ENG:Reserva Nacional Altos de Pemehue

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Summary (editar)
Activity Trekking
Location Chile (english), Los Ángeles
Scenery Atractiva
Atractions Vistas panorámicas, Bosque, Flora atractiva, Fauna atractiva, Río
Duration 2 días

Algo Exigente

Trail Tramos sin sendero
Signage Suficiente
Infraestructure Inexistente
Topology Ida y Retorno por la misma ruta
Distance (k) 48.2 (round trip)
Original creator Rutas Patrimoniales
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General Description

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The Alto Biobío Heritage Route: The Araucarias of the Pemehue Range provides an opportunity and a challenge for anyone who loves horseback riding and observing nature. This circuit offers vistas of extensive araucaria, raulí, roble, ñirre, and lenga forests, as well as the chance to see the recent remains of human interventions in Andean ecosystems. The beautiful views and panoramas visible from the peaks of the Pemehue and Las Placetas ranges are the ideal complement for the swift-flowing and impetuous streams and rivers that bring the exuberant native vegetation to life, giving it shape and colour. The trail, hand-carved out of volcanic rock, is itself a remnant of earlier forest penetration. The route runs through one of the last refuges for araucaria forests in the Alto Biobío, boasting a spectacular geography of beautiful lakes at over 1000 m.a.s.l., mountain veranadas, gullies, magnificent granite promontories, and basalt columns.


The Heritage Route crosses a transition zone in terms of flora and fauna. Nationally, this area hosts the highest diversity of vegetable and animal species. The Pemehue Range constitutes a mixed biogeographic unit, combining elements associated with sclerophyll and xerophyte vegetable formations such as Nothofagus and araucaria forests. From an ecological point of view, the area consists of two ecoregions: Chilean Brush (Matorral Chileno) and Temperate Valdivian Forest (Bosque Templado Valdiviano). Biogeographically, it includes the biotic regions of Central Chile and the Subantarctic. The area is extraordinarily rich in endemic biota, amparticularly in monospecies plant and animal genera and families. On the other hand, anthropogenic intervention has resulted in a high degree of deterioration in some vegetable and animal communities. Botanically, the area is characterized by splendid araucaria (Araucaria araucana) forests. This Chilean conifer grows at over 900 m.a.s.l. and its name comes from the Pewen vernacular. Its seeds, rich in starch, were and are the nutritional foundation of the indigenous Pehuenche diet. In fact, Pehuenche means “peoples of the pine groves”.

This circuit provides a brief synthesis of the transformative capacity of humans in the mountain environments of central-southern Chile. It also offers visitors the chance to see emblematic fauna such as condors, pumas, and foxes. Geomorphologic processes in mountain environments are also readily apparent along the route. The circuit should be done over a minimum of four days of slow-paced rides over wide, well-marked stone and dirt trails. Along the way, you can rest and camp at mountain posts at Santa Rosa Lake and Butaco River, and at other sites on the shores of rivers or streams.

Season

Expected time

2 to 3 days

Access

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To get to the Heritage Route, start from the city of Los Ángeles in the central valley, 132 km from the city of Concepción and 116 km from the city of Chillán. You should exit old Route 5 South (Ruta 5 Sur), turning left (southeast) at the intersection with Route Q-61-R, connecting Los Ángeles and Santa Bárbara. After driving 40 km on a paved road, you will reach Santa Bárbara, a small rural town located on the north shore of the Biobío River. Here, you can find services and equipment for travellers, including all the basic supplies for your adventure. You can also visit a colonial Spanish frontier fort found near the main square (plaza), about 200 meters from the Biobío River. After leaving Santa Bárbara, continue heading southeast on Route Q-61-R for another 19 km until reaching the El Piulo bridge. This bridge spans the narrowest and deepest portion of the Biobío River, uniting the townships of Santa Bárbara and Quilaco.

Before crossing the bridge, look for a sign to the right of the road indicating the distance to the beginning of the Heritage Route (33.2 km). At this crossing, the Biobío River is 30 meters deep and no more than 25 meters wide. The emblematic river spills swiftly over rocks carved out by its fast-flowing waters. After crossing the bridge, you will go another 1.7 km until reaching an intersection with Q-75, a gravel road that connects the villages of Quilaco and Loncopangue. Turn left towards Loncopangue, a small rural settlement about 6.5 km from the turnoff. Along the way, you can enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the Biobío River Valley and the mountain spurs that surround it. When you leave Loncopangue (still on Q-75), you’ll go 12.7 km to Balseadero de Callaqui (Callaqui Ferry). This is also the site of the first indigenous Pehuenche community in the Alto Biobío, known as Callaqui. Take Route Q-151 along the south shore of the Biobío. This dirt road connects Callaqui Ferry with Fundo Porvenir and is in poor shape; it ends at the wall of the Pangue Hydroelectric Plant. The access to Fundo Porvenir is 5.9 km from Callaqui Ferry. Here, a metal sign welcomes visitors to the government estate, an important area for the protection and conservation of natural resources, and provides information about the Heritage Route. On the estate itself, you will see the dwellings of the Pehuenche families living on the low prairie and the remains, still standing, of the old houses of Fundo Porvenir. Mr. Lizardo Urrea, a local guide and resident of the sector for over 40 years lives just 2.7 km from the entrance to the estate.

When you arrive at Mr. Urrea’s house, you can park your vehicle, rest, and make the necessary arrangements for doing the route on horseback; overnight lodging is also available. The route itself begins about 2 km from the house, which is near the village of Ralco or Alto Biobío on the southern shore of the Biobío River. You should set out for Guidepost No. 1 (Cuyaqui Stream) on horseback. Before reaching the actual circuit, you will cross beneath large metal towers bearing the transmission lines from the Pangue and Ralco hydroelectric plants. The magnitude of the effects that these megaprojects have had in terms of landscape modification in the Biobío River Valley is evident: steel giants march in neat rows across forests, rivers, and streams, leaving mountainsides bleeding and deeply wounded by the designs of modernity and, farther south, the Pangue plant and dam interrupt the life, magic, and basic cycles of the formidable Biobío River. Some 600 meters from the home of Mr. Urrea, there is a duly marked detour. Follow the path to the right, riding along the Cuyaqui Stream until reaching Guidepost No. 1. This first guidepost is accompanied by an informational table with valuable data about the route: a map, the segments of the circuit and their distances, attractions along the way, and sites of interest.

