Trekking & Packrafting in Patagonia

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

Welcome to the Backabush Blog!

Now we have this shiny new website we will be posting write ups for a handful of trips this year to share some of our adventure stories with all those Backabush members that missed out! I thought I would get the ball rolling and fill some space with some photos of an adventure I had a few years ago, on which I ended up meeting Geoff and subsequently joining the group.

In 2016 my friend Rumbles and I took a packraft to Chile and followed parts of a new connected trail network called 'The Greater Patagonia Trail'. Here is the story.

The Raft

If you've never heard of a packraft it is essentially a very expensive rubber dingy that is light enough to be carried in a backpack. Ours was big enough to fit in two people and two big backpacks. It is tough as nails and only weighs 4kg plus paddles and a few accessories. We had Alpaca Raft's Gnu model, a canoe stye boat that you kneel in with your legs either side of a tube dubbed the central sausage, in which you can store stuff and then blow up afterwards. Genius.

If you're in the market for one check out - the UK's Alpaca Rafts retailer. Scroll through these to see our little green boat in action...

The Route

All in all we spent 50 days on the trail and covered about 500 miles. Even though we covered about 350 of those miles on foot it was the packrafting that defined the trip. When you have been walking for days and you reach a paddleable section of river or a big lake, it is such a joy to be able to crawl out of the tent and cover 20 miles or more without even putting your boots on - sweet blister relief. It's worth every funny look and question about why you are hiking over a dry hill with a big canoe paddle sticking out of your bag getting caught on every tree branch. We even had a pop-up sail for the thing!

Our route hopscotched its way down the country linking some of the most popular trekking in Chile with some much more resistant trails that turned out to be equally beautiful and even more rewarding. Below are just some of the highlights that I'd recommend for any trekkers heading to the region.

The Villarrica Traverse

We started out in the Chilean Lake District and spent a few weeks walking into and out of Pucon. Pucon is a hub for adventure sports, full of white water guiding outfits and adventure tour companies, it's characterised by its view of a big snowy volcano called Villarrica. The trail network we were following skipped through Pucon and onto a classic Chilean multi-day trek that skirts around the south side of the volcano. It's called the Villarrica traverse and in four days it takes you from alpine meadows and temperate rainforest to pumice desert and old lava flows.

In December 2020, Pucon and the Villaricca traverse will see a total solar eclipse, we are currently in the planning stages of a Backabush trek on the traverse this December - packrafts optional - so stay tuned.

Day 2 of the traverse up on the volcanic plateau of Volcan Quetrupillan

Parque National Los Alerces

About half way though the trek we crossed the border and paddled our way into Argentina on the very choppy Lago Puelo. It's common to have to sign in and out of national parks in this part of the world and we were stopped by the rangers who gave us the standard questions about our plans. We didn't do very well in convincing them that we new what we were doing, there was a lot of head shaking and and they almost turned us around. It was actually our inreach explorer gps device that won them over as we said we could email them via satellite should anything go wrong and that seemed to be enough for them to give in to our nagging.

It turns out that they were right to give us warnings - we had actually packed an extra couple of days food as we'd been warned that this forest section was particularly dense and tough going but we hadn't really expected progress to be as slow and 5 miles a day. The problem was that the only way through was to follow the stream in the bottom of the valley, not a friendly shallow stream though, or even one that might be worth blowing up the boat for, a steep one with plunge pools and log jams. Once we passed the tree line however it was a totally different story - pitch perfect wild camp pastures and views across to Los Tres Picos, the 3 peaks that crown the park. It was actually one of my favourite bits of the trip.

Cerro Castillo

At the end of a fantastic packrafting section down the rapids on the Rio Frey, we walked into the town of Futaleufu and stayed in a hostel full of hikers keen to head out on the famous Cerro Castillo trek a little way down the road.

Enter Geoff! With a monstrous backpack on the first night of the Cerro Castillo trek, along with Matt, Karen and Ben that we linked up with in the hostel. Me and Rumbles actually met up with them on the second day of the trek as we needed some extra time for Rumbles to recover from the food poisoning I had given him.

The Cerro Castillo is a great 4 -5 day trek that ducks under a castle of rocky spines that mark the summit of the range. It has some sunning turquoise glacial lakes hidden high in the valleys and to the south of the range the topography flattens and opens into a flood plane so the horizon really is far away. As you travel south through Chile this is where Patagonia really starts to look like the Patagonia that you imagine, the weather becomes unforgiving, the glaciers become more frequent and the mountains become increasingly grand.

The Quetru Crossing

The very last bit of trekking we did is something I would recommend to anyone that visits Patagonia, a trek called the Quetru Crossing. It leads into Fitrzoy and El Chalten in Argentina, but from a town called O'Higgins on the Chilean side, it starts on a ferry across the lake and then a 2 day hike over the pass. The Patagonian Ice Field actually means you can't drive much further south in Chile than O'Higgins, if you want to keep going you have to loop round through Argentina. It's just a few days of walking and as the trail crests over the main pass the monolithic granite tooth of Monte Fitzroy emerges. We camped in the national park for an extra night to see the sunrise hit the face of the mountain.

We took some GoPros with us and shot a few clips on the trail. Rumbles put this video together, which to me is nostalgic and emotive but objectively it just looks like someone that is quite lost.

Thanks for reading :)

Essential Kit.

Boardshorts - 1 pair

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