The Gaucho Way

12 DAY SUPPORTED TREK or Horse RidE IN CHILE, PATAGONIA

Explore an untouched and largely unknown part of wild Patagonia.  The Gaucho Way is our signature route.  It follows traditional routes used by the Gauchos, Chilean cowboys who are friends and neighbors.  Horseback, they herd cattle to market and return to their homesteads with flour, sugar, yerba mate and other sundries.  The Gaucho Way connotes both their passage through the mountain landscape and their distinctive, gracious culture.   We trek or ride through beautiful valleys, lush forests, craggy mountain trails, and sandy beaches all with the Northern Patagonia Icefield rising 10,000 feet above you.

Day by Day at a Glance:

  • Day 1: Depart country of origin on international flight to Santiago, Chile (SCL). 
  • Day 2: Arrive Santiago.  Domestic flight to Balmaceda Regional Airport (BBA).  Private transfer to Puerto Bertrand.  Overnight Pto. Bertrand at Local Guest Cabin or Bed and Breakfast.
  • Day 3Two short boat shuttles with a full-day trek.  7 km. (4.5 mi.). Overnight Tent Camp at Cacho Ranch.
  • Day 4: Full-day trek.  12 km. (7 mi.). Overnight at PF Guest House, Main Ranch.
  • Day 5: Day at Main Ranch.  Options for day hike or riding.  0-18km. (0-11 mi.). Overnight at PF Guest House, Main Ranch.
  • Day 6: Continue multi-day supported trek.  12 km. (7 mi.) Overnight at Tent Camp at Cacho Ranch.
  • Day 7: Trek to view Northern Patagonia Icefield.  12-18 km. (7-11 mi.). Overnight Tent Camp at Glacier Camp.
  • Day 8: Continue trek down valley.  12-18 km. (7-11 mi.) Overnight at Tent Camp at Cacho Ranch or alt. camp.
  • Day 9: Complete supported trek.  Traditional Patagonia Asado (BBQ).  12-16 km. (7-10 mi.) Overnight at PF Guest House, Main Ranch.
  • Day 10: Boat shuttle to Puerto Bertrand.  Raft the Baker River.  Option for day hike or game viewing in Patagonia National Park. Overnight Pto. Bertrand at Local Guest Cabin or Bed and Breakfast.
  • Day 11: Private transfer to Balmaceda Regional Airport.  Domestic flight to Santiago.  Begin international flight.
  • Day 12: Arrive final destination. 

Detailed Itinerary:

Day 1: Depart your country of origin on an international flight to Santiago, Chile (SCL).

Day 2:  Upon arrival to the Santiago airport you transfer to a domestic flight.  Your driver will meet you at the regional Balmaceda airport (BBA) where you will continue your journey.  You travel south on the Austral Highway on pavement and improved gravel roads.  In nearly 300 kilometers of driving you pass just two small villages, Villa Cerro Castillo, at the foot of the impressive peak that in its name, 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 continue south, poised between the profound blue waters of the lake and the sharp, snowy peaks flanking the Northern Patagonia Icefield.  You 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 centerpiece of a dormant, yet contentious dam-building project by the Spanish energy consortium Endesa.

You overnight in Puerto Bertrand.

Driving time is approximately six hours.

Day 3:  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.  Your way follows a trail up and down along the lakeshore as you follow horse trails, carrying daypacks loaded only with essential items.  The rest of the luggage, equipment and food comes by horseback or boat under the watchful eyes of our horse packers and staff.  This leaves you free for exploring and adventure.  A short boat shuttle is required towards the end of the day depending upon the final path chosen to your tent camp for the night.

Trekking distance is approximately 7 kilometers (4.3 mi).

Day 4:  Today holds a spectacular segment of your trek.  Your way rises 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 clearly demarcates where the deep blue of Lago Bertrand abruptly changes to the jade green of Lago Plomo.

After the trail’s initial ascent, you 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.  As we near the lake’s end you view far up the wide Solér Valley floor and beyond 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 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 while listening to the horses soft grazing on home pasture.

Trekking distance is approximately 12 kilometers (7 mi.) of mountainous terrain.

Day 5:  Spend the day exploring the ranch and surrounding property.  Choose a leisurely day exploring the old growth forest, searching for wild morel mushrooms, enjoying a horse ride or simply relaxing.  If you prefer more vigorous activity you may choose to explore one of the surrounding alpine valleys.

If you are partaking on a multi-ride journey, you’ll meet some of the ranch’s sturdy Criollo mounts and become familiar with the comfortable Gaucho tack.  Plan on riding and exploring as you get to know the horses and some of the surrounding terrain.

