Northern Patagonia is Wild

On January 15, 2014 by Peter

Despite the Chilean government’s 50-year quest to colonize Northern Patagonia (there are fences everywhere indicating who owns what), it is still a wild place. On January 14, Alice, Kaleb, and I set off with a local guide named Patricio and another lodge guest in an old Chevy S-10 pickup on the Carretera Austral towards the Leones Glacier. Patricio hit the magic speed at which the truck glides over the washboard road, and we made record time to our departure point. We parked and headed for the river where we were supposed to meet a zodiac boat to take us upstream to the foot of the glacier. After waiting for a little while and neither hearing nor seeing a boat, we decided to start hiking along the river towards the glacier.

Patagonia scree field

We were walking through what the glacier and winds had deposited over time, including these huge boulders.Patagonia Boulders

We crossed the river formed by the glacier and snow melt, and then picked and skipped our way through more muddy and wet trail remnants.

Crossing a glacier-fed river in Patagonia

And then we hiked for a couple of hours through a variety of terrain, including some steep, loose bits of trail overlooking the river, a ladder descent down a short rock face, and several ad-hoc bridges over creeks. We waited for the boat at several points along the way but gave up after a while, figuring it had a mechanical problem. We had a radio with us but very intermittent signal and limited battery, and we we were never able reach the boat driver. Eventually, we emerged at the lake that sits below Leones Glacier and I did a Tyrolean traverse across the river to get a better look.

Tyrolean traverse in Patagonia

I paused to admire the view before hauling myself the rest of the way across. The whitecaps on the lake in the distance meant that we couldn’t take the small boat that is hidden along the lakeshore across to admire the glacier close-up.

Tyrolean traversing over a river in Patagonia

It was getting seriously windy, so we retraced our steps back towards the boulder field and the truck.

Boulder field panorama

At that point, five and a half hours after we started our ten-mile roundtrip hike towards the glacier, we found the small zodiac boat pulled onto the river bank in the left side of the panorama. Here’s a better view of the amazing blue glacier visible in the right corner of the panorama:

Blue glacier in Patagonia

We couldn’t find Ocho, the boat driver, so we headed back towards our truck — which was gone. We figured Ocho must have taken the truck some place and would return eventually to collect us, so we dropped our packs and prepared to take naps in the afternoon shade. Ocho rumbled up a few minutes later with another guest. He said he needed to drive the boat back to the lodge and planned to take some of us along with him. Kaleb and I had been excited about the boat portion of the trip, so we hopped aboard in all of our rain gear and Ocho tore off downstream through a few Class I and II rapids before the river widened. The ride was pretty smooth in the river, but Ocho was still laser-like focused on the task at hand.

Ocho river navigating in Patagonia

Good thing, too, because when we reached the darker waters of the Lago General Carrera, Ocho said the waves were the strongest he had ever seen and that this would be the first time he tried to cross it in the small zodiac boat in such extreme conditions. The waves were the largest I had ever seen on a lake, by a wide margin. The boat would sometimes get stuck surfing the top of a wave, and both Ocho and the outboard motor had to work really hard to carve a path through the insanity that wouldn’t send us all into the water. The water came at us in the boat anyway via a few proper bow waves, including one as I was taking a video.

Here’s the Strava page with the details of the hike and boat ride.

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