Greater Patagonian Trail
It’s a stunningly beautiful and diverse trail system that guides you in the first part from the semi-desert of the Precordillera into scenic Andes valleys. The trails cross numerous dormant and active volcanos with partially healed volcanic scars and fresh open wounds from eruptions as recent as 2011. You can take a dip in more than a dozen hot springs along the way to draw from this energy.
Continuing, you will dive into the twilight of lush green tempered rain forest lined by snow covered mountains. Numerous passes and high plains get you above the tree line into barren terrain with broad views. Crystal clear rivers descend from these mountains and feed deep blue lake along the way. If you packraft you can paddle over these lakes and float down these rivers all the way into the Patagonian fjords where the Pacific Ocean hits the ragged coast.
Eventually you reach the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, one of the world's largest extra-polar ice field. Here giant rock towers stab into the sky and enormous glaciers calve colossal blocks of ice into wind battered lakes.
On the northern part of the route you will meet solitary cowboys (In Chile called arrieros or puesteros) with their animals that move every spring after the snow melts on higher ground to let their livestock feed on the mountain pastures. The trail later crosses the homeland of the indigenous Pehuenche (one of the Mapuche tribes) where majestic Araucaria trees tower above the tribal land and provide the traditional food for these sometimes shy and sometimes proud people. When going further south you will meet courageous settlers that have ventured into the challenging back-country of Patagonia. If you are interested, you can listen to their stories while sitting around the warm stove and sharing the traditional drink of this region: Mate. These authentic encounters are part of the beauty of this trail.
In countless locations the trail branches into different routes creating a wide network of tracks that give you many choices. You may either walk the entire distance or you can bring a packraft to float down rivers and to paddle and sail over lakes and fjords. There are also various volcanoes and other summits along the route that can be ascended without rock climbing gear. I have also included optional tracks that get you into literally the last valley in the border between Chile and Argentina. These remote corners of the southern Andes are of particular interest to hikers that love to venture into remote back-country.
The main route currently spans approximately 3'000 km and the entire route network including all options contains more than 15'000 km of tracks.
If this introduction quickened your appetite to explore this network of trails then don't stop reading here and don't pack your backpack yet. The GPT is quite different from what you expect. Especially if you have thru-hiked the famous long-distance trails in the US (i.e. the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide Trail) or if you walked on the European pilgrimage trails (i.e. the Camino de Santiago) then don't assume that the GPT will be a similar experience and that you are prepared for it. This region and this route network is unequal in nature. Some best practices and habits that are key for thru-hiking in the US would be foolish in Patagonia and other skills and aptitudes are essential to truly appreciate the Greater Patagonian Trail.
Since I started publishing the GPT I have seen around one hundred people attempting to walk major parts of the trail and I was in contact with many of the them. The majority was absolutely amazed by the land and the people and their experience on the trail. But some hikers quickly aborted or changed their plans and missed the best parts of the trail in consequence. Interestingly, these were partly experienced hikers and athletic walkers.
In the following section of this Hiker’s Manual I try to rectify potentially incorrect assumptions and outline the essentials for hiking and packrafting on this trail network. You should also watch the feature documentary “Unbounded” and read the publications of other hikers and packrafters to learn from the diverse experiences of others on the Greater Patagonian Trail.
Introduction and General Information
Statements about the GPT by Hikers and Packrafters
Bethany Hughes and Lauren Reed (Fidgit and Neon): "This trail has been the most punishing and the most magical experience of my hiking career to date.”
Burkhard Rose: "To walk the Greater Patagonian trial was one of the best thinks in my live. Every day I enjoyed the wonderful, all the time changing landscape. (...) The volcano areas where the most impressive stage for me!"
Piia Kortsalo and Oliver Barker: "We’re filled with incredible memories of our time on the GPT, and the landscape and culture of the Chilean Andes will stay with us forever. While hiking the GPT was an incredible experience for us, we don't imagine this as the right trail for everyone. The GPT is closer to an idea of a route than an established trail; hikers setting out expecting a well-organized, continuous, marked hiking trail will inevitably be disappointed. The GPT really is a route for a very specific sort of hiker, one who's as interested in natural history and cultural experience as they are in trail miles."
Brian Tanzman (Buck-30): "Honestly, I wouldn't recommend hiking the GPT to any of my thru hiking friends."
Garrett Martin: "This trail is unlike any other trail in the world and requires detailed planning, determination, physical and mental strength and most importantly - respect for the people and environment along the trail. Throughout our 4 month journey, we discovered the beauty of the Andes Mountain range and the incredibly generous people that call this place their home. If you are considering hiking the GPT, please do so with extreme care for the land and the utmost respect for the locals living in this area."
Carla Lange: "The GPT is not a hiking trail, it's an adventure and words do not do my experience on it justice. Travelling on the GPT was everything but easy (or necessarily fun all the time) but it returned it all and more. Essential pieces of equipment to bring on the GPT are your brain and intuition as well as humbleness, respect and openness for the land and people."
Matgorzata (Gosia) Gmerek and Paul Bostelmann: “The Greater Patagonian Trail Network is a challeng¬ing and rewarding adventure that leads one through diverse and breathtaking scenery. Far from crowds and often without seeing other people for days this experience was without a doubt the highlight of our hiking career. Packrafting and exploring the beautiful lakes and rivers allows to reach even deeper into these wonderful and wild ecosystems. This is no ordinary hike and absolute self-reliance and wilderness experience is a must.”
Information to the GPT
The GPT is an informal route network therefore you will not find any “official” information. In the following I list all relevant resources that help to understand the GPT and to get prepared for an adventure on this route network.
The GPT Wikiexplora Article
This Wikiexplora article to the GPT is the internet gateway to this trail system. It is the first semi-official landing point for anyone searching information online and provides an introduction to the GPT. Wikiexplora is the cradle where the GPT publication started in 2014 and remains the “online home”.
The Wikiexplora article comes with one weakness: offline access while being on the GPT. Therefore the GPT Hiker’s Manual was created in 2017. With this the Wikiexplora article is now neither the only nor the best resource to the GPT but Wikiexplora provides an introduction to anyone “just browsing around” and gives access to the Hiker’s Manual and other relevant documentations.
The GPT Hiker’s Manual
This Hiker’s Manual is the primary source of information to the GPT. The Hiker’s Manual consists of three parts:
- 1 Introduction and General Information: Chapter 1 provides a general overview and a good understanding of the nature of the GPT. You should be read the entire chapter 1 thoroughly if you consider hiking on this route network because this part of the Hiker’s Manual guides you through your preparation.
- 2 Terrain and Section Information: Chapter 2 familiarizes you with the geography of the southern Andes and dives deep into each section of the GPT. This local knowledge is essential to thoughtfully select your route on this vast network and to prepare yourself for each section when actually hiking on the GPT. Therefore, parts of chapter 2 are important to read during the preparation phase while other parts will become your guide when hiking on the GPT.
- 3 Appendix and Indices: Chapter 3 goes deep into specific topics. You will require this expertise for specific tasks i.e. when setting up your GPS or when calculating distances and estimated travel times. The Appendix also contains valuable additional information that benefit a profounder and ampler understanding of the GPT and the region that this this route network traverses.
The Hiker’s Manual is currently not available on paper but only as a PDF document. It is designed to be read on a computer or on a smartphone while being online or offline. Therefore, it is issued in the screen-friendly 9:16 page format with letters large enough to be still reasonable readable on a small smart phone screen. When reading this document best use full screen slide mode in landscape orienta¬tion. Normal vertical scrolling is less practical. Install a suitable app on your smartphone if needed.
To navigate within the Hiker’s Manual, click on the blue links i.e. the “Table of Contents” link in the right upper corner to jump directly to the main directory on page 7. From there you can jump in two steps to any chapter in this document. These blue document internal links work also offline. Hyperlinks to resources in the internet are also blue but have a globe sign after the link. Such internet hyperlinks open only while being connected to the internet.
The Greater Patagonian Trail is an informal trail network that grows and changes regularly. And the documentation of this evolving trail network relies on the voluntary work of one author with a full-time job supported by a few collaborators. Therefore, this Hiker’s Manual is not expected to be completed in the foreseeable future and will remain a growing and evolving document. This unfinished nature is intentionally made visible to readers by displaying empty chapters with red “To be issued.” remarks, similar comments in red and not hiding immature texts in the making. This shows what topics are planned to be covered with future updates and where contributions and reviews are welcome. Anyone who feels uncomfortable preparing his hike with such an unfinished documentation should rethink if he wants to travel on an unfinished and informal route network.
Updates and additions are now made first in the Hiker’s Manual and not in the Wikiexplora article. Therefore, the last published version of the Hiker’s Manual is the most current and comprehensive document available to the GPT. Note the publish date on the cover page in the right bottom corner and check occasionally for updates.
You can download the GPT Hiker's Manual on Dropbox: Hikers Manual on Dropbox
The GPT Track Files
The Greater Patagonian Trail is composed out of existing routes that were mainly made by the local settlers to serve their purposes. Hikers are unexpected guests on many of these trails. Only smaller parts of these routes have some kind of trail markers.
A good part the trails and cross-country routes remained undocumented until recorded and published digitally for the GPT. Therefore, suitable paper maps are often not available, and the few existing maps are incon¬sis¬tent, of variable quality and insufficient to follow major parts the GPT.
The only reliable way to navigate on the GPT is therefore a GPS with the digital track and waypoint documentation that was specifically created for the GPT. This digital documentation with all relevant geographic information consists of mul¬tiple files in different file types and is called in the following “GPT track files” or in short “track files”.
The track files are provided on personal request by the author free of charge but not unconditionally. Read in the Hiker's Manual chapter 1.15 Terms and Conditions for Using the Hiker’s Manual and the Trail Files on page 139 to review these conditions and to understand why these conditions were put in place.
Hiker’s that feel uncomfortable being guided by a GPS need to learn and adapt to this form of navigation or discard the idea of hiking the Greater Patagonian Trail. Such hikers may resort to the established public trails in Patagonia that are better signposted and more suitable for classic navigation with paper maps.
See chapter 3.6 Digital Documentation of the GPT on page 499 in the Hiker's Manual for more information.
The GPT Facebook Group
The informal and provisional nature of the GPT makes it relevant that hikers quickly exchange updates and recommendations while travelling on this evolving route network. For this pur¬pose the GPT Facebook Group was created. Here all hikers can post brief summaries after completing a section and leave notes that might be beneficial for others that are en route. This can be information to temporary unpassable trail sections, volcano alerts, river conditions or anything that makes you think in hindsight: “I should have known this before!”.
The GPT Facebook Group may also be useful for individual hikers that plan to walk on this trail network and that seek others to join into small groups. Here you can post your hiking plans before you depart and link up with other hikers.The GPT Facebook Group is also the location where I now notify hikers when updated track files are available and where I share other significant news to the GPT. To become member of the GPT Facebook Group you need a Facebook account and request access with the following this link:
The Feature Film “Unbounded”
In the hiking season 2016/17 four novice hikers from North America and Europe walked parts of GPT to create a travel documen¬tary. The result of this endeavour is the 74-minute feature docu¬mentary “Unbounded” by Garrett Martin. This work of art displays fascinating impressions from the trail and highlights their cultural experience with the settlers and the natives along the route.
This film focuses on the individual experience of these four hikers and does not aim to provide a comprehensive introduction to the GPT. Starting under-prepared and over-loaded they learned their lessons and gradually adopted to this challenging trail network. To draw the right conclusions for your hike read my comments to this film either before or better after watching.
Publications to the GPT by other Hikers and Packrafters
With this Hiker’s Manual and the article on Wikiexplora I aim to create a systematical introduction and a comprehensive documen¬tation of the GPT. I intentionally try not to overload these documents with personal stories from the trail.
There is another reason why my writing is rather technical. I’m an Engineer by trade, I work as an inspector and issue inspection reports on a regular base. For this I need to carefully choose my words to be factual and precise, well descriptive but also legally sound. Story-telling is neither needed nor welcome in my inspection reports. And when numbers are available or when information can be structured into tables or charts than this is always preferred over well phrased verbal descriptions. You will notice that these writing habits also shape the Hiker’s Manual and Wikiexplora article.
Keeping my personal stories mostly out and maintaining this documentation rather technical benefits a systematic preparation but makes the Hiker’s Manual and the article on Wikiexplora a bit pale. But for most hikers, and this includes me, the personal experience of the land and with the people are the dominating motives for such an endeavor. Therefore, to get a more personal insight to this trail read as part of your preparation some blogs written by hikers that travelled the GPT in recent years. In these blogs you find a much more personal account that shows the individual perception of the trail. Listening to other voices also illustrates how diverse the trail experience can be. Some blogs are very useful to participate on lessons learned by others to not repeat frustrating mistakes.
In the Hiker's Manual in chapter 3.1 Other Publications to the GPT on page 474 you find a selection of blogs that I consider particular useful. I would love to share our personal stories from the trail in such a story-telling blog but writing and updating the GPT documentation is already an overwhelming task that consumes virtually all my available time.
Update in Progress
I have written most of this trail description in 2015. Since then we returned twice to Patagonia to hike and paddle the southern extension all the way to the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and we investigated various alternative routes in the northern and central area of this trail. Other hikers have walked the northern extension to Santiago and contributed with GPS records to refine the regular route and numerous optional side tracks. With this the GPT has doubled in length to approximately 3000 km and the number and length of all the additional options has growing exponentially.
I'm now updating the entire trail documentation to incorporate all these extensions, trail corrections and additional options. Due to the northern extension the section numbering is changing completely and I'm also improving the track nomenclature to facilitate a better understanding and documentation of the countless options. This ongoing update currently results in inconsistencies of this trail documentation. Please have this in mind when reading this article and downloading files.
If you have questions that are not answered in this trail descriptions then you may send me an email. Also your feedbacks are very welcome. Please report any changes or errors to correct the trail description and the trail file. All GPS records and waypoints along the route network are very helpful to update and maintain the trail file. If you have change and extension proposals please send the proposal ideally with a GPS record to the author. Alternative routes that are attractive for hiking or packrafting will be included as a trail option or result in a change of the regular route.
Email of author: email@example.com
Understanding the Trail
The Greater Patagonian Trail is not a hiking trail.
Yes, you read correctly so let me repeat one more time:
The GPT is not a hiking trail.
So, what is it then?
The GPT is an informal route network that consists mostly of trails, roads and cross country routes that were not created with hikers in mind. Most of the trails were made by the local population to serve their purposes, i.e. to drive animals to summer pastures, to get to remote settlements and outposts or to extract wood from the forest. The routes that the GPT is composed of include:
- well maintained horse trails that are regularly used by the local cowboys (in Chile called "arrieros" and in Argentina "gauchos"),
- poorly maintained and neglected trails that are washed out, trenched and blocked by fallen logs,
- minor roads and simple car tracks that are occasionally used by all-terrain vehicles,
- trail-less cross country routes in barren open terrain,
- a few short stretches of bush bashing through thick growth,
- and where no more adventurous route was found also public roads with moderate transit traffic.
- Additionally, packrafters can cross mountain lakes, float down generally calm rivers and even paddle on the Patagonian fjords.
For more information to the trail types and the trail type composition of the GPT see section Trail Length and Trail Types.
This diversity is what makes the GPT so authentic but also so inconsistent and, in some sections, challenging.
Since the GPT is an informal route network practically no signposts and only few trail markers facilitate route finding. The locals that regularly use these trails don't need them as they know their trails inside out and nobody else is expected to come. In some national parks so there is signage and markers, though these are often unmaintained and inconsistent. Outside of parks, in terms of trail markers, you may see sporadically sun faded strips of plastic, beer cans, or even tea pots hanging in a tree.
On many of these trails a customary right-of-way applies but some routes cross private land and you often can’t know what is where the case. Therefore when you venture onto the GPT you are mostly an unexpected guest on trails that were not made for you and you will trespass over private properties. So be at least a respectful and friendly trespasser that can explain in Spanish what he is doing there.
What also distinguishes the GPT from many other long distance hiking trails is that it is not a single trail but a wide network of tracks with many options. For some hikers this is confusing as you cannot just follow one trail; rather you need to make many choices along the way. But because the GPT is an informal trail network these choices are sometimes essential to continue your journey when you find one route not passable or closed. For safety reasons I have also included bad weather options and exit routes that get you out of the mountains to the next village or at least to the next road. These additional tracks are not recommended for hiking since they are often not particularly attractive but having these tracks on your GPS can save you in adverse conditions.
The GPT is not a trail that can be hiked efficiently. The trail will change you plans without asking and inevitably stop you from time to time and turn you around. Also the period of normally suitable hiking weather is in parts quite short. In particular in the north you need to wait until December for the snow to melt and the rivers to fall to be forded safely. And fierce snow storms may make the route again impassable in late March or during April.
The appropriate pace on this trail network is the "appreciation pace". This pace might vary substantially between hikers but gives you the time to make an attractive detour, i.e. to climb a summit next to the trail without worrying about your schedule. This adequate rate of advance permits you to accept the invitation of a settler to share some cups of mate or to sit out a day of torrential rain in shelter (here called "puesto") with an arriero. This adapted velocity allows you to wait in front of a pass if the weather is too volatile to climb up or to spend a day or two waiting at a lake if it is too windy to paddle with your packraft.
This trail is therefore not suitable for hikers who are out to race a clock, that need to have full control and who measure their success in kilometers or miles. Its a trail for thoughtful discoverers who can accept being just guests. It's for hikers for whom completion or distance covered is irrelevant or at least secondary but that count their enjoyable and eventful days in a pristine and diverse nature instead.
All this makes the GPT a discovery network with a good portion of unpredictability but impressive authenticity.
Trail Length and Trail Type Composition
The Greater Patagonian Trail is not a normal single line long distance trail but a wide discovery trail network with countless options and alternatives. Therefore the actual length that someone may walk and paddle depends highly on the selected sections, the chosen route and the method of travel (hiking only, packrafting wherever possible or a balanced combination of both). Also a further extension of the trail towards the southern tip of the continent is in preparation. For this reason there is no precise number for the trail length and only examples can be provided.
The below overview shows two example based on the current regular hiking route and the current regular packraft route. The packraft example does not include all possible packrafting but considers a packraft use only on the selected sections where this equipment is clearly more benefit than burden and is therefore highly recommended to be carried and used (Sections GPT17P to GPT39). This example also excludes the not yet verified and very challenging exploration sections.
|Trails||TL||1415 km||46.6%||1088 km||37.0%||Mostly visible trail on any terrain i.e. in open landscape or in forest. Trails are primarily used by animals (horse, cattle).|
|Minor Roads||MR||912 km||30.1%||735 km||25.0%||Any route that could be used or can be used by a vehicle regardless if this road or car track is open for public use or not. Includes also abandoned roads that are not any more passable by vehicles. Minor roads are without transit traffic therefore hitch-hiking is rarely feasible.|
|Cross Country||CC||256 km||8.4%||268 km||9.1%||Route that passes through open landscape without a visible continuous trail but also without dense vegetation.|
|Primary Roads||PR||443 km||14.6%||168 km||5.7%||Public gravel or paved road with moderate transit traffic. Hitch-hiking is generally feasible.|
|Bush Bashing||BB||10 km||0.3%||12 km||0.4%||Route that passes through overgrown terrain. Demanding and very slow advance.|
|River||RI||-||338 km||11.5%||River downstream float with a packraft. One-way only!|
|Lake||LK||290 km||9.9%||Lake crossing with a packraft.|
|Fjord||FJ||39 km||1.3%||Fjord paddling with a packraft.|
|Ferry||FY||(145 km)||(0.0%)||(427 km)||(0.0%)||Lake, river or fjord crossing with a ferry or a boat. Distance covered with a motorized boat is NOT included in the trail length.|
| Land to water ratio on the selected sections where carrying and using a packraft is highly recommended|
(Regular Packrafting Route of Sections GPT17P to GPT39 excluding the exploration sections GPT29P and GPT30P)
|Hiking on Land||-||955 km||58.9%||Combined hiking distance on land on the selected sections where carrying a packraft is highly recommended. This is the actual distance where the packrafting gear is "death weight" in your backpack.|
|Packrafting on Water||667 km||41.1%||Combined packrafting distance on water (Rivers, Lakes, Fjords) on the selected sections where using a packraft is highly recommended. This is the distance where the actual weight of your backpack is zero because your packraft carries you and your backpack.|
|Length of Complete Trail||3036 km||2938 km||Complete regular route without optional side trips and ascents to summits. Some short cuts and many optional side trip i.e. up to 8 ascents to summits may substantially alter the actual distance and ascent and descent. Distance traveled by ferry not included.|
|Elevation Gain and Loss on Complete Trail||Approx. 116'000 m||Approx. 91'000 m|
Advice for Thru-Hikers
This trail was not created to thru-hike Patagonia, it's a route network for "immersion-hiking". The GPT does not get you through Patagonia but gets you deep into Patagonia.
With the recently added extensions to the north (that extends the trail all the way to Santiago) and in the south (that stretches the trail all the way to edge of the Southern Icefield) the trail now spans about 3000 km in often difficult and slow terrain. With this extension the trail became too long to be safely thru-hiked in one season. An experienced thru-hiker may disagree as 3000 km is a bit shorter than the Appalachian Trail (AT) but the varied and unpredictable terrain makes this comparison inadequate.
