Route and Logistics
ROUTE PLANNING AND EXECUTING
When we started planning our trip (summer 2015) the GPT consisted total of 18 sections which we set out to hike from north to south in December 2016. To keep our text consistent with the GPT Wikiexplora site and the GPT Hiker’s Manual we’re using the new, updated section numbers here. Of all the multiple options that GPT offers, we chose our route based on our resupply plan (how far to go between stops and where to leave the trail to reach transportation), the trail type (avoiding big roads when possible and not using packrafts) and interesting features along the trail (volcano summits, hot springs, landscape).
It is worth mentioning that even though our approach was thru-hiking, meaning hiking an entire trail in one season, and we set a rather ambitious goal for the pace of our hike, we also highly valued other experiences that hiking the GPT offered. We stopped to investigate weird insects and new bird species that we encountered on the trail. We took time to interact with the locals whenever there was a chance and when they were open for it. We cut one hiking day short just to enjoy what we felt was one of the best hot springs in the world. And we believe there are several possible ways of hiking the GPT - fast or slow - as long as your actions help the continued existence of the trail and the experience of local residents and future hikers (or, at minimum, don’t make it worse).
Our goal was to walk every section completely, which meant returning from each resupply to exactly where we had left the trail. The three exceptions to human-powered travelling were the ferry ride from Puerto Fuy to Pirihueico (section 18; 25 km), the private boat ride across Lago Todos Los Santos (section 21; 23 km) and a combined bus and car ride from Lago Puelo close to El Hoyo to go around a closed trail (section 23; 30 km). A special mention should be given to the funny cable bridge at the beginning of the section 8 where you get a ride by a local, sometimes with a huge bag of onions. To get to a resupply town we hitched rides and took busses.
In total we walked 1,487 km with about 58,900 m elevation gain and 59,200 m elevation loss in 45 days (averaging about 33 km per day). We’ve mapped our route based on the GPT kml files, our own GPS tracks and relying on our memory, enhanced by photos taken from the trail. The kilometers and the elevation change were calculated using QGIS and Garmin Basecamp software with the help of GPSvisualizer.com. The days were calculated with the following principles:
full hiking days were counted as one;
the days with resupplies or other interruptions to hiking (e.g. section 17, getting permit to hike through Huilo Huilo) were counted as half days (as we arrived early at the end of the leg and after a resupply started hiking late that day).
ROUTE STATISTICS AND RESUPPLY LOGISTICS
From Radal Siete Tazas National Park to Puente El Inglés
8 days, 247 km
9,829 m elevation gain, 9,667 m elevation loss
Hitchhiking to San Fabian, bus to San Carlos, another bus to Chillán (and reverse)
From El Inglés to Trapa Trapa
7 days, 213 km
9,793 m elevation gain, 9,523 elevation loss
Bus/hitchhike from Trapa Trapa to Ralco, another bus to Los Ángeles (and reverse)
From Trapa Trapa to Liucura
7 days, 187 km
7,720 m elevation gain, 7,547 elevation loss
Bus to Lonquimay (mini-resupply; less than 1 day off-trail)
From Liucura to Curarrehue
4 days, 150 km
4,017 m elevation gain, 4,661 m elevation loss
Bus to Pucón (and back)
From Curarrehue to Anticura (CONAF station)
7 days, 275 km
11,427 m elevation gain, 11,442 m elevation loss
Bus to Osorno (and back)
From Anticura to Lago Puelo
8 days, 263 km
10,343 m elevation gain, 10,496 elevation loss
Bus to El Bolsón and bus to El Hoyo
From El Hoyo to Villa Futalauquen
4 days, 152 km
5,769 m elevation gain, 5,862 m elevation loss
The length of a leg between the resupplies was determined based on a combination of factors: our pace, the calorie calculations that determined how much food we could carry each day and the accessibility to resupply towns. We opted mainly to resupply in bigger towns and stay for couple of nights to fuel up, do laundry and shop (exceptions included mini-resupply in Lonquimay and prolonged stay in Osorno due to an illness).
With few exceptions, we relied on public transportation, meaning busses varying in sizes and styles. Even the smallest communities had a bus service once a day (weekends and holidays could affect the schedules) and we found it fairly easy to also hitchhike both in Chile and Argentina. It helps if you have a “Tenemos chocolate” sign.
We used a bus-based courier service (called encomienda) to ship supplies, replacement gear and town clothes ahead to ourselves at resupply stops. Jan describes this in the GPT Wikiexplora site. This service had several benefits:
Kept on-trail pack weight low
We could customize our gear and clothes for each section, sending ahead stuff we didn’t need
We didn’t have to carry things we only needed in town (town clothes and shoes, recharge cables, etc.) while on the trail
Simplified replacing gear and refilling supplies
We shipped ahead replacements for gear we expected to wear out mid-trail (shoes, socks, underwear, ground sheet, etc.), and swapped them in for worn ones when needed
We kept bulk quantities of consumables (sunscreen, multivitamins, first aid kit supplies) to replace what we used from smaller quantities/containers after each section
We kept a bulk supply of gear repair (fabric, glue, tape, etc.) to make more comprehensive repairs than we could with our smaller trail kit
Made town stops more comfortable
Change out of ratty trail clothes and filthy shoes for a day or two? Yes please!
