia.

Patagonian sky at night from the shores of Laguna Quitro right in the core of the Lago Palena National Reserve. Chilean Patagonia.

Patagonian sky at night from the shores of Laguna Quitro right in the core of the Lago Palena National Reserve. Chilean Patagonia.

Bivaouc where Rio Quintro drains its namesake lake. Lago Palena National Reserve. Chilean Patagonia.

Bivaouc where Rio Quintro drains its namesake lake. Lago Palena National Reserve. Chilean Patagonia.

End of the summer as we know it. Valle Rio Azul. Alto Palena. Chilean Patagonia.

End of the summer as we know it. Valle Rio Azul. Alto Palena. Chilean Patagonia.

Have you wandered in the wilderness, the sagebrush desolation,
The bunch-grass levels where the cattle graze?
Have you whistled bits of rag-time at the end of all creation,
And learned to know the desert’s little ways?
Have you camped upon the foothills, have you galloped o’er the ranges,
Have you roamed the arid sun-lands through and through?
Have you chummed up with the mesa? Do you know its moods and changes?
Then listen to the Wild — it’s calling you.
The Call of the Wild by Robert W. Service

For more pictures of the last 4 weeks mainly in Chilean Patagonia please click:

Patagonia Verde – Ruta de las Jesuitas
Patagonia Verde – Reserva Nacional Lago Palena
Patagonia Verde – Rio Petrohue and Yelcho

Patagonian dreamers... Crossing Rio Azul at its outlet into Lago Puelo. Argentine Patagonia.

Patagonian dreamers… Crossing Rio Azul at its outlet into Lago Puelo. Argentine Patagonia.

Patagonia Chile – Torres del Paine (video)

When going trough the pictures for my recent blog on winter hiking in Patagonia, I discovered some vids I shot with a point-and-shoot camera. I didn’t remember shooting most of this vids, but I was quite surprised I had a total of 45mins of footage only on Torres del Paine from 2 seperate visits in 2008 and 2010. I stripped the footage down to a 5 minute impression of what you can expect when walking Chile’s world reknown Torres del Paine Circuit. I messed a bit with moviemaker and this was the result.

Music in the vid is copyrighted and from the fabolous Belgian indie band TomĂ n. You can buy their music trough indie label Zeal Records.

Patagonia – Torres del Paine National Park in winter (Chile)

The jewel of South America, the unmatched Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia, attracts an ever rising number of backpackers, crowding camp sites and trails, which will lead them around the knife-bladed granite towers, over the golden steppe, along multicolored, fjord-a-like lakes fed by deepblue glaciers. The park has almost all Patagonian fauna at dislpay: guanacos, foxes, condors, endagered huemules and pumas. Torres del Paine summaries every eco-system which you will find in the immense Patagonian landscape.

Torres del Paine Massif cliffs out of the Patagonian steppe (april 2010)

Torres del Paine Massif cliffs out of the Patagonian steppe (april 2010)

Famous for it’s 4-seasons-in-1-day and fierce winds in spring and summer, people tend to avoid the park completely during the winter months of june, july and august, which is totally unjustified in our opinion! Hikers with winter experience, will be overwhelmed with the silence on the empty trails and vast beauty of the Patagonian nature. We hiked the famous W-trail at the end of july in 2006 and met nobody! We had the park completely for ourselves! This hike changed our hiking hearts from hobby to passion and will always be marked as our complete switch to unsuported “wilderness” (winter) hiking. We came back to the park in autumn 2008 and autumn 2010, but never experienced the same feeling we had back in the Patagonian winter.

Herds of guanacos at the Lago Sarmiento (july 2006)

Herds of guanacos at the Lago Sarmiento (july 2006)

So what’s about the park in winter (May trough September)?

– During the winter , high pressures, coming in from Antartica, stabilize themselves over southern Patagonia providing long spells of clear, cold and windless (yes, you are reading well!) weather. Cold fronts from the pacific will eventually come in, interupting the silence and bringing the sequacious winter dusting! When we were hiking the W at the end of july we had one cloudy day and four days of crisp clear weather, resulting in expansive views over the Patagonian ice field.
– Torres Del Paine enjoys sort of a microclimate, which provoces slightly warmer than the rest of southern Patagonia. During the day in july 2006, we had temperatures of 12 ° C in the Sun, but of course at night the temperature dropped to around -10 ° C.
– Most part of the the W-circuit is at sea level, so snow accumulation is very low to non-existant.

Lago and Glaciar Grey, fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap (july 2006)

Lago and Glaciar Grey, fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap (july 2006)

– No tourists, nor the swarming groups of backpackers, crowding the camp sites to extravaganza, for which the park is famous in summer months.
– Wildlife descends from the mountains to the valleys. So far more likely to spot wildlife. We have noticed fresh tracks of cougar’s.
– No annoying insects. Nor mice or rats stealing your food and biting your shelter to rubbish.

What to keep in mind for winter visits to the park?

– It’s colder than in summer. Although the difference is minimal.
– Rangers will only let you walk the W circuit, because the John Gardner pass along the world classic “Circuito” is blocked by snow and ice (but doable with mountaineering equipment).

Patagonian Horses at the trailhead of the W-circuit (april 2010)

Patagonian Horses at the trailhead of the W-circuit (april 2010)

– Mountain huts are closed, except for the Lodge Paine Grande “(the only non-private operated refugio), but be aware that the building is not heated, so you have to bring a warm sleeping bag. Multiple day hikes can be done from this hut!
– Subsequent thaw and freeze cycles, can cause a layer of ice in shady parts of the trails. So this will require more concentration then during other seasons. Light crampons can be helpfull. The upper trail in the Frances Valley and the higher trail to the lookout of the towers will be snow/ice covered.

Lago Sarmiento and Cordillera del Paine, as seen from the steppe (july 2006)

Lago Sarmiento and Cordillera del Paine, as seen from the steppe (july 2006)

– No ferry boats sailing on the lakes (Grey/Pehoe), so for walking the W-trail you will have to start/end at the administration building.
– The bus between Laguna Amarga and Hosteria Las Torres does not operate.
– Short days. Late July: sunrise around 8:00 and sunset around 17:30.

Lago Nordenskjöld in autumn (april 2010)

Lago Nordenskjöld in autumn (april 2010)

Full photoset on our flickr page for more pics on this 5-day winter hike into Torres del Paine National Park (2006).

Another photoset on our flickr page from an 9-day autumn hike into Torres del Paine National Park (2010).

Valle del Francés, Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

Valle del Francés, Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

Pricking the balloon, Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park: A Park in Need => Sustainability of the park, is a big issue for the Chilean government!

Torres del Paine official website
How to organise a visit to Torres del Paine?