I know, sooner or later someone will try to thru-hike the trail in one season and may even succeed if he is lucky with the weather. But attempting this seems foolish, especially this early in the development of the trail and the lack of a support system along and around the trail. This focus will mean needing to rush and take less attractive short cuts, i.e. walk more on gravel roads instead of hiking on horse trails. It inhibits slowing down to fully appreciate the land and share time with the people along the route. And more important: someone who tries to thru-hike the GPT in one season needs to take unreasonable risks by throwing himself in torrential rivers and climbing to high elevations when fierce blizzards can kill. And remember, when you walk on these trails you are a guest on the land of someone else. Just the idea of racing through strangers' backyards is regarded a rude in these remote regions.
From a thru-hiking perspective the GPT is less than a long distance trail. There is no clearly defined and well-marked single trail to blaze along, there is no thru-hiking community to trail talk and there are no trail angles providing trail magic. On the GPT hikers have no domiciliary rights; they are just unexpected guests. And what might be the biggest disappointment for some thru-hikers on the GPT: thru-hikers do not receive any special admiration because nobody along the trail distinguishes between thru-hikers, section-hikers, day-hikers, or tourists in general.
For respectful explorers the GPT is much more than a long distance trail. It’s a wide network of routes with many hiking options in a diverse landscape. A unique blend of people live along the trails and makes the hike more of a cultural experience. If approached with respect and interest then these welcoming people will share with you much more than just the right-of-way regardless where you are coming from and where you are walking to. On this trail your willingness and capability to immerse yourself in this culture will be more relevant than the weight of your backpack.
If you find an actual Triple Crown Thru-Hiker more credible to speak about thru-hiking than read how Lauren "Neon" Reed's experienced the GPT in comparison with the renowned US long distance trails (see Appendix).
Understanding the Terrain
If you are considering exploring the Greater Patagonian Trail and wish to enjoy the experience, you must be open to experiencing the unknown diversity of this region.
If your expectation of Patagonia is based on a brief Google search and a few articles about Patagonia than you probably have seen primarily these three heavily hyped tourist magnets:
- the national park Torres del Paine
- the glacier Perito Moreno and
- the surrounding of El Chalten with Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.
These are three truly amazing spots on the eastern edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and are internationally known highlights of Patagonia. But these three frequently pictured attractions do not represent the Patagonian variety. If your primary interest is visiting the heavily trod, famous places of Patagonia then stick to the national parks and bus in between.
Don't assume that the Greater Patagonian Trail is more of the same. Only towards the finish, near the southern ends in El Chalten and on the last three sections (GPT38, GPT39 and GPT40) will you walk through this kind landscape of glaciers and skyscraper mountains.
The GPT is much more than this. The Greater Patagonian Trail is rather rather like a gourmet menu of different courses that allow you to experience different tastes and textures. The menu contains some world famous dishes, but mainly courses of unknown exotic ingredients in unexpected combinations. So this gourmet menu is nothing for someone who just wants to eat a burger or a steak.
Limits of Patagonia
The Greater Patagonian Trail crosses most of Patagonia and the adjacent regions to the north. For this reason I named the trail “Greater Patagonian Trail” when I started publish¬ing it in 2014. I coined the term "Greater Patagonia" to combine Patagonia in its traditional limits with the adjacent regions like "Greater London" includes the city of London and the surroundings.
The limits of Patagonia are as fuzzy as the imaginations of many when they hear “Pata¬gonia”. There are some core ideas that most people connect with “Patagonia” like vast¬ness, wilderness and solitude but few have precise knowledge.
So are the limits of this region and this makes it impractical to state where the GPT actually gets into Patagonia. If taking the administrative limits of Argentina than you gets in casting distance of Patagonia at the end of section GPT05 where you can view for the first time over the border into Argentina into the province Neuquén. But with a different understanding you enter Patagonia on section GPT13 where you ford the Río Biobío or on section GPT16 where you walk into the Chilean administrative region XIV (Región de los Ríos). You can be certain to have reached Patagonia on section GPT22 where you arrive at the first Patagonian fjord: the Estuarió de Reloncaví. For more information to this subject see [#Remark to the Limits of Patagonia|Remark to the Limits of Patagonia] in the Appendix.
For me this discussion about the limits of Patagonia is irrelevant as long as I can walk and paddle through pristine and varied terrain. Actually the little known region north of Patagonia is for me the one most attractive for hiking. Here you walk more distance high up in the mountains with broad views, here you find the more attractive trails and cross country routes and here you meet the arrieros and native Pehuenche people. Also the climate is more favorable for hiking. During summer rain is infrequent and short and you can mostly enjoy sunny weather.
In contrast when reaching "real Patagonia" get ready for frequent and enduring rain. Also don't expect to walk high up in the mountains as there are simply no continuously high mountain ranges. In Patagonia high mountains are rather like islands that rise out of a wild sea of dense tempered rain forest. These island-like mountains are separated by wide valleys that were carved by giant glaciers during past glacial periods.
Therefore "real Patagonia" is best traveled by packraft. You find more to this subject in chapter [#Packrafting on the GPT|Packrafting on the GPT].
Diversity of Greater Patagonia
East to West
Patagonia consists of surprisingly disparate zones. There are vast open plains in the east of Patagonia with a dry and wind battered steppe that spans from the eastern edge of the Andes to the Atlantic coast. The western part of Patagonia, due to the rain shadow caused by the Andes, is in some regards the opposite. In the west you have the rugged and rainy Pacific coast with countless fjords and islands. An impenetrable forest covers most of this land to the west of the Andes. And in between these two unlike areas – in between the dry plains in the east and the humid fjords in the west - tower the Patagonian Andes. Dormant and recently active volcanoes rise into the sky and glaciers cover all higher summits. During previous glacial periods these glaciers grew to a formidable size and carved deep wide valleys into the Patagonian Andes. These valleys are now partly filled by lakes and get drained by powerful rivers. All this is Patagonia and this diversity creates the mystery and magic of this region.
The Greater Patagonian Trail snakes mostly through the southern Andes but also diverts to the west into the Patagonian fjords and descents in to east where the vast plains and the Patagonian steppe begins. Therefore you can sample the full variety of Patagonia when walking the length of the GPT.
North to South
GPT01 to GPT04: From Santiago to latitude 35° S
In the northern part of the trail the Andes are very high with some summits exceeding 6000 m. Here passes typically exceed 4000 m altitude and steep rocky terrain and glaciers impede walking along the main mountain chain close to the continental divide which also forms the border between Chile and Argentina. Therefore the trail climbs through the Precordillera (foothills) mainly along the first mountain range next to the Chilean Central Valley. But don’t misunderstand Precordillera as low; here the regular route reaches the highest point with 3300 m. To an altitude of approximately 1500 m to 2000 m you find a semi-desert-like vegetation; above this altitude vegetation is scarce. In summer expect a generally hot and dry climate but be prepared for chilly nights higher up. When starting early in the hiking season (November and December) expect large snow fields in higher areas; when getting there late heavy blizzards become a hazard (April and May).
GPT05 to GPT12: From latitude 35° S to 39° S
South of Curicó the Andes drop in altitude but remain a continuous high mountain range. Summits rarely exceed 4000 m but most passes are still above 2000 m. Here the Andes are much more suitable for hiking. Therefore the trail follows the main mountain range close to the continental divide. Also here the continental divide constitute the border between Chile and Argentina so the trail is mostly close to the international limit but remains on the Chilean side. In this area a large number of route options provide many hiking choices. You can often opt between lower trails and higher more demanding routes that get you in very remote areas of the Andes. Climate during summer is still quite hot and dry but provides sufficient precipitation to maintain a relatively open forest in the valleys. In spring while the snow is melting torrential rivers make this area nearly impassable.
GPT13 to GPT40: South of latitude 39° S
South of Temuco you do not find any more a continuous high mountain chain. Numerous valleys and depressions break partly deep breaches into the main mountains range creating natural low passes between Chile and Argentina. These depressions and valleys were created by immense glaciers during past ice ages and remain partly filled by lakes. Many of these breaches are lower than 1000 m, some are just 200 m above sea level.
These deep gaps in the cordillera (Spanish for mountain range) shift the continental divide in some areas far to the east and cause a partly significant offset between the main mountain range and the continent divide. This offset was one reason for more than a century of border disputes between Chile and Argentina that are still not fully resolved.
The mountains of the Patagonian Andes are like large islands that are separated by these "channels" of lowland. The higher summits reach mostly an altitude of 2000 m to 3000 m. Only few peeks exceed the 3000 m mark. Below the tree line frequent rain maintains a very dense, nearly impenetrable, forest that is also called Valdivian temperate rain forest. Due to this geography the GPT goes up and down between the depressions and the island-like mountains and provides a very attractive and varied hiking at least to the finish of section GPT22.
Here having a packraft becomes very beneficial in particular from section GPT17P to GPT39 where you can use your inflatable boat on 40% of the distance.
GPT22 to GPT40: South of latitude 41° 30’ S
South of Puerto Montt the Chilean Central Valley "sinks" below sea level and the Patagonian fjords begin. These fjords and channels form a vast network of waterways with countless islands and peninsulas. In this rugged region hardly any road or trail was built along the coast. The mountains rise directly out of the sea and rarely leave sufficient suitable space for a land connection and the impenetrable tempered rain forest amplifies this challenge.
In this region of Chile even the most important road; the Carretera Austral; has a 50 km wide gap that can only be crossed by ferry. There is not even a horse trail or a foot path that bridges this gap; just impenetrable dense forest and cragged mountains. Here most land routes are further inland in the valleys and depressions that cut through the Patagonian Andes. Due to this geography the GPT crosses on section GPT22 into Argentina and does not return to Chile until section GPT26. Only passionate and highly experienced packrafters may try the very challenging investigation routes GPT30P, GPT76P and GPT77P that provide a water connection through the fjords and channels on the Chilean side.
In Central Patagonia in particular from GPT28H to GPT31H hiking is less attractive because several historic horse trails have been upgraded to dirt roads. But packrafting in this area is just stunning. Here you can paddle over crystal clear mountain lakes and float down long mostly calm rivers with impressive mountains on either side of your inflatable raft until reaching on these rivers the Patagonian fjords.
GPT35 to GPT40: South of latitude 46° 30’ S
At the latitude of Lago General Carrera and south of it are two large ice fields, the Northern Patagonian Ice Field and the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields. Here ice completely fills the depressions between the island-like mountains to an altitude of about 1500 m. These are the two remnant parts of the much larger Patagonian Ice Sheet that covered most of Patagonia during previous ice ages.
In this area the GPT guides you first though the mountains about 100 km east of the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. Here you can opt between attractive hiking and attractive packrafting routes but weather is volatile and distances between settlements are substantial. Towards the current southern terminus of the GPT you reach the eastern edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field what makes an impressive finish. From GPT38 to GPT40 you can walk and paddle through a rough wind battered land full of milky glacier lakes that get constantly refilled by immense streams of ice that flows from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.
Future Extensions of the GPT
Santiago de Chile is a suitable northern start (or finish) point and I’m not contemplating a further northern extension. The last metro/subway station Puente Alto provides an easy access and minimizes walking through an overcrowded mega-city. Santiago de Chile as the northern terminus is the point that provides the best possible contrast to the southern terminus of the GPT. It’s from metropolis to the back of beyond; it’s from semi-desert to ice fields.
I leave it to others to create a new trail that may start in Santiago and explores the Andes northbound. The Precordillera in the vicinity of Santiago offers some very attractive trails. There are even passes to cross the Andes from Chile into Argentina but creating a longer northbound trail that starts at Santiago or on a similar latitude in Argentina seems a bigger challenge than creating the GPT; at least if based on the same principles that I applied to the GPT: feasible and attractive for hiking and minimal road walking on routes with transit traffic. North of Santiago the Andes are very high and you either need to climb into really thin air and rocky terrain or you evade to the east or the west into the deserts on either side of the Andes. In my research I could simply not find similar suitable trails and the existing gravel roads are no option for me. North of Santiago water deficiency becomes an enormous challenge. Therefore most hikers that set themselves the goal to cross Chile or Argentina took primarily roads and this is what cautions me. But the challenge is out. You may go for it!
The southern terminus of the GPT stands at the shore of Lago Viedma on the eastern edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. There are attractive and suitable trails and packraft routes south of Lago Viedma but there are three logistical challenges that currently impede a feasible and continuous southern extension of the GPT without significant road walking:
- There is no ferry service over Lago Viedma. This lake is also far too wind-exposed and therefore to my current knowledge too dangerous to be packrafted.
- There is no legal border crossing between Argentina and Chile on the prospective routes (between Lago Argentino and Torres del Paine). There seems to be a legal way to apply for a special expedition permit but this seems utterly complicated and I know nobody who received such a permit.
- Hiking in Torres del Paine became very restrictive and requires i.e. reservations for camp sites that must be made several months in advance which is not practical for such an unpredictable long distance hike.
Overcoming these challenges is not impossible but attempting a continuous southbound extension makes out of an already very challenging long distance hike a bureaucratic and probably quite expensive expedition. An alternative is giving up continuity and bus around these obstacles without connecting footsteps.
I have an approximate route in my mind and I already reserved section numbers (GPT41 to GPT50) for this southbound extension to the most southern continental point of Americas: Cabo Froward. An extension of the GPT to Tierra del Fuego and Isla Navarino is also under consideration but crossing Tierra del Fuego will probably require substantial road walking.
But for now this southbound extension is not on the top of my agenda. Before personally focusing on it I wish to consolidate the GPT between Santiago and Lago Viedma by investigating relevant optional routes and updating the trail documentation.
Become a Contributor to the GPT
If you want to become a collaborator on this amazing project you are very welcome. Don’t just be a beneficiary; become a contributor. If you walk on the GPT please continuously record your hike by GPS and share these records with me. Save useful waypoints on your GPS and highlight where you got lost or struggled with the trail. This is essential to keep the tracks updated.
Email of author: firstname.lastname@example.org
A best practice of contributors is to keep notes as you go. When you save i.e. a new useful waypoint record your considerations soon after together with the waypoint identifying number. Keeping notes as you go is important as the length and variety of this trail can muddy specifics and details if you wait until the end of the hike to document observations. One successful method is to document observations into an email draft and arrange according to sections.
If you wish to investigate some of the numerous options, please do so with the necessary preparation and care. The entire network of tracks (currently more than 12’000 km) is more than four times the length of the trail (approx. 3’000 km) so there are plenty of alternatives to the regular route. Some of these optional routes are just exit and escape routes and not particularly attractive for hiking but numerous options will get into more remote and challenging back-country. Some of these optional routes may even replace the regular route if proven to be feasible and more attractive. Other hikes already contributed heavily making the creation and consolidation of the Greater Patagonian Trail a joint project of the hiking community.
If you consider exploring the prospective southern extension or parts of it please contact me. I can share my knowledge about this area and suggest approximate routes. But such an expedition should only be considered by highly skilled hikers or packrafters that already know Patagonia very well and that are humbled by experience. Proud heros are not wanted.
Packrafting on the GPT
When I started planning my first long hike through Patagonia in 2013 I could not find a continuous hiking route south of Coñaripe (GPT16) because dense forest hides most of the trails on satellite images. But I could see calm rivers and lakes that bridged the gaps and wondered if there exists a light enough boat to be carried in a backpack to traverse these waters. I googled and found the packraft. This is the cause for all the packrafting options of the GPT: insufficient planning information. It was not until after our first hike that I could add additional hiking routes that render a packraft expendable but not less beneficial.
In retrospect I’m so happy that I had such insufficient planning information at that time. Otherwise I would probably not have discovered the packraft as the ideal hiking partner for Patagonia. A packraft does not carry only your backpack but it carries you! What matters in this “partnership” is a good balance; you don’t want to carry your packraft most of the time but benefit from it as much as possible. And this is the case on sections GPT17 to GPT39. Here the packraft carries you on up to 40% of the distance and this makes it a brilliant deal. Further north on sections GPT01 to GPT16 a packraft is more burden than benefit and I would only recommend packrafting if you specifically plan to explore a certain lake and the surrounding area.
When packrafting on lakes and rivers we normally do not exceed hiking speed so the packraft does not make us faster. In contrast, all the packing and unpacking and the extra weight slows us down. But speed is not our objective. What we seek is diversity and a packraft opens up some of the most epic routes through Patagonia.
The required packrafting gear adds about 5 kg to a solo hiker’s pack or 4 kg if shared in between two. You need a boat, paddles, a dry suite, a PFD (personal flotation devise), an inflation bag and repair gear. A sail is optional. For an ultra-light hiker this is an unimaginable extra weight but if considering that the backpack weight drops on 40% of the distance to zero then this extra weight on 60% of the distance is a fair deal.
What you need when packrafting is a dry suite; not only for comfort but as a life insurance. In Patagonia weather is volatile and water temperatures are normally low. Hypothermia can cause complete exhaustion and unconsciousness in less then 15 minutes if you get into a glacier lake with a water temperature at the freezing point. A dry suite can help protecting you in such situations. We were several times surprised by heavy wind, rain and even snow during lake crossings and the dry suite was our layer of defense till we reached a suitable landing shore. Without a dry suite your body temperature drops in minutes in such an adverse situation and with this you loose your capability to act properly. Chill makes dumb and numb and transforms you into silly zombie regardless how experienced and prudent you are at normal "operation temperature".
The extra weight of a dry suite is not that much if you replace your normal rain gear with it. And a dry suite is so much better than any rain gear, also when hiking. It keeps you completely dry and warm even when fording glacier rivers. No rain gear does this. When we need to walk in cold rain or snow we put on our dry suite and we don't take it off until we have cooked our dinner and can slide in our sleeping bag or quilt.
If I can choose on a rainy day between hiking or packrafting than I do not need a blink of an eye to make my choice. Sitting in my boat protected by my dry suite make out of a nasty rainy day an enjoyable day on the water. Without a backpack on my back and with only moderate exertion I’m not sweating nor freezing, provided that I wear appropriate cloth below my dry suite. Protected with proper gloves and a cap only the face is exposed to the elements. What stops us packrafting is only too strong wind, but not rain.
When we started investigating the GPT we had no pre-experience with packrafting or kayaking; we were complete novices. Looking back now I would probably have taken some packrafting or kayak lessons, just to get some practice and a better feel for such a water activity. While we lacked experience at the beginning we were very careful even with small rapids and did not paddle larger lakes. But we grew with every river and lake and gained slowly confidence.
What is essential when packrafting is knowledge and respect of the hazards of water and good judgment. Great care must be taken to leave a river latest at the last recommended exit point because mortal rapids are often downstream even if you don’t see or hear them at the last exit point. Streams change constantly with rising and falling water levels, riverbeds alter over time and the weather in Patagonia is volatile. The fact that someone took a particular water route before does not mean that it is safe anytime later. Therefore the track file for GPS is only an approximate guide and each packrafter needs to assess the situation himself; i.e. judge wind, waves and weather before attempting a lake or fjord crossing or scout a river rapid to decide if to paddle or porter around.
Packrafting gear is not cheap. If you don't have it expect to spend at least 2000 EUR or USD to buy the full set. That's a considerable investment but it's a lasting one if you treat it with care.
Before attempting to hike on the GPT evaluate careful what sections to travel and if carrying a packraft or not. For this you need to study in detail the sections evaluation and trail type composition to make a smart choice that fits your capabilities and expectations. Thanks to the length of the GPT it is easy to fill an entire hiking season either with pure hiking or with a balanced combination of packrafting and hiking.
Understanding the Host Nations
Chile and Argentina
The Greater Patagonian Trail is located in South America in Chile and Argentina. These two countries are sometimes referred to as the “Southern Cone”. About 86% of the current trail is located on Chilean territory and 14% is on Argentine soil.
People that are not familiar with this continent often mingle all their associations of Latin America into one scary-lovely medley. If they listen a news report about unrest in Venezuela it also stains their mental record of Chile and Argentina – “It’s next door! Or?”. And when they listen Chile; they instantly think that they must eat spicy food like the Mexicans – “Come on, it’s called Chile!”. But like any other continent – maybe with the exception of Antarctica – it’s a socially, politically and economically diverse continent with quite different nations.
If you are interested in hiking the GPT but you never have been to Chile or Argentina than start with getting a good understanding and knowledge of these two countries. I’m not attempting to provide a comprehensive introduction to the Chile and Argentina with the following paragraphs. I mainly focus on a few trail specific aspects that you probably will not find in guide books.
Chile and Argentina are not developing countries like their neighbor Bolivia. Chile and Argentina are very much like western countries but with a high inequality of wealth and income. Both countries are on a global scale reasonably stable and healthy democracies, Argentina may be with a bit more populism and corruption than Chile. Both countries have reasonable good working institutions i.e. a police that keeps most of the country reasonable safe. And both nations have their social struggles, economic challenges and political scandals like many others.
