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Section Notes

We’ve put our thoughts and memories of the GPT sections we hiked here. Our route was the original GPT circa 2015 (Radal to Villa Futalaufquen; now GPT06 – GPT24). We didn’t always match the GPT main trail, and changes have been made to specific GPT routing since we hiked in December 2016 – February 2017. These section notes relate only to the route we chose, detailed here.

Our goal with these section notes isn’t to provide a step by step guide. We valued the daily sense of adventure and exploration we had by venturing into the semi-unknown each morning, and think it would be a shame for future hikers to lose that. Our intention is to give a taste of each section (Section Highlights), and provide advance notice of important information to consider before embarking (Things You Should Know). As we hiked this trail with ecologists’ eyes, we also wanted to provide a glimpse at the ecosystems and landscapes we passed through (Naturalists' Notes).

We hope these Section Notes form a useful complement to Jan Dudeck’s indespensible Hiker’s Manual.

As an aside, if you're planning to hike the GPT, or indeed, have already done it, we highly recommend creating an account on iNaturalist, an online citizen scientist platform for identifying and mapping natural history observations. By submitting photos of flora and fauna you've observed along the trail, and adding them to the Greater Patagonian Trail project we've created, GPT hikers can contribute to a growing body of biodiversity mapping along latitudinal transect of Andean biodiversity. It's an easy way for GPT hikers to use their experiences and photos to make a notable contribution to conservation and ecological research along the trail. It's also a great resource for having a community of experts identify things you've seen. A win-win, really.

Section Notes: GPT06
GPT06: Radal to Río Maule

Section Highlights

  • Volcán Descabezado’s spectacular lunar landscape was beyond what we could have imagined – vast expanses of snow-white pumice, pierced with black basalt piles that reminded us of alien tombstones.

  • This section had stellar camping spots with huge views of bizarre volcanic landscapes.

  • Our first section got us started with some particularly strenuous hiking – this area was incredibly sun-exposed, with almost no shade, and big elevation changes (up to 2,000m/day). We were pretty wiped by bedtime each night.

Things you need to know

  • ­Despite the arid conditions, we still found water easily (in 2016/17 season, a dry year with little snowpack).

  • CONAF want you to register at their Siete Tazas office. We deregistered by email at our next resupply – easily done.

  • This is an extremely exposed area – on clear days, the sun will burn and dehydrate you incredibly quickly, and there is very little shade. Bring long-sleeved shirts, long pants and a brimmed cap with neck protection to cover yourself. Pack (and use) lots of sunscreen, and be diligent about hydration. Threats from sunburn, heatstroke and dehydration are very real.

  • Trespassing – this section descends southbound to the Los Cipreses hydro site, with extensive signage and several gates. A large (and probably impassable) gate blocks the best route south to GPT07 – by chance, we met a worker there and talked him into opening the gate for us.

  • Laguna de la Invernada has bad water, and is a crappy camping spot – this mostly-empty reservoir is a dry, windy, industrial landscape. We’d camp somewhere else next time.

Naturalists' Notes

  • There are three ecologically-distinct components to this section.

  • Low country pastures and broken forest

  • High volcanic wasteland

    • As we broke through treeline into the alpine, we spotted numerous Liolaemus lizards, and occasional European hares where grasses poked up through the pumice dunes. Where groundwater sprang up to the surface, there were bofedales (alpine wetlands based on peat accumulation). These natural pastures were green and full of colourful flowers, and besides grazing cows and horses hosted birds such as ashy-necked geese and yellow-rumped siskins. Cinereous harriers hunted small mammals and frogs. We found huge tadpoles in tiny alpine streams next to our first night’s camp.

    • South of Laguna Mondaca, a huge cliff wall made of obsidian (volcanic glass) towers over the trail.

    • The hot springs south of Laguna Mondaca are in fact violently hissing geysers of steam – we quickly decided against jumping in.

  • Cultivated river valley

    • Descending to the Río Maule Valley, we passed farmers cutting hayfields and pastures full of livestock.

    • Fruit and nut trees were plentiful, including plums, cherries, apples, pears, quince and walnut. At the time we hiked it (early December) the cherries were about past their prime, but the plums were at peak ripeness. We ate a lot of them.

Section Notes: GPT07
GPT07: Río Maule to Puente Inglés

Section Highlights

  • Parts of this section really felt like a trip back in time to the Old West. This is cowboy country, complete with high desert, cattle drives, big estancias, goat traffic jams and rustic puestos.

  • We diverted to some tiny but wonderful hot springs south of Río la Puente, which are hot water trickles next to a cold creek, contained by a couple of concrete troughs. More warm than hot, they’re a great spot to wash off trail dirt.

  • The Laguna Dial traverse takes you up along ridgelines with beautiful views to the lake below.

  • The last section, along Río los Sauces, winds through a beautiful canyon carved through multi-coloured rock, and past one of our favourite old puestos at Estero las Tragedias.

Things you need to know

  • ­

  • Trespassing – at the confluence of Río la Puente and Río Melado, a bridge leads to a gated road with a ‘No Trespassing’ sign. As of December 2017, the mini-shop marked on the map isn’t operating, so we did not find anyone to ask permission from. We continued anyway, but felt uncomfortable about it.

  • Road walking – there are long sections of dusty road walking at both the north and south ends of this section.

