Quien se apura en la Patagonia, pierde el tiempo

(the one who hurries through Patagonia, wastes time)

The Chilean Patagonian region of Aysén, has been the remotest corner of the southern cone for centuries. Only recently the region has been connected to the outside world through the construction of the Carretera Austral, a 1200 km long dirt road, connecting fishing villages in the archipelago and settlements along the Andean mountains sculptured by the reatreating Northern Patagonian Ice Field.

The Rio Ibanez basin as seen descending from the Cerro Castillo ridge. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

The Rio Ibanez basin as seen descending from the Cerro Castillo ridge. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Nevertheless it remains difficult to reach and only determined tourists intrude its isolation, altough it has huge potential for any kind of adventure. And there is still a lot to be explored, to say the least. This is Patagonia at its purest. Mountains, huge glaciers, fjords, deepblue fishrich lakes, native dense forests, shy fauna and true surviving, hospitable gaucho culture.

Huemul or Andean deer. An estimated 2000 animals of this endangered deer species are left in Patagonia. We met this young, curious male while hiking through the Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo.

Huemul or Andean deer. An estimated 2000 animals of this endangered deer species are left in Patagonia. We met this young, curious male while hiking through the Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo.

Previous trips through this little inhabited region had us been rushing through on the way towards the more famous attractions in the south, but not this time. We were detemined to explore thoroughly this time. So, the last 6 weeks we have been sort of thru hiking the region by following old gaucho routes who used to be the only connection between the settlements before the Carretera Austral came.

Patagonian night. Playing by the fire...

Patagonian night. Playing by the fire…

Aysén is threatened by a plan to build five hydro-electrical dams on the Baker and the Pascua rivers, two of the purest and wildest in the world. This could become an ecological disaster, affecting ecosystems for endangered species, who already have to fight loss of habitat from huge, manmade, unnecessary forest fires in the past. Luckily their are great conservation initiaves like the new proposed Future Patagonia National Park, which has huge touristic potential, becoming a new Torres del Paine.

We leave the region, with even more ideas then before. I could write a book on the adventure and ecotouristic opportunities here. Maybe a future project 🙂

Please come here to float it’s rivers and hike its ridges. Because that is what you really can do to preserve this pristine corner of the world. Tourism is Aysén’s future and answer for conservation.

The following series of pics is our trip report from and ode to Aysén and to a Patagonia without dams. Patagonia sin Represas! Reserva de Vida! Rios libres!

Exploring a wild ridge in the Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo. Aysen, Chilean Patagonia.

Exploring a wild ridge in the Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo. Aysen, Chilean Patagonia.

Beard lichen is omnipresent in the dense, pure Patagonian lenga forrests.

Beard lichen is omnipresent in the dense, pure Patagonian lenga forrests.

Dry them runners...

Dry them runners…

The rugged ranges and a good trail begin to attract tourists into the diverse Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

The rugged ranges and a good trail begin to attract tourists into the diverse Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Approaching San Lorenzo. A huge, glaciated mountain range on the border with Argentina, and a last stop for Patagonian storms to drop their content before blowing off into the steppes. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Approaching San Lorenzo. A huge, glaciated mountain range on the border with Argentina, and a last stop for Patagonian storms to drop their content before blowing off into the steppes. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

A curious Condor flies over the ridge, investigating the small moving dots in its habitat. San Lorenzo range. Aysen. Patagonia. Chile.

A curious Condor flies over the ridge, investigating the small moving dots in its habitat. San Lorenzo range. Aysen. Patagonia. Chile.

Glaciar d'Agostini flowing down from the San Lorenzo range. Aysen. Patagonia. Chile.

Glaciar d’Agostini flowing down from the San Lorenzo range. Aysen. Patagonia. Chile.

The San Lorenzo massif in all it's glory. Aysen. Ruta de los Pilcheros. Patagonia. Chile.

The San Lorenzo massif in all it’s glory. Aysen. Ruta de los Pilcheros. Patagonia. Chile.

Patagonian gaucho on the forgotten mountain routes of remote Aysen. Patagonia, Chile.

Patagonian gaucho on the forgotten mountain routes of remote Aysen. Patagonia, Chile.

More beard lichen of lenga trunks.

More beard lichen of lenga trunks.