Being an Guest in Chile and Argentina
Chile and Argentina receive a lot of tourists and there is not much xenophobia. Quite the opposite tourists are welcome and received with hospitality as long as they don’t pretend to belong to a superior race. After three centuries of colonization and two centuries with sometimes heavy outside interference people have a fine sense for any form arrogance. And if they sense it they will often not speak up (especially Chileans learned to swallow their objections during 17 years of a military dictatorship) but expect to receive reservation and poor service in turn. And that’s a pity because Argentines and Chileans are normal open and interested people that treat guests with honest geniality.
If you are a tourist from outside of Latin America accept that you are called a “Gringo” in particular if you are from Europe or North America. In the Southern Cone this term has no negative intonation (unlike in Mexico and Central America). The label "Gringo" may only imply that this person is bit ignorant of the local customs who needs to be treated with leniency. Try to surprise your counterpart with with good Spanish skills and knowledge about his country!
Remarks to the Society
This generalization of people from far away (all are "Gringos") is contrasted by a classist thinking about their own nation, especially in Chile. A few super-rich own and control most of the country, a stressed middle class (living mainly in the cities) tries hard to keep up and many simple living people (which make the majority in rural areas) learned to live a tranquil life with rather little. The different groups and social classes distinct between each other and rarely mingle; they live in different quarters; send their children to different schools and vacation in different places.
What you do not see much more is extreme poverty. Since the end of the military dictatorship in 1990 a center-left government runs Chile for most of the time. This government was quite successful in fighting extreme poverty and improving the infrastructure in rural areas. And hikers benefit from it in several ways. When hiking in Chile and Argentina you will not experience begging as this is the case in the neighboring countries of Bolivia and Peru. Also roads are built in rural areas, which is a mixed blessing from a hikers perspective. On one side these roads greatly facilitate resupplying and getting to the trail heads but on the other side they also replace horse trails that are nicer to walk. The government also subsidizes public transport into particular remote places that are not served be profit-oriented private bus and ferry companies.
Along the trail you will primarily meet people with a small and often irregular income but this does not constrain their hospitality. In contrast, where the rich fence off their properties there the modest living open their doors and invite strangers to literally share their bread. When you experience such hospitality be generous. Even if they don’t ask for money and seems to reject it be a happy giver. Insist if necessary! Consider that more hikers will come after you and that it would be unreasonable to drain their small income to feed tourists.
The middle class from the cities starts to discover the mountains in their vacation. A growing number of Chileans and Argentines begin to hike, mainly in national parks. Many of this novice hikers still lack experience and appropriate gear. Where the GPT passes national parks you will meet such less experience and sometimes inadequately equipped hikers. Please don't look down on them but when asked share your experience and knowledge in a positive manner. The growing number of inexperienced hikers results in normally concerned park rangers especially when you plan to walk off the standard trail. You might need to show your GPS and your satellite tracker to park rangers to convince them to let you pass and follow the remote routes of the GPT.
Owning large plots of land is a status symbol of the rich and super-rich. And this is where the right-of-way trouble often culminates. The rich owners (Spanish: "patron") of these properties (Chile: often "fundo", Argentina: often "hacienda") are rarely there themselves but hire caretakers (Spanish: "cuidador") to maintain their property. Sometimes the "patron" instructs the "cuidador" to not let anyone pass. How to deal with such a situation I will explain later.
The potent overseas immigration into Chile and Argentina and the continuous land grab made the native first nations to a minority in their own homeland. In the area that the GPT traverses only one of the numerous pre-colonial indigenous cultures holds still significance: the Pehuenche that are considered part of the Mapuche group. Most other native cultures that you see in adjacent maps are lost and extinct. Starting from section GPT09 to about GPT15 you will meet the Pehuenche. But don't expect intact indigenous communities that celebrate their traditional way of live with unity and pride. Centuries of disrespect, economic and social pressure, the forceful formation of a new Chilean identity after the independence from Spain and missionary efforts of various Christian sects have caused deep divides in their communities and resulted in a fractured identity.
You may read the Wikipedia articles to the demographics of Chile and Argentina to learn more about the native tribes and ethnic groups that settle this land for thousands of years and the 500 years of post-Columbian immigration into these countries.
Security, Police and Borders
In the b
Understanding the Hosts
In this section I want to share some of our experiences with the people that we meet along the trail. I will distinct between four groups despite recognizing hat you sometimes cannot clearly distinct between them. An indigenous Pehuenche may work and act like an arriero and many settlers have indigenous roots.
From section GPT01 to section GPT09 you will frequently meet men on horses that in late spring drive livestock up in the mountains and watch over it till they drive the animals back down in autumn. These men (but never woman!) get normally employed by the landowner that holds a large plot of land in the mountains. The animals that they watch over are normally owned by several farmers that pay for the service to fatten their animals during the mountain grazing period. These caretakers call themselves "arriero" or "postero" and live during the summer in improvised shelters that are called "puesto". From this base they make regular tours on horseback to the cattle, goats and horses that remain under their responsibility.
These rough men are normally happy to get a visit. If you speak Spanish and engage in a conversation you will often be offered a seat next to the fire and it will not take long till you are offered to share some Mate with them. If you are lucky they have some fresh bread or "tortas" (the shortened word for "tortas fritas" which is bread baked in hot fat).
When we pass a puesto we share at least some words; we explain what we are doing, ask for the trail condition and exchange some friendly gossip i.e. whom we meet before and ask whom we will meet further down our way. Knowing the names is always a benefit and very useful when asking for permission to pass. If it is late and time to camp we try to sense if we are welcome to stay a night what is normally the case. If yes, then we pitch our tent in the vicinity of the puesto.
Nobody knows the area around the puesto better than they do. They do not move only along the trails but to any place where their animals are grazing. But their expertise often reaches only to certain point. They might go for 20 years to the same puesto and know every tree and boulder on the entrusted land but they might not know what is behind a certain pass in the next valley. So asking them for directions can very revealing and exceptional helpful but it requires purposeful questions and a wise interpretation of the answers. Don't ask for the walking time, but always ask how long it takes them on horse. Then double the value to estimate your walking time.
Only if the person is trunk than better move on quickly. Filled with alcohols these normally friendly men can become pretty annoying and even harassing with women.
Indigenous Pehuenche Population
The tribal land of the Pehuenche starts were the first Araucaria trees grow what is two third into section GPT09 and ends somewhere around section GPT19. The Pehuenche (Pewenche, people of pewen in Mapudungun) are an indigenous people who are part of the Mapuche peoples. They live in the Andes in south central Chile and Argentina. Their name derives from their habit of harvesting piñones, the seeds of the Araucaria tree that is called in Mapudungun "pewen". In the 14th century, the Pehuenche lived in the mountainous territory between the Maule River and the volcano Lonquimay. Later they became Araucanized and partially merged with the Mapuche tribes. The difficult living conditions higher up in the mountains with the less fertile land protected the Pehuenche to some degree during the main wave of European immigration in the 19th and 20th century. For a long time their land was simply not attractive enough to be taken away.
The Pehuenche took over agricultural techniques from the European invaders i.e. the breeding livestock and the farming of cereals and other crops. Therefore you will meet along the trail Pehuenche in puestos that herd cattle, goats and horses like the "arrieros" further north. But in contrast to the "arrieros" you will meet women and entire families, sometimes three generations living together in small shelters. This is a nice change! Some milk their cows and make cheese. In summer and autumn they harvest the seeds of the Araucaria pines called "piñones".
But be aware that two centuries of disrespect and oppression made them distrustful and distant. We were occasionally asked if we are researching geologists fearing that we are looking for minerals and taking their land away if we find something precious. But explaining carefully that we are just walking guests that come to admire the land that they own broke often the ice.
With these people we had some of the most moving encounters along the entire trail. We spoke about their history, their way of life, their connection with the land and what they desire for their next generation. They bear an identity that torn between tradition and living a modern life. Christian sects have caused deep divisions within their communities and even within families. These tensions make them guarded to speak about their identity and convictions. So we listen carefully and act cautious to not make them feel uncomfortable. But we had wonderful times with these people, staying a night or even an entire day with them. They taught us how to down and open Araucaria pines and how to prepare "piñones" for eating. We several times purchased a goat from them to prepare it and eat it together.
Once we stepped by accident into their annual religious gathering called "Guillatún". We were approached by one of their leaders who kindly asked us to move on and so we did.
With the term settler I refer to the people that call themselves “pobladores” and who’s ancestors moved into Patagonia at the end of the 19th century and during the 20th century. “Hacer patria”, or in English: “creating homeland” was and is the motive that drove them into this challenging land and makes them stay despite the continued hardship. When walking on the GPT you will regularly meet the third and fourth generation of these settlers all the way from section GPT15 to GPT38.
In the second half of the 19th century, around 50 years after gaining independence from Spain, the Chilean and Argentine government breached the agreements with the native population and forcefully took control of Patagonia that the Spanish colonizers did not conquer during the three centuries of their rule before. It was simply the political mindset of this time that each nation takes the land that they have the power to grab. After the native population was decimated and driven out the governments looked for white settlers to “cultivate” the land. Racism dominated the thinking at this time and the ruling class where mostly decedents of white Europeans and they were looking for people of their kind to repopulate the land. Announcements were placed in European newspapers promising free land to everyone who is able to make a living off the land that he picked. But also Chilean and Argentine citizens were seeking their luck by moving out of the established settling areas into the seemingly virgin land of Patagonia. Laws were created to promote settling this vast region. Whoever “cultivates” a piece of land could apply for a land ownership title after a couple of years. But just living off the land without transforming it like the native nations did not count.
The harsh climate and the remote location of Patagonia means that “cultivating” is generally understood as growing livestock for sale and having some homestead farming to produce the majority of your food themselves. Grazing land was often created with fire. Prospective settler made expeditions in search for promising patches of land, they incinerated the forest and quickly left hoping that the fire takes down a good part of the forest. In the following years they came back, seeded grass and lighted more forest. Once sufficient patches of grazing land had formed they moved in with cattle, sheep and horses and build basic houses to create their personal piece of homeland.
From today’s perspective this is a brute violation of the native nations and their homeland. But I’m not writing this to question the legitimacy of their decedent’s to life on this land. History can’t be turned back and this past injustice can neither be undone without new injustice nor can it be plausibly justified. I’m writing this to create a more factual understanding of the actual sequence of events that is less blurred by the romantic imagination of homestead farming. I want to outline the ambivalent history that permits you now to personally discover this land on trails that these settlers created and that are now part of the GPT. I hope to open the eyes of prospective hikers for this courageous people to not walk by with ignorance.
If you consider yourself a tough and enduring hiker then imagine the hardship and persistence of these settlers in comparison. They moved in without being guided by maps and GPS and without your functional ultra-light gear. There were no trails, there were no shops on the route to occasionally resupply and their stay was not limited to the few more months with more suitable weather. They had to make a living by producing more than they consumed to have something to sell with a profit. Therefore if you meet these settlers don’t seek admiration for what you are doing because it’s just hilarious. What we hikers do nowadays is just “a stroll in the woods” compared to the challenges that these settlers faced. Therefore be a humble guest that admires the endurance of these settlers.
Many of these settlers are proud of their heritage and enjoy sharing their history. That’s an opportunity that we rarely miss. We enjoy listening to them before we speak about our own adventure and trail recording project. If you are also open for this opportunity than hiking on the GPT will become a uniquely authentic experience that shows you much more than just a trail.
Hospitality and a fair cooperation between settlers is part of the culture and it’s your responsibility to maintain this attitude by not abusing it. Keep in mind that they face the continued challenge to make a living and if you receive something, like food or accommodation then don’t take it for granted but pay what is reasonable even if you are not asked for money. These settlers are no trail angels that live along the route for your comfort; you are the unexpected guest that hugely benefits from their trail building efforts.
It’s a culture in decline. Few of their children continue this way of live and you will often meet people above 50. For the younger generation moving into a town seems more promising than the burden of making a living on the “campo” (English: cultivated land). Therefore pay respect to each settler because their continued endurance keeps the trails open for you. If you have the opportunity outline how a sustainable form of tourism can supplement essential elements of their culture, especially show this perspective to the few younger settlers that you can still meet along the trail. The future of the Greater Patagonian Trail is linked with the future of these settlers.
If the children of these settlers move out than sooner or later the land will be sold to the biter with the highest offer. And the interest in this land is constantly growing, regardless how remote it is; rich Chileans and foreigners will buy it. And this gets us to the forth category of “hosts”.
Large Estate Land Holders
To be issued.
Guiding Principles, Appropriate Attitude and Required Skills
In the last years I had numerous profound talks about the essence of hiking and what it takes to appreciate such an endeavor in a sustainable manner. What you will now read is the résumé of this exchange of ideas with hikers that walked on the GPT or did other long distance hikes. In particular Piia Kortsalo, Oliver Barker, Bethany Hughes and Lauren Reed were instrumental in putting these advises together.
The following two guiding principles summarize this combined expertise and apply it to the GPT:
- Before you depart understand the GPT to make appropriate choices and get properly prepared.
- When being on the GPT adopt to the land and learn from the people to become a sustaining and contributing guest.
In the following section I will outline what following these guiding principles practically means.
Before you depart: Understand
One of the most important skills before you depart is your capability to read. In particular experienced hikers are at risk to make incorrect assumptions and rely on a false sense of expertise because the GPT is so different compared to other long distance trails. That’s one of the reasons why some highly experienced thru-hiker failed to enjoy this trail: They did not understand the GPT and as a consequence made inappropriate choices and departed unprepared.
Therefore read this entire article and maybe read it again. Follow the links to additional sources of information i.e. on Wikipedia and read blogs of other hikers that walked on the GPT. These blogs are essential to get a wider and more personal perspective of the trail. Read about Chile and Argentina and learn more about Patagonia. This article does not intent to be a sufficient source of information; it’s just an introduction and a general guide how to get prepared.
Download the trail file and virtually hike on the GPT by reviewing the tracks in detail in Google Earth. That’s essential to better understand the landscape and the nature of this trail network. Get road maps and guide books for Chile and Argentina in particular if have not been to one of these countries before. There will be more than enough surprises along the trail so eliminate the avoidable once by understanding what you are considering to do.
If you find this article to long, to repetitive and to confusing then be assured that the GPT is much worse. If your curiosity and patience runs out while reading this text then your patience and interest will run out rather quickly on the trail. If you don’t make it to the end of this article than better don’t start with the GPT.
Understand your motives and objectives and be honest with yourself. The GPT is quite special and only a specific sort of hiker will appreciate this route network. If you have seen images of Patagonia and you are now looking to get to these places then the GPT is probably not the right choice. Someone who looks for an athletic walking challenge or a thru-hike will quickly be driven into frustration by this weird route compilation. It’s a discovery network and only hikers that wish to discover Patagonia and the adjacent regions should contemplate with hiking and packrafting on the GPT.
If you have specific questions to the GPT that are not answered in this article then ask. I have provided my email in this article and with the current volume of requests I can normally arrange a Skype call if I see genuine interest and that the available information is being read and digested.
Before you depart: Choose
The GPT or something else?
Don’t take it for granted that the GPT is your trail. If you look for some “normal” hikes in Patagonia with limited time available then I suggest visiting the national parks and bus in between. There are good guide books available that describe numerous established hiking routes in detail. In particular if you don’t speak Spanish stick to these better known and more visited places where you get along with a combination of rudimentary Spanish and English.
There a couple of questions that quickly indicate if the GPT is a suitable choice for you or not. If you answer any of the below questions with a “No” than better consider other trails:
- Do you have some reasonable good conversational Spanish skills?
Could you explain to a local resident in Spanish what you are doing there on his land and keep up in a more confrontational conversation if necessary? Can you discuss with arrieros and settler route options? Can you ask for bus times and bus stops, buy tickets, navigate through towns, inquire prices and this with people that do not speak any English?
- Do you have extensive Outdoor experience?
Long distance hiking experience is not required but being competent in moving and living under the sky in different landscapes is crucial on this trail (desert-like landscapes, forest, steppe, tundra).
- Do you really look for a demanding unpredictable discovery hike?
Can you deal with being unable to plan your trip in detail? Are you willing to backtrack if a route turns out impassible? If you have very specific expectations than this indicates that you probably don’t want to discover.
- Do you have at least six weeks in Chile and Argentina available?
If you have less time available than taking some of the established hiking routes is more appropriate and effective to see several parts of Patagonia.
- Do you have a monthly budget of 1000 USD after having paid your gear and the airfare?
Don’t undermine the cost of living in Chile and Argentina. With some cost saving strategies you may get along with a little less but 800 USD per month per person is the bare minimum.
Be honest with yourself! If you answer any of these questions with “No” than this trail might disappoint you, drive you into frustration or put you in harm’s way. But coming to the conclusion that the GPT is not (yet?) the right choice for you does not mean that you can't explore parts of it.
If choosing something else: If the GPT is not (yet?) the right choice for you then can opt for the more established trails in the national parks. Check out the available trekking guide books i.e. the lonely planet guide "Trekking in the Patagonian Andes" from Carolyn McCarthy. This is how I started and what was the foundation to investigate and publish the GPT years later. I can recommend the following more established hiking areas in Patagonia:
- Villarica Traverse
Comment: Read the Wikiexplora article in English for more information.
- Puyehue Ascent
Comment: The ascent of this volcano from Anticura starting at the international road "Ruta 215" is an rather established summit route that is taken by several hundred hikers each year. Return on the same path! DO NOT attempt a traverse without a GPS, precise tracks, good weather and sufficient reserves. If you do not find the trail head on the other side of the plateau you will get stuck in an extremely dense forest. In this area people went missing and were never found again.
Comment: This is a relatively young hiking area that has grown in popularity in recent years. Most people walk from the town of Cochamó to the camp site "La Junta" and make day trips from this location.
- Cerro Castillo
Comment: Read the Wikiexplora article in English for more information.
- El Chaltén (Monte Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre)
Comment: This is a small but one of the most visited hiking areas in Patagonia. Hikers either camp in one of the official camp ground or make day trips from the town of El Chaltén to the very popular lookouts to Monte Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. Expect lots of hikers and stunning views.
- Torres del Paine
Comment: This is for good reasons the most popular hiking area in Patagonia. The number of visors has risen to level that restrictions are now in place. You need to make advance reservations month ahead. Read the Wikiexplora article in English for more information.
An other excellent option to explore parts of the GPT in a more controlled manner is a horse riding trip. This gives you an excellent insight into the arriero culture. I can actually recommend you the horse riding guides that opened our eyes for the fascinating Maule region and section GPT07 of the Greater Patagonian Trail. We made four extended horse riding tours with Danilo and Llito and the GPT would not exist in the current form without them. You can get in contract with them on: www.chile-horseriding.com.
Another village where you can arrange stunning horse riding tours is Vilches Alto. You can easily reach this village by bus from Talca. Vilches Alto is located 30 km west of the volcano Descabezado Grande in the vicinity of section GPT06. Several years ago we did an impressive 6 day tour which was for us an essential eyeopener to pay more attention to the region north of Patagonia. A good part of the trails we took at this time on horseback are now part of section GPT06.
There are several other locations in the vicinity of the GPT where horse riding tours can be done. You may pre-arrange horse riding tours either with an international travel agency or search locally once in the country. If arranging your tour with an international travel agency than you pay a substantial premium but you have a more predictable travel experience based on a standard offer. With limited time and sufficient funds this is normally a good choice. Google will guide you to several such agencies with multiple offers.
With sufficient time and some more appetite for adventure you may try to organize a horse riding tour locally. This requires good Spanish knowledge and good judgment to discuss in detail what can be done and what you wish to do. The advantage of arranging a tour locally is that you can agree on the timing and routing. But be careful; some guides that offers a horse riding tours ("cabalgata") may promise more than they are prepared to execute just to secure a paying customer.
Also if you plan to hike on the GPT and you look for a variation to the hiking routine or if you simply love horse riding than consider to combine your hike on the GPT with a horse riding trip.
If choosing the GPT: If you opt to hike on the GPT than you must take several decision while you prepare your hike.
- Do you want to hike only or do you want to packraft as well?
The answer to this question will determine the equipment you need and what zones to tackle. You can easily fill an entire season with hiking on sections that are very attractive for walking but where carrying a packraft is not beneficial. The same applies to packrafting: you can fill a four to five month period packrafting in areas where carrying such a light-weight boat really pays off. I suggest opting for the one or the other and not mingling both choices into one season except if you have a trustworthy place in Chile to leave your packrafting gear while hiking without your (loved) boat.
- Do you want to hike a continuous part of the GPT with connecting footsteps or do you want to visit several separated parts?
For some hikers connecting footsteps are an essential concept and motivator to stay on track while others don’t mind to bridge a less attractive part by public transportation or hitchhiking. Choose what is appropriate for you. And please do not look down on others but respect individual choices. Hike your hike.
- Do you want to follow the regular route or will you attempt in some areas more remote investigation options?
The answer to this question is really a matter of personal interest and capability. I have intentionally created the GPT as a wide network with as many options as feasible because I’m fully aware that my way of walking with my personal preferences is not everyone’s best choice. For hikes that are accustomed to follow a single trail this might be irritating but for such hikers the GPT is probably not right trail anyway. You will finally need to take these decisions on the trial but you need to get prepared before you leave. Therefore start your hike in Google Earth by looking at these options to make educated choices later on the trail. One hiker summarized this variety with these words: “The GPT is a mosaic out of which everyone needs to assemble his trail.”