By car

Public transport

Trail markings

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This guide is indispensable for anyone wishing to visit the Alto Biobío Heritage Route: The Araucarias of the Pemehue Range. It provides written material, cartography, and images associated with each segment of the circuit to supplement the route markers and sign postings. The circuit consists of 20 guideposts of patrimonial interest. These are duly marked with signs that are generally placed to the left of the trail. The estimated times given for each segment of the circuit include allowances for sightseeing and exploring the route and its surroundings. This circuit has been divided into five segments. Specific characteristics are associated with each guidepost, site of interest, and segment of the circuit. The signposting implemented along the route includes four types of markers:

1. Guidepost marker: A wooden post, 1.5 meters tall, with a metal plate indicating the guidepost number, name, and altitude. Black and white arrows indicate the distances to this and the next guidepost.

2. Route marker: A wooden post, about 2 meters tall, used to help indicate the trail in some areas. The tops of these signs are painted bright red.

3. Welcome sign: At the entrance to Fundo Porvenir. This sign offers general information about the route (map, segments, distances, guideposts).

4. Informational table: Beside Guidepost No. 1, Cuyaqui Stream Ford. This table gives detailed information about the route and its main attractions.

Route description

Segment 1

Cuyaqui Stream Ford - Second Sawmill Bench

  • Distance: 6,2 km.
  • Walking Time: 2 hr 30 min.
  • Season: November to march

Wide, wellmarked, stone horse trail ascending along the edge of the Cuyaqui Stream. Scenic views of native forests and old sawmills.

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The route begins at the Cuyaqui Stream Ford, following an old forest penetration road. Abandoned in 1981, the trail borders the Cuyaqui Stream Gorge and the foothill known as San Pablo Hill. The Cuyaqui Stream crossing is about 20 meters wide with a rocky bed. Its swiftly running waters pour generously into the Biobío River another 500 meters downstream, just before the wall of the Pangue Hydroelectric Plant. The Biobío zigzags down from its headwaters, found at over 1000 meters altitude in the peaks of the Pemehue Range. For more than seven kilometres, these hemmed-in waters sustain several species and ecosystems that are ecologically very valuable. The topography of the first part of the circuit, some 1700 meters from the Cuyaqui Stream Ford, is abrupt, with steep slopes, deep ravines, and landslides. The dominant vegetation is roble (Nothofagus obliqua), raulí (Nothofagus alpina), and coihue (Nothofagus dombeyi); quila (Chusquea quila) is also important. Here the trail is in good shape, although you should ride carefully in the landslide areas and where the trail is narrowest. The landscape changes as of 650 m.a.s.l., and the vegetation, mostly second-growth coihue and raulí, grows denser on both sides of the path.

As you go on, you will see a large landslide covering the trail at Guidepost No. 2. This is an example of the effects of natural disturbances on the landscape. The colonization and re-vegetation of this extensive landslide area shows the ecosystem’s capacity for recovery. The landslide is about 50 meters wide and 500 meters long, running from the head of San Pablo Hill to the Cuyaqui River. Look for quila and species of the genus Nothofagus such as coihue and roble colonizing the stony, otherwise bare soil. The former residents of Fundo Porvenir say that the landslide occurred at the beginning of the 1980s. The construction of the forest penetration road, the traffic of heavy machinery, and heavy precipitations may have triggered this geomorphologic process.

Former lumbering operations and their ecological impact

The trail leaves Guidepost No. 2 and continues through a forest of coihue, roble, and raulí. Guidepost No. 3, First Sawmill Bench, is about 300 meters along the trail. This open sector, approximately one hectare, is crossed by a small stream and surrounded by native vegetation. The vestiges of a sawmill that began operating here in 1972 stand in mute witness to the intense lumber exploitation of the 1970s and 1980s. These ruins include two steam engines (8 and 12 horsepower), half buried and rusted by the passage of time. One of these machines, with bits of metal and wood encrusted among its iron parts, is right beside the trail, completely abandoned and overgrown, a manifestation of human colonization – an ancient epic in which humans and machines fought side by side to conquer Pemehue – and the natural forces that limit its realization. You will also see old buildings and the remains of a cabin used as a post by the workers of the time. The First Sawmill Bench was one of the first lumber projects in the Pemehue Range, initiating operations, mainly the sawing of coihue, in 1972 and shutting them down in 1981. When operational, the sawmill produced approximately 4000 inches of sawed timber daily and the now-abandoned steam engines provided the motor force for both a saw and an edger. After sawing, the lumber was stacked and trucked, weather and road conditions permitting, to the estate owner’s houses of Fundo Porvenir.

This lumber was eventually taken to the city of Santa Bárbara, where it was stored in stockyards owned by a company also named Santa Bárbara and the former owner of Fundo Porvenir, Mr. José Ángel Ciappa. During peak exploitation periods (December to March), anywhere from seven to ten trucks would leave from here daily with 400 inches of wood apiece, mainly coihue and raulí. Early in the 1980s, the economic problems of the owner of Fundo Porvenir resulted in the permanent shutdown of the First Sawmill Bench. The sector and the landscape now bear the irrefutable stamp of the predatory action of humans. Along with machines and penetration roads, the piled-up remains of more than 2000 inches of sawed coihue lie in nearly complete decomposition.

When you leave Guidepost No. 3, First Sawmill Bench, the old forestry road continues upwards. The landscape is characterized by forests of coihue, hazelnut (Gevuina avellana), and quila brush (Chusquea quila). The topography is precipitous and the bed of the Cuyaqui Stream slowly becomes visible from the trail. The slope of the river increases sharply and Cuyaqui Valley becomes much narrower and more boxed-in, with enormous mature coihue specimens standing along the shores. This part of the trail runs along the stream and you will have the chance to see plant species associated with more humid or uliginous environments. These include laurel (Laurelia sempervirens), chilco (Fuchsia magellanica), nalcas (Gunnera tinctoria), and copihues (Lapageria rosea).

