Bitter Sweet Ending

Well, it’s been one crazy adventure but unfortunately it has come to an end. Robyn has flown back to Vancouver, Anthony has headed back to his home in Massachusetts and Garrett and Aljoscha have returned to Virginia where they have begun to put all the pieces together to make this film come alive.

When we last left off, we had just entered Patagonia and we’re making our way into Patagonia National Park. Unfortunately, due to sickness, injury and time, we were unable to make the hike into the park so we ended up taking a bus to Cochrane, the closest town, and eventually caught a bus into the (soon to be) National Park.

Upon entrance, we we’re immediately blown away. One lonely road led into the park surrounded by towering peaks and land that you could see for miles and miles. There was something about the park too that nobody could quite put their finger on – it was just a feeling of awe.  

Once we reached the headquarters, we instantly took out the camera equipment and began filming. The buildings were reminiscent of the first National Parks in the U.S. with beautiful rock and ascetically pleasing structures, dozens of guanacos roamed the plains right next to the lodge, the sun peaked over the mountains and shed light onto the Chacabuco Valley below and we simply could not get enough.

We ended up staying two days in the park and both were equally incredible. We got to interview two members of the staff, the head gardener and the head guide of the park, who helped us learn more about how truly unique and amazing this place actually is. We also got an overview by heading up the nearby mountain and getting an absolutely breathtaking view of the Chacabuco Valley below. Words could not describe the beauty of the park – especially with the fall colors just reaching their peak.

In addition to the landscapes, we probably saw more wildlife than we had the whole entire trip while in the park. We witnessed herds and herds of guanacos, a sneaky fox family living near the garden and even an armadillo while trekking up the mountain behind the headquarters. It was truly remarkable to see the wildlife so abundant in an area that was once at such high risk through overgrazing decades ago.

The park was a prime example of the environmental movement that is currently happening in Chile. Especially with the announcement of the president agreeing to donate 10 million acres to the creation of National Parks and adding to existing ones. An achievement that will go down in history as one of the greatest conservation commitments of all time. Something very big is happening in Chile right now and we are extremely happy that we are able to be a part of it and ultimately contribute to the cause.

After our two amazing days in the park, it was unfortunately time for our journey to come to an end. After a couple long bus rides north, a 24-hour ferry ride followed immediately by a 12-hour bus ride, we eventually made our way back to Santiago where it all began over four months ago. We luckily were able to conduct a couple more interviews in Santiago with some of the leading environmental activists in Chile and it was the perfect way to wrap up a journey that got us in touch with some of the most intellectual people we had ever met.

As all adventures are, it was surely a bitter sweet ending. None of us were ready to leave and we knew we would miss Chile deeply but at the same time we felt a conclusion on our trip. We came there to travel for four months and to document the adventure and learn about this incredibly unique part of the world and that’s exactly what we did. We emerged ourselves into the culture, put ourselves through the most physically and mentally demanding trip any of us had ever experienced, met some of the most generous, hospitable and interesting people around and most importantly – we documented all of it. So in that regard, it was a sweet departure because very rarely are you able to chase your dreams and actually achieve exactly what you wanted. We hope it is an inspiration to all that no matter the obstacles, challenges or difficulties, you can overcome them and go after what you truly want in life.

We are now going through all the footage from the trip and are formulating the script for the film. We are more than happy with what we are seeing so far and have extremely high hopes for this film. It’s going to be a long process but we are excited to embark on our second journey of putting it all together and getting it out to you!

Over the course of the next few months, we will be releasing teasers, behind-the-scene shots, bloopers and actual footage from the film. We also will be bringing on an editor and potentially other team members to help us make this film a reality. We must ask that you remain patient as we put this film together as it is not something that can be rushed. With time, we are hopeful to have this film released all around the world and to make it something that can really have an impact.  

We also are still in the process of fundraising for the film and are still accepting donations through our website. If you are passionate about wild places, support what we are doing or just love a good adventure, please consider donating to the project through our PayPal link on our site. Any donation would be helping this film come alive and seen by people all over the world. We also are giving away some pretty awesome rewards in exchange for donations including film downloads, DVD’s, prints, credits and much more!

Lastly, as always, we want to thank you for your support on this adventure. Without you supporting us and encouraging us throughout the trip, it would have been a lot more difficult for us to complete this journey, so for that, we thank you. We will be showing our thanks by giving away free outdoor gear on our social media networks regularly and of course – by making this film the best it can possibly be!

Continue to follow along our social media sites, sign up for our newsletter if you haven’t yet, and be on the lookout for a teaser coming soon! This is only the beginning as now our second journey has begun and we hope you are ready to tag along! 

Hasta Pronto!

The UNBOUNDED Crew

Wild Patagonia

Greetings from Patagonia! Our first week in the ‘land of the giants’ has surpassed anything we could’ve imagined. We’ve already begun to understand why ‘Unbounded’ is truly the best word to describe this place. We’ve wandered through ancient forests, floated down pristine rivers, stood beneath great pillars of granite, swam below waterfalls; and that’s only the beginning!

Our first section in Patagonia began from the coastal hamlet of Cochamò. We followed the Cochamò river Northeastward from the small village tucked in the fjords of the Reloncavi Sound, to the Valley above. The trail ascended through the temperate coastal forest over the crystal clear river. The muddy path lead through tight corridors that made for interesting scenarios with the occasional gaucho on horseback headed in the opposite direction. As we got closer to our camp for that night -a place called La Junta- we began to catch the first glimpses of the massive granite towers through breaks in the tree canopy. None of us could seem to watch where we were going as we arrived to La Junta, arching our necks, to gaze up at the incredible rock formations. We knew we were in for an epic section!

Dubbed the “Yosemite of Chile” it felt like taking a step back in time to a place reminiscent of the U.S. park before the introduction of the infrastructure and crowds that exist there today. The encampment was a mostly climber-based community that had an infectious energy of inspiration and passion for the outdoors. The caretakers have a clear objective of sustainability. The small ‘commune’ boasted solar showers, dry composting toilets, greenhouses and a small cabin where they lived. We purchased fresh vegetables and had dinner in the dining hut while sharing stories with the climbers, some of whom had been there for weeks or months scaling the surrounding walls.

