Trekking: Crossing the Andes

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Every February, Columbia’s Cruce de los Andes takes teams of two on a 100-kilometer mountain run from Argentina to Chile over three days. The route through Patagonia changes each year, but on a given day climbs to 2000 meters, splashes across rivers and includes some descents that are easiest achieved on your backside.

Last year’s race started outside San Martín de los Andes at Lake Rucachoroi in Parque Nacional Lanín. The course traveled north, with camps at Lake Ñorquinco and Lago Moquehue, before crossing the border and finishing at Chile’s Lake Icalma.

The event attracts over a thousand runners, most are there for reasons similar to Marcos Corti, who competed with a prosthetic leg: “If you could just bottle this environment and drink it every time you think you have problems in life…priceless.”

For my team of two recreational runners, finishing the race was our main goal. And crossing the Andes like 17th century Jesuits on a mission (albeit with a two-way radio and first aid kit), seemed like a cool adventure. We trained, but the variables in a mountain race are many. It was hard to feel adequately prepared.

But you don’t have to train for six months to cross the Andes. Here are some recommended hikes, through regulated border crossings, you can do with a backpack and a friend.

Carretera Austral to El Chaltén  

Blocked by the massive Southern Ice Field, the Carretera Austral ends at Villa O’Higgins, but it would be a shame to turn back there. With a ferry-hike-ferry, you can end up in Argentina’s magnificent Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.

Ferry Hielo Sur goes from Puerto Bahamondez (7k from Villa O’Higgins) to Candelario Mansilla, where there’s camping. From here, take a gentle oxcart trail past lakes to Argentine customs. Then either take the Patagonia Aventura boat across Lago Desierto and  transfer by bus El Chaltén or walk the rest of the way (extending the half-day hike by 15k). While this walk isn’t hard, it does have its uncertainties. Study ferry schedules before going and call to confirm them. With good timing, the trip takes a day but take provisions for three days.

Lakes District Crossing

A 3-day hike through exuberant Valdivian rainforest and under hanging glaciers, the Paso de las Nubes Trek starts 77k from Bariloche and ends in Chile’s Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales. The trail skirts the regional icon of Mt. Tronador. It’s 49k from Pampa Linda to Peulla, where a ferry goes to Petrohue. For information or maps, contact Club Andino Bariloche. 

Patagon Journal trekking columnist Carolyn McCarthy is the author of more than a dozen Lonely Planet travel guidebooks, including Trekking in the Patagonian Andes

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