Unparalleled beauty and challenging horse-back riding along the shores of the Cuyaqui Stream Guidepost No. 4, Cotton Road (Camino Algodones) is about one kilometer away from Guidepost No. 3. At the beginning of this road, an old wooden fence marks the threshold to an area that clearly differs – in ecology and morphology – from the previous segments. The road’s name stems from ironic references made by the former workers of Fundo Porvenir given the extremely harsh, wild nature of the old trail, which was about 700 meters long. Here, enormous trunks sprawl across the bed of the Cuyaqui Stream, dragged there by the rapids whereas, upstream, you can see magnificent panoramic views of the araucaria forests of the Las Placetas Range. As of Guidepost No. 4, the trail runs along the Cuyaqui Stream, mostly on its left shore. Your ride along the wide trail is complicated by abundant rocks and large stones, and some parts should be done on foot. The characteristics of this section of the trail, built between 1970 and 1974, evoke the magnificence of human entrepreneurship, ingenuity, and effort.

Cotton Road (Camino Algodones) heads out of the dense vegetation and into an open clearing that grants a beautiful vista stretching from the bed of the Cuyaqui Stream to the surrounding mountain ridges. As you ride along, you will see forests of coihue, hazelnut, quila, and maqui brush (Aristotelia chilensis) along the shores of the Cuyaqui Stream, as well as occasional specimens of tineo or palo santo (Weinmannia trichosperma), chilco, laurel, nalcas, and other species, most of which are associated with uliginous environments. You will also hear the lyrical songs of the choroy or narrow-billed parakeet (Enicognathus ferrugineus), the chucao (Scelorchilus rubecula rubecula), and the pitio (Colaptes pitius pitius), natural inspiration available only at the heights of Pemehue. Another 400 meters beyond Guidepost No. 4, the trail continues its ascent, crossing over to the right or north shore of the Cuyaqui Stream. The characteristics on this side of the stream are similar to those on the south shore. Large rocks and stones are interspersed among the dense, damp vegetation. The stream bed is associated with rich biodiversity. At the end of Cotton Road, the trail crosses back over the Cuyaqui Stream (Guidepost No. 5). The sight of huge trees felled and dragged along by the force of the current makes this the ideal place for a well-earned rest. Here you can dally over the flora and fauna, finding a wide variety of trees, bushes, ferns, and nalcas. Introduced medicinal plants like poleo (Mentha pulegium) and mint (Mentha rotundifolia) can be found all along the circuit and in all its different ecological environments, interspersed with diverse native plants that also have medicinal applications. Historically, the plants used by the Pehuenches and colonists were those associated mainly with the underbrush. Llushu lawen (Hymenophyllum dentatum), a fern species, is used to heal the belly button of newborns; llanca lawen (Lycopodium paniculatum) is used to treat ulcers and tumors; and lafquen lawen (Euphorbia portulacoides) is a water remedy. One of the best-known native medicinal plants is cachan lawen or cachanlagua (Erythraea chilensis). Infusions of this plant can be used for several therapeutic purposes, including treating fevers and high blood pressure, aiding circulation for rheumatic conditions, and combatting circulatory and hepatic disorders. It is also an appetite stimulant that aids in digestion.

The indigenous Pehuenches relied frequently on the magical use of plants. For example, women used huentru lawen (Ophioglossum vulgatum) to conceive male children and huilel lawen (Hypolepis rugosula) helped the machi or shaman forecast problems caused by huekufu or demons (1). Love potions to separate lovers were prepared with huedahue (Gleichenia litorales) and latue (Latuapubzjlora). The latter is a highly feared plant that can be lethal but is a hallucinogen when taken in small doses. The plants known as country celery or panul (Apium panul), panke or nalka (Gunnera tinctoria), and chupón (Greigea sphacelata) are still highly valued for their medicinal and nutritional properties.

Undoubtedly, the use of forest resources, “lelfunmapu” to the Mapuches, was a fundamental aspect of the Pehuenche and colonial lifestyles. It defined some of the main features of their identity and particular world view. Along with plants, a large amount of mushrooms were or are also collected. More than ten species of these are from the genus Cyttaria. Known commonly as changles and digüeñes, these fungi are associated with the Nothofagus forest, especially roble or pellín (N. obliqua) and coigue (N. dombeyi). You will have so much native flora to wonder over for its enormous ecological and cultural value that you will arrive at Guidepost No. 5 (1000 m.a.s.l.) – after 5.1 km of magnificent horse riding – before you know it.

A first encounter with the araucarias and their tragic history in Pemehue

After gathering your strength at Guidepost No. 5 and carefully checking your riding gear, you should follow the trail that leads away from Cuyaqui Stream heading towards Guidepost No. 6, Second Sawmill Bench. On this segment of the circuit, the level of difficulty of the trail is medium. The path is mostly dirt, with very light “trumao” soil in some sectors and stones and larger rocks in others, especially right before Guidepost No. 6, Second Sawmill Bench. The slope of the trail also sharpens, revealing the erosive effects of the action of water. The predominant vegetation is coihue and quila, which are shorter and lower in this drier atmosphere. You are now riding at over 1000 meters of altitude, and the trail crosses a landscape predominated by araucaria forests (Araucaria araucana) and the magnificent rocky promontories of the tallest peaks of the Pemehue and Las Placetas ranges. Listen again for the melodic calls of the choroy (Enicognathus leptorhynchus), also known as “wawilma” or the slender-billed parakeet. This small, meridonial, native Andean parrot feeds on the piñón, or araucaria pine nuts, thereby helping to scatter the seeds of these centenary trees.

The importance of the araucaria, or pewen in the language of the Mapuches, is due to the conifer’s ecological value as well as its capacity to sustain the sociocultural development of the Pehuenche peoples during the prehispanic periods. It is for this very reason that they began to call themselves Pehuenche, meaning the people of the pewen, or the araucarias. The araucarias grow in areas known as pewenmapu or pewenento, the land or area of the pewen (2). Very early accounts report the importance of this resource to the subsistence of the former hunters that inhabited this mountainous region, a tradition that has been maintained to date in spite of the deep cultural changes experienced by the Pehuenches. In 1760, Mariño de Lobera stated:

“The subsistence of these people is mainly pine nuts taken from pine cones of different kinds and qualities, the same as their trees... and the number of them is so great that these trees are in all the thickets and forests and are sufficient for providing for all the people, which are innumerable, so much so that they are used to make bread, wine, and stews. And as the main harvest occurs at a given time of the year, they have large silos made underground in which they store the pine nuts, hiding aboveground several water channels... because if they do not have water above them, they sprout and then rot... They also distil from this abundance a highly medicinal white resin for a variety of illnesses....” (3)

Around the Second Sawmill Bench, some 200 meters northeast of this former lumber operation, is the spring whose waters give life and vigour to the Cuyaqui Stream. You can reach the spring on foot, following a barely visible path through the quila brush. A pool of water about 5 meters across accumulates at the mouth of the spring, forming a 3-meter-high waterfall. A small creek (about 1-2 litres per second) flows out from the waterfall, giving rise to the headwaters of the Cuyaqui Stream. Here, you can enjoy native vegetation such as ferns, nalcas, and other floral species in a fairly undisturbed natural environment that is rich in biodiversity.