Naturalists' Notes

  • There were three ecologically distinct stretches to this section.

  • Low country from the Río Maule Valley

    • We ascended from the valley, following roadside plum and walnut trees, before climbing out of the cultivated area. As we climbed we encountered loud flocks of austral parakeets, and wet areas next to the road grew fuschia and nalca. A Chilean slender snake slipped out from under a nalca patch. We spotted our first Chilean tarantulas as roadkill, and then met a few live ones crossing the road – they were big, slow and seemed pretty non-threatening. Tábanos (horseflies) of various kinds, including horrifyingly big coliguachos, started out bad and got worse as we hiked the Río Melado valley.

  • High desert and arid river valley

    • As we ascended, heading south, the river valley became increasingly arid. We met our first patches of Cenchrus sandburrs, though in early December they were mercifully still green and soft (we imagine they’d get hard, sharp and difficult to deal with later in the season). Patches of spiny grass also got their hooks into us from time to time. California quail and Old World rabbits were common, as were hunters pursuing them. The west bank of the river appeared a popular spot for hunting and fishing by weekend campers. We hiked through a strange patch of teasels – the only spot we saw these the whole trip. We spotted our first bandurria (buff-necked ibis), and queltehues called loudly from pastures. Austral negritos flitted about the river banks. Reaching Laguna Dial, we spotted dozens of Andean and lake ducks. We ate lunch in a beautiful, lush bofedal at the pass west of Laguna Dial.

  • Canyonlands

    • Descending southward from the Laguna Dial pass, we encountered our first beech forest patches – llao-llao (Darwin’s bread fungus) clung like alien golf balls to tree trunks, and the trail was littered with iridescent green wing cases from beetles some creatures had been devouring. As we continued down, we entered a steep-walled canyon. We spotted many tiny rainbow trout in the river, and our first black-throated huet-huet in the riverside shrubs.

Section Notes: GPT08
GPT08: Puente Inglés to Antuco

Section Highlights

  • Just south of Puente Inglés, we hitched a ride across the river on a cable-car – Piia carrying a huge bag of onions to deliver to the other side.

  • Valle de Aguas Calientes, with its hot pools and hot water creeks, will live in our minds forever as the best hot springs in the world.

  • Almost summiting Volcán Chillán in ~80km/h winds felt like climbing into the jet stream, and provided awesome views nearly to the Pacific.

  • A carabinero checkstop along Río Polcura turned into our favourite Chilean meal, as friendly carabineros fed us homemade soup and bread as we dried our wet clothes by the fire and swapped stories.

  • The ridgeline trail along Laguna del Laja provided huge views of Andean mountaintops and volcanoes as far as the eye could see.

Things you need to know

  • ­There are carabinero posts at Los Sauces and Río Polcura – If you pass them, stopping in to register is mandatory (see Carabineros section in Route Planning).

  • There are several swift, deep river crossings (at Río Ñuble and tributaries to Estero El Quebrado).

Naturalists' Notes

  • Hiking above Río Ñuble, we entered a perched valley of old-growth forest, with huge, ancient beeches and an understory of bamboo and amancay (Peruvian lilies).

  • Valle de Aguas Calientes bursts with geothermal springs –  hot and cold waterfalls feed a pool perfect for soaking in, and steaming hot creeks flow down from Volcán Chillán’s flanks.

  • Ascending Volcán Chillán, we encountered hissing steam vents, with fuzzy sulphur deposits lining the vent edges.

  • Above Río Polcura, we hiked past dozens of lake ducks, Andean ducks and grebes feeding in small roadside lakes. Impressively large rainbow trout cruised the weedbeds.

  • Approaching Laguna del Laja, we found the track of a mid-sized felid in the road dust – we haven’t identified the species.

  • We spotted our first Andean condor on the ridgeline above Laguna del Laja.

  • Descending south from the ridgeline, we heard the distinctive double-knock drum of Magellanic woodpeckers. Imitating it ourselves by hitting sticks against a log, we soon attracted the pair to the trees above us.

Section Notes: GPT09
GPT09: Antuco to Trapa Trapa

Section Highlights

  • Hiking across sharp, black lava fields as the sun rose behind Volcán Antuco.

  • Striding into ‘no-man’s land’, as we passed a Chilean border patrol post but diverted before the Argentinian border and remained in Chile.

Things you need to know

  • ­There’s a CONAF station at Antuco, which likely requires hiker registration; we passed by too early in the morning for anyone to be interested in us.

  • The route we took passed a forward border control post south of Antuco. We received Chilean exit stamps, despite not leaving Chile. This didn’t cause us any problems, but we understand other GPT hikers have encountered significant trouble by having an exit stamp in their passport but no entry stamp. The regular route now avoids the border post – that’s probably a wise move.

  • Road walking – there are long stretches of road walking on this section – the updated route now follows the river, which is likely more enjoyable (and less dusty).

Naturalists' Notes

  • While the lava fields below Volcán Antuco look new (and feel new, too – it’s shoe-shreddingly sharp), the last eruption at Antuco was in 1869.

  • South of the border station, the road slowly climbs from dry, dusty wasteland to greener pastures with puestos and livestock. In the drier areas, we encountered hundreds of doves (and a few rufous-bellied seedsnipes) along the roadside. Cenchrus sandburrs were common.