- What sections do you want to hike or packraft?
Select the sections that you plan to hike carefully. But don’t fill your plate with more than what you can reasonably eat. Get prepared and plan your route but leave it open end.
- When and for how long do you want to travel?
Understand the suitable timing of the different sections and align your travel plans accordingly. Certain sections became passable relatively early in the season while others can only be hiked safely after most of the snow is molten and the river levels normalized. Don’t assume wrongly that you will face more restrictions in the south. It’s the opposite; the more mountainous northern sections have the smaller seasonal window while the generally lower southern section’s permit an earlier start or later finish even if the climate is generally more volatile in the south. If you have an entire season then plan sections for the end that are less restricted by the climate.
- In what direction do you want to travel?
If you packraft than several key sections are only floatable southbound what determines the generally recommended packrafting orientation. But some optional packrafting routes can only be taken northbound. Verify your choices carefully otherwise you may reach a river that just flows in the “wrong” direction! If you are hiking you are freer to choose and change your direction of travel. Only at certain section you might run into permit and permission issue if have made a wrong choice.
Before you depart: Prepare
It should be obvious to every reader that this trail requires extensive outdoor experience and quite good navigational skills in the different kinds of landscapes. It’s no trail for outdoor novices. Therefore I will not go into detail and will not attempt to write a general outdoor guidebook. Someone who would need this does not need (yet) a trail like the GPT. Be honest with yourself and review if you have the required skills and experience for such a demanding and unpredictable trail.
If you opt to hike or packraft along the GPT and your Spanish is still insufficient, than learn and improve your Spanish. Since you are just a guest on an informal trail network you need to explain to herdsmen, indigenous Pehuenche, settlers and police what you are doing and ask for permission to pass. You need to ask also for direction, organize your resupply by either figuring out what is available on the route or taking public transportation to resupply towns off the trail. For this you need to ask locals for bus schedules and bus routes. I’m not planning to include such detailed information in wikiexplora because bus schedules change too often. You need to ask the locals along the trial when you get close to a section end. In particular rural buses have rarely published time tables but local residents know when to wait where for a bus. Don’t expect anyone along the trail to speak English. Only in the tourist town and national parks with an international profile you will somehow get along with English.
Study the route network that is relevant for you including the optional side trips and escape or exit routes. Get prepared to wisely apply the following principles during your hike: Select and Skip, Combine and Flip. For this you need to know and understand the route network before you leave. In Google Earth you may add your personal notes in form of waypoints and transfer them with the GPS trail files to your GPS.
Become an expert in setting up the GPS trail files on your GPS devise and your backup systems i.e. a smart phone and an InReach satellite pager. Exercise how to follow a track on your GPS if you never done it before. It’s not as simple as it seems. Test the battery running times of your GPS and your emergency satellite communicator to plan your recharging on the trail. Test also the record function of your GPS to create tracks and waypoints. This is essential to become a contributor.
Don’t undermine this tech stuff and don’t postpone it to the end! A good proportion of the hikers that attempted walking on the GPT experienced substantial struggles because they lacked these “nerdy” skills. Some hikers were stopped by issues as simple as not being able to make an already uploaded route visible on the GPS devise. Others got stuck on overgrown trails and had to backtrack several days because they did not load the last update before they departed. The irony was I send them greatly improved routes several weeks before they departed for exactly the area where they got stuck.
If you opt to packraft then get familiar and exercise packrafting before you start. Ideal would be a training course that provides instructions and practice for whitewater with rapids up to Class III. To my understanding the minor rapids that we paddled on the regular route of the GPT were up to Class II and we were able to porter all rapids to appeared more challenging to us. To have a safety margin you should be able to manage rapids that are one Class higher than what you will probably face. In this remote area you should simply not go to your limit. If you do not find a good packrafting course then a kayak course will be equally helpful to gain the required knowledge and experience. Test how to pack and prepare your packraft to not start experimenting on the first lake or river that your will reach in Patagonia.
Do you know how to cook your meals in the outdoors? You certainly do if you are reading this article but do you know how to prepare a filling and delicious meal with the different supplies available in mountains in Chile and Argentina? Being a creative cook is a very useful skill on the GPT and getting prepared for the GPT means also widen your food range and cooking methods. Did you ever try “Harina Tostada”? Do you know how to harvest, open and prepare Araucaria pines (Spanish: “piñones”)? Do you bake bread while hiking? Flour is i.e. something more readily available on the trail because people normally bake their own bread in remote areas. The herdsmen and settlers often carry large sags of flour on horses or mules to their outposts (Spanish: “puesto”) and taught us that making your own bread in the wild is quite simple. It is a skill that we regularly appreciate to stretch our food reserves to stay longer on the trail. So is cooking over fire. These herdsmen hardly ever carry a camping stove and cook normally on camp fires. Where permitted we also do this and all our cocking gear is selected to be suitable for cocking on fire. But be very careful; wild fires are a severe danger and in most national parks open fires are strictly banned.
I’m not providing and I’m also not planning to provide a specific and detailed gear list with my personal equipment choices and recommendations. What I plan to issue is some general guidance and examples of what other hikers used with success. Suitable gear is essential but it must be suitable for you and what you are comfortable and skilled to use. So far appreciation and disappointment on the trail was rarely linked to gear but primarily to attitude. Being light is good and important but not all aspects of the ultra-light philosophy are suitable for this trail. Therefore if you have not read yet about ultra-light equipment and ultra-light strategies read about it as part of your preparation but don't take it as sole source of instructions.
Before you depart: Be careful doing this ...
There is one thing you should be very careful with: Public announcements before you depart!
So far I observed one tendency: As more ambitious the announcement was as less was actually archived. There are a few positive exceptions to this generalization but "low noise" hikers covered often more ground and appreciated the trail more compared to ambitious people that published challenging plans before they left.
Let me share the most hilarious example: One loud-mouth and would-be thru-hiker grabbed the name "Greater Patagonia" that I coined in 2014 for the trail and used it without asking to create a web domain and name a web page. He actually had the cockiness to introduce himself to me as the "founder of Greater Patagonia", seemingly proud that he just plagiarized the name that I created and filled with content two years earlier. On his attention-grabbing web page he loudly and proudly announced a "1500 mile thru-hike of the Greater Patagonian Trail". He used this page to ask for donations, seek sponsors and candidates to join his team ("... applications accepted!"). He even got T-shirts printed proclaiming this ambitious plan. But after he started his journey it took precisely 7 days till he aborted the would-be thru-hike. He then took buses to travel primarily from national park to national park to visit a couple of the more established trails in order to take the much-needed selfies. This change of plans was actually a wise decision. What is ridiculous so, is that he still makes it appear as he actually hiked and paddled 1500 miles through Patagonia because he is haunted by his overconfident annunciation. This claim of having hiked and paddled 1500 miles is not just an exaggeration; it's a blunt lie. Retrospectively I can only conclude: Too proud to be prudent, too vain to be honest!
In the same season at the same time several other hikers and packrafters started in the same area without having loudly proclaimed their intentions. These "low-key" hikers covered more distance and really immersed into the land along the GPT what made it such an stunning experience for most of them. They were open to learn and free to adapt to the trail while each of them hiked his hike. They could find their pace without being chased by a public proclamation that they set free before they departed and that constantly lurked in their backs.
If you really believe that you need to publish your plans before you depart then do it in an humble manner and as an tentative plan. Don't pose as a winner before you start and share your lessons learned while being on the trail but latest after you concluded your journey. Don't build ruins of pride by publishing your mission without having the courage to honestly write how it developed and terminated. And don't worry if you aren't a flawless hero in your endeavor; glossy braggers are rarely loved for their self-display. Most people admire authenticity and you are authentic if you openly share your misses, struggles and lessons learned.
A personal note: I published my first word about my hikes in Patagonia after I have traveled this area 9 times and more than a decade after my first visit. What you find now in this article is the result of a deepening relationship with this unique region that started back in 2002.
When being on the GPT: Learn and Adopt
The GPT requires a detailed preparation but refuses to be planned in detail. Therefore regardless how well prepared you depart your hike will become a disaster if you are not ready to learn and if you are unwilling to adapt to the trail. It’s a trail for the humble; not for the proud.
Apply the following principles to the various sections during your hike: Select and Skip, Combine and Flip.
Select and Skip: Readjust your plans while hiking. Sometimes you may be forced to skip sections. There might be a river that is too high and to powerful to be forded safely or a land owner that does not want to let pass anyone. A raging wild fire might force you to wait or to skip a part of the trail. But also the numerous volcanoes along the route can change your plans without asking for your consent. In the last 10 years there were 3 major eruptions on or close to the route and numerous alarming hiccups of not so dormant volcanoes. If you advocate connecting footsteps get emotionally prepared that you may need to make compromises. If you need to leave a gap in your line of steps don’t take it as a defeat but as adapting to this land.
Combine: If you want to spend more time on the trail and less time in buses and towns than add several sections into longer hiking legs without leaving the trail to resupply. Especially in the northern half of the GPT resupplying at a “full range supermarket” requires leaving the trail. (And in the south you will have even less such “full range supermarkets”.) Such a resupply trip might easily take between one and three days but a section end is no obligation to resupply; it’s just an option. We combined up to four sections into a long hiking stretch without getting off the trail. Other hikers did the same for equal reasons.
Staying two to three weeks on the trail is an excellent immersive experience that becomes even more eye-opening if you resupply with what you can source on the trail. In the Pehuenche region we sometimes filled our stomach with Araucaria seeds (Spanish: “piñones”) that are the traditional staple food of the indigenous people. If you are there at the right time you have an unlimited supply of free food on the trail. We sometimes buy a goat or lamb and ask the seller to prepare it with us and share an extended dinner. We then carry plenty of cooked meat for the following days. Sometimes you can buy freshly baked bread or even cheese from the locals along the trail. That’s why our food rations last often much longer than originally planned.
Flip: Most sections can be hiked southbound and northbound and also the packrafting on lakes and fjords is often feasible in both directions. Use these choices when suitable. If you was forced to skip attractive sections you may come back later and attempt them in the oposite direction if it suites more from a logistical point of view. Also some of the exploration options are better investigated in a particular direction that might be oposite to your general direction of travel. Therefore be open-minded to change the direction of travel if favorable.
The learning and adopting applies to other aspects of your hike i.e. your resupply strategy, your gear and how to interact with the people along the trail. What really matters on this trail is your openness to learn and willingness to change. This requires questioning yourself and scrutinizing your best practices that served you so well on other trails in other regions. Especially experienced hikers may struggle to do this. This is one reason why seemingly less prepared hikers enjoyed the trail more and covered more ground than some highly experienced hikers. A healthy portion of self-doubt enables to learn and adapt while being on the trail.
When being on the GPT: Be a Sustainable Guest
To be issued.
When being on the GPT: Contribute
To be issued.
This trail rewards the humble and humiliates the proud. And this trail does this with an surprising reliability.
... to be continued ...
Understanding your Motives
To be issued.
Code of Conduct
The trail leads mostly through unspoiled wilderness with little human intervention. And where you meet some settlers or herdsmen you are welcome and get treated as honourable guest. To maintain this I plead all hikers to follow this code of conduct:
- Leave no trace and in particular no litter. All packings that can be carried with content can be returned when empty.
- Make camp fires only where permitted and where and when it is safe to do so. Don't light a fire in dried out areas or when wind can carry sparks that may ignite nearby vegetation. Use only death wood and put the fire out with plenty of water. Don't leave the fire or go to sleep before having it put out completely.
- Don't abuse the hospitality of the people along the trail and pay fairly for what they share with you. Using a trail or camping in a not maintained place should be free of charge but if you get invited to a meal or use a camping ground that was installed by a local settler pay what you are asked for or what you would get charged in other places. Don't ruin the hiker's reputation by misusing the generosity of humble people. They sometimes might refuse to take your money but insist because they need it; it's part of the hospitality.
- Near a puesto you find often a good camp spot because the grazing animals create and maintain nice patches of grass. If the puesto is inhabited always introduce yourself and ask first for permission before pitching your tent. This also calms down the dogs.
- If you are caught by bad weather feel free to knock on doors and ask kindly for shelter. Helping in such situations is part of the ethics in the mountains.
- Don't enter locked puestos except in emergencies. This is also for your safety since poorly ventilated and maintained puestos pose a Hanta virus infection risk. See also Deseases.
- Leave all gates in the condition as you found them. If a gate was closed, close it after you. If a gate was open, leave it open.
- If you meet people on horses on a narrow trail step to the side and let them pass. It's for your own safety.
- Respect the rights of the land owners. Don't dispute over rights of way but ask kindly for permission to pass.
Dangers and Annoyances
The Greater Patagonian trail is not an official trail that is set up and managed by a government agency. Is simply a compilation of horse trails, minor roads and some cross country sections over private properties and state owned land. This means that large parts of the route are not monitored or maintained by public authorities. Most of the horse trails were created by local herdsman to drive livestock to their pastures and other parts of the route are current or disused wood logging roads. Therefore the maintenance depends on the needs and initiative of these locals users.
Severe weather, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes can destroy or alter a route and if not maintained vegetation can completely close a trail within a few years in particular in the tempered rain forest. Therefore attention and good judgment are needed when hiking the Greater Patagonian Trail because some trail sections may become impassable or change. Check your GPS regularly but don’t follow blindly the GPS track.
Check also the recent feedback and updates to the trail shortly before starting your hike and during your adventure whenever you have the opportunity i.e. during the resupply stops. This table will be used to share updates provided by hikers. All hikers are encouraged to open an account on wikiexplora to enter updates to the trail in this table them self. In worst case you need to turn around and seek an alternative route. A GPS with sufficient backup power and a detailed electronic map is essential in such a situation.
River Crossings are possibly the greatest hazard on this route in particular if attempted during inappropriate times or at not suitable locations. Snowmelt or heavy rain can raise the water level substantially and make a rivers crossing impassable that during other times is easily forded. Also the bed of a river can change and a location that once was suitable for crossing can became too deep or rapid. Therefore do no rely on the GPS waypoint for river crossings but always judge the situation yourself before attempting to ford a river. You may seek an alternative location along the river or turn around and take an alternative route if a river crossing is hazardous.
Rivers should only be crossed with shoes and hiking poles for added stability. If hiking together cross the river in pairs with arms firmly joint together. If the ford is wide enough you may cross the river not perpendicular to the flow direction but inclined in the flow direction. Some even recommend to carry and use a rope for difficult river crossings.
Some parts of the Greater Patagonian Trail cross rather isolated areas. In some areas you can walk for days without seeing another human being. Therefore be prepared to help yourself in case of an accident. Always carry a sufficient first aid set.
If you are unable to continue it might take weeks or more for someone else to pass and mobile phone coverage is very limited along the trail. Therefore a satellite based emergency communication devise may contribute to your survival. SPOT offers a light weight emergency beacon that when pushing an emergency button submits a distress signal via satellite with your GPS position to a rescue centre. For further information see the recommended Satellite Tracker.
Storms with heavy rain may arise on all parts of the trail anytime and in elevated areas heavy snowfall may occur even in midsummer. Therefore be always prepared and equipped for sudden weather changes.
In bad or instable weather do not climb a pass or venture into exposed terrain above the tree line. Rather wait or return and seek shelter if the weather changes in a concerning manner. Carry at least a poncho to protect yourself and your backpack if rain or snow closes in. In instable weather keep your eyes open and memorize potential protected camp sites and puestos if you are forced to turn around to seek shelter. Selected suitable locations are documented with waypoints in the KMZ file for trekking.
While hiking we were told about several incidents along the trail where local inhabitants and outside tourists got lost, disappeared without trace or froze to death in bad weather. Don’t add another story!
Don’t undermine the sun, in particular when crossing large snow fields or large camps of bright volcanic ash. A proper head cover, sun cream and sun glasses are essential to prevent sun-burns and snow-blindness. Don’t just carry this stuff but use it preventively.
Snow-blindness can disable you for a few days if you did not wear sun glasses while crossing large snow fields in bright sunlight. The effect of snow-blindness are normally not felt until several hours after exposure when the symptoms (pain, intense tears, eyelid twitching, discomfort) become evident. See also the wikipedia article to Photokeratitis.
to be issued.
The Greater Patagonian Trail snakes through the Southern Volcanic Zone and passes and crosses numerous volcanos. The trail is therefore plastered with signs of volcanic activities. Hot springs and beautiful mountain lakes that were dammed up by lava flows are the "sunny side" of these volcanic activities; widespread devastating destruction is the other. Several major eruptions occurred in the vicinity of the trail in recent years and parts of the trail were temporarily closed due to increased volcanic activities.
Therefore hikers should be aware how to act in case of a volcanic eruption:
- Respect the volcano alerts and do not venture into areas that were closed by local authorities.
- Some volcanos show an increased seismic activity shortly before an eruption therefore series of smaller earthquakes may announce an imminent eruption. If you are close to a volcano get ready to run!
- Know your possible escape routes in case of a surprising eruption. Be aware that small streams and rivers that origin at the flanks of a volcano often rise immediately and become instantly impassable during an eruption. Therefore seek higher ground if you are next to such a swelling river.
- In case of an eruption get distance between you and the volcano. If you have more than one option try to get out of the ash rain. Consider that the predominant wind direction is from west to east.
- Try to get to a settlement since local authorities will do their best to evacuate the affected population.
Two of the ten heaviest earthquakes in the 20th and 21st century had their epicentre near the Greater Patagonian Trail. The 1960 Valdivia earthquake had a magnitude of 9.5 and the 2010 Bio-Bio earthquake had magnitude of 8.8. In the first 15 years of this century more than 300 earthquakes with a magnitude of 5.0 or more occurred in the area of the trail. Therefore don't be too surprised if the ground below you starts to move. (Data retrieved from USGS for the area from -35°S to -45°S and -75°W to -70°W, the large majority are aftershocks of the major Bio-Bio earthquake in 2010)
An earthquake may lose rocks, trigger landslides and cause tsunamis. Therefore be cautious when selecting your place to camp. Avoid pitching your tent in areas where scree and rubble indicates a hazard zone below rocks and cliffs. If you get hit by an earthquake while walking look up to check the area above you for liberated material that comes towards you and seek shelter. If a heavy earthquake occurs while walking or camping next to a fjord or a lake get on higher ground in case of a tsunami. Be aware that a landslide into a lake may cause a tsunami on a lake shore.
There are no bears in South America. This makes hiking more relaxed if compared with North America. You can cook at your tent and store all you food in your tent without fearing a visit of a hungry bear.
The largest living predator in Patagonia (apart from humans) is the Puma, also called Cougar or Mountain Lion. They normally hide and avoid contact with humans. Wikipedia states: “Attacks on humans are very rare, as cougar prey recognition is a learned behaviour and they do not generally recognize humans as prey. (…) As with many predators, a cougar may attack if cornered, if a fleeing human stimulates their instinct to chase, or if a person "plays dead". Standing still however may cause the cougar to consider a person easy prey. Exaggerating the threat to the animal through intense eye contact, loud but calm shouting, and any other action to appear larger and more menacing, may make the animal retreat. Fighting back with sticks and rocks, or even bare hands, is often effective in persuading an attacking cougar to disengage.”.
For more information see: Cougar attacks on humans on wikipedia.
Wild boar: Are other potentially dangerous animals. They were introduced by humans and became an invasive species. These omnivores range in particular the Araucania and love Araucaria "piñones". Wikipedia states: “Although wild boars do not generally pose a threat to people, they occasionally attack humans. (…) Male boars become most aggressive during the mating season and may charge at humans at such times. Occasionally, female boars will attack if they feel their piglets are threatened, especially if a human physically comes between them and their young. Although a majority of boar attack victims recover with medical treatment, fatalities do occasionally occur.”
For more information see: Wild boar aggression towards humans on wikipedia.
Fox: The Chilla or Grey Fox populates the southern cone of South America and can be found on both sides of the Andes in Chile and Argentina. Their diet is varied and includes small and medium mammals, carrion, birds, reptiles and fruits. They sometimes attack small livestock in particular young goats and sheep but there are no records of attacks on humans. Foxes do not always show fear of humans and sometimes approach camp sites at night in search of food. Therefore do not leave any food outside of your tent but also not your smelly boots. In one camp site a fellow hiker missed one of his shoes in the morning. The park ranger later told us that this was not the first time that a fox has stolen a stinking shoe because foxes find intensive smell attractive.
Dogs: Most settlers and herdsmen have several dogs to protect their home and their animal. They often show an aggressive behaviour when approaching a home or a puesto but calm down when the owner shows up and talks with you. Therefore keep distance to the dogs as long as the owner is not in sight. Many settler and herdsmen discipline theirs dogs by throwing stones after them. Therefore collecting stones and get ready to throw them keeps dogs often in distance.
Cattle: Cattle are normally rather peaceful but bulls and cows with calves may become aggressive and attack if they feel threatened. Therefore keep distance and do not try to pet them.