At the site of Guidepost No. 6, Second Sawmill Bench, the abandoned, decomposing remains of countless coihue and araucaria trunks, some over a meter in diameter, are spread out over an area of sparse vegetation. About 10000 inches of uncut wood, mostly coihue, were left here. When operational, the facilities and sawing equipment could generate about 1500 inches of wood, mainly araucaria, daily. Coihue was processed at the First Sawmill Bench, since the standard operating procedures of the day required moving the wood from the higher areas in trucks or with the aid of oxen. The effort made by the sawmill workers is noteworthy, especially considering that they dealt not only with the rigors of forestry operations in isolated, wild environments, but also with the lengthy trip made daily from their homes on Fundo Porvenir or in the village of Ralco to the exploitation sites on the mountain. In those days, the trip to the Second Sawmill Bench required a bit over three hours of hard, exhausting hiking.

Segment 2

Second Sawmill Bench - El Cóndor Lookout

  • Distance: 6 km.
  • Walking Time: 2 hr 30 min.
  • Season: November to march

Well-marked, stone horse trail, ascending and descending. Panoramic views of the Cuyaqui Stream Gorge, Pemehue peaks, and Las Venenosas Gorge. Scenic views of araucaria forests and prior forest exploitation. Fauna sightings.

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Take your time exploring the vestiges of the Second Sawmill Bench. Then mount back up and head out slowly, making frequent stops, along the trail leading to the summits of Las Placetas Range and the first spurs of the Pemehue Range. About 500 meters past Guidepost No. 6, you can take a break and gather your strength in an area free of vegetation that offers interesting and lovely views of the Cuyaqui Stream Gorge and the volcanic and granite peaks and promontories of the surrounding mountain formations. On this route dominated by araucaria forests and quila underbrush, Guidepost No. 7 marks the beginning of the final ascent to the peaks of Las Placetas and Pemehue.

The majestic peaks of the Pemehue and Las Placetas ranges

The horse trail continues on past the headwaters of Cuyaqui Stream, now heading towards Guidepost No. 8, Las Placetas and Pemehue Lookout. After zigzagging along for about 800 stony meters, the trail into the forest straightens out, with the peaks of Las Placetas Range on the right hand side and the magnificent Cuyaqui Stream Gorge on the left. The vista here extends some 500 meters in length and is broad and unspeakably beautiful. The location offers an unforgettable view of the Cuyaqui Stream Ravine and the enormous rocky promontories of Las Placetas Range, crowned by araucaria forests. During this segment of the circuit, you will see how the natural elements affect the conformation and physiognomy of the landscape. A shelf carved from granite and cornices of abundant stony material on the mountainside evoke not only the transformative force of human beings, but also of the elements in mountain environments. Processes associated with sharp changes in temperature and the important presence of snow at altitudes exceeding 1000 meters can be seen from this area.

Here, great, tall granite towers rise over your head, where they are exposed to the actions of the wind, water, and temperatures. The very heights of Las Placetas Range seem to stretch out, reaching toward the heavens; gorgeous araucaria specimens stand firm against the forces of the elements, taking us back to earlier times, environments, and landscapes. Watch for a route marker about 100 meters beyond Guidepost No. 8 and to the right of the route. This sign points the way to an excellent lookout point over Las Venenosas Gorge and Cuyano Stream. If you continue riding another 100 meters over the peaks of the Pemehue Range, heading towards Guidepost No. 8, you will be granted a magnificent, expansive view with beautiful panoramas of the Las Placetas and Pemehue ranges, Callaqui Volcano, the tall and irregular peaks of Sierra Velluda, and the mountain valleys of the Cuyaqui and Cuyano streams. You are now 1439 m.a.s.l. and have covered 8.5 km of the Heritage Route.

Araucarias, culture, and mountainous ecological environments

Moving on from Guidepost No. 8, you will begin a slow descent to the southeast, in the direction of Guidepost No. 9. The trail runs along the north mountainside of the Cuyano Stream Gorge, only about 200 meters from the high watershed peaks of the Pemehue Range. On this segment of the circuit, the forests are predominantly araucaria and lenga (Nothofagus pumilio), with the ever-present associated quila underbrush. Keep your eyes open for interesting flowers blooming in the rocky walls on both sides of the trail. To the right, the Cuyano Stream Gorge and Las Venenosas Veranadas are surrounded by vast stretches of araucaria forests previously subjected to intense and unmitigated forestry exploitation. This grazing area was named Las Venenosas (The Poisonous Ones) because of the weeds or bushes in the area that are poisonous for livestock, principally cattle.

About 400 meters before Guidepost No. 9, Third Sawmill Bench, the trail turns off to the left, following a narrow path that crosses a native forest. This path merges with the former forest penetration road around the Third Sawmill Bench. You can get to the sawmill by veering right after the marker indicating Guidepost No. 9. About 80 meters down, there is a route marker on the left that points in the direction of the old sawmill.

Several piles of sawed araucaria lumber, both boards (7x1 inches) and blocks (10x10 inches) can be seen at the Third Sawmill Bench, where nearly 40000 inches of araucaria have laid abandoned and decaying since 1978. Blackened mounds of sawdust are scattered among the vegetation, perfectly humidified by the passage of time. Trees and bushes grow in the middle of what was once an intensive work centre, revealing the length of the abandonment. When you are done at the Third Sawmill Bench, head back southwards to the old forestry trail. Here you will take up a more shadowy segment of the circuit, surrounded constantly by araucaria, lenga, coihue, ñirre, and quila forests. The remains of large trees lying over the trail are a typical element on this part of the trail, as are the extensive araucaria forests of the Cuyano Stream Valley.