  • In this section, we encountered our first araucaria trees – a lone tree south of Antuco, then a small stand along a riverbank north of Trapa Trapa. Looking up from there, we spotted more along the ridgelines.

  • As we descended south to Trapa Trapa, Volcán Copahue spewed ash and smoke in the distance; our first active volcano.

Section Notes: GPT10
GPT10: Trapa Trapa to Guallali

Section Highlights

  • As the sun rose, we hiked through mist in a river valley south of Trapa Trapa. As the mist lifted, it revealed the weird, prehistoric silhouettes of araucarias, with horizontal sunlight illuminating a Jurassic-looking savanna.

  • In this section, we felt a shift in culture to puestos inhabited by indigenous Pehuenche families, rather than lone arrieros.

  • Gathering piñones (pine nuts) under araucarias on dry plateaus felt like stumbling upon a huge trove of delicious calories we didn’t have to carry.

Things you need to know

  • ­Water – south of Trapa Trapa we climbed up onto a dry plateau of araucaria savanna where, for ~10km, we didn’t encounter any water sources.

  • Approaching Guallali from the north, much of the roadside is private and fenced, making camping difficult. We found a spot at 37.9747°S 71.2595°W, just out of sight of the road, and just before the fences started.

Naturalists' Notes

  • South of Trapa Trapa, araucaria begin to dominate the landscape. Forming monoculture stands in pasture or dry plateau, they create a prehistoric-looking savanna that’s difficult to describe, though it does feel like a stegosaurus is likely to show up at any moment.

  • We spotted our first (and only) culpeo fox just south of Laguna el Barco, and a huge (but sadly, roadkilled) helmeted water toad near Guallali.

  • Spiny grasses were common near Guallali (including right where we camped – we found we accumulated fewer if we wore our shoes without socks).

Section Notes: GPT11
GPT11: Guallali to Ranquil

Section Highlights

  • Heading toward Las Monjas Pass, we hiked next to a kilometers-long escarpment of columnar basalt, topped with araucaria, looking like a landscape-scale piano keyboard.

  • We enjoyed peaceful, rolling trails along pastoral valley bottoms dotted with active puestos.

  • Crossing Las Monjas Pass (on our second attempt, after being pushed back by rain and wind), hiking among the weird sandstone hoodoos near the summit, and then warming our hands (carefully) at hissing steam geysers as we descended the south flank of the pass.

Things you need to know

  • ­The carabinero station at Guallali does not appear to be a strictly mandatory stop, but we checked in with them when we passed (and were rewarded with information about the trail ahead and fresh sopaipillas).

  • The lower part of the ascent to Las Monjas from the north is an unpleasant bamboo bushwhack – it may be worth considering the main route to get up and over this pass, rather than the alternate route we took.

Naturalists' Notes

  • We spotted a Chilean slender snake at treeline on the Las Monjas ascent.

  • The hissing geothermal vents south of Las Monjas aren’t suitable for swimming, but are fascinating (and loud). Sulphur deposits line the vent edges.

  • While it’s a tough climb, the twisted sandstone hoodoos near the Las Monjas Pass are worth visiting

  • We found ourselves below a spiraling flock of nine condors on the descent south from Las Monjas. Maybe it was time to wash our clothes...

Section Notes: GPT12
GPT12: Ranquil to Liucura

Section Highlights

  • The Valle de Pulul (Vega Grande) was the beginning of a series of exceptionally beautiful high valleys with puestos, grazing livestock, creeks full of trout, towering araucaria and easy walking.

  • We made up for our ease with a seemingly-neverending climb from valley bottom to the bare alpine of Meseta de Malonehue.

  • Descending south to Liucura felt like walking into Argentina, as the high desert gave way to Argentinian steppe.

  • Suppers boosted with foraged araucaria piñones were some of our most memorable camping meals of the trip.

Things you need to know

  • ­There’s a carabinero post at Ranquil – we waved but did not stop as we passed, and no one seemed upset.

  • There’s been extensive road-building on the plateau north of Pehuenco; the trail files may not be up to date, and the new roads may be better (or worse) route options; prepare to be flexible.

Naturalists' Notes

  • Extensive table lands made of basalt columns cap valley walls – they’re often lined with araucaria, which seem to prefer ridgelines.

  • High valley streams have lots of mid-sized rainbow trout (and look like terrific dry fly water).

  • In a river valley campsite, we were visited by a black-throated huet-huet, and heard (but did not see) our first chucao. The chucao’s call would continue to mystify us until we finally saw one many days later.

  • As we descended south to Liucura, we left behind the high desert and araucaria savanna that typified the first half of our hike. For the most part, our days of hiking dry trails with big mountain vistas and ever-present threat of sunburn were over, to be traded in for the waterfalls, forest tunnels and muddy shoes of Valdivian rainforest.

Section Notes: GPT13
GPT13: Liucura to Laguna Icalma

Section Highlights

  • On this brief section, we enjoyed hiking pleasant farmlands tracks along Río Biobío, and marveled at enormous hardwoods lining Laguna Icalma.

Things you need to know

  • ­Trespassing – just to the west of the new bridge over Río Biobío south of Liucura, there’s a fence and locked gate with a ‘Private Property’ sign. We continued south outside of the fence to a settler’s house on the trail file to request permission to cross (which was happily granted). Otherwise, the option exists to road walk on the eastern bank of Río Biobío.

