Benjamin Bloom, June 03, 2015
After learning that our desired route was no longer an option, we got out the map and figured out what to do next. Any way we went, we were looking at about 700 miles of driving to get to our next stop which was only about 20 miles away. The reason we came here was because of how undeveloped, rugged and untouched it was. As frustrated as we were, this was all part of the adventure. At this point, the rain was heavy and hadn’t stopped for about a day. The first option on our map saved us about an hour but the road looked like a pretty unused service road so we weren’t sure what we were going to find. An hour down the road we experienced an all too familiar situation, the road had completely flooded and was impassable. So again, we had to turn around and revise our route.
The next two days weren’t much to write home about. We backtracked into Argentina and drove the Panamerican Highway south until we were east of Coyhaique, cutting into Chile and finally back onto Route 7 again. After stocking up on supplies, we continued south and ended up spending the night on a small Llama farm outside of Cerro Castillo. Before the sun disappeared we threw back some beers and got a much needed game of frisbee in.
The next morning we packed up and continued down the road to one of the few planned stops of the trip and the one I was most excited for; Conservacion Patagonica. 15 years ago, Doug and Chris Tompkins started working on a project to protect large reserves of land from power companies in Chile. These companies proposed huge, hydroelectric dam projects throughout the Patagonia region that if passed, would completely change the natural ecosystem and landscape. Luckily, the Chilean government decided against the proposal and Chris and Doug were able to purchase a 650,000 acre reserve that was then turned into Conservacion Patagonica.
Just driving in, we already understood why this was such a sacred piece of land. The Baker River began running alongside Route 7 and followed us all the way to the park. It was easily the most beautiful stretch of road we had seen. Just imagine that turquoise blue water you see on those tropical beach screen savers but thrown under a endless backdrop of towering mountains. The sight was surreal to say the least. The road led us into a huge valley where we were told the park headquarters were. We knew the park had just opened to the public a few weeks prior so we had a little bit of concern as to how crowded the only campground might be. After pulling into the entrance and briefly meeting Doug to ask for directions (no big deal), we were happily greeted by an almost entirely empty campground. Each spot had a small Refugio (open shelter) with a huge table and a few counters. We set up our tents, hammock and my kitchen on-the-go before indulging in another much needed game of frisbee. The campsite sat under a huge mountain that was home to the only established hiking trail in this part of the park.
The next morning we geared up and started the 14 mile loop that we had spent the previous evening staring at. We ascended up a huge mountain to reach the plateau where we weaved through small, emerald lakes and along the cliffs overlooking the whole park. I’ve never been on such a beautiful and long hike without seeing a single person. It was exhausting but I felt like I could’ve kept going on forever. The adrenaline of being across the world, overlooking an almost untouched valley with three awesome friends was unmatched.