© 2019 O&P

nothingtwowrite@gmail.com

Last update 27/03/2018 (Whitehorse, YT)

 

What Is The Greater Patagonian Trail?

 

What is the Greater Patagonian Trail?

The Greater Patagonian Trail (GPT) is a network of routes that roughly traces the southern Andes of Chile and Argentina. Variously described as “the most epic through-hike you don’t know about” and “not a hiking trail”, the GPT exists somewhere in between. It is, more than anything, an idea of a route - a framework upon which to build an individual journey through the Andean hinterlands and among the people living there.

This network was planned and published by Jan Dudeck and his partner Meylin Ubilla. Following more than a decade of hiking in Chile, Jan and Meylin began compiling routes for long-distance hiking in 2013. By 2014, Jan had written and posted a ~1,300 km version of the route as a Wikiexplora page. The route in an ongoing project; it has since been updated to stretch over 3,000 km, and will likely continue to evolve. Jan’s Wikiexplora site (http://www.wikiexplora.com/index.php/Greater_Patagonian_Trail) remains the definitive source of information on the GPT, and is required reading for anyone interested in this hike.

Our hike, from Dec 2016 to February 2017, was based on the “original” GPT sections 1-18 (now sections 6-24) that began from Radal Siete Tazas National Park in Chile and finished in Villa Futalaufquen in Argentina. The information and ideas we’ve posted here are based on this experience and by sharing them we hope to add our perspectives to the growing conversation about the GPT, and provide useful information for interested hikers. In general we’ve tried to avoid duplicating Jan’s work, though from time to time we’ve tackled similar subjects where we think our experiences provide a worthwhile alternate view.

 

What the Greater Patagonian Trail is not

Anyone approaching the GPT thinking that it will be like the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail (that is, well-marked, continuous, easy to follow trail with locals along the trail who know about it and expect hikers, handy resupply points, pre-negotiated land access), will be disappointed, and might well give up. Despite the name, the GPT should not be considered a continuous trail, instead potential hikers are best served by considering the GPT as an idea of a route.

This is important - Chile’s a long way to fly only to discover that the GPT isn’t what you want it to be (just ask Buck-30). We provide our perspective here, but it’s worth considering several more. Trail founder Jan Dudeck’s extensive thoughts on this are here. Mega-hiking HerOddysey duo Bethany “Fidgit” Hughes and Lauren “Neon” Reed also provide an indispensable take on the nature of the GPT here.

From our perspectives, the biggest differences between the GPT and the big established trails are:

 

  • Private property and trespassing

    • GPT routes pass through private property, and landowners generally do not expect hikers to appear. We had invariably positive experiences with landowners we met along the trail, but we also spent a good deal of effort tracking them down to ask permission to enter/cross their land. In comparison, land access arrangements on established hiking trails are already in place, and landowners expect hikers.

 

  • Undeveloped trails

    • Trails that make up the GPT can be difficult to find, and require closer attention to the terrain, maps and/or a GPS than would be required on an established trail with trail markers. These routes are not specifically hiking trails, but arriero trails, backcountry two-tracks and farmer's roads, and maintained gravel roads.

  • Road days

    • Very little of the GPT follows trails specifically created and maintained for hikers. Herders’ trails are the closest match, followed by seldom-used backcountry truck tracks. By the time you get to maintained gravel roads, though, some days start to feel like long, dusty slogs through marginally scenic countryside. In some ways, it’s best to imagine the GPT as a series of beautiful mountain and forest hiking sections, connected by mostly-functional sections of road walking.

 

  • Expect the unexpected

    • There are many surprises along the GPT route. These are not just trail-related issues (e.g. washed-out bridges, new gates, etc.), but also the landscape, ecology and people along the route - because so little is published about the GPT, we usually had very little information about what we could expect to see each day. For us, this was a positive experience - the start of every day felt like the beginning of a small expedition into the unknown.

 

  • Lousy spatial data

    • Though Jan Dudeck's trail files are  accurate and well-organized, other spatial data were unreliable. We used Garmin's Chile Topo Deluxe on our GPS and as a basis for paper maps we created, but often these data were incorrect (e.g. rivers and lakes in the wrong places, missing roads, etc.). In contrast, reliable maps, and even trail map books, are published for more established trails.

 

  • Few/no hikers

    • Over the entirety of our trip, we met only three others hiking the GPT as a long-distance hike. While we did encounter people most days, they were arrieros, farmers, and other local people, not hikers.

 

  • Cultural immersion

    • Hiking the GPT brought us into a rural Chile that we expect few other travelers get a chance to see. We really enjoyed our interactions with the people we encountered (none of whom were expecting to see hikers), and had wonderful experiences with the people we met. Everyone was friendly, welcoming and generous, but also possessed of a quiet reserve and respect for us and our space - if we approached people, we were welcomed, but if we passed quietly with a wave or a nod, then we received the same back.

 

It's possible to see these points as negatives. For us, this isn't the case; what the GPT presented was what we were looking for.

 

Why did we choose the GPT?

Remote, mountainous, uncrowded, long. Those were the features we were looking for in our first long-distance hike together. We began our search in early 2015, looking through different trail options around the world. Many were eliminated as they lacked one or more features we held important, but the GPT kept popping to the top.

We learned that the GPT goes through some of the most breathtaking Chilean backcountry you could ever wish to explore. It seemed fairly unknown to the big long-distance hiking crowds which meant there was a possibility of having all those hiking days mostly to ourselves, besides interacting with the locals. And there were enough trail kilometers to trek so that we would be able to call it long distance, which was one of our criteria. So how could you say no? It would also give us an opportunity to practise our Spanish skills and in general get us a great view of a country that we had little experience in. With Jan’s information on the GPT Wikiexplora site and our own research we were (mostly) confident that we would be able to not only plan the hike and but execute it as well. We were sold.