That night was the end of a long, beautiful clear-weather window, and the anticipated rain began to fall. Fortunately for us, it was clearing up by late morning the next day and we were on our way to the nearby refugio (climbers refuge) called El Arco. We crossed gushing rivers and streams that flow from each valley the trail passes. Just the small amount of rain had turned the trail into an obstacle course of deep mud and pools of water. We slopped our way along, zig-zagging through dense growth to get around the parts of the trail that had become flooded. We finally arrived to the astonishing waterfall that is the namesake of the refugio about two hours later than we’d expected to. The large, comfortable shelter was probably even more of an incredible sight, since one can never know what to expect with these shelters in the mountains. We dried out by the fire that night and enjoyed some of the lentils and tomato sauce that had been left behind by others.

We got an early start the next day in hopes of reaching the large Lake Vidal Gormaz early enough to spend the afternoon with the settlers around the lake. Unfortunately, it was a similar day to the one prior that had us slowly trudging through the mud for about the same amount of time, with even less distance covered. Upon our arrival to the lake we were treated to clearing skies at a classic Patagonian ranch. We watched the sheep graze and hit the hay early, excited to start our first pack-raft navigation of the section the following morning.

The weather gods were on our side as we began paddling across the perfectly flat, glassy lake. We reached the other side in good time, although upon arrival on the opposite shore, we were in for a very unlucky incident. In the excitement of reaching the other side of the lake and jumping in for a swim, our go-pro camera fell out of the raft, sinking to the thickly vegetated bottom. This is a huge deal since the go-pro is waterproof, and thusly our only safe way of filming from the rafts.

The incredibly kind local settlers that greeted us on the shore assisted in our recovery efforts in every way they could come up with. We began with trying to fashion a pair of goggles out of duct-tape, sunglasses and zip-lock bags. This proved unsuccessful. After a couple hours of brainstorming and experimenting, Aljosha and Anthony took the fishing boat that locals, Mikey and Louisa, kindly let us use and dropped the anchor where we could best figure the camera should be. The floor of the deep lake drops quickly from the shore, but the clear water allowed us to scan the bottom that was nearly 20 feet below. After a long search they thought they might have spotted the camera beneath the plants. Aljoscha and Anthony took turns attempting to dive down and feel around for the small camera, though sadly it was just too deep. Even when they successfully reached the bottom, it was impossible to see anything in the murky lake grass. The rescue team gave it their all in the cold water until the sun fell behind the mountains that surrounded the lake. Sadly, there was nothing left to do but cut our losses.

We didn’t let the accident take us off course though. We woke anew the next morning and continued on down the trail after a delicious breakfast of freshly homemade eggs, bread and jam, provided by our hospitable hosts. Next, we reached the settlement called ‘Torrentoso’, where we met Felicia and her nephew Juan. Felicia was a fountain of information and shared with us as we toured her orchard of fruit and nut trees. We had dinner in her home where she told us of the history of the native Tehuelche artifacts that her family had found when they colonized those mountains. Felicia’s pet chicken, Rosanna, sat and listened intently with us by the fireplace.

The final days of hiking on the section were much smoother than the first had been. A few passing showers didn’t slow us down as we pushed towards ‘El Manso’, where we’d be embarking on more rafting. The point along the Manso River where we were to launch from was home to Oscar Gallardo. Oscar inherited the land that had been used by his father primarily for the ranching typical of the area. However now that the land is his, Oscar is taking advantage of the incredible opportunities for eco-tourism that exist along the river. He’s built cabins and takes visitors for fishing and sight-seeing trips. During our stay at Oscar’s, we witnessed something that could threaten all of that though.

We watched the river turn from a beautiful shade of blue to a cloudy brown in just a matter of an hour or so. He explained that this was normal, as each afternoon the crews begin their work on the road for the proposed hydro-electric dam project further up the Manso. We had many more questions after that, that Oscar answered in an interview. He seemed to be very informed on the environmental issues facing the area.

The river was still cloudy as we began rafting the next morning. There was no time to think about that though, as we encountered a few small patches of rapid water early on. Once the adrenaline wore off, we found ourselves reflecting on how far we’ve come. We hadn’t encountered any water this rough on the trip, and yet we were powering through it like champs! The rest of the float down the Manso was pretty calm, and we watched in awe as flocks of birds flew in front of the spectacular scenery of Patagonian Peaks.

Perhaps the best part of the float was when we reached the confluence of the Manso with the iconic Puelo River. We couldn’t believe how abruptly the water color changed as we merged into the Puelo. We floated over the clear border between the darker waters of the Manso, into the bright, milky blue water of the Puelo. Our time on the Puelo was sadly short-lived and we were soon nearing the massive Lake Tagua Tagua. We’d been warned that Tagua Tagua had notoriously strong winds and rough weather, so it would be best to take the ferry across.

Luckily our timing was perfect and we reached the dock of the ferry just in time to pack up our rafts and hop aboard. We weren’t sure what all the fuss was about though, the lake was just around the next bend, and the weather seemed fine. We joked about a terrible squall that must be waiting just around the corner of the next mountain. Little did we know that’s exactly what we’d find!  As the ferry rounded it’s way out of the Puelo and into the lake we were hit with strong winds and could see that we were headed right into a thunderstorm. We took shelter in the passenger cabin and laughed about the irony. Our luck continued until the end of the section, as we were able to catch a lift to the closest town from a couple of gentleman with a pickup truck.

We’re now aboard ferries navigating even further South through the fjords of the Chilean coast towards Futaleufú. With only a few weeks left in our journey, we’re all soaking up every minute in this incredible place, and reflecting on all that’s brought us here! We’ve laughed, cried, become savages at times, and grown as a team over the last few months and thousands of kilometers together.

