I took my first trip to Patagonia in 2004. At the time I was taking a vacation from my job as District Ranger on the Inyo National Forest in California. I remember my first glimpse of Las Torres and our hike up to the base of the towers later that day. WOW!!!! Since that first trip, I’ve returned to Chile several times. Each time my wild spirit is fueled by these amazing landscapes and the wonderful people with their smiling faces.
So today I want to reflect on my most recent experience in Patagonia. As a Director of ConservationVIP®, I was given the opportunity to work on a new trail to the base of The Towers, the massive granite spires which give Torres del Paine National Park its name. The original trail to The Towers was never designed to be sustainable. It ascends steeply in places, traverses across some unstable slopes, and passes through some unhardened wet spots. On the busiest days, thousands of people attempt to make it up this trail. In addition, parts of the trail have been used by pack animals. The heavy use and erosion have caused problems.
The trail to the Towers in Torres del Paine National Park crosses Reserva Las Torres, a private land reserve, so improving the trail involves many stakeholders. In partnership with CONAF (the National Park land manager), Reserva Las Torres, and two local non-government “friends” groups (AMA Torres del Paine and Torres del Paine Legacy Fund), ConservationVIP® set about to work on the trail. During the previous four years, AMA Torres del Paine and Reserva Las Torres created a conservation campaign and worked with Jacob Brett (Sutra) of the Shuswap Trail Alliance, who led the planning and initial design of the new trail on the reserve land. By late 2021, it was time to begin construction.
We agreed that we would build new sections of trail and re-build other sections of trail. We also decided to create multiple opportunities for people to volunteer and came up with a four-part plan.
For the first part of our plan, I recruited ten US-based Trail Experts who agreed to travel to the site and donate their time and expertise. ConservationVIP® contributed funds for flights within the US and travel insurance, while LATAM airlines donated round-trip tickets from the US to Punta Arenas, Chile. Reserva Las Torres provided their ground transportation, lodging and food. In early 2022, these Ten Trail Experts worked over the course of two months to locate trail, train volunteers and build trail.
The second part of the plan involved recruiting, training and supporting local volunteers from Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales. Torres del Paine Legacy Fund managed the web-based recruitment. Reserva Las Torres provided the ground transportation, lodging and food. We hosted six groups of “weekend volunteers” who would arrive on Thursday, work through the weekend, and then return home on Monday. These volunteers were trained and supervised by the ten Trail Experts as they worked on the new hiker trail:
For the third part of the plan, Torres del Paine Legacy Fund recruited Chilean volunteers who worked for a longer stint out of Campamento Torres. This group was trained and supervised by two of the Trail Experts. For two weeks, they created a new pathway of rock steps leading through a difficult section of the trail towards the mirador, where visitors stand to view the Towers. CONAF rangers also assisted this group with difficult placement of large heavy rocks.
The fourth part of our volunteer recruitment effort involved bringing nine volunteers from the US on a two-week long ConservationVIP volunteer trip. This group worked on a new horse trail, a new hiker trail and reconstruction of the existing trail.
February-March 2022 accomplishments:
451 meters of new hiker trail ~ 1.5 kilometers of new horse trail ~ 30 meters of rock work
TOTAL Volunteer Hours: 3,256. Trail Experts 1680 hours ~ Weekend volunteers 928 hrs. ~ ConservationVIP volunteers 648 hours
This was the start of a multi-year effort to build a sustainable trail to the base of The Towers.
Next volunteer trip is November 7-19, 2022. Join Us! https://conservationvip.org/destinations/torres-del-paine-patagonia/