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M The Bio-Bio Trek, Chile

by Chris Jones

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Article Summary:

Thousands of foreigners travel to Chile each year for adventure in places like Pucon, Futalefu, Pichilemu, and Torres del Paine. A country permeated with glaciated volcanoes, enormous ice fields, heavy reef breaks, and even a slice of Antarctica, Chile is known throughout the world for its spectacular scenery and remote nature. The country spans so much latitude that it's divided into thirteen regions named for the person, city or landscape feature that characterizes the region. For example, the ninth region is called La Araucania because of the magnificent araucaria, or monkey-puzzle tree, found there. The eighth region is the Bio-Bio, named for the largest river in Chile, where the mountains and native forests form a biological corridor for plants and animals migrating between the north and south of the country. Chile is attractive because of its unique geography; every region contains both coastal and alpine habitat, but more importantly, its geography provides the possibility for the country to be self-sufficient. From the dry north where more than a third of the world's copper is mined, to the lush central valleys brimming with fruits, vegetables and trees, to the wet south where productive ocean currents support abundant marine life, natural resources can be found everywhere.

Chile is defined by the Andes, an extensive chain of mountains that stretch for more than 2,500 miles from its border with Peru to its southernmost point, Cape Horn. The Sendero de Chile, like the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, was established in an effort to link the country's thirteen regions. The undertaking to construct the longest hiking trail in the world, passing through some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet, has been a great success by any standard. Today, roughly 2,000 kilometers have been completed and more than 1,400 kilometers are planned or under construction. However, large parts of the route remain unexplored. For the adventurous traveler, it's possible to reach volcanic summits still smoking from their most recent eruptions, hanging valleys filled with wildflowers, impossibly steep glaciated alpine summits, pristine mountain rivers, and untouched backcountry ski routes. In the mountains of the Bio-Bio region there is a small village called Las Trancas near the base of Nevados de Chillan ski-area, full of rustic cabins and magnificent mountain lodges. It was here that I met Felipe, a mountain guide and freeride ski instructor, and began the quest to establish a route between the Chillan volcanoes and the massive Laguna del Laja near the base of Antuco volcano. Our goal was to link the Sendero de Chile with the Chillan volcanoes and develop a new route through the mountains similar to the famous circuit in Patagonia where it is possible to hike for a week or more among the most spectacular scenery on earth. In the Bio-Bio region, satellite photos are more common than topographical maps and Felipe had dozens of photos that we had been poring over for more than a week. In the end, we decided the route would have to be viewed from above and scouted out like a river before we could fully commit to it.


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