It’s been one hell of an adventure and we are excited for one final stretch. After we spend a few days in Futaleufú, we will embark on our final trek into Patagonia National Park. We’ve been waiting for eight months to get there and can’t even begin to explain our anticipation to step foot into the park and see the beauty for ourselves! Stay tuned for more updates and as always – thanks for following along!

 

The North Stretch

One of the most incredible parts of a journey like this is how present it keeps us. Being constantly captivated by all of the new sights, sounds and experiences holds our focus on the current moment; leaving little time to dwell on the past or future. Therefore, each day is a new adventure full of unforgettable moments. Weeks can seem like ages. None of us can believe all that’s happened in just the last week or two through sections 5 and 6! The last two sections have been an expedition all their own. 

After finishing section 7 we took a bus back to the nearest town of Lonquimay to resupply, repair some gear, and wait out the impending weather that had been forecasted. This was a very fortunate decision as the precipitation that was predicted ended up being an intense storm. We waited out the worst of it, thankfully watching the battering winds and rain from indoors. We made our way back to the trail once things had calmed, apprehensively looking out the bus windows to the freshly snow covered mountains we’d soon be climbing.

We arrived at the southern end of section 6 in the late afternoon and made our way to a refugio (hiker’s shelter) where the road ended nearby. The refugio turned out to be adjacent to the homestead of another lovely family of settlers who, in typical Chilean fashion, invited us to come warm up inside by the fire and share matè and fresh tortilla (traditional bread cooked beneath the ash of the fire). It wasn’t until we began to set up our tents for the night that Anthony found that his inflatable sleeping pad had got a large gash sliced into it from something on the bus ride. The small patch-kit didn’t seem to be performing well, which meant we might have a big problem. A good sleeping pad would be essential to insulate from the cold while camping much higher in the snowy mountains the following nights. The kind family attempted to help, offering patch materials they had, and even insisting that Anthony borrow one of their sleeping pads for the night.

The last of the poor weather was taking its time to move out which prompted us to spend the following day at the ranch, waiting for things to clear up before we attempted the mountain pass that lay ahead. Anthony was able to use that day to try some alternative patching options, which succeeded as a temporary fix. We sat by the fire and listened to stories from Elsa, the 80-year-old aunt who lived with the couple, Dante, Delgodina and their son Angel as the rain pattered on the tin roof. We were, of course, invited to partake in another asado as Dante and Angel took a goat and prepared it outside before we could even attempt to politely decline. We accepted the honorable meal. Garrett’s stomach couldn’t handle any more meat, so we discretely snuck his meat over to the rest of us, who gladly received the delicious extra helpings.

The next morning, we thanked our hosts, who insisted on sending us off with plenty of bread, and continued toward the mountains. We had been advised by Jan (the creator of the trail) to take an alternate route to reach the mountain pass, as the main trail was badly eroded in that area. This diversion had some surprises of it’s own in store for us though. We set out to cover about 15 km. that day and camp on the other side of the pass. However, we ended up making about half of that distance, and camping beneath the mountain we had yet to pass. The route we took had also been eroded. We reached seemingly impassable, steep slopes made of nothing but scree that had us sliding back two steps for every one we took. A pretty serious fall by Garrett had us slowing down to find the safest route as we pushed on. We lowered packs and ourselves down steep gravel and rock faces with para-cord (the only ropes we have). It was clear we weren’t going to make the mountain pass that day. We made an impromptu camp at the rocky base of the mountain.

We finally made our way up the steep snowy slope the next morning. Occasionally a soft section of snow would have us post-holing through up to our thighs. Although the view at the top was so much more than worth it! “It’s not every day that you see a smoking volcano!” From the top we had views of the incredible (active) Copahue Volcano and all that still lay ahead of us in the sections. Fueled with this enthusiasm, we made it early the next day to one of the places we’d been looking forward to most; the home of legendary Juan Carrileo.

We had been informed of how knowledgeable and kind Juan and his family were, yet they surely exceeded all our expectations! We arrived at their summer homestead along the Rio Chaquilvin to be greeted by Juan’s wife Elena. As soon as we introduced ourselves she invited us in and began to slice an endless mountain of bread for us. We got to know her and their youngest son, Gabriel, while Juan and his other son Leo were out herding the animals. Gabriel went out fishing while we had tea with Elena, who then fried the trout up for us for lunch with freshly made salsa. The generosity of the people out there in the campo (countryside) had us all reflecting on the customs of our own homelands. How differently do we interact with a stranger passing by back in Europe or the U.S.? Just one of the many things the Carrileo family had to teach us.

Juan and Leo returned on horseback with the herds of goat and sheep shortly before dusk. Without taking a moment to rest after working all day, Juan then proceeded to slaughter and prepare a goat outside in the dark for an asado with us! We of course couldn’t decline the honor. At least this time we mustered up the courage to tell them that the boys didn’t eat meat; a concept of confusion to Chilean ranchers. We ate by homemade candlelight and learned more about the area from the Kimche (a native word for wise man) who had lived there his whole life. We did an interview with Juan the next morning and nearly spit out our matè we found out he was over 70 years old! None of us could possibly conceive that he was any more than 50! His eyes, full of wisdom and compassion, are the only thing that gives up his age. No one would ever know that he’s worked that way for so many decades!

As soon as our interview and morning matè with Juan had concluded, he was suited up in chaps and spurs to head out for a day of work. We thanked all four of them for their unbelievable hospitality and again continued on our way, each with a loaf of fresh tortilla. We left with such full stomachs we weren’t sure that we’d even make it to the nearby hot springs that we were planning to camp by. Unfortunately, the hot springs ended up being a little more literally a ‘hot spring’ and not the natural pools we’d imagined soaking in. So we hiked the rest of the day to reach the end of the section at the small village of Guallali.

From Guallali it was only three days through section 5 to complete our Northbound part of the trip! The powerful winds there that night prevented us from getting much sleep, but that couldn’t deter us from keeping a good pace to get through our last ‘hiking only’ section of the trip. We got a helping hand from a local construction worker who gave us a lift up the road a few kilometers towards the Laguna El Barco. Even with the helpful ride, we arrived at the lake pretty exhausted. We relaxed at the campground on the lake that afternoon, gathering our energy for the next day, which would be the longest distance we’ve hiked in a day so far. Fortunately, the majority of the incline we had to ascend that day we crushed first thing in the morning.

