Where to begin to describe the last week? From the lowest of lows to some of the highest of peaks, all of us have already been pushed to the edge of our limits and back in just these first few days. From injuries, illness, and exhaustion, to standoffs with shady characters in the big city, to joyful Christmas celebrations amongst hail and rain atop an ancient volcanic crater. The adventure has most definitely begun!
After getting acclimated and picking up all of the last minute supplies on arrival day, we planned to head out of Santiago the following morning to begin our journey South. If only it had been that easy. Missing our bus stop for the metro station (where we were to catch our bus Southward bound) seemed to lead to a chain reaction of mishaps that kept us in the capital for a few hours longer than we’d planned. Once we realized that we’d missed our stop, we jumped off the city bus and began to run back towards the metro station in hopes of catching our bus to Molina. However, our efforts of running to the station with the heavy packs bouncing on our backs was to no avail; We’d missed our bus. Luckily we were able to exchange our tickets for half the price of the originals for seats on the next bus to our destination, set to leave the following hour. Winded and a bit frazzled from our run we made our way from the ticket counter, across the busy street to where we were to catch the “second chance” bus. We were dropping our packs and pulling out some water at the “Terminal de Buses” when Anthony realized that the new batch of tickets were no longer in his pocket! Frantically searching every nook and cranny of each of our pants, coat and backpack pockets we found that none of us had them. Retracing our steps, Anthony ran back through the traffic to the ticket counter, where the attendant told him that he had indeed dropped the tickets, but that someone had picked them up and was headed over to the terminal to return them. We were approached by the man holding our tickets, who proved to have much less noble intentions, and were beginning to haggle with him over the price for their return by the time Anthony came jogging back over. He demanded more than the value of the tickets themselves in exchange for their return. Even his buddy from the bus company attempted to mediate the deal, however the discoverer lost interest in negotiating a fair finders fee with us and walked off, leaving us standing ticketless in front of the bus that was to depart in just a few moments. With no time to run back to the office and purchase a third set of tickets, the bus company employee who had been in cahoots with the ticket extortionist agreed to give us new tickets for a discounted price of what his friend had been asking. We had no choice. We paid, and were finally able to climb aboard the bus that would take us far from that place.
We rested our eyes, caught up on email and sent out our final goodbye messages as the bus weaved through wine country, with the impressive peaks of the Andes always in the distance. After a short transfer in Molina, we were on the final leg of the journey from Santiago to the starting point of our hike in Radal.
From Radal it was about a 10 km walk up the steep dirt road to Parque Ingles where the trailhead is located. We hoped to be able to hitch a ride up to Parque Ingles since there was only about 2 hours of daylight left by the time we got off the bus in Radal. The force was strong with us that evening, as about half way up the road some kind locals let us jump into the back of their pickup and took us a few km closer to our destination. We bounced with our gear in the bed of the truck as it climbed up the rocky road, and made it to the park just as darkness was setting over the valley. We searched the seemingly deserted park through the dark avoiding the barking dogs until we found a suitable campsite. It wasn’t until we set up our tents and sat down by the fire to relax for the first time on the trail that we looked up and were struck by the stunningly bright night sky that this remote area had greeted us with.
The following morning we took our first steps onto the GPT, but not before a bit of second guessing, head scratching and ultimately having to crawl through barbed wire fencing. Our first day on the trail saw us pass through diverse landscapes of arid scrubland, dense forest, and volcanic highlands. It wasn't long before we all realized what we were really in for. The massive packs full of film and rafting equipment made it difficult for us to keep up a proper pace, and as we marched up the first mountain passes none of us could help thinking about every non-essential item in our bags that could’ve been replaced by additional snacks. An issue that would become increasingly at the forefront of our attention over the coming days. Our energy deteriorated quickly in the hot sun and by the final stretch of the first days hike we were tearing through the chocolate and most of the other snacks we’d packed. We’d brought along plenty of freeze dried food that had been supplied by a sponsor, however by that afternoon it was clear that we were in real trouble of not having enough quick energy sources on hand to eat throughout the day. We made it to the intended camping area that evening shortly after preventing Garrett (and the rest of us) from a near hypoglycemic episode. We were greeted at the remarkable campsite by a large Chilean fox, herds of horses, and an incredible sunset that painted firey colors upon the nearby volcanic rock spire “El Colmillo del Diablo” (devil’s fang) and the surrounding peaks. We couldn’t believe it was possible, but the stars were even brighter that night than the previous, and Aljosha and Anthony stayed up late attempting to paint a “Merry Christmas” photo in the night sky for everyone back home.