  • Trespassing – a private bridge at an indigenous settlement at the northwestern corner of Laguna Icalma is signed as private, and requires permission or trespassing to cross. Consider this when choosing whether to hike the north or south route around Laguna Icalma.

  • Road walking – this section is almost entirely road walking, though the farmer’s road along the western bank of Río Biobío is seldom-used two-track.

Naturalists' Notes

  • The low-elevation farmland along Río Biobío represents an incursion of Argentinian steppe from the east into Chile. In this area, the Andean mountain chain that defines the border between the two countries descends to low hills, meaning the climate and ecology are more shared here than elsewhere along the border.

  • Pancora crabs are easily found by flipping rocks in Río Biobío.

  • Bandurria, queltehue and austral negrito inhabit the riverside pastures. Chimango pairs hop around, hunting bugs.

  • The western shores of Laguna Icalma mark the beginning of Valdivian rainforest, and with it a major change in the nature of the GPT. While areas north mostly consist of herders’ trails, to the south there is considerably less grazing, and the GPT becomes a network of forestry roads on more obviously private lands.

Section Notes: GPT14
GPT14: Laguna Icalma to Reigolil

Section Highlights

  • We climbed old forest roads south of Laguna Icalma in driving rain, eventually ascending into an ethereal araucaria cloud forest, dripping with lichen and full of strange new bird calls.

  • Approaching Sollipulli from the north, we crossed a roaring river using a natural stone bridge.

  • Along the flanks of Volcán Sollipulli, we walked through silent, mossy forests of huge araucaria and beech.

Things you need to know

  • ­The river in the community approaching Sollipulli from the north is very swift (impossible to wade across when we were there in early January 2017). There’s a natural stone bridge that crosses the river, just below the control structure erroneously marked as a bridge on the (c. 2016) trail files. The files may now be updated. Anyhow, don’t wade across the river unless it’s safe, as there is a crossing (even if it’s not on the map).

  • Trespassing – the entirety of old road east of Sollipulli is signed as private property; access involves crossing a signed gate and passing several houses.

  • Road walking - this section is entirely road walking, though many parts are very seldom used, and it’s not at all unpleasant.

Naturalists' Notes

  • Valdivian rainforest begins in earnest – there’s arboreal lichen, lush (and impenetrable) undergrowth, and huge araucaria mixed with new species of hardwood. Standard trail conditions shift from dust to mud. Suddenly, there are frogs (and it’s raining). Rock and log flipping become particularly rewarding. Spiny, neon-striped Chilean harvestmen are simultaneously mesmerizing and the stuff of nightmares.

  • We encounter our first southern caracara pair south of Laguna Icalma, and our first ringed kingfisher at Sollipulli.

  • At long last, we finally spot a reclusive chucao, putting to rest our questions of just what bird was making that loud, strange call.

Section Notes: GPT15
GPT15: Reigolil to Currarehue

Section Highlights

  • As we hiked, we encountered indigenous farmers using yoked oxen to cultivate fields and move timber.

  • Ascending to Laguna Hualalafquen, we met up with an original settler of the area, who proudly described to us his love for the valley he’s lived in for the past 70 years.

  • At Laguna Hualalafquen, we basked in the luxury of hiking, briefly, on purpose-built hiking trails.

Things you need to know

  • ­Road walking – after emerging from Sollipulli, this section involves ~35km of dusty road walking, past farms and holiday homes. With their beer, chips and helados, mini-shops make up for some of the dusty monotony of this section.

  • Along the southern section, before Laguna Haulalafquen, almost all roadside is private and fenced; we found a hidden, non-fenced camping spot next to the river at 39.2509°S 71.4328°W, and recommend it to others as one of the few easy camping spots along this stretch.

  • Trespassing – the trail descending from Laguna Hualalafquen to Currarehue deposits you awkwardly in a farmyard, with gates to climb to reach the road; we diverted a little north to avoid walking right past the house and through the yard.

Naturalists' Notes

  • A tall, spindly waterfall cascades over an overhanging cliff of columnar basalt near Reigolil.

  • We caught a little Chilean slender snake (seems like they're the only kind we found) crossing the road near Cahuilelfun.

  • Queltehue, bandurria, rabbits, chimango and California quails rule the pasturelands.

  • Many cadillo burrs coated our socks and shoes on the descent from Laguna Hualalafquen southward.

Section Notes: GPT16
GPT16: Currarehue to Reyehueico

Section Highlights

  • Piia summited Volcán Quetrupillan, while Oliver had a rest on a lower peak, then we both descended in a sudden foggy whiteout.

  • Crossing volcanic plains and minor craters below Volcán Quetrupillan reminded us of a low-stakes version of the traverse of the Descabezado wastelands.

Things you need to know

  • ­Bushwhacking – the trail from Currarehue to Huililco was not well documented when we hiked (January 2017); the GPS trail file led us through dense forest without trails. This may now be resolved.

  • Trespassing – south of Huililco is Reserva Huililco, a private reserve. Gates with ‘No Trespassing’ signs bar the entrance. We hiked along the entrance road, uncomfortably, until meeting the proprietors at 39.4672°S 71.6281°W. They were not concerned with us having trespassed, charged us a CLP5,000/person entrance fee, and invited us camp in their field for the night.