For most of the rest of the day we covered ground quickly on the high plateau, surrounded by views of the massive, glaciated volcanoes like Copahue. The difficult part of that day didn’t end up being the long distance, it was the lack of water sources up on the plateau. We hiked nearly the whole day on just the water we started with that morning. Nothing can describe the feeling of finding fresh running streams when you’re low on water, hiking in the hot sun! It was a long steep decent down to the valley below. We reached the grassy fields and got a great night’s rest before pushing through the last day of pure hiking we’ll have on this expedition.

The section ended in the incredibly scenic village of Trapa Trapa. The next day we took one of the most terrifying bus rides of our lives along the cliff edge roads, from Trapa Trapa to the town of Alto Bio Bio. We’ve now just completed interviews with native Pehuenche elders and youth alike that have left us speechless. The knowledge that the people of Alto Bio Bio had to share with us was immeasurable. It was truly the most remarkable end to our time in this region that we could have asked for!

We’re now headed back South to finally make our way into the “official” boundaries of Patagonia. We’re all insanely excited to get into Patagonia and do some more pack rafting! Stay tuned for all to come from our navigations of the Patagonian rivers and lakes! 

Cultural Immersion

We have made our return to the Northern sections of the trail! Completing section 7 marks the middle of our detour against the grain (headed Northbound for now). After completing some sections further South while we waited for the forest fires to retreat and the National Parks to re-open in these regions, we took another series of long bus rides up to the small border town of Liucura. Our hike through the mountains that divide Chile and Argentina began with a stay in the Cajon Pehuenco. Tucked in this valley is a native Mapuche family of ranchers that we will never forget.

The summer homestead of Maximiliano Lagos sits at the Northernmost corner of the Pehuenco valley. We were lucky to find a ride from a kind local most of the way up the valley to the ranch. We arrived with hopes of speaking to Señor Lagos, who is the newly appointed “Lonko” (head representative/president) of the surrounding Mapuche community. However, when we arrived, we were greeted by two young men that informed us that Maximilano had left for town the day prior. Daniel (15 years old) and Maximiliano Jr. (aka Maxi, 18 years old) are, the Lonko’s cousin and son. They invited us to stay and wait for Señor Lagos’ return. Little did we know that these two would have so much to teach and share with us.

We spent our first two days there speaking with the boys, and watching in awe of their maturity, generosity and hard work, as they performed the daily tasks of keeping things running on the ranch. They shared with us copious amounts of sopaipillas (delicious fried dough) as we exchanged stories, until it was time for them to find the horses and herd the sheep in for the night. The responsibility and extreme hospitality that they exemplified was unbelievable, and had us all reflecting on the contrast between most 15-18 year olds we knew back home.

On our third day at the ranch we awoke to finally meet Maximiliano who had arrived late the night before. It was clear right away where the two young men had learned such admirable virtues. Maximilano treated us as honored guests from the beginning, insisting on sharing with us all of the goodies he’d stocked up on in town. The seven of us shared hot sandwiches for breakfast in the small, cozy cabin. Maximilano was a wealth of information on the area. Although, before we could even ask him to do an interview to share some of this knowledge, he was out preparing an asado (traditional barbeque around the fire) to share with us. We’d planned to leave early that afternoon, in attempts to keep the schedule we’d set for the section, but there was no way we could turn down such an experience! The only thing was, that staying for the asado meant we’d have to witness our lunch go from running around the countryside, to roasting on the fire.

Witnessing the slaughter of the sheep was quite an experience, to say the least. Most of us had never watched something like that before. Three of us hardly even eat meat at all, but we were immensely grateful for the display of generosity. It was something we’ll all surely remember. We were all in disbelief at how fast the whole thing was over. Maximilano’s skillful hands had the meat roasting over the fire within minutes. It was yet another moment on the ranch that had us reflecting on how differently things are done where we come from. The process was a natural part of the life here. Nothing was wasted. Every part of the animal was used; The dogs received the innards, the hide was dried to be used as tack for riding, and the fat was saved to be used to fry sopaipillas.

As the meat cooked, other gauchos stopped by to receive supplies that Maximiliano had brought back from town. Since Lonko Maximiliano is one of the few people with a car in this remote area, he supplies other settlers in the surrounding hills with provisions that they’d have to travel for days by horse or foot to retrieve. He generously offered each “neighbor” to join us for the asado, yet most declined, and went about their way. As we finished preparing the exquisite meal, we were joined by a young man who had passed by while out searching for another nearby settler. Of course Maximiliano insisted that the stranger stay to feast with us. We were served all of the best cuts of the delicious meat and were not able to give no as an answer as our host piled more onto our plates with every bite we took.

The smorgasbord was followed by invitations for us to explore and learn about the surroundings with Maxi, Daniel, and Maximiliano. Robyn went by horseback to find the sheep with Maxi Jr. while Anthony climbed up the mountain with Maximiliano and Daniel to round up the goats high up on the cliffs above. Maximiliano shared knowledge of where to find wild edibles and medicinal herbs along the way. Garrett and Aljoscha stayed at the ranch to set up for our interviews and capture footage of the remarkable landscape. We finished the day with a few rounds of Durak (our new favorite card game, that we taught to Daniel and Maxi). We retired to our individual sleeping pads that night all in agreement that it was one of the best days on the trip so far.  

The following morning, we fueled up on more freshly fried sopaipillas before completing our long anticipated interview with the Lonko of Cajon Pehuenco. We were treated to one last striking experience as our three hosts began to wrangle and castrate goats before the four of us had even finished breakfast. It was just another example of the seemingly boundless energy and strong work ethic that the three of them exhibited. Traits that we’d learned were necessary to live out there in the “campo” (countryside).