Horse-Flyes or Tabanos will form an annoying aerial escort on some parts of the trail. They are abundant in December and January in humid parts of the River- and Lake District. These rather noisy flyers get attracted by dark moving objects in bright sunlight. So avoid dark cloth and do not try to chase them off with rapid movements, otherwise your will attract the attention of more of them. They inflict painful bites but do not leave an itching stitch.
Spine and Bur-Bearing Plants
Along the entire trail you will encounter again and again anoying Cenchrus plants with spine-covered seeds, that use bypassing animals to spread their seeds (and now also hikers). Common names include buffelgrass, sandburs and sand spur. When the seeds of these leg-high plants ripen then the very sharp spines harden and the seed easily detaches from the stem.
The ripe seeds stick to most fabrics and can penetrate deep into the skin therefore be very careful when removing these thorny tiny balls from your cloth with your fingers. You can minimize "your collection" by wearing trousers made of a hard dense fabric. I had several times a not visible broken off spin in a fingertip that resulted in a small wound that did not heal for days until I removed the spine by cutting into the skin and removing the remaining spine tip manually.
Other less bothersome but still anoying plants have bur-bearing seeds that stick to soft cloth like fleece but do not penetrate into the skin.
The most dangerous animal for humans in Patagonia is a quite small one: the long-tailed pygmy rice rat (Oligoryzomys longicaudatus) and the long-haired grass mouse (Abrothrix longipilis). These two species are known to carry and transmit a particular aggressive strain of Hantaviruses with a mortality rate of 30% to 40%.
The typical incubation time is 1 to 3 weeks but also cases with 3 to 45 days between the suspected exposure and the disease outbreak have been reported. Early symptoms are similar to a flu and include fatigue, fever and muscle aches. Other possible symptoms are headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. Seek medical attention if you experience such symptoms.
Wikipedia states: “There is no known antiviral treatment, but natural recovery from the virus is possible with supportive treatment. Patients with suspected hantavirus are usually admitted to the hospital and given oxygen and mechanical ventilation support to help them breathe during the acute pulmonary stage. As the virus can be transmitted by rodent saliva, excretia, and bites, control of rats and mice in areas frequented by humans is key for disease prevention.”
For more information see: Hantavirus on wikipedia.
The main source of infection are inhaled aerosols of mice droppings. Therefore the recommended preventive measures are:
- Avoid any contact with mice and mice dropping.
- Do no use any shelters that are not well ventilated or where you can see any traces of mice.
- Keep your food protect and away from mice in particular during the night. The same applies to your pots, dishes and waste to not attract mice.
- Camp in clean, open area that do not provide hideouts for mice. Avoid shrubbery.
- Use a tent with a closed floor and a fully concealed inner tent.
- Drink only secure water and disinfect or boil it if necessary.
- Do not eat wild fruits that may attract mice as well.
Critics and Concerns
To be issued.
Blogs about the GPT by Hikers and Packrafters
With this wikiexplora article I aim to provide a comprehensive introduction with a systematical description of the trail network. I intentionally try not to overload this wikiexplora article with my personal stories from the trail. This way of writing simply feels more appropriate to me when providing such a trail documentation to the general public. Given the length and the complexity of this trail network this is already an overwhelming task for me. Therefore I do not maintain an additional more personal travel blog.
My way of writing might remind in parts in a “technical operation manual” and if you sense it this way I can tell you why. I’m an Engineer by trade, I work as an inspector and I issues inspection reports on regular base. For this I need to carefully choose my words to be factual and precise, well descriptive but also legally sound. Lingual flowers are neither needed nor welcome in my inspection reports. And when numbers are available or when information can be structured into tables or charts than this is always preferred over a well phrased verbal description. I do not need to point out that these writing habits also shape this article.
Both, keeping personal stories mostly out of this trail description and maintaining the trail documentation more technical makes this article a bit pale. But for most hikers, including me, the personal experience of the land and the people is the main motive for going for such an endeavor. Therefore to get a better personal feel for this trail you should read as part of your preparation some blogs written by hikers that walked the GPT in recent years. In these blogs you find a much more personal account that shows the individual perception of the trail. These blogs often contain also a more detailed description of specific trail sections and supplement my more general introduction in an important way. Therefore, to get a better personal insight to the trail I happily refer to other hikers and their blogs and make them speak instead of me. Listening to other voices also illustrates how diverse the trail experience can be. Some blogs are also very useful to extract lessons learned by others to not start hiking with similar incorrect assumptions and repeat frustrating mistakes.
Bethany Hughes and Lauren Reed
Hiked: Ushuaia to Uyuni (Bolivia) and still going ...
Hiked on the GPT: Northbound GPT39 to GPT01 (other routes instead of GPT26, GPT22 to GPT20)
Bethany and Lauren are on their way to traverse the length of the Americas by non-motorized means to connect stories of the land and its inhabitants. They started in December 2015 in Ushuaia on the southern tip of the continent and were the first to walk the entire length of the GPT. We got in touch before they commenced their endeavor and while they walked northbound I developed the trail southbound. This resulted in a very fertile exchange of ideas and routes. Bethany and Lauren “gound-truthed” and recorded several of the hiking sections of the GPT in central Patagonia based on my drafts. This was a very important support since I traveled with my wife primarily the packraft options in central Patagonia. The following year, around October 2016, they asked me for my advice how to continue their journey north which led me to develop the fife northern section of the GPT extending the trail all the way to Santiago. Independently from Gerald Klamer they investigated and recorded these fife sections in the Precordillera (GPT01 to GPT05).
I’m deeply grateful for their contributions. They did not only provide important GPS records to get the tracks updated. Both were essential to get the message to prospective hikers right on how to approach this trail. Bethany and Lauren continue to support me in updating this wikiexplora article.
I strongly recommend to read first Bethany's general advise to the GPT: Blog: so-you-wanna-hike-the-GPT
In addition you should read the blogs of Bethany and Lauren to the sections that you are planning to walk. Just browse their blogs to find what is relevant for you: Blog of her-odyssey.org
Hiked on the GPT: Southbound all sections from GPT01 to GPT11
Link: geraldtrekkt on blogspot
Gerald is a highly experienced hiker who walked in many remote areas around the world. He learned about this trail though a common friend (Christine Thürmer, the German author of the book “Laufen, Essen, Schlafen”). When we got in touch I told him about the newly drafted but unverified fife northern sections (GPT01 to GPT05). He loved the idea to be the first to investigate and record them and so he did! When he reached the already verified part of the GPT he did not continue on the “path of least resistance” by following the already well documented regular route but instead he kept investigating and recording the more remote and mountainous options that I drafted mainly based on satellite images and descriptions from local arrieros. He liked it so much that he now prepares the continuation of his hike on the GPT in the coming season.
He hikes without making a self-promotion-show out of it and this is a pleasant contrast to some others (that I’m not citing here!). His careful and humble attitude is key to appreciate the GPT. If you plan to walk the northern sections then I highly recommend reading his blog. He provides a very detailed account of the route and Gerald’s blog tells you in a personal and exemplary way what to expect when walking the GPT.
Piia Kortsalo and Oliver Barker
Hiked on the GPT: Southbound all sections from GPT06 to GPT22
Piia and Oliver, a Finnish-Canadian couple, walked sections GPT06 to GPT22 in about two month. Like Gerald Klamer they maximized their time on the trail by minimizing resupply stops, a strategy that we also apply and suggest. Combining several sections into longer legs is beneficial where you do not have a village with a shop at the section end but where you need to take a bus to a town far off the trail. Such a resupply bus trip can easily cost you two or three days until you are back on the trail. To efficiently cover longer multi-section legs Piia and Oliver paid a great deal of attention to gear weight and function. They applied a lot of the ultra-light principals but not so much to go fast but to get far. They normally got food for about 10 days each time they resupplied and then walked as far as feasible.
I’m impressed how they moved on even when they got in overgrown terrain and how they managed the sometimes unpredictable nature of the GPT. Where others turned around they just kept going but in a respectful and humble manner; a key attitude on the GPT.
Garrett, Robyn, Aljoscha and Anthony
Hiked on the GPT: GPT06 (partly), GPT07, GPT10-GPT12, GPT17, GPT18 (partly), GPT19, GPT22 (partly)
Garrett Martin, together with three other hikers came with the intention to create a documentary along the trail. Badly overloaded with camera gear, recording equipment and packrafts they started on section GPT06 but did not make it very far. But in contrast to others that started with similar intentions they did not give up but learned their lessons and adapted slowly to the trail. They downscaled but did not scrap their plans and picked the most attractive sections along the northern half of the GPT. In this way they still record several of the highlights of the GPT and took the time to meet the people along the trail. I have not seen yet the documentary but I’m looking forward to watch their work.
There is one lesson that I learned from Garrett (and also others that are not cited here). If someone intents to make a documentary or film along the trail then I will strongly recommend to first come one season without much camera gear to simply get to know the trail, the region and in particular the people. Be a silent observer first before speaking up to others!
Terms and Conditions for Using the Hiker’s Manual and the Trail Files
I provide this Hiker’s Manual and the Trail Files free of charge but this does not mean that you can do with it what you want. This is proprietary and copyright protected material and comes with conditions. In order to download and use this material you must read and agree with these conditions.
Use At Your Own Risk
Condition 1: The author does not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability and accuracy of this document and the related trail files. Any action taken upon this information is strictly at your own risk. By using this documentation you agree that the author is not liable for any injuries, losses and damages in connection with the use of this information.
Comment: While investigating and hiking the Greater Patagonian Trail we learned about numerous people that died in bad weather or accidents on these trails or that simply disappeared without a trace; arrieros, indigenous people, settlers, tourists, soldiers. Some of these death are remembered with memorial stones or plaque that an attentive hiker can see along the trail. Of other death only memories are left and locals tell visitors to warn them. So this trail network does not only provide unforgettable memories; this trail also takes lives.
The tragedy of Antuco is one example. In 2005 a company of about 400 soldiers were ordered to march 20 km along a gravel road of section GPT09; 45 soldiers never made it to the finish and died in a snow storm. When walking this road on a sunny day it appears hardly conceivable that at the very same spot someone froze to death but the memorials witness it.
Just a few kilometers up the same road is the “Piedra del Indio”. When asking locals about the origin of this name we were told that some years ago two Pehuenche families were surprised by bad weather and seeked some protection at this boulder. Later they were found death. During our recent investigation of GPT32 in the area of Lago Caro we were surprised by a search team. A local settler feel in a river while trying to get to his home on horseback. When we left the area the body was not found yet.
Before crossing Cordon Caulle on section GPT19 settler told us about a girl that some years ago disappeared without a trace. The Cordon Caulle is a vast open volcanic field next to the volcano Puyehue that you can be roomed freely. But this plateau is surrounded by extremely dense Valdivian rain forest. Crossing this forest without a trail is an extremely demanding ordeal and you barely advance a few hundred meters per hour. It is assumed that this hiker got disoriented while trying to walk back down but did not found the trail head into forest. Stacked in this engulfing forest a disabling accident is enough to be never seen again.
So fatal accident are not just a hypothetical hazards on these trails; they happen more frequently than you might assume. Therefore I outlined in chapter 3.16 on page 82 numerous hazards and risks that hikers of the GPT are exposed to. This listing is not exhaustive and the recommendations suggested to reduce the risk are not complete nor always applicable.
Condition can deteriorate quickly and the fact that a route was hiked or paddled safely in the past does not mean that this is save in the future. Each hiker must constantly assess conditions himself and must not on rely on this this documentation or the trail files for his safety.
Respect the Copyright
Condition 2: You may view, copy, edit and print this document and the related trail files for personal non-commercial use only. You must not republish this document and the related trail files neither in parts nor completely. Both, non-commercial and commercial republications are not permitted without prior written consent by the author and copyright owner.
Comment: You are very welcome to share and publish your experience of this trail. When you do so, please refer to the wikiexplora article and this documentation in your personal publication.
What is not permitted is republishing this manual and the trail files. I have published these documents for personal use only and not for redistribution. For most readers this is obvious but unfortunately not for all. This manual and the trail files is proprietary material and the copyright remains with the author.
With this condition I want to prevent that outdated versions remain in circulation and that this material is published in an inappropriate context. A republication i.e. of the trail files without sufficiently emphasizing the Code of Conduct and Best Practices jeopardizes the protection and preservation of this region and endangers the currently generally positive relationship between the residents along this trail and hiking guests.
Non-Commercial Use Only
Condition 3: This document and the related trail files are made available for personal non-commercial use only. Any commercial use requires a prior written authorization by the author and copyright owner. The following are examples of a commercial use that require such a prior written consent:
- Fundraising while using the name “Greater Patagonian Trail”
- Using this document and the related trail files to create maps for sale or to organize guided commercial tours and for-profit expeditions
Comment: I’m creating and publishing this document and the related trail files to be used by respectful hikers to appreciate this region in a sustainable manner and to contribute to the protection and preservation of this land.
At the same time I’m concerned that this publication may contribute to destruction, both ecological and socially. Especially in this early stage of the development of this trail even an occasional inappropriate behavior by an individual hiker can cause lasting damage. It can upset land owner and cause distrust with settlers who may deny the right of way to future hikers.
Therefore I support only a cautious publication of this trail that stresses the fragility of this region and clearly outlines the Code of Conduct and Best Practices for this trail. To not get into a conflict of interests myself I decided to publish this material free of charge and not pursue a commercial use, neither by selling this book and the trail files nor by fundraising. This choice frees me to not aim to maximal publicity but to also discourage potential hikers that might not visit this area with the appropriate attitude.
A commercial use including fundraising naturally aims for maximal publicity to make it a success. And aiming for maximal publicity contradicts normally with an appropriate presentation that highlights also the constrictions and limitations. I have observed this in the past therefore I became much more cautious in this respect.
Guided commercial tours and for-profit expeditions that cross private properties can quickly change the acceptance and the relationship with the land owners. Imagine a group of people crosses unasked a private property and the owner recognizes that someone is earning money with it. He will quickly try to get his share by demanding a “trail-toll” or if he is not interested in earning some extra cash may feel abused and may deny the right-of-way to all hikers in the future. Therefore such commercial tours must be particular sensible and selective in choosing the appropriate area and route for their endeavor.
If you believe you have a legitimate reason to commercially use this material or to fundraise with the name “Greater Patagonian Trail” than please contact me first. The above explanation shows that I’m not in principle against any commercial use but that this must be carefully done to not harm the land and the relationship between local population and the visitors. I actually support some people that fundraise while hiking the GPT because they are excellent contributors and promote a sustainable use of this trail network. Bethany and Lauren from www.her-odyssey.org are such mindful hikers that I admire and support.
You are of cause free to fundraise for your adventure in this region or to develop your commercial project without asking anybody. Chile and Argentina are free countries. But if you do so than don’t use this document and the trail files and don’t use the name “Greater Patagonian Trail” without the authors prior written consent.
Fair Use Notice
Condition 4: This document and the related trail files contain copyrighted material. The use of this material has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in the believe that this constitutes a “fair use” of any such copyrighted material. This document and the related trail files are distributed without profit.
Additional Remark to these Terms and Conditions
By publishing this trail network that partially leads over private properties I practically invited hikers to other people’s homes. Please understand that this is an immense responsibility that I want to live up to. Therefore I try what is in my power that this invitation does not get abused.
Also the recent development on other long distance trails in particular in the US is a warning. A growing number of people use these trails and some believe they have special privileges because they i.e. attempt a Thru-Hike. This attitude is annoying on a public trail. On an informal trail that relies on the consent of the local population such an attitude can be destructive.
From 2014 till the hiking season 2016/17 I published earlier versions of the trail description and the trail files on wikiexplora without explicitly making such conditions. I assumed that hikers that intend a long demanding walk will be respectful and considerate visitors and will use this material and the trail name appropriately. Most were respectful and considerate; a small number not. One seize the trail name for a hilarious self-display-page that ended with a blunt lie. Others lacked respect when interacting with the local population because they acted as this is a public trail. This experience makes me more careful now.
Of cause, by publishing this document and the trail files under the above conditions I can’t prevent inappropriate use. But it gives me as the author at least the possibility to denounce unauthorized and inappropriate use as such. I can i.e. inform sponsors and comment a fund¬raising campaign critically if it contradicts with the nature of this trail.
The GPT is a trail still in its infancy. His fate and future is in the hands of the hikers that walk it in the coming years.
Hiker's Manual for the GPT
After reading the quite detailed introcution "The Art of Walking on the GPT" you should have a better understanding of the Greater Patagonian Trail and in particular that the GPT is not a "normal trail". It should be clear by now why I write about "walking ON the GPT" and not "walking THE GPT" and that the colloquial frase "make the GPT" is completely inappropriate. In the introduction I aim to outline all relevant reasons why NOT to hike on the GPT and I hope that a good part of the readers came to the conclusion: "That's not the right trail for me!" or at least think: "Not now!". My intention is not to advertise the GPT but provide a candid description.
Therefore I did not keep the introduction as short as possible because I want to shake off readers that are not fit for this trail. If the attention span was too short to read to this passage than the GPT is certainly to long and incosistent. If a reader does not make it to the end of this introduction than he better don’t start with the GPT.
Should you still be reading and interested to hike on the GPT than the following will amaze you. In the recent months I started issuing the "Greater Patagonian Trail Hiker's Manual" for offline use that contains also this introduction but much, much more. This currently 500 page electronic manual or handbook facilitates a detailed preparation of a hike and makes relevant information available during a hike.
In the manual you find also detailed information to the GPS trail files that are absolutely essential to navigate on this complex and demanding trail network.
The Hiker's Manual is a PDF file optimized for reading on a computer screen or smart phone. The page size ratio is 16 to 9 like the screen on most smart phones and many computer screens. The PDF file is best reviewed in "full screen slide mode" (one page filling the entire screen, no scrolling but flipping entire pages).
You can download the currently still incomplete version of the Hikers Manual here: Hikers Manual on Dropbox
Facebook Group for GPT Hikers
A Facebook group was created for past, current and future GPT hikers. The objective of this group is sharing updates and providing feedbacks to the trail. Here you can request to join this Facebook group.
Zones of the GPT
See the GPT Hiker's Manual.
Sections of the GPT
See the GPT Hiker's Manual.
Tracks and Waypoints of the GPT
See the GPT Hiker's Manual.
Trail Files of the GPT for Google Earth and GPS
I plan to publish updated trail files in November 2017. I plan to provide:
- KMZ file for review in Google Earth
- IMG Files for handheld Garmin GPS devises (Digital maps)
In the Hiker's Manual you will find further instructions how to obtain these files. I will not publish a link in this wikiexplora article as only the Hiker's Manual provides the required information to understand and correctly use these files.