  • The trekking guide at the Reserva Huililco base camp suggested the route that skirts the northern shore of Laguna Blanca is too wet to be consistently passable; he recommended the more southern alternate route that approaches the Argentinian border (which we took instead).

Naturalists' Notes

  • This section marks the southern limit of extensive araucaria stands along the GPT.

  • In the subalpine of Volcán Quetrupillan, we found extensive patches of chaura, and a surprising number of impressively large chinchemolle stick insects.

  • Rainbow trout were surfacing in Laguna Azul.

Section Notes: GPT17
GPT17: Reyehuico to Puerto Fuy

Section Highlights

  • After a long day of road walking, and worrying about finding a camping spot among extensive private and fenced properties, we were pleased to find a hidden little spot on a tiny beach on Lago Neltume.

Things you need to know

  • ­Trespassing – we chose not to take the main trail through Reserva Huilo Huilo. This is private land, and trespassing is not permitted; forest rangers working in the reserve enforce this. We based our decision on discussions with other GPT hikers who had been ejected from Huilo Huilo, and on talking with locals in the area, who advised us against entering Huilo Huilo without appropriate permissions.

  • For permission to hike through southern section of Reserva Huilo Huilo (GPT18), we arranged a meeting with the Reserve Director at the Nothofagus Hotel, just north of Puerto Fuy.

  • Road walking – our alternative route for this section meant we spent it entirely on dusty roads (T-29 to Neltume, 203 to Puerto Fuy). It was not particularly scenic.

  • Limited camping spots – walking along the road meant consistent private land along this route. We found a small, out-of-the way beach to camp on  at Lago Neltume that was a very pleasant spot to spend the night.

Naturalists' Notes

  • There were nalca and fuschia clusters at roadside wet trickles flowing down the hillside.

  • We spotted large rainbow trout and pancora crabs in Lago Neltume; the pancoras amused themselves by picking at our toes with their tiny claws.

Section Notes: GPT18

Reserva Huilo Huilo and the GPT

We’ve spent a lot of time thinking and talking about this. Ultimately we feel that, for this section of the GPT, the status quo is unsustainable. Continued trespassing by GPT hikers will erode local goodwill and ability of future hikers to proceed as uninvited guests on private lands. The presence of forest rangers means it would take considerable luck to pass through the reserve unnoticed. The rangers are doing their job – they’re required to eject trespassers. Hikers are unlikely to change rangers’ minds, particularly as they encounter more and more of them.
Our approach, whenever possible, was to request permission to cross private lands on the GPT. We asked for, and received, a permit to hike through Reserva Huilo Huilo. Given the points above, we think this is the only sustainable way for GPT hikers to pass through the reserve. As increasing numbers of GPT hikers trespass (and are caught and ejected), receiving a permit becomes less likely for law-abiding hikers.
The two options that are most likely to be sustainable, long term, are:

          a) GPT hikers request permits to access Reserva Huilo Huilo, and follow advice on route and timing provided by reserve staff

          b) Alternative routes that avoid Huilo Huilo are developed

Failing either of these, we recommend GPT hikers bypass section 18 via bus through Los Lagos, and rejoin the trail at Lago Ranco or Lago Maihue.

GPT18: Puerto Fuy to Puerto Maihue

Section Highlights

  • Views of Lago Pirehueico from the ferry were impressive – towering hills, covered in rainforest and full of waterfalls, plunging into the royal blue water of the lake.

  • The dense, old-growth Valdivian rainforest of Reserva Huilo Huilo was stunning. Huge, gnarled old-growth beeches larger than any hardwoods we’d ever seen, and amazing wildlife, unlike anywhere else along the trail. We spotted a Darwin’s frog, and found tracks of pudú, huemul, wild boar and puma (a mother with three kittens) along the trail. Our highlight, though, was encountering a nearly-intact puma skeleton.

  • Despite a day of unpleasant bushwhacking through overgrown bamboo, and a treacherous descent down a steep river canyon to get there, our favourite camping spot of the whole GPT was on a gravel bar of a crystal-clear rainforest river in southern Huilo Huilo.

Things you need to know

  • ­Trespassing – Reserva Huilo Huilo is private land, and trespassers will be caught by forest rangers and ejected. The main trail that passes through the western Pillanleufu Valley is an area where Reserva staff assured us that no permission would be granted, because of ongoing huemul research projects. Enough ranger activity occurs in this area that hikers are likely to be caught. We met with the Reserve Director, and obtained a permit to hike the eastern Curringue Valley route, exiting at Fundo Chihuio.

  • Overgrown trail – the trail in the eastern valley (west bank of Río Curringue) eventually becomes overgrown with bamboo, such that forward progress slows to ~1km/h. With a machete, you might speed up to ~1.5km/h (though chopping up all the goddamn bamboo would be mightily satisfying). Steep banks make descending to the river hazardous. A better horse trail exists on the eastern bank of the river. We should have followed the advice of Huilo Huilo staff, and crossed to the eastern bank at the wooden bridge at the lumber yard clearing (though we did not, to avoid trespassing at the houses on the other side of the bridge). As it was, we bushwhacked along the western bank until it was too overgrown to continue, then crossed the river and climbed up the steep eastern bank where we encountered the horse trail. We had easy hiking along this horse trail all the way to Fundo Chihuio.