We said our “hasta luegos” and began our hike out of the valley, full of new wisdom and inspiration of what we’ll be sharing with the world through this project. We pushed ourselves for the following three days and made it to the end of the section just before a storm moved into the area. We passed through more pristine lakes, forests and volcanic geology as we spoke with ranchers and natives along the way. Our timing was perfect and we’re now waiting out the poor weather and resupplying in a small town before heading back to the mountains to complete sections 6 and 5 (where we hope to finally encounter our long awaited hotsprings!).

We appreciate you taking the time to read our journal, follow our adventure and support this project. Stay tuned for another post in just over a week that will recap our journey along the next two sections!

Volcanoes, Mountains, Geysers and More

Greetings from the Lakes region of Chile. It’s hard to believe all that’s happened in the last couple weeks. We’ve passed through international borders, and just about every type of landscape imaginable since we last wrote from the shores of Lago Pirehuieco. The only road out of that small settlement leads to the Argentinian border. So, we took the opportunity to explore the other side of the Andes for a few days. The crossing went smoothly at the small border control offices on both sides, and our walk through the “no man’s land” between them was quite nice as we left Chile and entered Argentina’s Lanin National Park.

Once in Argentina, a very bumpy and dusty bus ride took us from the border to the closest town, San Martin de los Andes. We had a fantastic time in this beautiful getaway destination, and enjoyed exploring the the contrast in Argentinian food and culture (especially the incredible ice-cream they’re known for in that area!). After a couple of days of recovering from section 12 we were on our way back to Chile and the trail. We made a quick stay in the closest city to the trail, Osorno, Chile to resupply before jumping on another bus headed for the start of section 13. With our packs heavy and full of food for the next two sections, we started out from the small community of Riñinahue. We stopped frequently to pick moras (blackberries) as we walked down the long road towards the wilderness. Our hopes of hitching a ride had gotten pretty low by evening (with only a couple of cars having passed), and it was just beginning to rain, when a kind local gave us a lift in the back of his pickup. He showed us an incredible place to camp on the edge of Lake where we had perfect protection from the rain under an umbrella of tree canopy. We counted our blessings that night and fell asleep to the incredibly loud symphony of frogs.

Our spirits were not quite as high the next morning as we packed up in the pouring rain (that continued to fall for the next 48 hours). We hoped to cover some good distance that day, however as we climbed up the steep muddy road, the wind and rain got stronger as we gained elevation. All soaking wet from head to toe, it became clear that we’d need to head for a nearby refuge that the map stated should have food and water. Little did we know our images of a warm cozy cabin with food and water would soon be shattered. We got to the property as quickly as possible to be greeted only by the gangs of chickens, dogs and other animals, with no humans to be found. We searched around all of the dilapidated and collapsed structures on the farm, after knocking on every locked door of the only house that could have possibly been livable.

With really no other option, we took shelter under the roof on the porch of another uncompleted house on the property, to wait for the owner to return. We jumped up when someone appeared through the downpour a couple hours later. The kind man was a caretaker who comes to feed the animals every few days while the owners are gone. He called and received permission from the owners for us to stay as long as we needed, although we couldn’t stay in the refuge. We spent that night and the next on that porch, drying out just about everything we had which had gotten soaked in the monsoon we’d walked through. We had to get a fire going in one of the crumbling shacks to dry Garrett and Aljoscha’s sleeping bags (which they learned the importance of keeping in dry bags above all else).

There was no other option than to wait out the storm, since from that point we’d be ascending over 3,000 feet up to the exposed volcanic environment above. It was still sprinkling the morning we set out to continue on the trail, though the forecast showed that the weather would be greatly improving from that day on. We slid and stuck on the steep muddy path that lead up through the cloud forest to the entrance of Puyehue National Park. It was a pretty moving moment when we reached the park boundary. The forest changed from thick, wet jungle-like bamboo full of life, to a foggy wood of ñire trees, where it seemed you could here a pin drop. We silently celebrated our ascent as we continued through the thick air of the soundless forest. The trail became a narrow footpath, as we proceeded upwards until the woods abruptly ended and we were rewarded with our first alpine views.

The landscape became barren rolling hills of volcanic sand and rock. Knowing that water would be a concern during this portion of the section, we made camp next to the best flowing of the tiny streams that had just enough of a trickle for us to collect water. Too exhausted to make a real dinner, we shared a typical lunch meal of peanut butter sandwiches and all retired early for a good night’s rest. 

The next morning, we were all treated to a breathtaking sunrise for Aljoscha’s birthday. The clouds had descended down the valley, allowing us to see the extraordinary landscapes and volcanoes that surrounded. We had planned to get a lot of distance covered that day, however we couldn’t pull ourselves away from the incredible geysers and boiling mud pots that lied in the colorful hillside near our camp. The late start was well worth the experience though.  

Aljoscha (along with Robyn) got the birthday present of carrying extra water for the group this day since we knew there would not be anywhere to fill up for a long while. We passed through dunes and valleys of pumice until we reached what looked like the walls of Mordor. We scrambled across some low points in the towering black wall of sharp rock. The constant ascending, descending, and side-hilling on the sand and loose pumice stone made for a tiring hike, broken up by steaming hillsides covered in bright neon colored moss. We worked our way to higher elevations with the other side of each hill holding a surprising alien-like addition to the desert landscape. There was some birthday luck with us that afternoon when we came across a fast running stream a few kilometers before the water we were headed for, detailed on the map. We found a somewhat flat area to camp next to the stream on the vast open pumice field. Garrett and Aljoscha spent the remainder of the evening and the next morning climbing the surrounding knolls to capture the incredible scenery. 

We captured some amazing footage as we climbed ever higher towards the Puyehue Volcano. As we reached the highest point on this section of the trail we were relieved to find the “mountain pass” was much more gradual an incline than most of the rolling peaks we’d had to go up and down to get to that point. More of the nearby volcanoes came into view as we rounded the side of the range towards Puyehue. Every few steps seemed to reveal even more incredible views until we reached the base of the summit trail, where we’d camp and begin our climb of the volcano the following morning. Admittedly, we had been expecting to come around one of the corners and see the peak of Volcàn Puyehue, similar to the dramatically sharp, pointed, white volcano peaks that we could see in the distance. Although it was a bit more like the rocky summits we’d been climbing the last couple days, only much higher. Yet, we never could have imagined how mind-blowing the peak would actually be.