Status of the GPT per trail
Some of the parts of the GPT are already included in Wikiexplora as shorter and trails. In this table you can find them, with instruction regarding access and exit points.
|Code||Name||Code||Country||Region/Province||Planning Status of Regular Route||Link to self-published route in Wikiexplora's website (probably in spanish)|
|GPT01||Cerro Purgatorio||A||Chile||Region Metropolitano (V)||Published and Verified|
|GPT02||Mina El Teniente||A||Chile||Region Metropolitano (V) O'Higgins (VI)||Published and Verified|
|GPT03||Ríos Claros||A||Chile||Region O'Higgins (VI)||Published and Verified|
|GPT04||Alto Huemul||A||Chile||Region O'Higgins (VI) Maule (VII)||Published and Verified||Alto_Huemul|
|GPT05||Río Colorado||B||Chile||Maule (VII)||Published and Verified||Travesía de los Volcanes|
|GPT06||Volcán Descabezado||B||Chile||Maule (VII)||Published and Verified||GPT_6:_Volcán_Descabezado. See also: Sendero del Cóndor extendido and Travesía de los Volcanes|
|GPT07||Laguna Dial||B||Chile||Maule (VII) Bío Bío (VIII)||Published and Verified||GPT 7: Laguna Dial|
|GPT08||Volcán Chillan||B||Chile||Bío Bío (VIII)||Published and Verified||Río Ñuble and Cordillera de Polcura|
|GPT09||Volcán Antuco||B||Chile||Bío Bío (VIII)||Published and Verified||Volcán Antuco - Trapa Trapa|
|GPT10||Laguna El Barco||C||Chile||Bío Bío (VIII)||Published and Verified||GPT 10: Laguna El Barco|
|GPT11||Cerro Dedos||C||Chile||Bío Bío (VIII) Araucanía (IX)||Published and Verified||GPT 11: Cerro Dedos|
|GPT12||Río Rahue||C||Chile||Araucanía (IX)||Published and Verified||GPT12: Río Rahue|
|GPT13||Laguna Icalma||C||Chile||Araucanía (IX)||Published and Verified||GPT 14: Laguna Icalma and Volcán Sollipulli|
|GPT14||Volcán Sollipulli||C||Chile||Araucanía (IX)||Published and Verified||GPT 14: Laguna Icalma and Volcán Sollipulli|
|GPT15||Curarrehue||C||Chile||Araucanía (IX)||Published and Verified||GPT 15: Curarrehue|
|GPT16||Volcán Quetrupillan||C||Chile||Araucanía (IX) Los Ríos (XIV)||Published and Verified||GPT 16: Volcán Quetrupillan|
|GPT17H||Liquiñe||D||Chile||Los Ríos (XIV)||Published and Verified||GPT 17 (trekking): Liquiñe|
|GPT17P||Neltume||D||Chile||Los Ríos (XIV)||Published and Verified|
|GPT18||Lago Pirihueico||D||Chile||Los Ríos (XIV)||Published and Verified||GPT 18: Lago Pirihueico|
|GPT19||Volcán Puyehue||D||Chile||Los Ríos (XIV) Los Lagos (X)||Published and Verified||GPT 19: Volcán Puyehue|
|GPT20||Volcán Antillanca||D||Chile||Los Lagos (X)||Published and Verified||GPT 20: Volcán Antillanca|
|GPT21||Lago Todos Los Santos||D||Chile||Los Lagos (X)||Published and Verified||GPT 21: Lago Todos Los Santos|
|GPT22||Cochamó||D||Chile Argentina||Los Lagos (X) Chubut||Published and Verified||GPT 22: Cochamó|
|GPT23||PN Lago Puelo||E||Argentina||Chubut||Published and Verified|
|GPT24H||PN Los Alerces Tierra||E||Argentina||Chubut||Published and Verified|
|GPT24P||PN Los Alerces Agua||E||Argentina||Chubut||Published and Verified|
|GPT25H||Aldea Escolar||E||Argentina||Chubut||Published and Verified|
|GPT25P||Lago Amutui Quimei||E||Argentina||Chubut||Published and Verified To be Recorded by GPS BY EXPERTS ONLY|
|GPT26||Carrenleufú||E||Argentina Chile||Chubut Los Lagos (X)||Published and Verified|
|GPT27H||Lago Palena||F||Chile||Los Lagos (X) Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified To be Recorded by GPS|
|GPT27P||Alto Río Palena||F||Chile||Los Lagos (X) Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified|
|GPT28H||La Tapera||G||Chile||Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified|
|GPT28P||Bajo Río Palena||F||Chile||Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified|
|GPT29H||Rio Cisnes||G||Chile||Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified|
|GPT29P||Valle Picacho||G||Chile||Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified|
|GPT30H||Coyhaique||G||Chile||Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified||Travesia Correntoso - El Rosado|
|GPT30P||Canal Puyuhuapi||F||Chile||Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified|
|GPT31H||Valle Simpson||G||Chile||Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified|
|GPT31P||Lagos de Aysen||G||Chile||Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified|
|GPT32||Cerro Castillo||H||Chile||Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified||Trekking Cerro Castillo|
|GPT33H||Puerto Ibañez||H||Chile||Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified|
|GPT33P||Río Ibañez||H||Chile||Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified|
|GPT34||Lago General Carrera||H||Chile||Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified|
|GPT35||RN Lago Jenimeni||H||Chile (Argentina)||Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified||Valle del Avilés, PN Patagonia|
|GPT36H||Ruta De Los Pioneros||H||Chile (Argentina)||Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified||Ruta de los Pioneros|
|GPT36P||Río Baker||H||Chile||Aysén (XI)||To be Planned To be Verified BY EXPERTS ONLY|
|GPT37H||Lago O'Higgins||I||Chile||Aysén (XI)||Published and Verified|
|GPT37P||Penunsila La Florida||I||Chile||Aysén (XI)||To be Planned To be Verified BY EXPERTS ONLY|
|GPT38||Glaciar Chico||I||Chile Argentina||Aysén (XI) Rio Negro||Published and Verified|
|GPT39||Monte Fitz Roy||I||Argentina||Rio Negro||Published and Verified|
|GPT40||Glaciar Viedma||I||Argentina||Rio Negro||Published and Verified|
|GPT41||Lago Viedma||J||Argentina||Rio Negro||To be Planned|
|GPT42||Glaciar Upsala||J||Argentina||Rio Negro||To be Planned|
|GPT43||Lago Argentina||J||Argentina||Rio Negro||To be Planned|
|GPT44||Peninsula Perito Moreno||J||Argentina||Rio Negro||To be Planned|
|GPT45||Torres Del Paine||J||Chile||Magellanes (XII)||To be Planned|
|GPT46||Seno Ultima Esperanza||J||Chile||Magellanes (XII)||To be Planned|
|GPT47||Seno Skyring||K||Chile||Magellanes (XII)||To be Planned|
|GPT48||Seno Otway||K||Chile||Magellanes (XII)||To be Planned|
|GPT49||Penunsila Brunswick||K||Chile||Magellanes (XII)||To be Planned|
|GPT50||Cabo Forward||K||Chile||Magellanes (XII)||To be Planned|
|GPT60||Estrecho de Magellanes||L||Chile||Magellanes (XII)||In Consideration (Exploration)|
|GPT60+X||Tierra del Fuego||L||Chile Argentina||Magellanes (XII) Rio Negro||In Consideration (Exploration)|
|GPT60+Y||Canal Beagle||L||Argentina Chile||Rio Negro Magellanes (XII)||In Consideration (Exploration)|
|GPT60+Z||Isla Navarino||L||Chile||Magellanes (XII)||In Consideration (Exploration)|
|GPT70P||Alto Rio Futaleufú||M||Argentina Chile||Chubut Los Lagos (X)||Published To be Verified|
|GPT71P||Espolón||M||Chile||Los Lagos (X)||Published To be Verified|
|GPT72P||Bajo Rio Futaleufú||M||Chile||Los Lagos (X)||Published To be Verified|
|GPT73P||Lago Yelcho||M||Chile||Los Lagos (X)||Published To be Verified BY EXPERTS ONLY|
|GPT74P||Río Yelcho||M||Chile||Los Lagos (X)||Published To be Verified|
|GPT75P||Río Frio||M||Chile||Los Lagos (X)||Published and Verified To be Recorded by GPS|
|GPT76P||Chaitén||N||Chile||Los Lagos (X)||Published To be Verified BY EXPERTS ONLY|
|GPT77P||Hornopirén||N||Chile||Los Lagos (X)||Published To be Verified BY EXPERTS ONLY|
|GPT78P||Lago Pinto Concha||N||Chile||Los Lagos (X)||Published To be Verified BY EXPERTS ONLY|
|GPT80P+X||Zona Campo de Hielo Norte Sector Monte||O||Chile||Aysén (XI)||In Consideration (Exploration)|
|GPT90P+X||Zona Campo de Hielo Norte Sector Mar||P||Chile||Aysén (XI)||In Consideration (Exploration)|
|HA01+X||Zona Huella Andina||Q||Argentina||Neuquen, Rio Negro, Chubut||Published and Verified but currently unmaintained by Argentine government. Additional connections with GPT to be planned.||Huella Andina|
Lauren "Neon" Reed comparing the GPT with the US Long Distance Trails (CDT, PCT, AT)
Lauren "Neon" Reed thru-hiked the AT (2008), the PCT (2010) and the CDT (2013). She also thru-hiked the Colorado Trail (2012) and made many unmapped cross-country hikes in the wilderness of Utah before she thru-hiked the GPT in two seasons (2015 to 2017). This makes Lauren the best person to compare the GPT with the famous US long distance trails. She writes:
"Having thru-hiked about 8,000 miles in the US before beginning our trek across South America, I would still find myself in over my head at times along the Greater Patagonia Trail. This included terrain as well as culture. The places I've been along the GPT, as a generality, seem more remote than most distance trails I've experienced in the US- think central/northern Montana along the CDT, minus the bears and plus a few more passes. As you walk along the GPT, you will go through many diverse ecosystems, as opposed to desert/mountains which you experience on many trails in the US. The GPT takes you from the glaciated southern ice field of Chile up through pine trees, lush dense deciduous forest, alti-planos, valleys teeming with animals wild and farmed, along/through rivers and lakes (also wild and farmed), volcanoes, to the more arid environments south of Santiago, as well as a few border crossings into Argentina. It is by far the hardest trail I have done due to remoteness as well as terrain- yes, there are times you follow valleys, there are also times along this trail where you will go up, across and down 1,000 meter passes each day (sometimes multiple times in a day), following overgrown horse and animal paths. There are no trail markers or blazes, sometimes there isn't even a 'trail'- just a cross-country route. Do not expect anyone to know what you are doing or why you just walked down their driveway/out of their shrub/over their fence/through their gate (which you closed behind you, right?)
This trail definitely has easier sections, but I cannot remember a day where I didn't look at my compass and/or GPS along the entirety of the GPT. Because of the options we were given and Jan requesting us to investigate some options he had yet to check out personally, I began calling certain sections "Choose your own Adventure", meaning go whichever way you want, as long as you're near the route labeled as the GPT on your GPS. We also tried to not do anything stupid, though there were times I nearly was swept away trying to cross a strong-flowing river or nearly slid down a steep scree field along the GPT. This is not a trail for someone who doesn't know how to use a GPS or Compass. This is not a trail for someone who doesn't know how to properly read a river to know where the best place to cross is. This is not a trail for anyone who doesn't at least have a basic understanding of topography as well as map and compass skills. Jan has a great route mapped so you can download it onto a GPS, but when you come across an area that's swept away by last years snowmelt or on fire, do you have a plan or any idea what to do? What if you're not paying attention to your battery life and your GPS dies? Don't go up shit creek without a paddle, as the saying goes.
There won't always be what you may want in town to eat or even a place to stay with hot water. Knowing at least basic Spanish language skills is a must if you want to feel connected or informed in any of the areas you go through. Any effort of understanding the culture and land goes a long way. Thankfully, I have a basic understanding which has grown over our trek and my hiking partner is fluent in cultural sensitivities as well as the Spanish language. As Jan states, you are an uninvited guest on others' land at times- tread respectfully and carefully- Most of the time, they will respond in kind."
Return to: An Advise for Thru-Hikers.
Remark to the Limits of Patagonia
There is no doubt that Patagonia is part of the Southern Cone but opinions deviate where it exactly starts and ends. The northern limit of Patagonia on the Chilean side can be seen as south as the Estuarió de Reloncaví (latitude 41° 30’ South) or as north as the river Río Biobío (about latitude 37° South if taking the mouth at Concepcion as reference). That’s a difference of about 500 km. On the Argentine side the understanding of the limits can be equally different. Some take the Río Negro with the tributary Río Limay as the northern limit (about latitude 39° South) others the Río Barrancas and the Río Colorado (Latitude 36° South). Also the southern limit is fuzzy. Some consider Tierra del Fuego as part of Patagonia others not.
If you try to align Patagonia with the current administrative divisions of Chile and Argentina than the following provinces (Argentina) and regions (Chile) are typically considered to be Patagonia:
- Río Negro
- Santa Cruz
- Tierra del Fuego
- XIV. Region (Región de los Ríos with the provinces Valdivia and Ranco)
- X. Region (Región de los Lagos with the provinces Chiloé, Llanquihue, Osorno and Palena)
- XI. Region (Región de Aysén del General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo with the provinces Aisén, Capitán Prat, Coihaique and General Carrera)
- XII. Region (Región de Magallanes y de la Antártica Chilena with the provinces Magallanes, Tierra del Fuego, Última Esperanza and Antártica Chilena)
For more information to this subject read the Spanish Wikipedia article to Patagonia.
If you expect me to name this person or to place a link to the mentioned web page then you misjudged my intention. I do not want to publicly denounce this person but I want to share an important lesson learned with future hikers that can benefit from this experience.
After an displeasing exchange of emails he actually started to exchange names to stop the inappropriate use of the trail name. Therefore you can refrain from googling this person and simply learn from this "case study" as described here.
Remark to Best Practices and Hiking Recommendations
It is standard to whistle as you approach a remote homestead, this alerts both humans and animals that someone is passing and can avoid a great deal of unpleasantness. You will encounter a large number of loose animals along some of the sections. Regarding livestock, always leave a gate as you found it. Be sure to note how the gates are held as some of the techniques are unique. Never cut a fence line. Around towns, be prepared to encounter and often peaceably followed by loose dogs. Some are pets, others are ferrel.
If you are charged by a dog or a pack of dogs, a phrase they commonly recognize is if you shout “vete pa ya” (go over there) or stoop down and pick up (or even just simulate picking up) a rock and they usually turn tail. The action of lowering your face to a charging dog’s level is counter intuitive but can spare you some nasty scars or a scare. In extreme situations (such as if the dogs you encounter are herding dogs who will continue to pursue and nip at your ankles), you may have to actually throw a rock at them.
One must also consider the rhythm of Patagonia in neither rushed nor focused on efficiency. One significant way hikers will encounter this is with siesta, strictly observed in almost every small and many of the larger towns throughout the region. Businesses close (roughly) between 1-4 pm, though even those hours are subject to whim. Shops rarely have posted hours and even if they do, these are not observed. You may note on some a small white buzzer which you must press to call attention. Do not be shy in these circumstances, ring the bell and be prepared to wait patiently. If you bustle in brusquely, expect for services to be rendered even more slowly.
For profit buses, like businesses, operate at their leisure. If there is a schedule posted online, it is often inaccurate or incomplete. For bus schedules, ask at the kiosks or other local shops. Do not expect bus stops to have signs posted. Here again, communicating with locals will play an integral role to your experience and that will be defined by how you approach and treat them.
(...) For these reasons it is advisable to carry at least an extra day worth of food on many sections of the GPT.
See the GPT Hiker's Manual.
Entrance Permits and Fees
The Greater Patagonian trail is not an official trail that is set up and managed by a government agency. Is simply a compilation of horse trails, minor roads and some cross country sections that pass over private properties and state owned land.
Nearly the entire trail can be hiked without entrance permits or paying entrance fees. And what is even better: many of the humble people that live along the trail will welcome you or even invite you to stay. Here hospitality matters!
But there are a few exceptions; some are already briefly mentioned above under Hiking Direction.
Unfortunately the public right of way is vague and sometimes ignored in Chile. By Chilean law the access to the coast, to lakes and to rivers is a public right but there are numerous locations where this gets disregarded. There are simply no penalties if someone unlawfully denies passage. I'm not sufficiently familiar with Chilean law to state if a similar public right of way applies to all the connecting trails and roads on private properties. But if it exists it’s occasionally disregarded. Some rich landlords with huge plots employ guards and instruct them to deny access to anyone.
Entrance Permits and Challenges
Laguna Mondaca: I was recently advised that a signpost was place at the pass between the Laguna Las Animas and the Laguna Mondaca denying access to the Laguna Mondaca. If you want to avoid a discussion with an overeager guard at this lake you may take the short cut that leads you directly to the hot springs “Termas de Asufre”. Otherwise you may be asked to continue on the regular trail after having reached the lake.
Hydropower Station Cipreses: The Hydropower Station Cipreses is owned by Endesa and controls the valley between the Route 115 and the Laguna de La Invernada. Permanently manned gates control the northbound access from the Route 115 but there are no similar barriers when entering the property southbound over the mountains in example when coming from the volcano Descabezado. An access permit can be requested in advance and is normally granted. See the wikiexplora article "Laguna y Cráter Los Hornitos" for further information.
Long Distance Challange that directly connects Section 2 and 3
Fundo Las Truchas: The fundo Las Truchas is owned by a regional big farmer. When he purchased this ranch he first kept it open for public access to the attractive Laguna Las Truchas. Unfortunately some locals don’t treat their environment with respect and litter or fish without limits. The owner got annoyed and now denies public access in particular to local citizen. When entering the fundo Las Truchas northbound you may be send back by the guard, who lives 2 km south of the Laguna Las Truchas from late spring to autumn. If entering southbound you may be asked to leave the property in the direction you are hiking anyway.
Section 3 "Bad Weather Exit Route"
Hydropower Station El Toro: The Hydropower Station El Toro is owned by Endesa and controls the valley Rio Polcura upstream of Abanico. A permanently manned gate controls the northbound access from Abanico. There are no similar controls when entering the property southbound from the Laguna de Las Lajas. An access permit may be requested in advance but no specific information are available where this can be done. Anyway, this restriction is not of much relevance since the regular trail on the ridge can be hiked in either direction. You only get to the Hydropower Station El Toro if get down from the ridge on the "Bad Weather Exit Route".
Reserve Huilo Huilo: During the later days of the Pinochet Regime large parts of the state owned forest around the Lago Pirihueico were sold under obscure circumstances to the German immigrant Victor Petermann. He later converted the forest into a “private for profit natural reserve”. The emphasis seems to be the profit and not so much the natural reserve. Permanently manned gates now limit access to guests of the luxury resorts on this immense property. Wood logging continues in more hidden parts of the “profit reserve”. When we attempted to take the former public road from Puerto Fuy to Pirihueico we were turned back on several of the gates. For this reason we took the ferry over the lago Piriheuco and walked the same road but from the other side where we did not encounter any manned gates or objections. See the wikipedia article to the Complejo Forestal y Maderero Panguipulli.
Fundo Chihuio: The fundo Chihuio is situated north of the Termas de Chihuio and owned by a rich businessman. The guard lives at the southern entrance to the ranch. He is instructed to deny access to the former public road towards Puerto Fuy and Pirihueico. When hiking southbound you will leave the property at the entrance where the guard lives.
Fundo Carrán: The Fundo Carrán is located south of the Lago Maihue. We crossed the Lago Maihue southbound by packraft and entered the fundo Carrán unknowingly from the shore of the Lago Maihue. We than walked about 5 km until we reached a locked gate just before a public road. We could easily climb over the locked gate to continue on the public road. On this locked gate is a signboard that prohibits public access.
Southbound Access to Cordon Caulle: A very fiendly and helpful older couple lives at the northern access to the Cordon Caulle and volcano Puyehue. They own the forest with the road that provides access to volcanic area where 2011 a major eruption occured. They offer shelter if the weather does not permit a crossing of the volcanic plateou. In 2013 they charged a 6'000 CLP entrance fee.
Northbound Access to Cordon Caulle: The restaurant "El Caulle" is situated at the southern access to the Puyehue and Cordon Caulle. They maintain the refuge higher up on the foot of the volcano Puyehue. In 2013 they charged a 10'000 CLP entrance fee but no "exit fee".
When challenged on the trail explain friendly that you are just a hiker and that you do not want anything else than passage to the next road or town. Hikers are rarely seen on most of the route and some people may suspect other interests because they simply don't know the concept of hiking. You may explain how far you already walked to gain the sympathy and respect of the guard or land owner. Guarantee that you will carry all your waste and that you will not leave any traces.
What we experienced on the trail seems to mirror the attitude of the Chilean society: The humble poor people on the trail opened the doors to their houses to give us shelter and they literally shared their bread with us without asking for money. But some of the super-rich denied passage over their immense properties on which they normally don’t even live when kindly asking for permission to pass.
The vast majority of citizens from Europe and North-America do not need a visa to visit Chile as a tourist. These citizens receive a tourist permit that allows them to stay up to 90 days in Chile. With an estimated duration of 90 to 120 days it is possible to complete the first 16 sections on Chilean soil in 90 days but leaves little margin for rest days or weather related delays.
The easiest way to renew your permit is travelling to Argentina before completing your 90 days and returning a few days later to Chile. On re-entry you will normally be granted another 90 days. Such a trip can be combined with a resupply stop in a nearby town.
Recommendable "visa trips" with public transportation are:
- Section 9: From Curarrehue in Chile to Junin de Los Andes or San Martin de Los Andes in Argentina
- Section 13: From Osorno in Chile to San Carlos de Bariloche in Argentina
Alternatively you can request a tourist visa extension in Chile. This can be done in any of the 54 provincial capitals of Chile. Los Angeles, Temuco and Puerto Montt are 3 possible choices but none of the provincial capitals are conveniently close to the trail. Here you find a full list of the Chilean provinces with its capitals: Wikipedia: Provinces of Chile.
If you do not start the trek at section 1 but do sections 11 to 18 first you will cross the border from Chile to Argentina on foot on section 16 and renew your tourist permit when returning to Chile. This will give you enough time to hike sections 1 to 10 in a comfortable pace.
If you insist in not taking any bus or motorized vehicle during the entire trek you have three options:
- You hurry up to cross into Argentina on section 16 within 90 days counted from your arrival in Chile.
- You can walk on foot from Icalma in Chile to Villa Pehuenia and back (Section 8, 16 km one way).
Importation of Food
Chile is very cautious when it comes to importing food, plants and animals. To minimize the risk of introducing pests, invasive plants and animals such imports are highly regulated and controlled. Therefore individuals are strictly banned to bring fresh fruits, vegetables, raw milk or meat products to Chile. Only processed sterile food can be imported in concealed packing’s, in example all heat treated canned items in closed containers. Thorough checks are performed by the SAG (Servicio Agrícola y Ganadero) on the airport and the border checkpoints from neighbouring countries.
- Example of strictly banned items:
- Fresh and dried fruits
- Fresh cheese
- Raw meat and raw meat products like ham and sausages
- Example of normally accepted items:
- Bread, cookies and other baked items
- All canned items even if containing milk and meat products
- Sweats like chocolate, candies and cereal bar
- Cereals, corn flakes and chocolate powder
- Pasta, rice, flour and dehydrated potato puree
- Instant meals like dehydrated trekking food in concealed bags
When crossing the border to Chile you need to fill in a declaration if you are carrying any plant or food products. On this declaration the definition for plant or food products is very wide and includes all the permitted items as well. Therefore the best and only correct thing is to always state YES. If ask explain that you are aware of the restrictions and that you carry processed food and give examples.
