Monthly Archives: February 2017

Trail Running Patagonia

I came to Chile without much of a plan or an idea what I’d be doing. All I knew was there was a lot of wilderness, volcanoes and this magical land called Patagonia. Upon arriving in Chile I started to look around and do a little more research. First thing I learned is that Patagonia is really frickin big. The iconic photos of the Torres del Paine and Fitz Roy only encompass a very small portion of what Patagonia is, a largely undeveloped expanse of rolling hills, mountains and ice. In fact the whole of Chilean and Argentinean Patagonia covers roughly a million square kilometers and stretches for half the distance of Chile from the Lakes District southward to Tierra del Fuego!

Torres del Paine as seen from near the visitors center.

The second thing I learned is that because of crowding a new permit system had been introduced in Torres del Paine NP and things were booked up for all of January and February, well damn. Also to add to the pain, three different websites currently manage lodging (rifugios and camping) in the park and it’s up to you to create an itinerary and sort out how and where to book, not so easy. After trying to line up lodging and work out any itinerary I said screw it, it’s time to be an ultra runner. If you have more questions on the current state of booking O or W multiday treks in the park feel free to drop me a line, as I now know the system quite well, but won’t discuss it further here.

So with all the headaches out of the way, I could get back to the adventure at hand. After a few days in Puerto Varas I caught a flight from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas ($130) and stayed the night in town to stock up. Then it was off to Puerto Natales and Erratic Rock to lay down done plans. I made the decision to run most of the W trek over two days, to the Mirador de los Torres on day 1 and Valle Frances on day 2 (good weather window). Torres del Paine National Park is about 1.5h from Puerto Natales, and buses only run a few times a day (730/1130 to, 1430/2000 return), and cost between 12000-15000 roundtrip (JB bus is the cheapest). The bus arrives at the laguna amarga visitor center where everyone has to buy a parks pass (21000 in cash for foreigners, line can take 15-60min), and if you want to use it for up to three days of reentry you need to have them stamp the pass. After that you have the option of paying 3000 pesos for a shuttle ride into the park or walk/run the 7km alongside the dirt road.

If you choose to run or hike the road the views are actually pretty good.

NOTE it is technically illegal to run in the park per their rules, silly as it may be, make your own decision about the rule. Though no one bothered me, but make sure to be respectful of others on the trail as it’s very busy.

I paid the shuttle fee and was dropped off at Torres Central where I started jogging down the road and hitting the double track trail, taking the spur towards Chileno and the Torres. The trail was quite runnable up to Chileno, but there was a wicked wind that rushed down valley throwing dirt at us. After Chileno one enters a pleasant forest and then starts the steep trek up toward the Torres. The trail is a bit rocky, but easy to follow with plenty of clean water access (I never treated any water). Soon I crested the moraine and an awesome basin of granite lay before me, holy $h!?. It had only taken me 1:40 to get up so I spent 30min just relaxing, taking photos and just reveling in the majesty. Then jogged down the trail all the way back to Laguna Amarga and the bus pickup at 14:30, taking care to be respectful of all others on the trails. Fantastic half day run, amazing view, and a must see if you’re I the area.

Starting the trail into Torres del Paine NP.

Some super smooth single track through the forest near Chileno.

Views down the last hill before reaching Torres Central.

Day 2 saw me doing the same, but skipping the 1h line. This time I headed for Cuernos and Valle del Francés. The trail to Cuernos was buttery smooth and views of the lakes and mountains were phenomenal. I cruised on past Cuernos and Francés to Italiano camp and quickly struck up Valle del Francés. The trail in this middle section of the ‘W’ is rocky and rooty, so much slower travel. The view from mirador Francés and Britanico are phenomenal, a combination of RMNP and Glacier NP; soaring peaks and glaciers abound. I slowly wound my way back down past the crowds and headed toward Paine Grande. From here I had the option of catching a ferry (18000 pesos), but had 3h so decided on the long slow route 17km back to the visitor center. The trail started with rolling hills and spectacular views across Lago Pehoe toward the Torres, then flattened out and was a grind back to the visitor center. I finished off my long Trans-Torres NP run of 55km in 7:50, not fast, but beautiful with lots of photos taken. The final piece was to catch the bus around 1830-1900 back to Puerto Natales, finally reaching town at 2130, hungry and tired.