Diversing into Argentine soil on the Ruta de los Pilcheros. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Diversing into Argentine soil on the Ruta de los Pilcheros. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Don Rial Heraldo. Patagonian gaucho, living in a far-off radar valley, deep in the Andean mountains, a 4-day horseback ride to the nearest town of Cohrane. We sip yerba mate all afternoon and can't stop laughing with all his stories and jokes he fires at us while a storm approaches outside. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Don Rial Heraldo. Patagonian gaucho, living in a far-off radar valley, deep in the Andean mountains, a 4-day horseback ride to the nearest town of Cohrane. We sip yerba mate all afternoon and can’t stop laughing with all his stories and jokes he fires at us while a storm approaches outside. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Gaucho stove...

Gaucho stove…

Bivaouc at Don Rial's house. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Bivaouc at Don Rial’s house. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Ready for crossing Lago Alegre. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Ready for crossing Lago Alegre. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Over and along slabs. Lago Alegre, Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Over and along slabs. Lago Alegre, Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Dark clouds gather above the tiny church of Cochrane. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Dark clouds gather above the tiny church of Cochrane. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Lonely guanaco in the valle Chacabuco. Future Patagonia National Park. Aysen. Chile.

Lonely guanaco in the valle Chacabuco. Future Patagonia National Park. Aysen. Chile.

A clear night in the Aviles Valley. Future Patagonia National Park. Aysen, Chile.

A clear night in the Aviles Valley. Future Patagonia National Park. Aysen, Chile.

Hiking up north into the wild Jeinimeni Reserve. Future Patagonia National Park. Aysen, Chile.

Hiking up north into the wild Jeinimeni Reserve. Future Patagonia National Park. Aysen, Chile.

Exploring up side valleys. Valle Hermosa. RN Jeinimeni. Future Patagonia National Park. Aysen, Chile.

Exploring up side valleys. Valle Hermosa. RN Jeinimeni. Future Patagonia National Park. Aysen, Chile.

Valle Hermosa. RN Jeinimeni. Future Patagonia National Park. Aysen, Chile.

Valle Hermosa. RN Jeinimeni. Future Patagonia National Park. Aysen, Chile.

Lago Verde. Valle Hermosa. RN Jeinimeni. Future Patagonia National Park. Aysen, Chile.

Lago Verde. Valle Hermosa. RN Jeinimeni. Future Patagonia National Park. Aysen, Chile.

A shelter in the Valle Hermosa. RN Jeinimeni. Aysen, Chile.

A shelter in the Valle Hermosa. RN Jeinimeni. Aysen, Chile.

Preparing for a float down Rio Nadis. Baker basin. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Preparing for a float down Rio Nadis. Baker basin. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Packrafting the Rio Nadis. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Packrafting the Rio Nadis. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Packrafting the Rio Nadis. Baker basin. Aysen, Chile.

Packrafting the Rio Nadis. Baker basin. Aysen, Chile.

Refugio Los Nadis. Baker basin. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Refugio Los Nadis. Baker basin. Aysen, Patagonia, Chile.

Asasdo de Cordero. Roasted Lamb. Los Nadis. Aysen, Chile.

Asasdo de Cordero. Roasted Lamb. Los Nadis. Aysen, Chile.

Marking of the Calves. Los Nadis. Aysen, Chile.

Marking of the Calves. Los Nadis. Aysen, Chile.

Marking of the calves. Los Nadis. Aysen, Chile.

Marking of the calves. Los Nadis. Aysen, Chile.

Marking of the calves. Los Nadis. Aysen, Chile.

Marking of the calves. Los Nadis. Aysen, Chile.

Rancho los Nadis. Baker basin. Aysen, Chile.

Rancho los Nadis. Baker basin. Aysen, Chile.

The mighty Baker River. Aysen, Chile.

The mighty Baker River. Aysen, Chile.

The boardwalks of sleepy fishing settlement Tortel. Aysen, Chile.

The boardwalks of sleepy fishing settlement Tortel. Aysen, Chile.

Sipping Mate at the Baker's mouth in the Pacific. Aysen, Chile.

Sipping Mate at the Baker’s mouth in the Pacific. Aysen, Chile.

Tortel's bay. Aysen, Chile.

Tortel’s bay. Aysen, Chile.

For more pictures from our last 6 weeks in this remote corner of Patagonia, please click:

Sendero de Chile – RN Cerro Castillo
Ruta de los Pilcheros</a
The future Patagonia National Park
The Baker basin

Rest by the fire. Gaucho hospitality. Aysen. Chile.

Rest by the fire. Gaucho hospitality. Aysen. Chile.

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?