During breakfast the next morning a passing hiker informed us of some supplies he’d left in the Refugio (hut/refuge) just up the hill. As we were pretty desperate we went to take a look. The Refugio was a goldmine of goods left by generous hikers who’d come before us. Due to some troubles with the film equipment that needed attention and the surplus of supplies and shelter at the Refugio we granted ourselves the early Christmas present of spending a zero day at the magnificent location. We were able to rest up, fix our camera gear and hangout with some friendly local hikers.
With news of impending weather and the help of a detailed map given to us by an awesome local at the Refugio we set out the next day to get through some serious mountain passes early on and make camp before the precipitation and winds were forecasted to begin. However, we were only able to hike at about half the speed we’d hoped due partly to a cough that Robyn had picked up shortly after our arrival in Chile, which had continued to worsen up to that point. We completed the major mountain pass for that day, although we were forced to quickly set up camp at a Lagoon inside of what was once the base of a volcanic crater, when the strong winds pushed the clouds right into us. We got our tents up at the Lagoon (About ½ of our intended distance for that day) just as the hail started to pelt the white sand around us. It was a somewhat “White Christmas” after all, and even the foul weather couldn’t bring our spirits down. Anthony cooked “Christmas cookies” over charcoal left at the campsite by previous inhabitants, with flour, sugar and powdered milk that we’d scored from the Refugio. None of us ever had such a delicious Christmas treat!
The weather had cleared by morning, however we had to discuss our current situation and our options as a group, before moving on. After considering Robyn’s worsening illness, some other minor injuries of the guys’, and most of all- the lack of proper food and fuel supplies we made the decision to take an alternate route which would shorten this leg of the trail by at least 2 days. The downside was that the new route required us to backtrack most of what we’d done the day before. We descended back down into the valley “del Indio” and began our new route, crossing a couple rivers and being pushed around by winds and periodically blinded by thick fog. A few hours later we were in nearly the opposite environment, scrambling across scorching lava rocks in the hot sun, with only bone dry river beds to be seen. By late afternoon though, we found our way to the lush forest of Ñire trees that the map had promised held a campsite along a flowing river (which turned out to be more of a stream). After setting up camp and relishing a little in this oasis we had a bit of a scare when Anthony came back from collecting water, where he’d slipped on a rock and fallen into the stream, injuring himself without any of us knowing. We had an otherwise lovely night in the forest, sitting around a big fire and listening to the hoots and howls of different animals which we couldn’t identify by the strange calls. We were all feeling pretty good about our new route.
The following day was the most intense day of the expedition thus far! Complete with bushwhacking off trail, getting lost, backtracking, emotional breakdowns, sketchy cliff passes with loose footing, running out of water, slips, scrapes, strains, falls, bumps, blisters, bruises, exhaustion, and even gaining and then loosing a couple of new four legged crew members. At least we can say that we learned a lot that day! We began with a good pace and a renewed energy that morning as we left the Ñire forest. We sped up and covered ground pretty quickly. However, there seemed to be a bit of error, outdated info, or just our own error with reading the map that we’d be given at the Refugio. We’d based our new route on trails shown on the map, that we ended up not being able to find, and that were not in our GPS or the other info/maps we have on the GPT.
Needless to say we did finally get back to civilization, and that came in the shape of a little shop just on the edges of a crystal clear river in Radal. It was like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs! (or Aljoscha’s at least, managing to put away 3 cheese sandwiches in what seemed to be about 30 seconds flat – we’re not sure where he puts it all!)
Despite all of this, we all agree we’ve had the most incredible adventure so far, with some of the most breathtaking views and feelings of utter achievement. Despite the adversity of the terrain and at times the weather, we’re raring to get going again and see even more of what the GPT has to offer.