If you state NO but something banned is found you will be charged a high fine.
You should also clean your boots from visible mud since mud may contain seamen of invasive plants.
Theoretically the same rules apply when crossing into Argentina but controls are often much more relaxed and you do not need fill and sign a declaration.
Resupply at Nearby Towns
There are no proper shops along the first seven sections of the trail. The first regular food store on the trail comes after 600 km at the finish of section 7. But there is a road with public transportation at the end of each section that gives you the opportunity to take a bus and to travel to the next village or town to resupply. See the table under Section Information with suitable resupply villages and towns.
In the larger cities, in example in Santiago, Talca, Chillan, Los Angeles, Osorno and Puerto Montt you find "Jumbo" supermarkets. To our impression these supermarkets offer the widest range of dehydrated food that is suitable for hiking. These supermarkets have typically a section of imported food items from Europe and North America. Here we found in example well-seasoned couscous imported from Canada, potato fritters that comes as a powder imported from Germany and dehydrated deserts that you just need to mix with cold water and milk powder to make in example a very tasty chocolate cream after your dinner. If you are fancy on good cooking in the wild then take your time and stroll through the aisle of the supermarket and try something new.
Resupply by Bus
The product range in smaller villages and towns is limited. In particular dehydrated trekking food may not be offered at all. If you prefer to have some special stuff that you find only in Santiago or that you bring with you from overseas you have the following option: You pack a box with food and other gear in Santiago and send the box with one of the mayor bus companies to a town where you plan a resupply stop. To send the box you do not need any address in this town; all you need to do is making yourself the recipient of your own package. The bus company will ship your box to this town in 1 or 2 days and store it until you pick it up. There you can take out of your box whatever you need and resend the box with the remaining stuff to the next resupply town where it will be stored again. Storage of up to 30 days is free of charge. This transport service by busses is called "encomienda" and functions like a postal service. Unfortunately this service is only available in larger cities. Therefore this service cannot be used to ship resupplies directly to the trail.
I advise you not to use this service offered by JAC. They lost one of our packages and were incredible poorly organized and ignorant to give us at least the legally required minimum refund (which was far less than the actual value). Turbus made at least a more organised impression when compared to JAC. Anyway, you should better not send valuable items i.e. a packraft but only items whose loss does not jeopardize your trip. If you plan to send valuable items anyway you should have at least the original purchase receives of these items with you. If you present these receipts before sending the package you may increase the refund value in case of loss to a substantially higher value. Without such a receipt only a rather small value can be declared (50,000 to 100,000 CLP depending on the company) and gets refunded in case the shipment is lost by the company.
Suitable resupply towns with bus cargo stations are (bus company in brackets):
- Talca (Turbus)
- San Carlos (Turbus)
- Chillán (Turbus)
- Los Angeles (Turbus)
- Pucon (Turbus)
- Osorno (Turbus)
- Puerto Montt (Turbus)
- Puerto Varas (Turbus)
See also the table with the Section Information for a full listing of resupply towns on or near the trail.
A true thru-hike without resupply bus trips would require the setup of food depots on strategic points along the route.
Food Supply on the Trail
On this trail, in particular on the first seven sections you will meet herdsman on the summer pastures with their livestock, which are mainly cattle, sheep, goats and horses. Depending on the altitude and the snowmelt they migrate up between October and January and return to their winter quarters in April or May. These herdsman, locally called "Puestero", live in improvised permanent shelters, called "Puesto". They bring large quantities of food with their horses and mules up into the mountains. You may ask them for food, in particular for flour and bread or whatever they are willing to sell. With flour, dry yeast and salt you can bake your own fresh bread on the trail. If you are desperate for meat they may sell you a goat or a sheep but be aware, the smallest quantity for sale is typically half an animal (Spanish: "Medio Canal"). To communicate with the locals you need to speak Spanish.
On section 5 to 10 you will cross the distribution range of the impressive Araucaria trees, which are ancient evergreen coniferous trees. What we liked on these living fossils were not just the imposing figure, but the nutritious female seed cones that are rich in carbohydrates. These fruits or "piñones" were the main staple food for the indigenous Pehuenche people and they taught us how to harvest and prepare them. You can gather these starchy Araucaria "piñones" between February and April.
This is not a listing of all the standard trekking foods like pasta and cereals. If you attempt this long distance trail you should know all this by heart. This section lists and describes selected traditional food items that are typical for this region but may be less known outside or named differently.
Piñones: As already mentioned under Recommended Season and Food Supply on the Trail you can become a gatherer on sections 5 to 10 and collect a good part of your food yourself along the trail if you pass this area between February and April. You just need to get the timing right and carry a strong string to harvest the mature cones of the female Araucaria trees. According to Wikipedia the name Araucana is derived from the native Araucanians who's main staple food were the nuts or seeds of the Araucaria tree. A group of Araucanians living in the Andes, the Pehuenches, owe their name to their diet based on harvesting of the Araucaria seeds. Pehuen means Araucaria and che means people in the native language Mapudungun.
The natives use a lasso to harvest the mature cones. As a hiker you probably will not carry a rather heavy lasso but you may bring a strong string with you. By trial and error we eventually choose to connect long sticks in example branches, bamboo grass and/or our hiking poles to lift a sling over a single cone and then break the cone off by pulling against the growth direction. Once you have the cone down you can open the cone with a wedge and a stone as shown on the picture above. The seeds then need to be separated and boiled for about 30 minutes with the husk. Once boiled the husk can be easily removed. Just squeeze the husk and the eatable seed will slip out easily. You can eat the seed simply cooked or fry them later.
Harina Tostada (Chile) or ñaco (Argentina) is toasted ground wheat and the staple food of the herdsmen. It comes as a brownish powder and tastes like corn flakes but it needs to be mixed first with a liquid to eat. The most common form is mixing with water but also beer, wine or juice can be used. Also sugar may be added if mixed with water. Depending on the mixing ratio it will be a thick paste or a liquid and makes a perfect snack during the days. Try yourself and find out how you like it most. You can buy it in all rural stores but also the big super markets sell it. It's the perfect trekking food because it's nourishing and takes little space in the backpack. See the wikipedia article for more information to this versatile staple food.
Tortilla de Rescoldo is a white bread that was backed in the hot ash of a fire. Most puestos don't have a proper oven to bake bread but use the accumulated ash of the fireplace instead. The dough is made as usual with wheat flour, salt and (dry) yeast. After the dough was prepared and given the typical rest the dough is gently put in a pit in the hot ash and then also covered with hot ash. After about 10 to 15 min the bread is turned and covered with hot ash again to bake it evenly on both sides. To not burn the bread the hot ash must be free of glowing charcoal. It requires quite some experience to get the temperature and the timing right. Also the fireplace must be in use for days or weeks to accumulate sufficient ash. A typical campfire will not work because the fire itself is to hot and amount of ash is insufficient.
To make fresh bread on the trail our self we used our two stainless steel pots and the lid. With some self-made wire clips we suspended the slightly smaller pot within the bigger pot. This creates a small but fully functional oven because the air gap between both pots protected the content from burning when placed in or next to the fire. With this oven we did not only bake fresh bread but also pizza and an onion pie. It needs some trial and error to learn how to get the temperature right and regular turning help to bake the content evenly.
Sopaipilla (Chile) or Torta Frita (Argentina) is fried white bread. The same standard dough made with wheat flour, salt and (dry) yeast and given the typical dough rest period of 15 to 30 minutes. Round flat dough-cakes are formed with a hole in the middle and gently put into a pot of hot oil of fat over a fire. The hole in the middle is required to move and removed the Sopapilla with a stick.
Chivo or Cordero al Palo: Puesteros occasionally butcher a male goat or sheep when they meet with other herdsmen or when they receive a visit to share an abounded and delicious meat feast. Female animals are normally preserved to maintain the flock so mainly the male goat get sacrificed(a rare example of male discrimination). The skinned and cleaned animal is cut into pieces and stack on a wooden pole ("palo" in Spanish). The pole is then placed next to the fire and regularly turned until the meat is ready to eat. It's crucial that the meat is well cooked to kill all potential parasites. You need to be lucky to arrive just in time for such a feast. Alternatively you may ask the puesteros along the route if they have some meat left or if they are willing to sell one animal and butcher and prepare it with you. The smallest quantity for sale is typically half an animal ("medio canal"). Once the meat is well cooked over the fire you can carry the left overs and consume it during the next two or three days.
Yerba Mate is a energizing caffeine-rich hot drink. You fill about half a cup with the tee-like "yerba", pour hot water over it and drink it with a special straw that acts at the same as an filter. This straw is called "bombilla". You can pour again and again water over it to keep drinking. Sharing mate with other people is a common ritual in these region. You will certainly be offered this rather bitter drink when you meet and chat with the locals. See also the wikipedia article to Mate for more information.
Mote are wheat grains, which were boiled and removed from its husk and then dried again for long term storage. Mote is probably not an optimal trekking food because it needs to be soaked in water for several hours before boiling. But settlers and herdsmen often carry mote and use it as an ingredient for stews and other meals.
Packraft and Drysuite
A packraft is a light-weight inflatable boat designed to be carried in the backpack when not needed but to carry the backpacker and his backpack over lakes and rivers when he needs it. A packraft is not required for this trail but quite beneficial on sections 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17 and 18. It may also be used on sections 2, 3, 4 and 8. On section 1, 5, 7 and 10 it can be used for smaller side trips on lakes that are located next to the trail.
Here you find some images of our packraft. We use the "Explorer 42" from Alpackaraft. The total weight of the two-person-boat with paddles, two drysuites, waterproof bags and water gear is approx. 8 kg or 4 kg per person if shared.
I strongly recommend the use of a drysuite whenever paddeling in this area regardless of the size of the river, lake of fjord. This is the only suiteable protection against hypothermia in case you get wet or you get out of the boat on the water. Be aware that water temperatures are often quite low. Wind can suddenly increase and build up high waves in a matter of minutes that splash you wet with cold water or even flip your boat. Also on most rivers, lakes and fjords that are included in the packraft route suitable exit points are scarce. So don't rely on getting quickly out of the water when needed. The first two years we paddled without using a drysuite but I consider this now a beginner's mistake.
The packraft did not made us faster but made our trip much more diverse. It is just great to walk to the shore of a lake or river, take the backpack down, inflate the boat, store the gear, take a seat and paddle off. A packraft brings an other "dimension" into the trip.
Section 1 to 20: At two larger lakes you can alternatively take a daily ferry (Lago Pirihueco) or a private boat transfer (Lago Todos Los Santos). For all other lakes and rivers alternative trails, which circumvent the water are included in the Trail Files for GPS and Google Earth above. So you can bypass on foot all paddle parts if you do not have a packraft or if i.e. wind and weather do not permit the crossing of a lake with a rather tiny boat.
Section 21 to 27: In Palena the Hiking-Only-Option and the Packraft-Option of the Greater Patagonian Trail take a completely different routes. Both option rejoin briefly on Section 26 in the area of Cerro Castillo. When taking the Packraft-Option you do not have an easy connection to the Hiking-Only-Option so be well prepared to paddle long distances when taking this route.
Enter lakes, fjords and rivers with your packraft only in suitable weather conditions. Note that on sunny days wind typically increases substantially around noon and often blows very strong till the evening. Therefore packrafting on lakes and fjords is something for early risers.
Most but not all lakes have a predominant wind direction. The route is choosen in way that you have more likely favourable wind from the back than wind against you but on some lakes the predominant wind will blow you right into face. Most but not all river sections are relatively well wind-shilded. In particular the last part of Río Palena and Río Ibañez are quite exposed to wind.
If weather is unsuitable for packrafting take the alternative hiking options around the water or simply wait for better weather but do not jeopardize yourself.
The Packraft-Option also enters two fjords that are connected with the Pacific; the Estuario de Reloncaví on Section 16 and the Fjordo Pipiplena on Section 22. Here tides strongly affect water levels and currents. Understand the the tide cycles and get a current tide chart before before you enter these waters. In certain areas of these fjords tidal currents can outpace your packraft. Both fjords are best entered with a falling tide just after high tide. Also be very cautious when camping on the shore of these fjords and better avoid it. Make sure that you camp above the spring tide level. The trift wood on these shores can indicate you to what level the water may rise.
GPS and Electronic Map
The trail is mostly unmarked and only smaller fractions are documented with maps. Long stretches of the trail are only vaguely visible and frequently the trail peters out or divides into several branches. Therefore a GPS is absolutely essential for navigation. You need a handheld GPS devise to which you can upload the trail files. Spare batteries or recharge options are required to keep the GPS devise functional long enough.
In addition an electronic topographical map is recommended.
We used a Garmin GPS with the Garmin TOPO Chile Deluxe electronic map (TOPO Chile Deluxe sold for 80 USD). The topographical profile, rivers, lakes, road and towns are precisely mapped. Only smaller streams, smaller lagoons and some trails are partly incorrecly placed on this electronic map. The Garmin TOPO Chile Deluxe is more precise than the TOPO Andes (see below) and has more details but covers only Chile and is good for section 1 to 16 only.
Garmin now offers also an electronic topographical map that covers all Chile, Argentina and Bolivia (TOPO Andes sold for 100 USD). If you are planning to hike the entire trail and future extensions to the south then the TOPO Andes map is the suitable choice.
I do not recommend the purchase of paper maps. The Chilean Instituto Geográfico Militar (IGM) offers topographic maps with a scale of 1:50'000 for the entire Chile but these maps often do not contain the trails and may be outdated. There are a few hiking maps for some popular areas showing some but not all trails that are used by the GPT. So the extra cost and additional weight of paper maps do not justify to my opinion the minor benefit of paper maps.
If you are looking for an backup devise to your handheld GPS you may consider the inReach Explorer from Delorme which is not only a satellite tracker but can also be setup as navigator. I do not recommend this devise as a substitude for a handheld GPS due to the small screen, the limited battery life the limited number of tracks and waypoints that can be uploaded. But in case your handheld GPS fails, gets damaged or lost the inReach Explorer is a suitable backup if setup with the route and selected waypoints before starting the trip.
The Greater Patagonian Trail leads partly through rather isolated uninhabited areas with no mobile phone coverage at all. In case of an accident a satellite based emergency communication devise may contribute to your survival.
- SPOT offers a light weight emergency beacon that when pushing an emergency button submits a distress signal via satellite with your GPS position to a rescue centre. This devise can also be set up to regularly send the GPS position in 10 minutes intervals and to display the hiked track on a map in the internet. We carried such a personal satellite tracker and our families and friends stayed much more relaxed because they could see us move day by day through the mountains. Unfortunately this devise is not particular reliable in Patagonia due to the satellite coverage. Based on our experience only 5% to 20% of the position signals are submitted successfully when hiking in this area. Therefore if you wish to keep your family and friends updated with a SPOT you need to purchase and activate the tracking option while hiking. This ensures that at least some positions are submitted successfully every day. In theory you can manually submit an "OK" message without purchasing the tracking option but this may result in rather long "black-out" periods since many signals don't get submitted successful and the devise itself does not provide any feedback if the signal was transmitted correctly or not. The other limitation of this devise is, that is cannot receive any messages or send messages written on the trail. SPOT requires you to choose one of the annual satellite data contracts so if you need it only for a few weeks or a few months you are forced to pay for more than you acetaully need. You find further information to this devise on the SPOT manufacturers homepage.
- InReach from Delorme offers a similar devise but without the above mentioned limitations. The inReach uses the more reliable Iridium satellite network that covers in particular the area towards the poles much better what favours its use in Patagonia. This devise also always provides a feedback if the position signal or message was send successful or not and keeps trying until the information is actually received. This devise can send position signals in regular intervals for display on an online map, the inReach is able to send and receive 160-character text messages with the GPS coordinates to mobile phones or email addresses and it can post updates to social media. And when pushing the emergency button a distress message is send via satellite with your GPS position to a rescue centre. The InReach itself is more expensive than a SPOT and it drains the batteries sligthly faster but the InReach is clearly the more reliable option. In contrast to a SPOT devise you do not need to opt for an annual data contact but you can choose the satellite data contract only for the months you really need it. Therefore I consider the InReach from Delorme a much better choice if compared with the SPOT. If you opt for the InReach Exporer and you set it up with the route before the trip than you also have a backup devise for your handheld GPS. See the inReach manufacturers homepage for more information.
Solar Battery Charger
The partly long stages and the limited supply along the trail requires a proper power management for the GPS, the camera and all other electronic gear you may carry with you. We opted for a solar power panel to recharge all our batteries while hiking. Carrying regular batteries for up to 3 weeks would have meant a substantial extra weight. We choose the model Nomad 7 from GoalZero with the Guide 10 Plus Power Pack.
Required Skills and Capabilities
The Greater Patagonian Trail requires endurance not only because of the total trail lenght but the rather long trail sections. The first three sections exceed 100 km each without regular resupply points on the route. If combining sections the distances become even larger and can reach or exceed 300 km.
Hiking this trail requires a detailed planning and preparation before and during the hike. The gear needs to be reduced to what is essential. Before each section the correct type and quantity of food needs to be selected and carried.
The isolation of some parts of the trail demand a self-reliant attitude and cautious behaviour. The hiker needs to feel confident and move safely in various terrains, that reach from snow covered mountains passes to dense tempered rain forests.
Sudden weather changes may happen anytime in this mountainous region. The hiker needs to be prepared and equipped to master in example an surprising snow storm and closing in clouds while crossing a mountain pass.
Good navigational skills are essential since the route is mostly unmarked. The hiker needs to recognize and follow the often only vaguely visible trails that frequently peter out or divides into several branches. Here the hiker needs follow his "sixth sense" while verifying and comparing the taken route with the recommended GPS tracks. Good knowledge in setting up and using a GPS is compulsory.
This trail should only be attempted with at least some Spanish knowledge and practice. You need to be able to introduce yourself, explain what you are doing, buy food and other supplies and organize your bus trips to and from the trail. Hardly anyone along the trail speaks or understands even a few words in English.
The following skills are NOT required:
- Rock climbing
- White water rafting
- Any super-man-capabilities
Other notable Long Distance Trails and Hikes
Long Distance Trails
The Huella Andina is a long distance trail on the Argentine side of the Patagonian Andes with a combined total length of 564 km. This trail is a mostly signposted and marked hiking trail and substantially less demanding when compared with the Greater Patagonian Trail. The Huella Andina was developed considering that hiking novices may walk this trail. Therefore neither optimal equipment nor plenty of hiking experience are a precondition to take this route. The Huella Andina provides a resupply point at least on every second day. A GPS is not required to follow this trail. To the knowledge of the author of this article no full GPS record nor detailed hiking maps are published yet for the Huella Andina but trail descriptions are available on Wikiexplora.
The project was initiated by Estefania Chereguini and Walter Oszust in 2008. During their leadership of the project most stages were defined and marked. Read the Spanish articles Huella Andina: Un sueño de caminos y horizontes patagónicos hecho realidad and Fundamoentos Técnicos de Senderos de Larga Recorrido Huella Andina for more information to this ambitious and promising long distance trail project.
Unfortunately when the Argentine Ministry of Tourism took control of the project it came practically to a halt. At this time no initiative is visible to close the remaining gaps and transform the Huella Andina in a continuous long distance trail. Currently many but not all of the 42 day stages are connect with each other. The longest continuous sections spans 166 km. There remain 3 larger and several smaller gaps making this an uncontinuous long distance trail. Here you find an overview map of the Huella Andina.
The Huella Andina and the Greater Patagonian Trail join each other at the shore of the Lago Puelo where section 16 of the GPT finishes and section 17 starts. From this point the Hiking-Only-Option of the GPT follows for about 13 km the Huella Andina (See Huella Andina Section 33). The following part of section 17 connects the Lago Puelo with Lago Cholila and contains some challenging cross-country hiking. The founders of the Huella Andina, Estefania Chereguini and Walter Oszust, guided us through this difficult terrain, so only thanks to them this key piece of section 17 could be logged by GPS and published. The Hiking-Only-Options of section 18 of the GPT follows again the Huella Andina and corresponds with section 35 to 39 of the Huella Andina (See Huella Andina Sections 35, 36, 37, 38 and 39). Therefore even if the Hiking-Only-Options of section 18 is not recorded yet by GPS route finding should be rather easy since the Huella Andina is a marked trail.
If the development of the Huella Andina is continued than both trails; the Huella Andina and the Greater Patagonian Trail; may form the basis of a trail network in the Patagonian Andes that offer multiple hiking options from rather easy trails suitable for beginners to quite challenging routes for self-reliant hiking experts.
Sendero de Chile
In the year 2000 the Chilean government announced the plan of creating a continuous trail that spans all Chile from the northern most tip all the way to the southern end of the country. The total length of this hiking trail was projected to be between 8000 and 9000 km.