  • Trespassing – there is a large, locked gate with a ‘No Entry’ sign at the southern limit of Fundo Chihuio, as well as a gatekeeper’s residence. We were very uncomfortable climbing the high gate as the gatekeeper’s dog barked at us, undoubtedly waking him up. Better options may exist on the (less obviously private) eastern bank of the river. We encountered a horse trail crossing of the river just north of Fundo Chihuio that, in retrospect, would have likely provided a better option for passing this private land.

  • Road walking – dusty, dry and high-traffic from Chihuio to Lago Maihue. At least there are mini-shops.

  • Hot springs – commercially-operated hot springs just south of Fundo Chihuio. We didn’t visit them, but they looked popular (if rustic).

Naturalists' Notes

  • For all the bureaucracy involved, GPT18 was one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and ecologically rich sections of the trail for us. Soaring old-growth beeches, and tracks of pudú, huemul and puma gave us a tiny view into what untouched Valdivian rainforest must have looked like centuries ago. Chucao and huet-huet called through the bamboo, and ringed kingfishers lorded over gin-clear rivers. Flowers (botellita, copihue, estrellita fuschia) lined the trail, we ate zarzaparilla berries, and marveled at huge nalca leaves. We encountered fragrant tihue for the first time, the allspice smell of which came to typify Chilean rainforest for us. Finding a puma skeleton was an exciting moment for us biologists, and we were sorely tempted to come up with a way to keep the skull, though in the end discretion ruled the day, and we left it where we’d found it.

Section Notes: GPT19
GPT19: Puerto Maihue to Anticura

Section Highlights

  • Old forest roads turned to nearly subterranean tunnels on the hills south of Rupameica.

  • Crossing brand-new (c. 2011) lava flows, hiking across desolate pumice wastelands, and dodging sulphurous geysers on the Volcán Puyehue traverse.

Things you need to know

  • ­Road walking – the first part of this section (Puerto Maihue to Hector’s house) is almost entirely on roads, though in the hills above Rupameica, they’re rough and seldom-used.

  • Trespassing – there are several gates marked ‘Private Property’ when hiking south along the road from the bridge at Río Nilahue. We met landowner Hector Parra in his truck as we hiked the road, and he told us to cross the gates and stay at his house. Talking with Hector, it seems enough hikers pass these gates that it’s unlikely to receive negative attention.

  • Hector’s house – Hector Parra and his wife (who we didn’t meet) have a homestead at the northern edge of Parque Nacional Puyehue (40.4283°S 72.1097°W). As a consequence, many hikers (not just those on the GPT) pass by their place, and it seems Hector almost always invites (insists?) they stay with him. We’ve heard he sometimes charges an admission fee, but he didn’t for us. We made supper with (for?) him, and camped in his yard. A retired naval engineer, he’s a hospitable guy with a lot to say (if not much enthusiasm for listening). We think most hikers will get along with him.

  • Water – Hector warned us that his house was the last reliable spot for southbound hikers to get water until after the Puyehue traverse. This was more or less correct – we found some turbid trickles on the south flanks of Volcán Puyehue, but nothing else until we descended to treeline. Water was even scarce near Refugio Puyehue – we had to hike back uphill from there to collect some for supper.

  • The Volcán Puyehue traverse is spectacular, but like at Descabezado, it’s very exposed. Take appropriate precautions against sunburn, heatstroke and dehydration; there’s nowhere to hide from the sun up there, and the white pumice sand reflects light back up at you from the ground.

Naturalists' Notes

  • The forest roads leading uphill from Rupameica eventually become meters-deep slots into the earth, we suspect a product of relentless erosion carving deeper and deeper into the roadbed, and road users countering this by digging further and further down to achieve something like a level road surface. They’re beautiful and cool (and a bit spooky) to hike through on a hot day.

  • Tihue trees are common along this section – we’d often crush a leaf or two and put them in our pockets to enjoy their bay leaf/allspice smell as we hiked.

  • The forests of Rupameica Alto throb with the hum of honeybees – there are many flowering ulmo and olivillo trees, and beekeepers bring their hives to this area to make sought-after miel de ulmo. Colourful roadside hives are common (and you can buy the honey in Rupameica).

  • Maqui shrubs were common roadside plants in Alto Rupameica – we enjoyed eating the berries when they were a bit wrinkly and overripe-looking (otherwise they were kind of tasteless and seedy).

  • We spotted pudú and huemul tracks in the muddy trails south of Hector’s house.

  • On the forestry roads south of Hector’s house, we saw the full effect of recent logging of old-growth beeches. Enormous, ancient trees, felled and sliced into sections (with what must be impressive chainsaws), and dragged by tractors through the mud to be rendered into lumber. Kinda depressing.

  • Volcán Puyehue erupted in 2011 – the lava fields still hiss and steam with pent-up geothermal energy. This was the freshest volcanic landscape we encountered. It’s otherworldly up there.

Section Notes: GPT20
GPT20: Anticura to Las Gaviotas

Section Highlights

  • Wide-open views of Volcán Osorno and Cerro Tronador from the unnamed summit in the Antillanca group.

  • Enjoying supper in a lush, shady, riverbed of smooth pebbles and stream-carved boulders on the descent to Lago Rupanco.

Things you need to know

  • ­There’s a CONAF office at Anticura, but they didn’t require us to register with them or charge an entry fee.