Lake side single track and expansive views at the start of the Torres park.

A little stint along the lake shore enroute to Cuernos.

VALLE deL Francés, pretty awesome views.

Looking back at the Cuernos from the trail.

Looking back across Lago Pehoe at Torres del Paine.

The next day I moved on to Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego by bus (12h). Quaint little town with an abundance of fantastic runs within a few kilometers of town. In my opinion a great place to post up for a bit and explore, because there are also great facilities available. I’ll briefly mention the runs I did, but note there are quite a few more I didn’t do.

Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego on a nice day are pretty spectacular.

Day 1 I followed the trail up Cerro del Medio to the summit for a view of town, the surrounding mountains and the Beagel Channel. I descended a faintly marked trail on the west side into the forest, squished through a peat bog and over to the Glaciar Martial view point before jogging back to town 30km).

View from the summit of Cerro del Medio.

Looking down on Ushuaia and the Beagel Channel from the summit.

Following cairns through the scree and lush greenery.

For peats sake. Looks innocent, but it’s like walking on a sponge, soft and wet.

All the water in Tierra del Fuego makes for some lovely scenery.

Day 2 a few friends and I hitch hiked into the National Park, paid the entry (160 pesos) and followed the trail up to the summit of Cerro Guanaco, another fantastic view point with amazing views of the entire park. The trail isn’t long (16km), but it’s a 1000m climb with some steep and muddy sections.

The final pitch to the summit of Cerro Guanaco, pretty decent views.

360 degree panoramic views from the summit, pretty awesome.

We made a friend on the summit, a local zorro (fox).

So it rains a lot in Tierra del Fuego, and sometimes things get muddy.

Winding or way through the trees down Cerro Guanaco.

Day 3 I went big and set out from the hostel through the dirt bike park and up into Valle de la Oveja. Fantastically runnable trail high above the valley, finally topping out at the pass in a barren scree field surrounded by mountains. Then I dropped down into the lush Valle Andorra, with a spectacular side trip to Lago Caminante and Superior. Both are amazing blue glacial lakes set in deep green valleys. The run down Valle Andorra was slow due to very muddy trails mixed with some beautiful single track. The 35km run took me 5h, and I was able to hitchhike back into town with a local, saving me 11km of road. Fantastic loop, with almost no one on the trail and expansive views.

Climbing up Valle de la Oveja.

Lago Superior and it’s compete solitude.

Descending Valle Andorra through some beautiful forest.

Notes for Patagonia:

Crossing between Chile and Argentina for US citizens is now fairly easy. No fees, just stamps and passports needed. But don’t bring any fruits, vegetables or meat.

For those coming from the US or Europe, bring a lot of your local currency to exchange  (or use without exchanging) because ATM fees are high and ATMs are often empty in popular places.

Many of the cities aren’t near the best trail running, you’ll have to do some work to get there; bus, rent a car, hitchhike, or ride a bike a long way. Ushuaia, El Chalten and Bariloche are the exceptions, with fantastic running right out of town.

If you’re having trouble finding trails, turn on strava and check segments for running and riding. I’ve used this to find all kinds of trails. You can also contact locals and trail groups for information, though response can be slow.

Traveling around Patagonia is fairly easy by bus or hitchhiking for the more adventurous. Cheap flights also exist within country, but crossing borders is expensive. Chile is cheaper than Argentina.

So that’s just a few thoughts and lots of photos, next up El Calafate and El Chalten. Special thanks to Vfuel for powering my adventures and the PLT for making all the fun possible.

Lago Caminante and all the colors.

Travelers Guilt

Planes, trains and buses. Sometimes you’re packed in like a sardine, other times you have half a plane to yourself. In route to Malaysia.