The sunset from our basecamp left us speechless. Then came the night... The clear high altitude air made for some of the best star gazing any of us have seen. We couldn’t stay up and stare at the stars too late though since we would be getting up in just a few hours to begin our climb to the summit. We loaded up with a hearty dinner of quinoa, couscous and instant mashed potatoes that Anthony cooked and then we went straight to bed as the milky way stared down from above.  

We were up early, getting ready for our climb in the dark, just as the bright stars were beginning to fade. We started out with headlamps lighting the way. The sky changed to brilliant colors and the sun began to paint the mountains red as we climbed higher. Reaching the summit was perhaps the most powerful moment on the trail yet for some of us. We knew there was a crater at the top, although nothing could have conveyed what it was like to look into that massive bowl atop the volcano.

After sufficient celebration we began our long decent to the valley below, and the end of section 13. The roughly 6,000 ft. decent was tough on our knees, especially Garrett who is basically depending on one (with a history of ACL surgery on the other). The steep slope seemed to go on forever, and we all were slipping into the madness we’ve come to dub “trail madness” by the last hour or two, as we hysterically joked about the plight of the towns’ people whom our hunger would be unleashed upon; Or the Pizza-Hotel that we’d find when we got to the road.

We did indeed eventually make it down to the road, and were all ecstatic to find the small home of a local family that offered great food, lodging and of course the world class Chilean hospitality. We spent two nights with the family who shared with us stories and rich history of the area and their native Mapuche heritage. We learned of the native identity of people in that Mapuche community on the banks of the Golgol River, which transcends modern nations, as they’ve seen the area go from Argentinian territory to Chilean over the generations. They had a deep connection with the land, that we now could understand after walking the trails that they’d helped to form many years ago. It was the ultimate end to what might have been all of our favorite section of the trail yet!...Even if we never did find that Pizza-Hotel.

Now we're headed back north to complete some of the sections we previously missed because of the fire situation in Chile that has luckily calmed down. Our goal is to finish Sections 7 through 5 northbound and then head back down south to finally make our way into the boundaries of Patagonia. Stay tuned for more updates and continue to follow our social media sites to see exactly where we are and what’s happening while we're on the trail. We're only halfway through the trip and after this first half, who knows what else will be in store for us – only time will tell!

A True Adventure

To say that our February has been an eventful one would be an understatement to say the least. There have been many trials and tribulations to overcome but we’re happy to say we’ve made it through – we have so much to tell you!

We’ll start with section 11 which was where we tried our hands at pack-rafting for the first time. It’s no easy feat for 4 pack-rafting newbies to set out onto some of the most rural lakes and rivers with nothing but a GPS and a lot of enthusiasm. We were all nervous about what was in store for us because, after all, such open water can be unforgiving and with nobody around for miles, things had the potential to get serious very quickly with one wrong move or a simple weather change. Our first day on the Rio Cuacua got to a slow start. Garrett and Aljoscha’s raft was losing air before we’d even put it in the water and so after a lot of rigorous testing and some very worried faces, it turned out that something as small as having a few grains of sand stuck in the zipper could mean the difference between a buoyant boat or some very soggy camera equipment and consequently the inevitable halt to our trip. Aljoscha stepped up to the mark and sacrificed his toothbrush (which we should note he still uses; we’re getting more savage by the day) to brush away any sand in the boat’s zipper, and we were good to go!

We were all pleasantly surprised by how well our first few pack-rafting days went. Despite some very cramped conditions with very little leg room, especially for Garrett, and some dead legs for Aljoscha and Robyn who were kneeling, we made it through and, my goodness, was any discomfort well worth it for the views. Even those achy arms are nothing when you’re on a lake with sapphire water as far as the eye can see and not a cloud in the sky. It’s bliss. So, after crossing the incredible Lago Neltume, we pulled our boats onto the shore of a campground and settled in for the night, content that we’d come to the end of our first pack-rafting section, relatively unscathed.

Section 12, however, was on another level altogether. It’s safe to say that this section has been the most physically and mentally challenging of our journey so far! We got off to a rocky start at the beginning of the section in Puerto Fuy. Anthony ended up getting sick in the town on the one night we had the luxury of staying under a roof. Since he’d been up vomiting all night, he’d had no time to recover from the last section, had no sleep and was not in great shape to get to hiking again. So, we delayed our start and caught a ferry later on in the afternoon allowing for a little more time to rest since we’d all need a lot of energy for the next stretch... Although none of us could have imagined what would be lying in store for us!

We set off in search of the trail again from a settlement of around 5 houses called Pirehueico, where they use a generator for their electricity and there is no telephone signal. They do however have a café, which we’ll get to later! We’d estimated that section 12 would take us 4-5 days and since the first day’s walk was mainly on a dirt road, it looked like this might be one of the less challenging parts of the trail. The next day we set out all bright eyed and bushy tailed, full of optimism and we clearly had some kind of spring in our step seeing as we managed to smash out our first 9km in little over a couple hours. The spring doesn’t last that long though when you’re faced with one of the longest mountain passes (surely?!) known to man. We spent the next 9km on a steady, winding incline, working our way over the longest mountain pass we’d done so far, in the scorching heat with those 50lbs on our backs feeling heavier by the second. We were pretty beat after that, but having thought the worst was over, we set out on the trail again the next day aiming to continue our streak of getting those kilometers under our belt.

There had been some issues with the GPS and our trail map on the laptop. There were two possible routes and usually we take the ‘main’ route where possible but the GPS and laptop had different ideas about which route that might be. We ended up taking the route we thought had been most travelled and set out on our way. We knew we would reach an ‘iffy’ stretch of about 3-4km where we’d hike through a forest, but that’d be short work, and soon we’d be out the other side and on our way to the nearby hot springs! Little did we know, we’d never get to soak ourselves in those lovely hot springs!