Naturalists' Notes

  • We spotted pudú tracks along the trails south of Anticura.

  • Once above treeline, tábanos were very numerous; they stuck with us until we ducked back down into the trees.

  • We had a low and slow fly-by from a condor as we approached the summit.

  • Back down in the trees above Lago Rupanco, we startled a wild boar in the bushes, which luckily took off. We later spotted foot- and butt-prints of a seemingly cow-sized boar in mud puddles further down the trail.

  • The shores of Lago Rupanco was one of the first spots along the trail where we encountered ripe blackberries (late January).

Section Notes: GPT21
GPT21: Las Gaviotas to Cochamó

Section Highlights

  • Hiking rainforest trail along the banks of the clear, beautiful Río Techado, while crossing bridges of various construction (some more rustic/stable than others).

  • Enjoying a luxurious supper of homemade bread and fresh eggs at Rudy Yefi’s farmstead.

  • Walking to the Pacific Ocean.

Things you need to know

  • ­You need to organize your own boat passage across Lago Todos los Santos. As far as we know, there are two options – one is a young guy we didn’t talk to who lives near Termas del Callao, and the other is Rudy Yefi, who has a farm, rental cabins and camping area at Refugio Dos Condores. We stayed at Dos Condores, and the next morning Rudy took us across the lake in his boat. If our memories serve, the cost was CLP70,000. Lago Todos los Santos is a big lake – be prepared to wait a few days if the weather’s bad.

  • Rudy has a wood-fired hot tub you can pay to soak in. We didn’t, but it looked pretty nice.

  • Camping is available in Cochamó townsite; we asked at a shop, and were directed to a spot just down the road (where we were also given free pie!).

Naturalists' Notes

  • The first alerces appear along the trail south of Lago Rupanco.

  • We spotted medium-sized rainbow trout swimming in the clear waters of Río Techado.

  • There are private hot springs at Termas del Callao, though we didn’t visit them.

  • Over time, parts of the trail have been excavated well into the earth, due to extensive erosion from the high rainfall (and soft soil) in this area.

  • Ulmo were in extravagant bloom when we hiked through in late January, looking like trees full of popcorn (and bees).

Section Notes: GPT22
GPT22: Cochamó to Lago Puelo

Section Highlights

  • Feeling much dirtier, but also more accomplished, than the hordes of clean-clothed, nice-smelling overnight hikers along the Valle de Cochamó.

  • Walking beneath massive old-growth alerces beyond the crowds near Refugio el Arco.

  • Emerging from rainforest to the perfect, peaceful farmstead at the north end of Lago Vidal Gormaz.

  • Hiking from lush, fragrant Valdivian rainforest in Chile across the border into dry, cypress-dominated evergreen forest in Argentina.

  • Juxtaposing Chilean and Argentinian cultures; after two months in Chile, Argentina immediately felt like Argentina.

Things you need to know

  • ­Registration is required to enter Valle de Cochamó, a private nature reserve. Spots are based on available number of campsites, even if (like us) you plan not to use them. This means all the spots can fill on a particular day, and you may not be allowed to enter. To avoid this, we arrived at the gate early in the morning. Maybe it’s possible to talk your way in after the campsites are full, but we didn’t want to risk it.

  • The trails leading to La Junta campground in Valle de Cochamó are overused, braided and muddy. Avoid using side trails, even if the main trail is wet – it’ll just cause more erosion.

  • Arriving at Río Puelo from the north, we needed to cross to get to trails on the south bank. We found someone willing to take us across by boat, at the farm at 41.7313°S 72.0584°W. He was reluctant to take us, however, without getting permission from the landowner on the south bank. When he radioed across, the landowner refused – he cited previous hikers who had left gates open as his reason. Without an alternative, we hiked the road along the north bank.

  • Road walking – the long stretch of road along the north bank of Río Puelo is hot, dusty and somewhat busy.

  • Trespassing – heading south from where the road meets Río Puelo again (just west of Lago Azul) we ascended into small forest roads. At the junction of this road and the public road, we had to exit over a large, locked gate marked ‘No Trespassing’.

  • Trespassing – just north of Lago de las Rocas, the trailhead is well-signed with ‘Private Property’ markings. While we were initially uncomfortable, it seems this is a pretty established hiking trail, despite the signs. We suspect the signs are aimed mostly at vehicle traffic.

  • Border crossing at Lago Inferior – we’ve detailed this in our Border Crossing section.

Naturalists' Notes

  • Valle de Cochamó is justifiably famous for its mini-Yosemite feel, with towering granite walls reminiscent of Half Dome.

  • Beyond La Junta and its festive backpacker scene, the trail gets wilder and less crowded; we hiked past stands of massive, lichen-draped alerces, and enjoyed the rainforest shade. Fallen trunks of dead alerce resting on the forest floor were waist- and chest-high obstacles. Colourful black and yellow-green Liolaemus lizards skittered across sunny parts of the trail. Chucao and black-throated huet-huet called in the shadows.

  • We spotted an invasive American mink on the trails above Río Correntoso – these animals were brought to Chile for fur-farming in the 1930s, and since escaping have established populations in several areas in southern Chile (with negative implications for native species).

  • While we did not visit them, there are ancient petroglyphs near Río Correntoso.