Kind of like having a present to open at each resupply stop
We started making a habit of packing our box with some kind of treat to enjoy when we next picked it up
We only used Turbus (now Starken), and encountered no problems. In retrospect, we wish we’d packed a tablet in the box as well; we could have spent much less time in internet cafés if we’d had some kind of device for accessing wifi (which was nearly everywhere) at our accommodations.
Here’s how to do it:
Find a cardboard box that’s the minimum size to suit your needs; many grocery stores will provide you with boxes if you’re a customer. As we planned to use the same box all the way through, we reinforced ours with an additional internal layer of cardboard. We’re glad we did, our box got a little beaten up by the end, but never failed.
Bring the packed box to the encomienda office. Keep in mind that this may not be the same as the passenger office for a specific bus line (particularly in larger centres); check the website rather than showing up at the bus station and hoping for the best. Office hours are generally Mon-Fri, with a midday closure. This can require some careful planning about when you finish a trail section and plan to retrieve your box – if it’s a weekend, you’ll have to wait around.
Required information for sending the box included a Chilean contact. We were lucky to have friends in country whose contact info (address and phone number) we could use. We suspect it could be difficult (or even impossible?) to ship a box without this information.
We were also asked for our RUT (Rol Único Tributario – a Chilean national ID number) each time we shipped our box. As non-Chileans, we don’t have one. While this occasionally caused a bit of bureaucratic scurrying, it never amounted to much trouble – either the desk agent would invent a fake RUT (55555555 was common), or they’d just use their own.
The closer we got to Christmas, the busier the offices got. Give yourself some time - we once waited more than an hour. Be sure to get a number from the customer service ticker as soon as you arrive to save your place in the queue. There also seemed to be a policy change mid-way through our trip (Dec 2016 – Feb 2017) such the maximum time a package would be stored at an office went from 30 days to 14 days. I suspect a package wouldn’t actually be disposed of or sent back on day 15, but we never tested this.
We were impressed at how small a community Turbus/Starken would ship to. There’s a website tool that shows possible destinations, and we also confirmed by bringing a list of on- or near-trail towns to one of the offices early in the hike. Again, be sure to check the office hours at your destination to avoid disappointment.
What to pack
Replacements for consumable/losable gear and supplies
Shoes, socks, underwear
Tent pegs, paracord
First aid kit supplies (bandages, tape, gauze, drugs, vitamins)
Large sunscreen and hand sanitizer (for refilling smaller containers)
Ziploc bags (and marker for labeling)
Repair kit supplies
Town clothes and shoes
Charge cables for electronics
Internet-capable device (we didn’t pack one, but wish we had)
Roll of packing tape (saves running around looking for more when you need to send the box again)
A treat! Piia was partial to calugas de leche
What not to pack
Some items cannot be shipped by encomienda. Most notable to hikers are fuel canisters, money and valuable documents (e.g. ID). As Jan points out, it’s also a good idea to limit the total value of your package (e.g. don’t ship a packraft) as losses can happen, and the maximum insurable value is very low (we don’t remember exactly, but it was definitely <$200CAD, and may have been as low as $60CAD).
Carabineros, CONAF and border crossings
Talking your way past carabinero posts, CONAF offices and border stations is part of the Greater Patagonian Trail experience. For hikers who have been on trails in North America, western Europe, New Zealand and the like, this will undoubtedly be a new (and possibly anxiety-inducing) experience. Don’t worry; with some preparation, things should go smoothly. Here’s what you need to know:
Be prepared to operate in Spanish (both comprehension and speaking). Dealing with officials is one of many excellent reasons to have at least a working grasp of the language. We watched a non-Spanish speaker try to mime his way through a carabinero checkpoint, and it was unbearably awkward. We don’t know what would have happened to him if we hadn’t been there to translate.
Be polite. Inevitably, your arrival will be of sufficient interest that you’ll be talking to the top guy at the post. We noticed that chain of command was very clear (chief demands something, underlings comply immediately), and extended this out to imagine that a little deference would go a long way. Shake hands on greeting, use usted (rather than tú), listen carefully without interruption. Don’t argue.
In our experience, carabineros are most concerned about two things; that you do not cross the border illegally, and that you are sufficiently prepared that they won’t have to rescue you. Satisfying both of these interests should have you on your way (somewhat) efficiently. Carabinero posts are often placed in surprisingly remote locations, with the intent of preventing cross-border shenanigans. At the time we hiked the GPT (summer 2016/17), carabineros were very surprised to see hikers, to the point where they often seemed caught off-guard. With increasing trail use, this may change.
In our experience, there are two phases to a carabinero post visit.
