Day 1 - Arrival at Balmaceda Airport
Upon arrival at the Santiago airport (SCL), you transfer to a domestic flight. Your driver will meet you at the regional Balmaceda airport (BBA) where you will continue your journey. You will travel south on the Austral Highway on paved and improved gravel roads. Within 300 kilometres of driving, you will pass two small villages, Villa Cerro Castillo, at the foot of its impressive peak, and Puerto Río Tranquilo, a village on the shores of Lago General Carrera, Chile’s largest lake, and South America’s second largest lake.
You will continue south, poised between the deep blue waters of the lake and the sharp, snowy peaks flanking the Northern Patagonia Icefield. You will arrive at the tiny hamlet of Puerto Bertrand, located at the headwaters of the Baker River, Chile’s largest volume river, a world-class fishery and the centrepiece of a dormant, yet contentious dam-building project by the Spanish Energy Consortium, Endesa. You will overnight in Puerto Bertrand. Driving time is approximately six hours.
Day 2 - Lakeside trail hiking
After breakfast and final preparations for your first two days of trekking, you depart mid-morning, taking a short boat shuttle to the start of the hike. The route will follow a trail along the lakeshore and along stock trails, accompanied by our daypacks loaded only with essential items. Luggage, equipment, and food will follow by horseback or boat under the care of our horse packers and staff. This allows for exploring and adventure.
A short boat shuttle at the end of our hike will finish the day. Depending upon the final route chosen to your tent camp for the night, trekking distance is approximately 7 kilometres (4.3 mi).
Day 3 - Enchanted forests, lakes and sweeping valleys
Today holds a spectacular segment of the trek. Our route will rise up intermittently forested slopes to a high shoulder overlooking the joining of waters between Lago Bertrand and Lago Plomo. These waters connect through a breach in the long, narrow moraine that forms a peninsula separating the two lakes. This short gap demarcates where the deep turqoise of Lago Bertrand abruptly changes to the jade green of Lago Plomo.
After the trail’s initial ascent, you will hike along rocky outcroppings, across high alpine valleys, and through enchanted forests of moss-covered beech trees. The glaciated peaks are at your shoulder and the waters of the lake are below your feet. Keep an eye skyward in search of an Andean condor, with its distinctively broad wingspan. Near the lake’s end are spectacular views far up the Solér Valley, to where the afternoon sun stands watch over the enormous expanse of the Patagonia Icefield summits.
Finish the day with a descent past a marble outcropping, sculpted by time and the elements, and walk across a forested pasture to the dock, boats, houses, and barns of the main ranch, all of which you’ve been glimpsing from a distance. It will be a long, satisfying day finished with a wholesome meal, a glass of fine Chilean wine, and falling asleep in the rustic, comfortable guest house accompanied by the sounds of horses soft grazing on home pasture. Trekking distance is approximately 12 kilometres (7 mi).
Day 4 - Peaks, Condors and sandy beaches
Begin the day with yerba mate, a bitter tea sipped from a gourd through a metal straw. It is a traditional start to any Patagonian day and an important social custom. After a hearty breakfast, we will prepare for our trek up the Solér Valley, toward the icefield. You’ll follow horse trails and carry only the essentials in your daypack. There are several short creek crossings so don’t forget those sandals or water shoes.
The long valleys, lush temperate forests and mountain peaks offer a wide variety of terrain in which to trek and it’s not uncommon to see soaring condors or even the elusive huemul, a small endangered deer that appears on the Chilean coat of arms. The varied terrain means that you’ll be able to experience everything from craggy mountain trails to long, sandy beaches, and always with a backdrop of the majestic mountain panorama.
Tonight’s destination is situated on the banks of the Cacho River. This tent camp is located just beyond the intersection of two large valleys facing each other, across the Solér Valley floor. This is one of our favorite spots and we always sense energy here, be it from the massive peaks, the open space, the flowing water, or the pristine landscape.
There’s contentment here in an evening fire, while enjoying good company, and watching the horses graze against a slowly darkening backdrop that reveals southern stars above white, jagged peaks. Trekking distance is approximately 12 kilometres (7 mi).
Day 5 - Wildlife watching, glaciers and marble mountainsides
Mate and breakfast are served around a campfire as you watch the long, creeping approach of the morning’s sun slip down from the peak tops to the valley floor. Today, you will hike and explore an untouched depth of wild Patagonia that is seldom revealed. If the day is clear, your views will encompass the surrounding peaks and glaciers, five and six thousand feet in elevation above you and the awe-inspiring and formidable Northern Patagonia Icefield, with Cerro Hyades standing firm at the head of the Cacho Valley. The difference in elevation between the valley floor at the far end of our Cacho Ranch and the summit of this monumental peak is 10,000 feet!
Along the way is the old-growth forest of Coigüe, or Dombey’s beech, with its elegant branches and thick, lustrous evergreen leaves. The large Magellanic woodpecker is frequently seen or heard here, with its resoundingly deep echo reverberating through the air as it searches for grubs in the ruin of aged trunks. This is also home to the endangered huemul, or South Andean Deer, as well as predators such as the Geoffroy’s Cat, Patagonian Fox, and Puma.
Hidden in plain view, inconspicuous amongst the grandeur of the landscape, is a marble mountainside. Weather, river levels, the group's pace and energy levels will ultimately influence the furthest point of the trek. If conditions permit, it is possible to reach as far as the massive glacier’s edge before returning to the tent camp for the night. Trekking distance may vary and is approximately 12-18 kilometres (7-11 mi).
Day 6 - The final descent
As the morning sunlight edges toward camp, you’ll sip yerba mate around a fire and marvel as the light plays over the peaks of snow, ice and rock. There’s plenty of time to take in the beauty before packing up camp and heading back home down the valley. Upon departing, we will travel one of several routes back down the valley to the main ranch.
The evening will include a customary Patagonia barbecue or 'asado'. Guests, staff and neighbours traditionally all share in this feast of meat, slow-roasted over an open fire, new potatoes, fresh salad from the greenhouse, bread and wine. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself staying up late to listen to the strumming of a guitar and a soft, Spanish melody. Trekking distance is approximately 12-16 kilometres (7-10 mi).
Depart for the Balmaceda airport, home.