By now, 15 years later, the objective has shifted. Instead of a continuous trail that spans the entire country numerous smaller mostly unconnected trails are published. These trail are spread over the entire country to promote and facilitate access into the Chilean countryside for the local population. In July 2015 a total of 135 trails with a combined lenght of 2663 km are published on the Homepage of "Sendero de Chile". The average trail lenghs is 19.7 km and two trails exceed the 100 km mark. Most of these trails are established routes that are used for decades by the local population in the foodhills of the Andes close to the main population centers. But some of these routes are in the main Andes mountain range. The Greater Patagonian Trail incorporate some of these routes.
See also the homepage of the "Sendero de Chile" foundation for further information.
Noteable Long Distance Hikes
Settlement of the Americas
The most impressive long distance hike in this region was without any doubt the prehistoric settlement of the Americas. These first settlers did not had any trail to follow, there was no resupply shop to refill the backpack with pasta an rice nor did these adventurers poses a maps or GPS to guide them. They could not shop any state-of-the-art ultralight gear online before leaving on their trip; all they had was MYOG (Make Your Own Gear) created from whatever they could gather and hunt. But they made it all the way to the southern tip of Tierra de Fuego and into the inhospitable Patagonian channels. Compared with this truly epic journey any hike now looks like stroll through a town. See also Wikipedia: Settlement of the Americas.
George Meegan: Across Americas
George Meegan is a British adventurer born in 1952. From 1977 to 1983 he crossed Americas from the southern tip of South America to the northernmost part of Alaska at Prudhoe Bay in an unbroken walk. He completed this 30,608 km km long journey on foot in 2,425 days and documented this truly epic hike in his book "The Longest Walk" (1988). See also Wikipedia: George Meegan.
Deia Schlosberg & Gregg Treinish: Across the Andes
Gregg Treinish and Deia Schlosberg, two adventurers from the US, hiked between 2006 and 2008 from the Ecuadorian capitol Quito all the way to the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego. In a little under two years they walked 12,500 km covering 55 degree of latitude. In 2008 they were honoured by National Geographic as “Adventurers of the Year” for their achievement. The trip journal and the approximate route are published on their homepage "Across the Andes".
Jeannette Leenders & Arlen Hoebergen: Across Chile
Jeannette Leenders and Arlen Hoebergen, two Dutch athletes, walked in 2011 and 2012 from Visviri, the most northern settlement in Chile to Cabo Forward, the most southern mainland point of South American continent. They covered 6,242 km during this 290 day journey. In contrast to most hikers they did not carry a backpack but pulled a two-wheel-wagon on their trip and followed mostly roads. Your can read more about their hike on their homepage "El desafío mas largo del mundo".
Creation of the Greater Patagonian Trail
Idea for the Trail
I did my first hike in Patagonia in 2002 and returned several times in the following years. As most casual hikers I used a trekking guide book (Lonely Planet: "Trekking in the Patagonian Andes") and ventured only onto trails described by books or printed on maps. It did not even appear to me to go beyond.
A few years later I was recommended the "Adventure Handbook Central Chile" from Franz Schubert and Malte Sieber. This booked introduced me to the often overlooked area between the Chilean capital Santiago and Patagonia. Before reading this book I always passed this area without seriously considering to stop before reaching Patagonia.
In 2011 my girlfriend and I planned to do the hike to the Laguna las Truchas that is recommended in the "Adventure Handbook Central Chile". But before we set out we were told by locals that the landlord does not let pass any backpackers. The locals recommended a different trail instead for which we had no guide books, no maps and no guide willing to lead us. After long considerations we eventually took our backpacks and hiked on our own to the impressive Laguna Dial. We were surprised to walk on well maintained trails where maps are simply blank. In the following months and years we repeated this experience and learned that there are plenty of perfectly hikeable trails where maps show nothing but wilderness. When I reviewed our hikes on Google Earth I also noticed with surprise that these trails are often visible on the satellite images, in particular in areas without dense forest. This showed me a new method how to plan further hikes.
Two years later in 2013 I was wondering how far you can possibly walk through the Andes using the few published the many undocumented trails. More out of curiosity I started searching for a continuous trail in Google Earth trying to incorporate the best trails that I hiked so far. In a lengthy tedious search using Google Earth and all other material available to me I planned a constantly growing trail. I finally had a route that I estimated to be 1400 km.
Planning of the Trail
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.
This genesis prevented that the routing of the trail was compromised and deformed by local interests and political constraints. The track could be chooses freely on either side of the border; on the Chilean side and the Argentine side of the Andes. There were also no “must-include” towns, villages or places because influential local politicians decided so. Simple the most attractive hikeable route could be selected, without any influence or other interests.
The route planning and trail selection conditions were:
- The trail leads through the heart of the Andes along the main mountain chain of the cordillera
- The most beautiful and diverse existing tracks are selected for this long distance trail
- Hiking paths and horse trails are preferred over roads with transit traffic even if this means a reasonable detour
- All included cross country sections are feasible for hiking without climbing gear or a machete
- The route is continuous without any gaps
- The track can be hiked legally without unauthorized border crossings
The trail was planned in 2013 by Jan Dudeck using:
- Google Earth satellite images (and later verified using Bing Maps satellite images)
- Hiking trails and horseback trips previously done by the author
- Hiking maps and guides books that document and describe trails in some selected areas
- Geotagged Panoramio images displayed on Google Earth
- Internet trail exchange platforms in particular: wikiexplora.com, wikiloc.com and trekkingchile.com
First Hike of the Trail
On November 12, 2013 I started with my girlfriend Meylin Ubilla in Coñaripe at the alternative starting point of section 11. We both had no previous long distance hiking experience and never used a packraft before.
During the hike we had a few moments of doubt because the route disappeared several times in impenetrable forest. But we always managed to find passable trail even if it meant returning a day’s hike. After about half the trail I became a bit concerned that we may run out of time before reaching our goal. But we kept going with a steady pace without worrying too much.
On February 23, 2014 we finally arrived again in Coñaripe were we set out a 104 days before. Our GPS summed up roughly hiked 1'600 km and 50'000 m climbed. We actually walked on 80 days with the remaining time used to resupply, rest and to travel from the end of section 16 to the start of section 1.
About one year later, from December 18, 2014 to February 9, 2015 we returned to the Greater Patagonian Trail and refined sections 3, 10 and 11 and hiked most of section 17 and 18 to extend the trail further south. We also crossed Laguna Dial (section 2) and Lago Pirihueico (section 12) by packraft what we did not dare the year before because we lacked at this time the packraft experience. And for the years to come we plan more hikes and packraft trips to extent the trail even further.
While hiking the trail I have long thought how to name this trail. I was looking for a precise but well descriptive name.
The trail crosses various regions that are rather unknown outside of Chile and Argentina. Few people have ever heard about Maule or Bio-Bio and might associate whatever with these words but not an outstanding trekking region. Therefore naming the trail after the actual regions seamed not a good choice.
On the other side naming the trail after the Andes like "Andes Trail" would be a huge exaggeration because the trail spans only a smaller part of this 7000 km long mountain range.
Naming the trail after Patagonia like "Patagonian Trail" would be incorrect, because most of the trail is actually not located in Patagonia at least when applying the traditional limits of this region. Most of the trail is on the Chilean side where only the regions Aysén and Magallanes further south are traditionally considered part of Patagonia. See the map: "Traditional limits of Patagonia".
To be precise and well descriptive at the same time I decided to use the geographic term "Greater Patagonia" that includes Patagonia in its traditional limits and the surrounding area like "Greater London" includes the city of London and the surroundings. On the Argentine side Patagonia reaches much further north than on the Chilean side and has it's limit at the Río Colorado with its spring near the Laguna del Maule. This is the latitude where section 1 ends and section 2 starts. So "Greater Patagonia" applies very well to the entire trail region because all parts of the route are located not more then 100 km outside of the traditional limits of Patagonia.
The name "Greater Patagonian Trail" seams a good choice because:
- with more than 1500 km length it’s a greater trail than all other published trails in Patagonia,
- the trail is without doubt one of greater trails in respect of beauty and diversity,
- the trail is located completely within "Greater Patagonia",
- the name remains correct while the trail gets extended further south and
- the name embraces the legend of Patagonia and may become a legend itself.
Publishing of the Trail
The trail was first published in 2014 on wikiexplora after completing the long distance hike. Also more than one thousand images were geotagged and uploaded to Panoramio for display on Google Earth with a reference to this wikiexplora trail description. The tracks are also uploaded to Wikiloc.
The trail was published without any commercial interests. The motives for publishing were:
- Share this trail with other interested hikers to promote this first long distance trail in South America and the Andes
- Attract contributors that perfect and extent this trail
- Promote hiking in the rather unknown parts of the trail to create an additional source of income for the humble people still living along the trail
- Protect and maintain this trail by making it well-known and more frequently used
Before publishing the trail I have long considered if publishing may have also negative consequences for the affected area. I personally do not see that this trail will become overrun like in example "Torres del Paine". The trail is simply too long and demanding to attract large crowds. And even if a larger number of hikers seek this challenge they will be distribute over a rather long trail. The principle risk of publishing this trail is that this attracts irresponsible people that litter and don't have the necessary care when making camp fires. This may indeed cause severe damage and destruction. To promote a responsible behavior I plead that all hikers respect the Code of Conduct of the trail.
On the other side I have seen plenty of evidence that settlers give up and retreat from this gorgeous but challenging area along the trail. But if the settlers that created these trails vacate their land then the trails will soon be overgrown, become invisible and be destroyed by weather without being repaired and maintained. So by creating an addition source of income for these tough herdsmen and mountain farmers they will have one more reason to stay. And if they stay the trail will be maintained and remain accessible for hikers like you and me.
Future Development of the Trail
This trail is not finished yet. There is plenty of terrain left till this trail finally reaches the southern tip of Patagonia and ends either on Cabo Forward at the shore of the Magellan street or even on Tierra del Fuego. Also a few smaller sections need to verified and recorded and additional alternatives may be aggregated. Read the chapter Trail Verifications, Trail Extensions and Additional Options to see how you can contribute to perfect and extent the Greater Patagonian Trail.
Trail Planning Sources and Contributors
|GPT01||Cristian from Vilches Alto||Christian a friend of Eladio Gajardo was our horseback guide in February 2011 and he took us by horse from Vilches Alto to the Basecamp Descabezado Grande, on to the Termas de Azufre and via El Bolson back to Vilches Alto. We later reviewed this tour in Google Earth and noticed that most of the trail is clearly visible on the satellite images. This impressive horseback tour was the main motive to incorporate this area into the GPT. For horseback tours with Eladio Gajardo or Cristian try calling +56-9-78433122 or +56-9-93418064.|
|Google Earth, Bing Maps||I discovered in Google Earth and Bing Maps the trail from the Basecamp Descabezado to the Laguna Caracol and the volcano and lake Hornitos. With this southbound connection we could integrate this mind-blowing area in the GPT.|
|Manuel Hevia||The Panoramio images of Manuel Hevia confirmed that a trail from the volcano and lake Hornitos to the Hydro Power Station Cipreces exists and is accessible.|
|Franz Schubert and Malte Sieber||The authors of "Adventure Handbook Central Chile" describe several hikes in the Descabezado region. This book was good secondary source.|
|trekkingchile.com||The trekking map "Condor Cicuit" issued by trekkingchile.com was very useful second source. This map indicates an alternative more direct trail from the basecamp Descabezado to the volcano and lake Hornitos but we opted for the slightly longer route around the Laguna Caracol because this route seams more attractive and more convinient for camping.|
|GPT02||Danilo Contreras Sepulveda||Danilo and his freelance collaborator "Gito" were our horseback guides for several amazing week-long trips in and around the valley Melado, Laguna del Maule and Achibueno. This tours helped us to define the route along the river Melado to the Laguna Dial. For horseback tours with Danilo write to email@example.com or call +56-9-9313 3504 or +56-9-73917717.|
|Locals from Pichirincon||In 2011 my girlfriend and I planned to do the hike to the Laguna las Truchas that is recommended in the "Adventure Handbook Central Chile". But before we set out we were told by locals that the landlord does not let pass any backpackers. The locals recommended a different trail to the Laguna Dial which we found by following the mostly well-visible horse trails along the river Gonzalez. This hike teached us that in most valleys are horse trails even if maps do not show these tracks and helped us to define the trail from the Laguna Dial to the end of section 2.|
|Google Earth, Bing Maps||The trail around the southern side of the Laguna Dial is partly visible in Google Earth and Bing Maps and was essential to plan this part the route.|
|GPT02-03||"Don Choi" Floridor Sandoval||On our hike to the Laguna Dial we met Don Choi with a group on horseback. With his advise we found later the alternative route to the Laguna Las Truchas comming from the north via "Las Tragedias" and "Palo Seco".|
|GPT03||Juan Pablo Ortega||Juan Pablo Ortega published on wikiexplora the rather hidden trail from from El Roble to the volcano Chillan along the rivers Ñuble, Estero El Quebrado and Las Minas. This track was very useful to find well-hikable route through the rather dense forest in this area.|
|trekkingchile.com||The trekking map "Nevados de Chillán" issued by trekkingchile.com shows the trail from the hot spings at the volcano Chillan via Coihuería to the hot spings Los Peucos. Before findings this trail on this map I considered a challanging cross-country traverse to the river Polcura because I could not find any suitable trail on the Google Earth satellite images due to the dense forest.|
|Google Earth, Bing Maps||Google Earth and Bing Maps was very helpful to plan the trail from the river Polcura to the northern end of the Laguna de Las Lajas and over the ridge to the hydro power station El Toro. On the satellite images the "bad weather escape route" well visible. This gave use a save and easy exit from the wether exposed ridge while a snow storm closed in.|
|GPT04||Pablo Azua Garcia||Pablo Azua Garcia published on trekking.com a route from the "Piedra del Indio" to Trapa Trapa. This verbral description provided a useful hint to search this trail on the satellite images of Google Earth were most of the track can be seen quite well.|
|Google Earth, Bing Maps||Most of this section was planned using Google Earth and Bing Maps. The trails and minor roads are generally well visible on satellite images and the few not visible parts were easy to find when hiking this trail.|
|Lonely Planet||The trekking guide book "Trekking in the Patagonian Andes" describes the trail around the volcano Antuco. The entire cicuit is incorporated into the GPT either a regular or optional route. We hiked this route in 2007.|
|GPT05||Juan Francisco Bustos||The Panoramio images of of Juan Francisco Bustos indicate a trail in the valley Cochico. This images together with bits and pieces of trails visible on satellite images in Google Earth helped us to find a good traverse from Trapa Trapa to Laguna del Barco.|
|Google Earth, Bing Maps||A good part of this section was planned using Google Earth and Bing Maps. The trails and minor roads are partly visible on satellite images. The not visible parts were searched when hiking this trail.|
|GPT06||Google Earth, Bing Maps||Most of this section was planned using Google Earth and Bing Maps. The satellite images show parts of a trail in a rather hidden and rarely visited valley next to the border with argentina.|
|Don Gregorio Alegria||In February 2012 we made a one day horseback tour with Don Gregorio from Ranquil to the hot spring Pelehue. These hot springs are located high up on the mountain Moncol and offer an impressive view to the volcano Lonquimay. The trail we took at this time on horseback is now part of the GPT.|
|GPT07||Google Earth, Bing Maps||Two years before planning the GPT I "dicovered" the valley Polul in Google Earth and we did one of our first hikes without a trekking map to this valley and lake Marinanqui relying solely on satellite images. It was an wounderful hike and a crucial experience to start with the planning of a long distance trail though the Patagonian Andes. Trails are also visible on and Bing Maps.|
|Mono Andes||The panoramio images of Mono Andes indicate a possible traverse over the Meseta de Malonehue which we incorporated into the GPT.|
|GPT08||Luis Toro||A wikiloc track published by Luis Toro shows a hiking and horse trail that avoids walking on the main road. This route is now incorporated as an hiking option and will probably alter the regular route once this track is confirmed by another hiker.|
|Google Earth, Bing Maps||Most of this section was planned using Google Earth and Bing Maps. The trails and minor roads are generally well visible on satellite images.|
|GPT09||Andes Mountain Expediciones||A wikiloc track published by Andes Mountain Expediciones shows the rather hidden trail via the Laguna Hualalafquén.|
|Google Earth, Bing Maps||Most of this section was planned using Google Earth and Bing Maps. The trails and minor roads are generally well visible on satellite images.|
|GPT10||Lonely Planet||The trekking guide book "Trekking in the Patagonian Andes" describes the Villarica Traverse. A part of this route is incorporated into the GPT. I hiked this route in 2003.|
|Fundo Huililco||The Fundo Huililco is located on a potentially more attractive route that leads directly from Currarehue to the Laguna Blanca on the base of the volcano Quetrupillan. The owners of the Fundo Huililco permit hikers to pass as long they do not leave trash.|
|Locals from Huichahue||When searching for an alternative route from the Laguna Azul to Liquiñe a local resident mentioned a direct trail but unfortunately describes the route incorrectly. After a long detour we finally found the trail which makes now a much nicer and shorter connections and avoids the main road from the Termas del Rincon to Coñaripe.|
|GPT11H||huilohuilo||The wikiloc user huilohuilo published a series of tracks that provide a suitable connection from the Liquiñe to Puerto Fuy.|
|GPT11P||Google Earth, Bing Maps||The regular packrafting route of section 11 was planned entirely with Google Earth and Bing Maps. The river Cuacuá from Reyehueico to the lake Neltume appers calm and easy navigable on the satellite images which could be confirmed when floating down this river.|
|GPT12||Gabriel González||The images published by Gabriel González on panoramio indicate a possible trail along the river Curringue that is partly hidden by the dense forest on the satellite images. These panoramio pictures convinced me to attempt this route along the river Curringue and not at the river Río Blanco further west.|
|Google Earth, Bing Maps||The forest roads visible on Google Earth and Bing Maps provided the rest of the route for this section.|
|GPT13||Lonely Planet||The trekking guide book "Trekking in the Patagonian Andes" describes the Puyehue Traverse. A good part of this route is incorporated into the GPT. I hiked this route in 2003, 2007 and 2009 before the erruption of the Cordon Caulle which change landscape and consequently also the route. A part of the trail was destroyed by the erruption and is not passable any more.|
|Google Earth, Bing Maps||When we did the first hike of the GPT in 2013/14 we took a quite demanding detour around the eatern side of the lava field. After reviewing our acutal GPS record I could draw a more suitable route around the western side of the fresh lava field that is similar impressive, contains less ascents and decents and gets hikers close to a hidden hot springs.|
|Pinot||The wikiloc user Pinto published the GPS record of a horseback trip to a hidden hot spring on the Cordon Caulle about 7 km off the regular route. Before the erruption of the Cordon Caulle I visited 3 times other hot springs that are now covered by a 7 square kilometer large lava field.|
|GPT14||Eran||When searching the trail from the volcano Antillanca to the lake Rupanco we got stack in inpassable forest. I took this trail 10 years earlier but it seems that that this route was given up and became overgrown. When reaching the nearby ski hotel Antillanca we were recommended a guide to show us the new trail that connects the open volcanic pleteau at the volcano Antillanca with the lake Rupanco. Eran came by horse to guide us to Las Gaviotas at eastern shore of the lake Rupanco.|
|GPT15||Lonely Planet||The trekking guide book "Trekking in the Patagonian Andes" describes the trail to the Termas de Callao. This route is now incorporated into the GPT. I hiked this route in 2003.|
|Maricel Arias||A wikiloc track from Maricel Arias shows the trail from the lake Cayetue which is not visible on satellite images.|
|GPT16||Municipalidad de Cochamo||The municipal administration of Cochamo published a hiking map showing the horse trail that are used and maintained by the local population that lives in the remote back-country. We found this map during our hike in an accommodation and changed our preliminary route to incorporate additional lakes and trails. This change of plan turned out to be an excellent choice.|
|GPT17||Estefania Chereguini and Walter Oszust||When I started to work on the southern extension of the GPT I struggled with finding a route from Lago Puelo to Lago Cholila. Due to the dense forest possible trails are well hidden and another hiker had to return half-way because he got stack in inpassable forest. It was Estefania Chereguini and Walter Oszust, the initiators and authors of the Huella Andina, who guided us most of the way. Due to a wild fire we could not walk the entire trail but the most challanging part of it. Thanks to Estefania and Walter the GPT could be extended further south avoiding long walks on roads with substantial transit traffic.|
|Google Earth, Bing Maps||The regular packrafting route was planned with Google Earth and Bing Maps. The river Carrileufu from the Lago Cholila to the Lago Rivadavia appers calm and easy navigable on the satellite images which could be confirmed when floating down this river.|
|GPT18||Estefania Chereguini and Walter Oszust||Estefania Chereguini and Walter Oszust initiated and developed the Huella Andina which is the recommended route for hikers in this section.|
|Google Earth, Bing Maps||The regular packrafting route was planned with Google Earth and Bing Maps. The rivers that connect the Lago Rivadavia with Lago Verde Lago Futalaufquen appers mostly calm with a few smaller rapids. This could be confirmed when floating down this river.|
Questions and Feedbacks
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