In the first phase, there’s much officialdom and a bit of flexing of the muscles of authority; it will be made clear that, if they don’t want you to continue, you will not continue. You’ll be asked to provide your documents (passport should suffice), and your details (name, age, occupation, marital status, passport details including visas) will be entered in the post logbook. You likely received a flimsy little tarjeta de turismo at the airport when you arrived – you’ll need it here. As a hiker, you’ll be a bit of a puzzle – why, exactly, are you doing this? – and it may take a while to adequately describe your intentions. At this stage, you’ll likely be questioned about your level of preparedness. Our experience has been that demonstrating that we were carrying a GPS, an InReach (though ‘satellite phone’ was what we were always questioned about), had First Aid training (primeros auxilios) and had lots of remote travel experience got us through.
The second phase happens once the official business is through. You’ll get permission to pass, handshakes all ‘round, and then everyone relaxes. At this point, our experience has been that somewhat-lonely carabineros at remote posts can begin to show that they’re excited to host some unexpected but very intriguing guests. At two out of three posts (Río Polcura and Guallali, if you’re keeping track) we were fed lunch and fielded many questions about who we were, what our trip had been like so far, and what our home countries were like. These were great opportunities for us, too, to learn more about Chile, ask questions about the trail ahead, and tell some stories about wolves and bears in the wilds of northern Canada. We carried paper maps, and always found carabineros were very interested in going over these with us.
Servicio Agrícola y Ganadero (SAG) maintains livestock inspection stations along some roads that are part of the GPT. Unless you’re moving cows, you don’t have to stop at these.
Corporacíon National Forestal (CONAF) administers Chile’s forest management and national parks. Along the trail, you’ll encounter their offices at national parks. They’ll collect entrance fees, and register you and your route. Be prepared to show a passport, and have your details written down in a logbook. CONAF are generally less concerned about hikers than carabineros; it’s a national park, and you’re not an anomaly. CONAF offices often have good maps (not for sale, but you can take photos for later reference), and they can (sometimes) provide good information on trail condition, hiking times, water sources and camping spots.
In some cases, CONAF wanted us to deregister once we’d left their park. As we were traveling as thru-hikers (and not returning to the park entrance), this was logistically difficult, but we solved this by agreeing to check in/deregister by email at our next resupply stop. This did the trick.
Border crossings – Chile to Argentina
Our experience of border crossings from Chile to Argentina was smooth. We presented passports (including tarjeta de turismo) to Aduanas (Customs) agents, answered a few questions, had our passports stamped, and were on our way. We passed border stations at Antuco and Lago Inferior/Lago Puelo.
At Antuco, the GPT route takes you past a Chilean border station, but then remains in Chile (rather than crossing into Argentina). We were worried about what the consequences would be of us having a Chilean exit stamp with no corresponding entrance stamp (from any country – we decided we’d become briefly stateless), but it seemed there were none. The only hiccup for us at this station was waiting around for ~45 minutes while the Customs agents worked out how to get their computer system to believe we hadn’t arrived by vehicle. We've since heard from Jan of at least one hiker after us who encountered significant difficulties because of the Chilean exit stamp he acquired at the Antuco border station; perhaps we were just lucky. We understand the current trail files have been updated to avoid the border station altogether. That's probably for the best.
At Lago Inferior, the crossing was smooth, but some logistics need to be taken into consideration. There’s a 13 km section of trail between the Chilean border station at Lago Inferior and the Argentinian border station at Lago Puelo. Camping (or even stopping for too long) between these two border stations is prohibited, and the Chilean guards radio ahead to the Argentinian station to let them know to expect you. For us, this meant stopping for an early night next to the Chilean station (there’s a nice lakeside meadow for free camping), and then arriving at the Chilean station bright and early the next morning to make our crossing. We left our passports at the Chilean station overnight, and our paperwork was completed by the time we showed up in the morning.
Our crossing into Argentina was exceptionally easy – a quick glance at our passports (and Oliver’s Canadian reciprocity fee receipt – don’t forget to pack this!) and the Gendarmería Nacional Argentina (GNA) guard waved us in.
Border crossings – Argentina to Chile
Following the end of our hike (in Lago Futalaufquen, Argentina), we returned to Chile by bus. Compared to entry to Argentina, crossing back into Chile is a highly regimented process. Chile is exceptionally protective of its agricultural industry, and import of many items (mostly food, plants and animals) is strictly forbidden. If crossing by land, expect your luggage to be unloaded and searched by Customs and SAG agents, as well as SAG sniffer dogs. You’ll be asked to declare any potential contraband. If it’s declared, it’ll be searched and evaluated – if it’s prohibited, it’ll be seized. If you don’t declare contraband, and it’s found, we were assured that heavy fines would result. For what it’s worth, we crossed with the remains of our hiking food (trail mix, nuts, milk powder, pasta); we declared it, and it was deemed admissible. Because of these search processes, expect long waits at crossings from Argentina to Chile (particularly if there are many buses on the route).