You will ride a little more than one kilometer past Guidepost No. 9 on a wide, easy-riding trail before coming to Guidepost No. 10, Las Venenosas Lookout (1424 m.a.s.l.). This offers an unforgettable vantage for looking out over the Cuyano Stream Gorge and Las Venenosas Veranadas. At this guidepost, the changes in vegetation and landscape are more evident. Some grounds lack vegetation and the rest are dominated by quila and coirón, characteristic species of Andean steppe and mountain veranada environments over 1200 m.a.s.l. Coirón is a dominant species in the area. Its name likely comes from a Mapuche dialect and alludes more to the rolled and grassy form of the leaf (Andropogon argenteum, Festúceas), which has several sections, than to the species itself. Basically, this means that the leaves have whorls and are hard and pointy. If you are lucky, you will be able to catch a glimpse of a condor (Vultur gryphus), the majestic and symbolic carrion bird of the Andes.

About 200 meters south of this guidepost, riding along the foothills of the Pemehue Range, the wide forestry trail reaches its end after 1000 km of interesting and spectacular riding. The trail forks and, to the left, you will see the ascent to El Peñón Ridge; to the right, a detour leads to La Frutilla Lake, approximately 2 km southeast. The fork is marked by a route marker.

El Peñón Range and El Cóndor Lookout

When you pass the fork in the road, you will begin the climb up to the peaks of El Peñón Range, moving along the north face, bare of trees but covered in sparse quila and coirón brush. Here, you’ll need to keep a close eye on the route markers in order to stay on track. This segment ends one kilometer past Guidepost No. 11, El Cóndor Lookout (1467 m.a.s.l.).

This guidepost offers an exceptional vista of the Cuyano Stream Gully and you might even catch a glimpse of the surprising and unparalleled flight of the condors that habitually soar over the zone. The slow ascent to El Peñon Ridge merits frequent stops along the way and is marked by route markers.

Segment 3

El Cóndor Lookout - Santa Rosa Lake

  • Distance: 1,8 km.
  • Walking Time: 1 hr. 30 min.
  • Season: November to march

Dirt or “trumao” soil horse trail, descending to Santa Rosa Lake and ascending to Portezuelo Trinidad Lookout. Scenic views of veranada landscapes, Santa Rosa Stream Gorge, Callaqui Volcano, Sierra Velluda, lakes. Fauna sightings.

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The descent to Santa Rosa Lake and the Santa Rosa Stream Gorge

The summit of El Peñón Ridge is at 1507 meters altitude. This is the site of Guidepost No. 12, Descent to Santa Rosa Lake. To the east, you can see the beautiful mountainscapes of the Santa Rosa Stream Gorge and Callaqui Volcano and, to the south, Portezuelo Trinidad. We recommend that you check your riding gear at this guidepost, as you will be commencing a slow, steep descent. Back in the saddle and heading towards the lakes Las Parrillas, Las Totoras, and La Tasa, watch for the numerous whitish trunks covering the foothills lining the Santa Rosa Stream Gorge. These provide more evidence of human action and the use of fire to clear the land for livestock, a common practice of the colonists. These burns assured the regeneration of grasses for the following season but have impeded the normal recovery of the affected native forest and have intensified erosion and soil loss in the primary burn sectors, mostly veranadas. The blackened bark of some araucarias indicates the fire reached as far as their stands. The thick bark of these trees reflects the millenary adaptive processes of this formidable conifer when faced with the vicissitudes of nature such as volcanism and the irrational predatory action of humans.

The most important activities in this mountain region have been forestry and livestock. The often indiscriminate exploitation of forest resources has caused serious damage to the forests and natural resources associated with these ecosystems. The need for the local communities to make suitable areas for planting and grazing has meant a progressive decrease in vegetative covering, as have uncontrolled burns and cutting of the forest, common practices among both the colonists and indigenous peoples. Moreover, large-scale lumber exploitation by the company Ralco S.A. between 1940 and 1970 and by the former owners of Fundo Porvenir along with the high demand for wood by the cellulose industry contributed heavily to the decrease of vegetative covering. This resulted in a loss of the productive and regenerative capacity of the native forest, especially for species like araucaria, lenga, coihue, roble, and raulí.

It should also be noted that wood is extracted for firewood, charcoal, and building materials, especially fences, in areas next to winter pastures. The intervention in the forest has not usually been regulated by management plans and, therefore, the agricultural methods applied do not necessarily guarantee the appropriate use of the soil. On the contrary, the “floreo del bosque”, or cutting down the best individuals without considering longterm consequences, was a commonly used technique for local wood exploitation, seriously affecting the forest’s capacity for regeneration.

Evidence of ancestral Pehuenche culture in the Pemehue Range

About 300 meters from Guidepost No. 12, to the right of the trail, is a magnificent promontory of white granite rock dripping stone fragments down the mountainside and forming a cone of low-level erosion. At the apex, araucaria specimens were witness to the unbreakable will of the colonists in these extremely harsh ecological environments. In this sector, you should pay close attention to the trail, noting the remains of Pehuenche utensils used in their historic travels to the pinalerías, or araucaria forests. Fragments of a stone mortar used to grind pine nuts evokes past travels and broadens our understanding of the geographic and territorial distribution of this culture in the Andean massifs of the Alto Biobío.

Remains of Pehuenche mortar near Las Parrillas Lake

Earlier, the Pehuenches, or people of the araucarias, occupied the valleys of the western slopes of the Andes Mountains, from Antuco Volcano in the north to Villarrica Volcano in the south, according to the geographic distribution of the araucaria forests, or pinalerías. Nowadays, the Pehuenche population and communities are geographically limited in Chile to the sector of the Andes Mountains known as Alto Biobío, which is, administratively, made up by the townships of Alto Biobío and Quilaco in the Biobío Region and Lonquimay in the Araucanía Region. The Pehuenches of Alto Biobío are grouped into 11 communities, located on the shores of the Queuco and Biobío rivers, with an estimated population of 7000. In this area, which is part of the Alto Biobío Indigenous Development Area (ADI), the land occupied by the Pehuenches and recognized by the State of Chile as part of their former territories covers approximately 90,000 hectares (4).

