The longest continous hiking route in South America, running across the chilean Andes from the capital Santiago all the way south into Patagonia, just these little facts made me dreaming when I first heard about the Greater Patagonian Trail from my friend Christine, a very experienced hiker, about 3 years ago.
And when I researched a bit about that trail, I found its story very interesting as well:
The german Jan Dudeck did a multiday horse trip with his chilean wife Meylin and tracked the route by his GPS. When he transfered the track to Google Earth, he realized, that the tiny horse trails they followed were visible on the satellite pictures. That brought the idea, to create a long distance trail running the length of Patagonia, mainly by using Google Earth. He added stretches which are located in central Chile, outside of classical Patagonia, therefore he named the trail "Greater Patagonian Trail".
Since he began that great work, he spends every summer in Chile, to scout new segments of the trail and to verify what he saw on Google Earth. The fact that he mapped a lot of alternatives, often still not groundtruthed, make the Greater Patagonian Trail even more interesting.
Originally I had planned to start at the northern Terminus in Radal, but just a month before I started, Jan told me, that now the trail is even extended to the Capital, Santiago de Chile. The last metro station of that city, what an exciting starting point!
Map of my route
Before my plane lands in Santiago, I enjoy beautiful views on the high peaks of the Andes, a first taste of the upcoming hike!
I find an ATM in the airport building and soon hop on a bus to the City. At the Metro Station Pajaritos I leave the Bus and first use the red Line to Tobalaba, before I switch to the blue Metro line. After a long ride I reach the final Station Plaza de Puente Alto, where I can start hiking at about noon.
Puente Alto, the Start of the GPT in Santiago
It doesn't take long before I reach the City limit. At the outskirts of a 6 million people metropolis there are two possibilities: slumlike shantytowns or homes for the rich. The GPT touches rather well heeled areas, which means that the backroads Jan incorporated in his route are private, locked and fenced, so for a long time I need to follow the tarmac.
Unusual shady stretch
Some people stop their cars and offer me a ride, nice Chilenos! But as I want to walk, I have to neglect these offers.
Later in the day the route leaves the tarmac, just to cross a dumping ground...
Crossing of a dumping ground
I don't like walking on roads, but for a start this is ok. Late in the afternoon I reach Reserva Nacional Rio Clarillo, and look forward to more feet friendly terrain. But at the entrance some police cars are parked, and I get the information, that for today the reserve is already closed. It is quite late, there are fences and the vegetation is too thorny to walk around, so I decide to spent the night on the campground nearby. It seems like many people are still partying for new year, but finally I find a not too bad spot to pitch my tent.
I spent my first night in Chile on a campground
When I am early in the morning again at the entrance of the reserve, there is already a police (Carabinero) car! A fat guy with dark sunglasses is approaching me and asks where I want to go. I tell him the truth and to my relieve there is no problem, but wishing me well!
After about one hour on dirt road I reach the prober entrance of Reserva Nacional Rio Clarillo, where I have to pay about 9 Euro to get in!
A well organised reserve
Soon I leave the gpx- track and follow a nice nature trail with good information, unfortunately only in spanish language, so I don't understand everything. Here at about 700 metres altitude it is hot and dry, therefore the vegetation is quite thorny and even cacti are growing.
Cacti and scrub
Nearer to Rio Clarillo and some sidestreams there is a kind of shady forest, but these are only patches.
Rare shady forest
After finishing the first nature trail I return to the jeep track, but soon I find another nice trail. Along the river there are different picnic spots where families have a good time near the water.
At around noon I reach the end of the road. The gpx- track stays in the valley, but another trail leads steeply up a hillside. For some time I hope, that it will return to the valley, but finally it is clear that I am walking in the wrong direction and decide to return. Just above the valley I bushwack to the river and find a good cattle trail.
Soon I realize, that I am exactly on Jan's mapped trail, although so far himself didn't walk here! On this hike I just use my GPS with the Topo Andes map and Jan's gpx Tracks.
Cattle trails are the mainstay of the GPT, and I really like them for walking. They are mostly rather small but often good visible, perfect hiking trails!
Cow trails up Rio Clarillo
After I leave the road I see no more people and only a handful of cows. It is hot, so I need to drink a lot, but even side streams have water, so it is not necessary to carry much.
After putting up my camp and having dinner I take a little evening walk. I like the contrast between lush, shady forest and the tall cacti which grow in small groups almost on bare sand and rock.
The first real hiking day I enjoyed and I am full of expectation what lies ahead.
Next morning the cattle trail ends at a river crossing and doesn't continue on the other side. For some time I look on the left side for a trail, but can't find anything useful. For 1,5 hours I stay on the left river side and try somehow to push upstream which is rather hard in the thick vegetation and difficult terrain, cut by a lot of steep gullies. When I spot something which could be a trail, I return by a steep climb to the river and soon find a good path on the right side.
Soon I encounter two men on horses, accompanied by packhorses and dogs. These arrieros look after the cattle, and from their appearance it seems like the Wild West of the cowboys is alive!
They are employed by a rich landowner and have to look after 200 cattle. I find the arrieros quite impressive, who are a regular sight on the GPT!