So, we got to the forest and it was a little overgrown but we thought nothing of it at first, seeing as it was definitely a trail, and we didn’t expect to be following it for long. As we made our way though, it got progressively worse and we were soon army crawling under fallen trees blocking the path and pushing through overgrown bamboo shoots. We stopped for lunch and saw not one but two tarantulas. Aljoscha took what seemed like a few hundred shots of one of the spiders, much to the displeasure of Garrett who is hugely arachnophobic and has to go through all of these pictures after the trip. Anyway, we made the best of it and bullied Garrett into having his photo taken with the tarantula – we hope you find this picture as hilarious as we did watching it being taken!

As we went further the forest became denser and the trail more overgrown. The ‘main’ trail eventually disappeared, although the alternate path still seemed to have been traveled at one point, with machete marks visible. A few hundred meters in, Anthony had completely repurposed the handle of his pack-rafting oar – it was now the world’s bluntest machete and through hell or high water, we were going to get out of there and into those hot springs! As we continued, it became clear that this was going to take longer than we thought and it would be hugely challenging terrain-wise. There’s no explaining how frustrating it is when your backpack (which at this point was nearly as big as each of us!) catches on every other branch and vine while trying to navigate through the brush. You’re constantly ducking, swerving, breaking branches and at one point trying to do all of the above whilst simultaneously sinking in mud. It’s doubtful that bit will make the film purely for the amount of swearing that was going on, it was a pretty colorful moment.

Next came what we very unaffectionately call ‘the bridge into hell’. This bridge was, in fact, a rotting log that we had to shuffle across on our bums to get to the other side of a 60ft ravine. Anthony had the bad luck of going first and during said bum shuffle, came across a decomposing tarantula which was being feasted upon by a colony of ravenous ants. They must have been ravenous, seeing as how they were pretty set on nibbling on us too... The bridge into hell, received its name because the terrain got much worse from that point on. The trail became unidentifiable and we could barely see the sky for all the trees, so, bushwhacking was moved up a notch. Whilst balancing ourselves on a precarious slope and trying to hack our way further down the trail, Robyn stood on a wasps’ nest which resulted in about 10 stings, closely followed by Aljoscha who managed to get about 5 and Garrett who was at the back managed to land himself a couple too. A few tears of panic ensued since getting away from the nest in such dense woodland was neither a fast nor easy feat but we soon got on with it again.

What we’d expected might take an hour had now taken 6 and we weren’t even halfway through by the time darkness began to coat the forest. We had the difficult task of finding a clearing but we eventually found enough room for 2 of the tents, bunked up and turned in for the night. The next day we were sure we were getting out of there. We set out and after a further few hours of bushwhacking we came to a cliff edge where the trail could be taken no further. We were surrounded by drop-offs with unstable earth crumbling below our feet. Sketchy terrain turned into something quite scary. Despite being so close, we had to make the tough decision to turn back. We stood on the side of that cliff face struggling with the concept of not completing the section but in the end, our safety had to come first and we’re all glad we didn’t let pride taint that decision.

Turning back meant adding extra days to the section. Extra days meant extra food which we didn’t have. Our rations were low by this point but we worked out that if everything ran smoothly, we had just enough dehydrated food and trail mix to get us through. As is true of all good adventures though, things that run smoothly don’t make for good stories nor do they push your limits. So after another night at the ‘emergency camp’ we made it out of that hellish forest, and started anew on the trail. We managed to smash out one of our longest days yet and felt pretty elated once we reached the first camp we’d originally stayed at. The elation didn’t last long though because Robyn began vomiting – initially just thinking it was exhaustion after a strenuous day - but it didn’t let up, and after being up the whole night and not being able to keep hydrated in such extreme heat, it became obvious we couldn’t walk the 18km we needed to get to civilization the next day. While Robyn recovered, the boys had to tide themselves over with what was left of the peanut butter and powdered milk. Although still very unwell, we had no choice but to soldier on and get back to Pirehueico, so Garrett, Aljoscha and Anthony carried Robyn’s pack weight between them for the final stretch in the sweltering sun. Red raw hips, aching limbs and an invalid toe, we made it back to civilization and that café I mentioned earlier? Let’s just say that we probably bought more food there than they’d sold to anyone all year.

Every section seems to bring a new challenge and a unique twist to the trip but we're loving every minute of it (well, at least afterwards!) Now we are off to Section 13 where we search for hot springs, hopefully stay on trail and finally, climb our first volcano! Until next time!

Chile Sin Represas

Chile is truly a place of it's own...a place filled with treacherous mountains, gorging rivers, wide valleys, massive volcanoes and views as far as the eye can see. The country contains some of the most spectacular landscapes and natural flora and fauna around but unfortunately, all of that is at risk.

As with most places around the world, corporations have high influence and Chile is no different. The main issue in Chile is that the water is privatized. This means corporations can bid on water rights and own these rights for some of the most beautiful rivers in all of Chile. These companies then have the ability to use this water in any way they want and for well over a decade, that want has been hydro-electric mega dams.

Hydro-electric mega dams are projects that involve creating a dam along rivers that have the potential to produce a ton of electricity. This electricity is created as water runs through a turbine in the dam and can be transferred through power lines to typically a major city nearby. They are considered renewable, fairly effective, safe and Chile has some of the perfect rivers to implement these dams. Sounds like a great idea right? If only it were that simple. 

Dam project on the Nuble River; slated for 2019

Dam project on the Nuble River; slated for 2019

These dams are a massive hindrance on the environment. They destroy the local flora and fauna and disrupt the local communities that live nearby. The damage that they cause, in most cases, is completely irreversible. There are many species, especially in Chile, that are endangered and their ecosystems are centered around these rivers. Once these dams are implemented, these species will be wiped out along with the beauty that these areas hold. Indigenous people that have lived here for years and years are also typically relocated and sometimes stripped of their cultural heritage. A lot of the dams don't even produce electricity but simply divert water and river flow, which still has a huge impact on the environment. The saddest thing is this is happening all over Chile. 