The geographic, ecological, and environmental factors of Alto Biobío have determined the lifestyle and sociocultural organization of the Pehuenche communities, as well as the useful and symbolic relationships that have been established with these territories and their natural resources. Thus, we are able to distinguish between different occupied spaces that form part of a productive cycle sustaining the traditional life style of both the Pehuenche communities and the colonists that lived in the area, including Pemehue Range and Fundo Porvenir. These spaces include veranadas, winter pastures, pine groves, native forest, rivers, and lakes. For the Pehuenches, an important part of the territory is shared and is used based on the annual cycle of activities and the availability of natural resources. In this sense, each family owns the goods that it is able to gather, but some communities still do not recognize exclusive individual propriety over land or territories that, ancestrally, belonged to the community, such as the pine groves or araucaria forests and the veranadas. Once, any Pehuenche could cultivate the soil as they liked and the products were theirs to keep. However, they could not use the earth itself as property, neither selling nor renting it. Although it was of common use, it belonged, ultimately, to the community.

Both the winter pastures, with their accompanying houses, corrals, crops, and native forests, and the veranadas are associated with the annual weather regime and depend on the presence or absence of snow. Once the snow begins to melt in the spring, the Pehuenches and colonists began the ascent to the veranadas, taking their animals to the new pastures and beginning the pine nut harvest. The territorial continuity between these ecological environments, that is, the free movement of people and resources over them, was a fundamental aspect for the economic and cultural development of these peoples, as well as for the management of the natural resources. Their manner of relating to the earth, based largely on the transhumance livestock and collection of wild fruits (pine nuts, hazelnuts, digüeñes) is common throughout the entire Alto Biobío and in the Pemehue Range. The names of the mountains, rivers, and streams are reminiscent of the fact that the route that you are travelling on was once part of the area through which the Pehuenche peoples were distributed geographically and historically. Most recently, this area sheltered the indigenous peoples from the brutal onslaught and persecution to which they were subjected by Chile and Argentina in the mid nineteenth century.

Cognitively, the Pehuenches understand the forested araucaria formations in the same way they do their own society. They distinguish clearly between feminine (fruit-bearing) specimens, or domopewen, and masculine specimens, or wentrupewen; specimens with male and female cones are understood to be bisexual. Fecundation of the araucarias is anemophilous, or done through the wind; the Pehuenches understood this fertilization to be a sexual process in which the pines of both sexes come into contact underground through their roots or in the air via mountain parrots.

Thus, each araucaria forest is an extensive family group known as a lobpewen, and equivalent to a lobche, or Pehuenche family. The Pehuenches believe that these forests are protected by supernatural beings: the old man of the pewen cares for the male trees, whereas the old woman of the pewen looks after the female trees. Family prayers are said to these entities prior to the harvest and community prayers at the end of this. These rites are performed in the forests themselves, thereby assuring the conservation of the trees, their protection, and fertility (5).

Having passed the white granite rock, the landscape becomes rather dry and arid, with scant trees and low quila and coirón brush. Santa Rosa Lake appears, surrounded by araucaria forests and quila bush. In the distance, an enormous basalt rock, reaching up to around 100 meters height, and Portezuelo Trinidad greet you. Good news: you are nearing Guidepost No. 13, where you will rest and camp after your first day on the trail.

The surface of Santa Rosa Lake is approximately 5.2 hectares (280 meters wide and 380 meters long) and the lake is 9.5 meters deep at its centre. It is surrounded by araucaria forests and quila brush and its shores, which lack beach areas, are covered by junquillo vegetation. The rather warm waters of the lake are inviting and you should indulge in some well-earned rest, relaxation, and recreation. This is the ideal place to camp and prepare your food. You can get water from a spring just 20 meters from the marker that indicates Guidepost No. 13. Remember that you must, with the help of your guide, unsaddle your mounts and put them out to pasture. It is also a good time to look for dry firewood and light your campfire beside the wooden post used by the colonists on their habitual trips to the area. Such constructions are characteristic of the mountain veranadas and are usually used for shelter by the herdsmen when they drive their animals to the high pastures. The Santa Rosa post was built by Mr. Lizardo Urrea, a former worker on Fundo Porvenir, in 1993.

Segment 4

Santa Rosa Lake - Mallín Largo Veranada

  • Distance: 6 km.
  • Walking Time: 3 hr.
  • Season: November to march

Poorly indicated or “trumao” soil horse trail over the peaks of the Pemehue Range, descending to Mallín Largo Veranada. Scenic views of pristine araucaria, lenga, and ñirre forests. Panoramic views of Prados de Maitenes Stream Gorge and Huida Ridge.

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On the road to Portezuelo Trinidad and the Prados de Maitenes Stream Gorge

You should wake the next day renewed and refreshed, ready to take to the trail for a second day of riding. Start by heading south towards Guidepost No. 14, Mirador Portezuelo Trinidad; this is now the fourth segment of the circuit. After leaving Santa Rosa Lake, the trail slowly climbs down to El Peñón Stream. The landscape is characterized by quila and coirón and, to the south, Portezuelo Trinidad, a mountain ridge surrounded by low, sparse brush. To the right of El Peñón Stream, whose stony bed does not exceed 3 meters across, you can see a rocky formation nearly 100 meters high with some araucaria specimens colonizing its stony base. After riding another 300 meters, you will see two large rocks to the right of the route polished by the action of the snow. The locals call these Las Lápidas (the tombstones), as the area was once a Pehuenche burial site. Take your time exploring this place and enjoying the gorgeous vistas of Santa Rosa Lake and Gorge. When you take up the trail again, you will head towards one of the highest altitude spots on this circuit, Portezuelo Trinidad Lookout (1528 m.a.s.l.).

From here, you will have spectacular panoramic views in practically all directions and your pictures are sure to reveal mountain images and landscapes of unmatched beauty. To the northeast and in the distance are the white, irregular peaks of Sierra Velluda; to the east is the magnificent Callaqui Volcano (also known as Callaquen Volcano), its fumaroles, and the foothills of the araucaria-forested Colluco Veranada; to the south lie Quilapehuén Hill and the high watersheds of the Pemehue Range; and, to the west, the peaks of El Peñón Ridge and Stream.

When you leave Portezuelo Trinidad Lookout, the trail continues southward along the peaks of El Peñón Ridge towards Guidepost No. 15, Quilapehuén Hill Lookout (1716 m.a.s.l.). This is the beginning of a pristine araucaria forest and the Prados de Maitenes Stream Gorge. The trail between Guideposts 14 and 15 is characterized by scant trees, with some araucaria specimens dotting the lower stretches of El Peñón Stream and the highest mountain summits.