In the developed world many of us are very fortunate to have the means and the opportunity to travel, both domestically and internationally. I could write pages on the benefits of traveling to different cultures and becoming an international citizen, but that’s not what has my brain cranking. No, what has me pondering what it means to be a traveler is something I’ve deemed “travelers guilt”, let me explain. During my time in Asia I spent a lot of time talking with locals, learning about their culture and lifestyle and sharing mine. Both in Nepal and Myanmar I talked about my travels to many different countries and cities and about all of what I’d seen. For most people in the western world, you may be jealous of the things I’ve done and seen, but the fact that I’m doing them is not a surprise to you. Most of you probably know a dozen other people who have taken off on a several month long journey (or longer), to distant far off lands.

Christmas festivities ibn the Seoul airport, complete with a woman singing songs from Frozen, in Korean.

Most people in the developing world don’t have this luxury. Life focuses on family, friends, home, farm, school and the essentials. Many people in SE Asia and Nepal have never been out of their own country, and some may not have ever left their districts/regions. Traveling for pleasure is just not something they think about or that is part of their culture, so to talk to world travelers opens up a world of different experiences and possibilities. So far, this is all good, sharing different experiences and ideas.
Now the guilt. Both in Nepal and Myanmar the question came up about how much it costs me to travel; hostels, airplanes, buses, visas, etc, there are a lot of different expenses that go into traveling internationally. I’m a fairly thrifty traveler, but flights still cost hundreds of dollars, visas upwards of $150 in some countries. My new friends asked me about all these things and I wasn’t going to lie or sugar coat anything. But as I recited some of the numbers I realized, even my cheap $400 flight to Asia was an amount of money that they could live off for a month, it’s an amount that takes them some time to wrap their head around, and we spend it merely for pleasure.

Our adopted Burmese family, they invited us to their family picnic, gave us beer and food and did out makeup, because…

Teaching my Nepalese kids about America and world geography.

I began to feel very guilty and extremely self continuous about my travels, and spent my several days of transit to Hawaii (via Thailand and Korea) pondering what this concept really meant. Should I not be traveling and instead just donate my extra money to charities, should I travel but share my money more freely with as many locals as possible, or is this just the nature of economic inequality? In the end I came back to the advantages of international travel for our society and individuals. Awareness, understanding and sharing our cultures brings tolerance and in my opinion makes us all better and more compassionate people, but that’s just my opinion on how I travel and what I want to get out of travel.

Wedding in the village of Shishaghat. Family, friends, food, dancing and everyone (even me) is invited.

But this doesn’t mean “travelers guilt” hasn’t changed how I travel. Since there are huge economic disparities between the western world and developing countries I think those of us do have a responsibility to do the little things to help those who need it most. Don’t stay in big corporate hotels instead find a small B&B or guesthouse. Buy from street vendors and small shops instead of big commercial operations (guess this is true for the US too). And even though you have more money than the locals don’t flaunt it, be respectful. I’ve started trying to spread my money around when I can, but not spending more extravagantly than I normally would, just being conscious of where my money goes. I’ve seen way too many people throwing money around and treating the economically less fortunate as slaves, which just disgusts me.

Shopping the street markets of Yangon, Myanmar for fruits and veggies.

Most of you reading this were born with a similar level of privilege that I was, and I feel it’s our duty to be responsible citizens and try to help those wonderful hard working folks who offer more than a simple product, but a story and friendship (I guess this is some degree of socialism for mankind). I welcome different thoughts, opinions, and arguments for/against what I’ve written above. These are just my ponderings and musings and I’d love to hear other opinions or if anyone else has struggled with this topic. For now, I’ll keep on traveling, but am a little more aware of how I do it and how much of a privilege it is. Thanks to ask those who have shared this journey with me, opened their lives to me and whom have helped me grow along the way.

So no matter how you travel, enjoy the ride. The people and places are what make the experience, not how much it costs.