HMI Gap: Four Seasons in Three Weeks

hmi gap, adventure and conservation, patagonia national park, backpacking

Written by: Kevin Sun and Jack Viergever

Hello from Chile Chico, the cuidad del sol!

We’ve just come off of our 21-day expedition in the Patagonia wild. We’ve hiked through forests, marshes, mountains and many rivers during our time in the backcountry these past few weeks. The group started our journey on a blue bird day at the headquarters of the Patagonia National Park in Chacabuco Valley, with a nice camp shelter, running water, and even toilets. We left these luxuries behind the next day, but the mild Patagonian spring weather continued to follow us as we hiked further into the park and discovered grand glacial lakes and massive valleys. While the hiking days were the longest we’ve had all semester and our packs being an adverse weight, we still managed to hike over mountains with our positive attitudes and sense of humor prevailing.

Five days in, the weather became hot enough that people at camp wore t-shirts – a major reversal from our usual camp garb of multiple layers hidden beneath puffy jackets and windbreakers. Unfortunately, the warmth didn’t last long. Clouds gathered, an wind and cold rain followed. Breaking our semester’s long running streak of unusually good weather, the rain showed up and outstayed its welcome. Luckily, our route took us past an old puesto (a backcountry shelter used by guachos) that provided shelter to dry wet clothes as well as damp humans. As we said goodbye to our wood shelter, we set off for what most fellow students would agree was our most eventful hiking day to date.

The rain built to a heavy downpour throughout the day, making the powerful glacial rivers grow subtly more powerful throughout the day.  Eventually, the first hiking group came across what promised to be our largest river crossing: the Jeinimeni river. After a few attempts to cross, the river proved to be a powerful and swift force, so we decided to try and find a more peaceful place to cross. To stay warm we danced and ran around in circles. Eventually, the second hiking group arrived, and with the additional human weight and strength, part of the group successfully crossed. In just the hour that we had been near the river, it had grown noticeably. After a difficult crossing, our instructors made the executive decision for the remaining hikers to cross in the delta where the mouth of the river flows into the lake.

The last squad had to bushwhack off-trail to reach the new spot. The first students to cross the river set up a system to help pull folks up onto a more mellow embankment and out of the swift water as quickly as possible. We were all relieved, after nearly two hours of scouting and crossing the river, to make it to the other side. With everyone wet and cold, we made the four-mile hike to camp our fastest miles yet. The shelters and amenities of the Jeinimeni campground were enjoyed by all. We stayed put at the campground for two full days to give us time to learn more of the first aid curriculum and the rest of our route.

Because of the longer layover, we had some extra time to explore the area, including a pleasant day hike (where we had a snowball fight) to enjoy the views of the terrain we had just traveled through. It felt quite nice to have a relaxing day after the rough and wet river crossings.

The rest of our route would allow us to spend time crossing the beautiful Jeinimeni Plateau in the dryer “steppe” environment. This had the added bonus of allowing us to walk back to Campamento Ñandú, our basecamp in Chile Chico.  We reveled in the fact that we would get to walk into town with our own two feet, straight from the wilderness.

The next couple of days were relatively uneventful (in the good way!) We saw beautiful mountains, valleys, wildlife, and we enjoyed the dry days greatly. The Leaders Of the Day became quite creative with their leadership styles. We had a cowboy-themed day where the LODs role-played as classic Western cowboys, and a pirate one too. We felt that the group was coming together as a community better.

Nearing the end of the expedition, it was finally time for our 24 hour solo. The solo sites were amazing. We were all camped under Cerro Colorado, where it was very windy, but stunning: One student described Cerro Colorado as “looking like a tsunami frozen in rock.” The experience felt quite grounding and enlightening. As if to confirm our positive feelings, we woke up the next day to some beautiful and gentle snowfall. It felt truly mystical to walk back in a quiet and mysteriously sunny snowfall in the morning.

After this wonderful experience, we hiked all the way back to Chile Chico and ended the expedition in style. In the next three days, we’ll rest and then head back to the grocery store to buy and pack another ration for our last expedition of the semester!