A rocky promontory stands off to the right of the trail, about 40 to 50 meters high. A small araucaria grove crowns the nearly vertical wall at the highest part, or the cornice. The trail here is fairly tricky, with abundant stone matter that was loosened or broken off from the rock by the effects of gravity, the rain, and abrupt temperature changes, falling from the highest parts of the volcanic cornice. Lake Trinidad is also part of this landscape with its typical varied geomorphologic forms and ecological processes of mountain environments at over 1500 meters altitude. This site also offers an unforgettable view of Quilapehuén Hill and evidence of old burnings or fires. Two araucarias stand off to the right of the trail, offering a warm welcome to Guidepost No. 15, where excellent panoramic views of Quilapehuén Hill and El Peñón Stream Gorge, an affluent of the Santa Rosa Stream, await you.

The araucarias of the Prados de Maitenes Stream Gorge and El Peñón Ridge

After crossing the remains of an old fence, you will move to the left, slowly going through a shadowy araucaria forest. Some 1000 meters to the south, you will reach Guidepost No. 16, El Peñón Ridge. This route borders the peaks of Pemehue, El Diablo Stream Gorge, and the northern part of the Prados de Maitenes Stream Gorge. Here, you can take in the entire magnitude of this beautiful amphitheatre of araucaria. The presence of the socalled pine beard or pine moss indicates that these forests, associated with lenga and quila, were not past victims of fire or lumber exploitation. Thus, the area’s ecological integrity is adequate for managing the conservation of its resources.

From this perspective, the Pemehue Range has important ecological characteristics that warrant special care for the conservation, protection, and support of biodiversity. These aspects include the presence of part of the deciduous Andean forest of the Biobío, six inadequately known species, and 34 species in precarious stages of conservation such as the guiña (Felix guigna), condor, “crybaby lizard” (Liolaemus chiliensis), frog (Telmatobufo venustus), and Creole perch (Percichthys trucha) as well as endemic species like the amphibian Alsodes vittatus. In turn, the water courses running through the ravines provide a favourable environment in which numerous invertebrates, amphibians, and fish can develop their life cycles.

Nonetheless, one of the main threats to the conservation of these ecosystems and their associated biodiversity is the vulnerability of the soils given hydric erosion processes derived mainly from the traditional and historic uses to which the area’s natural resources have been subjected. In spite of this, the native vegetation that you see along the route has been slowly recovering through a process of ecological succession of second-growth forests.

Guidepost No. 16 is sheltered by gorgeous araucaria individuals. Here you can recover your strength and observe the veranadas of the Prado de Maitenes Stream Gorge towards the east and, towards the south, the enormous rocky promontory of Los Caciques Hills, with araucarias on both its foothills and its highest peaks. This same site offers an excellent panorama of El Diablo River Gorge on the right, that is, to the west. We recommend you take a brief rest here and check your riding gear in preparation for the descent to Guidepost No. 17, Mallín Largo Veranada. It is especially important that you watch for route markers on the way down as these will indicate an eastward shift in the trail. Once at Guidepost No. 17, the predominant vegetation is low quila brush, along with coirón and lowgrowing ñirre (Nothofagus antartica) forest. Huida Ridge is visible in the distance and Mallín Largo Veranada is a bit nearer.

Mallín Largo Veranada

Congratulations! You have nearly reached Guidepost No. 17, or Mallín Largo Veranada, in the Prados de Maitenes Stream Gorge. You have ridden 20 km of the route and have been on horseback for almost 10 hours all told. You and your mount should be ready for another break. Here, an interesting ñirre grove covers about three hectares of a more or less flat, grassy, damp area used for livestock and set beside the headwaters of the Prados de Maitenes Stream. The ruins of an old corral and the presence of cattle mark this sector, which is one of the most important veranadas on Fundo Porvenir. The area was previously occupied by Genaro Sotomayor and his family, former tenants of the Fundo, as well as other colonists from farther south. The cheese produced here and at the Prados de Butaco post supplied the local families and was sold, mostly in the city of Mulchén. Interestingly, the most intense occupation of these mountains occurred around the 1950s, when the colonists of Fundo Porvenir first burned the land to make it suitable for livestock. This practice, although at odds with conservation processes, was highly useful for family subsistence and was habitual in spring or early winter, as it allowed the regeneration of grasses such as coirón, arvejilla, liuto (Alstroemeria aurea), cat’s ear (Hypochoeris radicata), and quila. This fodder is necessary for feeding and maintaining livestock, valuable capital in the productive systems of the rural Andes Mountains. You are now nearing the end of the fourth segment of the circuit, which heads downhill and to the east, towards the confluence of the Prado de Maitenes Stream and the Butaco River. From here on, the trail slowly draws nearer to the Prado de Maitenes Stream, making it possible to see Los Caciques Hill to the north and, in the distance, Huida Ridge to the east.

Segment 5

Mallín Largo Veranada - Prados del Butaco

  • Distance: 7 km.
  • Walking Time: 3 hr.
  • Season: November to march

Dirt horse trail bordering the Prados de Maitenes Stream and Waterfall. Scenic views of Prados de Maitenes Stream Gorge, Butaco River, and araucarias atop the Huida Ridge. Quila growth and raulí forests in the Butaco River Gorge. End of Route at the Prados del Butaco Post.

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The descent along the Prados de Maitenes Stream

After riding about 25 minutes from Guidepost No. 17, the trail passes through a more or less dry sector with abundant quila and coirón. It runs along the Prados de Maitenes Stream towards Guidepost No. 18, Prados de Maitenes Stream Waterfall. After going about 500 meters, you should cross the stony stream from the south to the north shore; the bed here is about 5 meters wide. After riding another 15 to 20 minutes, the trail reaches a fairly elevated point. If you look to the southeast, you will see nearly the entire length of the Prados de Maitenes Stream Gorge and Callaqui Volcano; a rocky promontory of sheer walls with araucaria-decorated summits stands off to the left of the route. At the base of this rocky formation is a beautiful, pale reddish lenga forest.