  • The road along the north bank of the Río Puelo had the best maqui of the whole trail – they were plentiful along the roadsides. We had very purple mouths by the time we got to Llanada Grande.

  • Flowering olivillo and ulmo (and associated bees) were common along this stretch.

  • Along Lago las Rocas, we found our first cantaria beetle. Iridescent and huge, it clicked and chittered in our hands, and then flew off like an alien helicopter.

  • We saw very large rainbow trout in the clear water of Lago las Rocas.

  • We had an amusing lunch with a mother pig and three piglets next to Lago de las Rocas. While the mother looked like a domestic pig, the stripy little ones made it apparent she had a predilection for wild boar. They all rooted around furiously for peanuts we scattered.

  • Hiking along Lago Inferior, we left behind the wet rainforest for arid sand, cordilleran cypress and crucero scrub of Argentina.

Section Notes: GPT23
GPT23: Lago Puelo to Villa Rivadavia

Section Highlights

  • Reaching the pass at Cerro Tres Picos was the glorious culmination of a rough bushwhack and streambed hike without a trail. Hanging glaciers clung to the peaks, and we were thankful to be heading downhill after our upward struggle.

Things you need to know

  • ­On arriving at Lago Puelo, we discovered the ATM wouldn’t accept our debit card. Everyone we spoke to agreed that we’d have better luck in El Bolson, but without cash we couldn’t catch the bus. We hitchhiked. Maybe best to arrive during business hours on a weekday to exchange cash at the bank at Lago Puelo.

  • Huella Andina – we were looking forward to hiking stretches of the Huella Andina; the thought of organized, purpose-built hiking trails was very appealing. As it turned out, though, the majority of the Huella Andina sections making up GPT23 and GPT24 were officially closed, and getting reliable information about them from anyone was comically difficult (even from hiking information centre in El Bolson and Parque Nacional staff at the visitor centre in Lago Puelo). In many cases, we hiked them anyway. All in all, GPT23 and GPT24 are probably better packrafted than hiked (which was Jan’s original suggestion to us).

  • Heading south from Río Turbio, we took the eastern alternate route up Arroyo Derrumbe. There is a trail partway up this valley, but it disappears into bamboo thicket. We bushwhacked and walked along the streambed to the pass – it was difficult, but not impossible.

  • Descending southward from the pass at Cerro Tres Picos, there had been extensive forest fires, and much of the trail is gone. Be flexible and patient – with thick ash, bamboo regrowth and fallen trees, this area is slow going.

  • Trespassing – descending southbound to Lago Cholila, we exited via locked gates marked ‘No Trespassing’.

  • Road walking – a long stretch of this section (Lago Cholila to Villa Rivadavia) is on hot, dusty road with lots of traffic. We looked at the cool, refreshing Río Carrileufu longingly, and wished for packrafts.

  • Forest fires – many areas of this section have burned recently, and a number of these fires have been human-caused. Do not build open fires in this section.

Naturalists' Notes

  • There were several areas with recent, extensive forest fires in this section. The largest included the northeast shore of Lago Puelo and the valley between Cerro Tres Picos and Lago Cholila. Forbs and bamboo are just beginning to regrow, but it will be some time before there’s mature forest in this zones.

  • Río Carrileufu had many large rainbow trout, lazing fatly in the current.

  • Walking east from Lago Cholila, we found ourselves in the flat, hot plains of Argentina. Trees disappeared, except for those planted along fencerows and around homesteads. Thorns (Cenchrus, crucero and roses) were the most common roadside plants. We found our first ripe apples on roadside trees; they looked great, but weren’t delicious.

Section Notes: GPT24
GPT24: Villa Rivadavia to Villa Futalaufquen

Section Highlights

  • Huge views of deep blue lakes, green forest and glacier-covered peaks from lookouts along the Huella Andina.

  • On a frosty morning hike through bamboo thickets on the trails above Río Arrayanes, we were surrounded by calling chucaos, which scurried across the trail like mice in front of us.

  • Sharing a cold Quilmes at Villa Futalaufquen, after completing 1,487km of trail together from GPT06 to GPT24.

Things you need to know

  • ­The Huella Andina continued its silly tricks in this section – several parts were marked as closed, but we hiked them anyway (and couldn’t tell why they’d been closed). Don’t get caught, I guess – Argentinians don’t spend too much time worrying about rules anyway.

  • Lago Futalaufquen ferry – on arriving at Lago Futalaufquen, we discovered that the ferry that used to cross the lake to Lago Kruger hadn’t been operating for three years. Without a way to access the Lago Kruger – Villa Futalaufquen trail section (which, it turns out, was closed anyhow), we hiked the park road to Villa Futalaufquen instead.

  • Road walking – with the ferry defunct, we walked the dusty, busy park road from Punto Mato to Villa Futalaufquen.

  • As with GPT23, this area is prone to forest fires – do not build open fires here (despite what other campers are up to).

Naturalists' Notes

  • Río Rivadavia had open woods of immensely tall beech, and aquamarine water full of huge rainbow trout – this is a world-renowned flyfishing destination.

  • Rivers in Parque Nacional los Alerces were lined with strange, red-barked arrayanes.

  • Above Río Arrayanes campground, we climbed onto a plateau that had higher chucao density than we’d seen before – we were surrounded by calling birds as the sun rose.

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