A few areas that have been the main target of Chile and as of recently are the Maipo basin near Santiago, the Nuble river in the Bio Bio region, the Futaleufu watershed, the Achibueno river and many, many more. Luckily, there are organizations working to protect these areas and to save these communities and the environment. These organizations are scattered all across Chile and they are the ones that stand up and oppose certain projects in their local area. They are usually separate but they all have one thing in common - to protect Chile's natural areas and make sure they remain untouched. To that avail, these organizations work together to make sure Chile as a whole is protected.

Construction site at Punilla dam outside of San Fabian. 

Construction site at Punilla dam outside of San Fabian. 

These organizations need huge amounts of support from their local communities and outside sources in order to make a stand against these massive corporations. The image to the left is a prime example of a company sign next to a dam stating they are there to protect the wildlife when in fact, they are doing the complete opposite. As with most cases, one of the biggest issues is making people aware. When people are receiving false information and are being told lies by these corporations, it makes it even more difficult to rally a community against these projects. That has been the major issue in Chile where people are either not aware of what's going on in their own backyard or they are fed lies by these companies creating the projects. 

The sign and dam projected above is where we were lucky enough to do our first environmentally based interview with Francisco, a member of Nuble Libre in San Fabian. Nuble Libre is an environmental community and organization aimed at protecting the famous Nuble River and the surrounding area. They are currently in a fight to protect an area called Punilla, which is threatened by the creation of a dam on the Nuble River. This area is particularly significant because it holds extremely rare tree species as well as other animal species that call this place their home. The river is also widely known for being an excellent place for rafting but if this dam was implemented, the river flow could be affected drastically. 

Over the past decade though, Chile has come a long way and now is really taking a stand. These environmental organizations throughout Chile are building large followings against these dams and are starting to end up on the winning side. Organizations include the No Alto Maipo campaign, Nuble Libre, Futaleufu Riverkeepers, Ecosistemas, Conservacion Patagonica and so many more. These organizations fight to defend Chile's rivers, mountains and beautiful scenery that can't be found anywhere else in the world. 

"Sin Represas" stands for "Without Dams" and has been the motto for Chile and specifically, Patagonia, ever since a company, HidroAysen, came into the region and attempted to control the rivers with these dams. This has become a movement and it can be seen all throughout the country. We are looking to be a part of this movement and we hope you will join us as we embark on this adventure to document and protect Chile. For more information, here are a few sites to check out to learn more about this movement and what you can do to help.

http://www.futaleufuriverkeeper.org/

http://www.conservacionpatagonica.org/home.htm

http://www.sinrepresas.com/

We'll be interviewing organizations in Santiago early in the week and then it's back on the trail! Continue to follow this blog to receive an inside look into the film, learn more about Chile and to get inspired to pack your bags and find your own adventure! 

Safe Travels! 

What Is The GPT?

"The Greater Patagonian trail is not an official trail that was planned and set up by a government agency. It’s better: it’s a compilation of the most beautiful and diverse hiking and horse trails, minor roads and cross country sections through the Patagonian Andes selected by a passionate hiker." - Jan Dudeck 

That passionate hiker, Jan Dudeck, has come back year after year since 2013 with his partner, Meylin, to form what is now known as the Greater Patagonian Trail. The trail is constantly growing and to date, it is now around 3,000 km long and goes all the way from Santiago to Glacier Viedma in Argentina. The hope is to make the trail go to the southern tip of South America making it one of the longest and most wild treks in the world. 

The best part about the trail is that it wasn't created by any organization with financial incentives or other motives. This is simply one hiker looking to create a trail for other hikers. It's made up of horse trails, dirt roads, footpaths and other ways of traversing through the Patagonian Andes. The last consideration for the trail is a road with any type of traffic meaning this trail is about as remote as it gets! It's currently made up of roughly 33 sections with the most documented being Sections 1-18. Each section lasts around 2-10 days and 35km - 150km. The trail passes through temperate forests, mountain passes, snow-capped volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs, pristine lakes and everything in between. It is one of the most diverse and unique trails not only in South America, but quite possibly the whole world.

The trail is called the "Greater Patagonian" trail because a good portion of the trail is not actually within the official boundaries of Patagonia. The first sections hug the borderline of Argentina and Chile and are about 100 km or less from the technical boundaries of Patagonia. The beginning sections are the ones that are most ignored though and which set the stage for the trail. 

Another very interesting and unique aspect of the trail is that it can also be done in a combination of pack-raft and hiking. There are many pack-raft options along the trail, especially farther south, that can be combined with hiking to access even more remote areas and explore the beauty of the landscape via boat. This adds another element to the adventure and is something that is lacking in most other long distance treks.

Also, the great thing about this trek is that anyone can do it! It does not require technical capabilities or anything "special", just physical and mental determination. Since the trail is so remote though, it does require a fair amount of logistical planning and making sure you know exactly what your getting into. These might not be most people's idea of a "trail"! 

For our journey, since it is nearly impossible to do all sections in one summer season, we have decided to skip some sections in order to capture as much of this area as we possibly can. We will also be strictly hiking until Section 12 and then will start pack-rafting in order to mix things up a bit and really experience everything the trail has to offer. Our hope is to document the trail and this region to the best of our abilities and really show what Patagonia and the surrounding areas are all about.

We would like to give a HUGE thanks to Jan Dudeck for his help in planning our adventure and overall for creating this trail. All the above information was taken from his wiki site below:

http://www.wikiexplora.com/index.php/Greater_Patagonian_Trail#Idea_for_the_Trail

This site really dives into details of the trail and gives everything you need to know if you're considering taking on this adventure. Without his help and this site, this documentary wouldn't be possible.

Lastly, we would like to stress the "Leave No Trace" policy as it's the most important thing while hiking. If you are considering doing this trek or any other trek for that matter, PLEASE make sure you are aware of local rules/regulations and stick to the "Leave No Trace" mentality.  We cannot afford to lose these wild places and it is our responsibility to make sure they stay as untouched and beautiful as they are today. 

Thanks so much for following our journey into Patagonia and we hope your excited as we are to see what the rest of the trail has in store for us!

Safe travels!