About 20 minutes from this place, you will cross back over the Prados de Maitenes Stream. At this crossing site, you will have a view of the confluence of this stream with the larger Butaco River, which flows to the area from farther north. The trail continues to follow the stream, although this is now some 80 to 100 meters below the trail. The panoramic views on this segment of the circuit are extremely lovely, especially on the south-facing mountainside, that is, to the left of the trail, where forests of roble and raulí are predominant. Some 200 meters ahead, several waterfalls drop down over volcanic rock, giving rise to a spectacular cascade about 40 or 50 meters high. The trail continues along, slowly approaching the bed of the Prados de Maitenes Stream, crossing interesting lenga, ñirre, and raulí forests on the way. Here, the stream is approximately 30 meters wide and the bed is stony with large rocks and tree trunks dragged along by the swift-moving waters.

Guidepost No. 18, Prados de Maitenes Waterfall (1063 m.a.s.l.), is off to the left of the trail. To the right, a raulí forest stands testimony to the ravages of past fires. The waterfall, in a part of the stream with large stones and rocks, is approximately seven meters tall and gives rise, at its base, to a pool that is some 20 meters long and seven meters wide. This is the perfect place to stop for a well deserved swim and to let your horse have a drink of water. If you look downstream, you will see a number of damp vegetation species, including nalcas, growing along both shores of the stream whereas, in the bed of the stream, countless tree trunks have been dragged into place by the water.

As you head towards Guidepost No. 19, or the Confluence Lookout (Butaco River-Prados de Maitenes Stream), you will continue descending and moving slowly away from the stream. The trail crosses open fields used for livestock, where the vegetation is dominated by sparse, low brush, mostly quila and coirón. In the sector, you will eventually see cattle grazing on the fodder. As you approach Guidepost No. 19, the vegetation becomes progressively denser and second-growth roble and raulí begin to dominate the landscape. Once at Guidepost No. 19, you can look out over the Butaco River Gorge and see the confluence of this river with the Prados de Maitenes Stream and the imposing Huida Ridge, its highest peaks topped with araucarias. From this point on, the trail runs through a thick forest of raulí, coihue, and roble, halfway up the mountainside that drops down to the western shore of the Butaco River. Later, you will begin the final descent to the Butaco River and the last part of your ride to Guidepost No. 20, Prados de Maitenes Post.

At the Butaco River Gorge and Huida Ridge

From Guidepost No. 19 on, the landscape is dominated by secondgrowth stands of pure raulí, with the associated quila underbrush. The trail, narrow and surrounded by vegetation, is clearly marked. After riding for about 25 minutes through this type of forest and ecological environment, you will reach an open sector with evidence of past human intervention; scant vegetation and the remains of blackened tree trunks tell of old burns. Continue through the raulí formations until you reach a small creek or stream, at which point you will come upon a second, smaller open area, practically at the end of the descent to the Butaco River.

Enjoying the Butaco River

About 400 meters ahead, the waters of the Butaco River, an important affluent of the Biobío River in the upper reaches of its basin, are tranquil and placid. The stream is about ten meters wide and no more than two meters deep, surrounded by abundant, humid vegetation. A small sand and gravel beach invites you in for a hardearned, refreshing swim. However, before heeding the cries of your travelweary bones and jumping into these icy waters, we strongly suggest that you stop and take a look at the birthdate on your driver’s license!

The end of the route

After your aquatic adventure, the horse ride continues along another 400 meters until reaching Prados del Butaco Post, built alongside the river in 1995 by Mr. Lizardo Urrea. Follow the trail over beautiful, more or less flat terraces, with the river to your left and dense forests of roble, coihue, and ñirre to your right. Once at Guidepost No. 20, you will see the old buildings and wooden fences of the mountain post. Summer grasses and cattle in the sector indicate that the area is still a grazing veranada. From here, you have gorgeous views of La Moñuda Hill (1783 m.a.s.l.) some three kilometers to the south and Huida Ridge to the east. Your second day of riding has come to an end and you should prepare to camp, gathering dry firewood and offering your horse and its weary bones a rest. You are now at kilometer 27 of the Alto Biobío circuit: The Araucarias of the Pemehue Range (1063 m.a.s.l.) after two days of interesting and magnificent adventures. Congratulations!

Recommendations

  • This trekking is described in full detail in the following topoguide of the Ministery of Public Patrimony. The printed guide can be obtained for free in the Ministery:56-2-3512100 -> 2325. It is hihgly recommended to take it to the walk, as it enriches the experience with descrptions of flora, fauna, geography and geology.
  • Once you reach the end of the old lumber trail

that penetrates the forest, you should pay attention to the route markers that indicate which way to go, especially if you are travelling without a guide.

  • The total estimated time for doing the Heritage

Route, that is, the 27 km from Guidepost No. 1 to Guidepost No. 20, is about 12.5 hours horseback. However, we recommend that you take four days to do the circuit (round trip), riding to Guidepost No. 13, Santa Rosa Lake (approximately seven hours), on the first day and to Guidepost No. 20, Prados del Butaco (5.5 hours) on the second day. These are good campsites, where clean water and dry firewood are available. You can also camp at Guidepost No. 17, Mallín Largo Veranada-Los Maitenes Gorge. However, depending on your timeframe and the weather, you may want to limit your visit. In such cases, segments 1, 2, and 3 are the most interesting in terms of ecology and landscape.

  • An important part of the route runs over

rocky terrain, with gravel or stones on the trail. This makes the ride more challenging, especially in the sector known as “Cotton Road” (Camino Algodones). Riding here implies a progressively greater expenditure of energy and, therefore, a higher physical demand. Thus, you should prepare yourself well for the ride and take the necessary equipment considering that the trail is a recommended four-day ride. We suggest that travellers with little equestrian experience only do the circuit to Guidepost No. 13, Santa Rosa Lake, an estimated two-day round trip.

  • Take appropriate clothes and camping equipment

(tent, synthetic sleeping bags, waterproof parkas, gloves, appropriate boots, other camping gear). Rain is possible, even in January and February, and the temperature drops at night. Remember to throw a compass and a GPS into your backpack, as these will allow you to generate your own data regarding the route. A good camera is indispensable!

  • Prior to the trip, you should stop by the police

station (retén de Carabineros) in Loncopangue and tell them your itinerary, final destination, and the expected length of your stay in the area.

  • Be extremely careful with campfires and bring

back any food scraps, plastics, or other waste from the trip so that other adventurers like yourself will have an equal chance to enjoy the area.

  • Finally, contact Mr. Lizardo Urrea (Fundo

Porvenir; phone: 984682590) to prepare and coordinate your journey.

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