The horse is one of the most salient features of everyday rural life here and visitors soon notice the ubiquitous mount, saddled and waiting outside each sparsely scattered homestead.  Here, the relationship between horse and rider begins early in life.  It is no surprise to come across a child atop a horse, far from anybody, confidently riding along a mountain path.

In the evening loads are prepared for panniers and packhorses that will accompany you on the next portion of your trip.  You spend the night in the guest house.

Trekking/Riding distance is approximately 0-18 km. (0-11 mi.)

Day 6:  Begin the day with yerba mate, a bitter tea sipped from a gourd through a metal straw.  It is a traditional start to any Patagonia day and an important social custom.  After a hearty breakfast the horses are saddled, the packhorses loaded with food and camping gear, and you begin your trek or ride. You’ll follow horse trails and carry only the essentials in your daypack. If you are trekking, 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 ride 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 at the beginning of another Patagonia Frontiers ranch.  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 in the valley 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, enjoying good company, and watching the horses graze against a slowly darkening backdrop that reveals southern stars above white, jagged peaks.

Trekking/Riding distance is approximately 12 km.  (7 mi.)

Day 7:  Mate and breakfast are around a campfire this morning as you watch the long, creeping approach of the morning’s sun slip down from the peak tops to the valley floor.  Today, you hike or ride and explore an untouched depth of wild Patagonia that is seldom revealed. 

If the day is clear your views will encompass the immediately surrounding peaks and glaciers, five and six thousand feet in elevation above you, as well as 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 colossal peak is 10,000 feet!

Along the way is 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 here, or heard, 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 predators such as Geoffroy’s Cat, Patagonian Fox and Puma.  Hidden in plain view, inconspicuous amongst the grandeur of so much else, is a marble mountainside.

You overnight at the Glacier tent camp.  Trekking/Riding distance will vary and is approximately 12-18 km. (7-11 mi.)

Day 8:  The night’s long song of rumbling ice falls and murmuring tree branches gives way to the crackle of campfire and early morning calls of the Chucao and Hued-Hued.  Weather, river levels, equine health as well as the group’s energy ultimately influence our route today.  When conditions permit you may reach as far as the massive glacier’s edge before continuing towards the main Solér Valley.

Perhaps you’ll have an opportunity to pass by one of our few neighbor’s homesteads, subsistence ranches deep in the wilderness and enclaves of human presence and affable hospitality.

Your tent camp location will be chosen based on conditions.  Trekking/Riding distance will vary and is approximately 12-18 km. (7-11 mi.)

Day 9: As the sunlight edges toward camp from across the river you’ll sip yerba mate around the morning fire and marvel as the light plays over the peaks of snow, ice and rock. There’s plenty of time to enjoy the morning routine before packing camp, and heading back home down valley. There’s no hurry to depart, yet eventually you trek one of several routes down valley to the main ranch.

Evening brings a customary Patagonia barbecue, or asado.  Guests, staff and neighbors traditionally all share in this feast of meat, slow-roasted over an open fire, new potatoes, fresh salads from the greenhouse, bread and wine.  Don’t be surprised to find yourself staying up late listening to the strumming of a guitar and a soft, Spanish melody.

Trekking/Riding distance is approximately 12-16 km. (7-10 mi.)

Day 10:  Breath in this morning’s clean, cool air. Spend the morning on a stroll along the beach, or through the orchards, gardens and greenhouses.  Take a walk in the pasture and share a moment with the horses, or simply relax as you prepare to say goodbye to the ranch and shuttle by boat to Puerto Bertrand.  The dock there is the departure point for a whitewater rafting descent of the crystal-clear powerhouse that is the Baker River.  Optional activities include a visit to the mighty Confluencia, the junction of the Baker and Nef rivers as they thunder over a precipitous drop.  You’re also close by to the Chacabuco valley, site of the newly formed Patagonia National Park, an excellent spot for game viewing guanaco, condor, fox and other wildlife.

You overnight and freshen up in a local guest cabin, or bed and breakfast.

Day 11:  Your driver will meet you for the return north directly to the regional Balmaceda airport, your domestic flight to Santiago and international departure.

Day 12: Arrive final destination.

We hope that this sample itinerary offers you a good idea of what this trip offers.  In the end, each trip is best crafted by working together with our guests and clients.  Ultimately, we look at a successful trip as requiring collaboration to come up with the best components.  Each trip’s duration, activity types, and level of difficulty are readily adapted to meet a party’s goals and wishes.

Whether you choose an established itinerary or create one of your own, our commitment is to accommodating your interests and to providing you with a thoroughly enjoyable, safe and memorable experience.  Even after living here for more than 30 years this land still thrills us and we love sharing it with others.  We look forward to hosting you at our wilderness ranch home.

Other Sample Itineraries: