May 1, 2023
Bueno, here we are on the eve of our long journey towards home. By the time you read this, we will be in Santiago, exploring the gran ciudad after three weeks in wilderness and tiny Patagonian towns. We plan to eat some traditional Chilean food in Santiago before getting on the plane and flying home!
But, alas, we did have a nice week in civilization, no matter how small or empty these tourist towns seemed. After celebrating Anja’s birthday back at the ranch on Lago Plomo, we de-geared and boated over to Puerto Bertrand for our first meal in a restaurant in weeks! The kids basically bought out the local cafe, ordering ice cream and quesadillas and cakes all before dinner, and then we shared our final meal with Don Luis and Don Moncho before heading on north.
The next morning we awoke early covered in frosted dew and caught a public bus headed toward Puerto Tranquilo, a small town on the shores of Lago General Carrera, the largest lake in Chile. We installed ourselves at our hostel (we were still camping but at least we got flush toilets and semi-warm showers!) and then made new cook groups for the rest of the trip. John at Patagonia Frontiers planned for us to cook most of our meals in our hostel kitchens for the remaining week. In the afternoon the kids received some independent exploration time to shop for souvenirs, and then that evening we dove into learning how to give and receive feedback, and then practiced doing it for the portion of our trek. Everyone left that session feeling positive and empowered, as we learned how to graciously accept growth-oriented feedback, and heard a little bit about why each of us rocks too.
The next day we had a full day in Puerto Tranquilo. We awoke to our first real Patagonian rainstorm, but luckily it cleared just in time for our boat tour of the famous Marble Caves of Puerto Tranquilo. We went out in an outboard motor boat – dressed in matching ponchos and feeling very touristy – and got to see the amazing caverns and rock formations formed by the chemical decomposition of the marble and rock as it mixed with acidic water thousands of years before. We then had the rest of the afternoon off, which was conveniently right as the skies opened and loosed a rain storm like we hadn’t yet seen! As we gathered in the hostel to hear a lesson from Kat about decision making, the rain poured down, flooding many of the students’ tents and making a soaking mess. Fortunately, this was our final night camping, and even luckier, our kind hostal host allowed us to camp the night inside the common space at the hostel. So, we had a giant slumber party, and fell asleep while telling stories.
We then made our way up to Villa Cerro Castillo several hours by public bus to the north. In perhaps an even sleepier town we finally got to established ourselves inside of a hostel and relax on some long awaited beds! Hot showers were had by everyone, and clean clothes and hair finally freshened the place up. In the afternoon we trekked over to some ancient cave paintings, learning about the history of humans in the area from Kat, an ex-archeologist. A cook group wrapped up the night with some dinner and we headed eagerly to our warm, comfy beds.
On Sunday, we had to change our original plans, as the Nacional Park of Cerro Castillo had closed early for the season due to inclement weather. So, we headed out to the campo in the opposite direction and spent the day at Señora Chabelas ranch, which she had turned into an amazing camping and rock climbing spot. Although it was too cold to climb, the students were able to debate the idea of public vs. private land, and whether or not natural geographic features should be able to be accessible by everyone, even if they are located on private land. We then ate some of Señora Chabelas homemade sopaipillas and learned how she made rose hip jam and wool products from her sheep. Of course, through all of this we shared mate – a typical Patagonian afternoon.
On Monday the trip to Patagonia culminated in a unique cultural experience – we traveled to Silvia and Albañio’s ranch to ride horses and eat a traditional asado! We traversed their unique property on horseback, with gorgeous views of the Cerro Castillo across the valley. Then, we watched as the grease dripped from a recently butchered lamb and slowly cooked into our main course. And, sick of pasta and rice, we ate to our hearts content! It was a great afternoon to spend learning about the art of asado and rancho culture in the mountains.
It’s been an incredible trip, and while there are still a few days left, we are excited to enter warmer climes and see our loved ones! We have greatly enjoyed watching our students grow and thrive in a rugged landscape, demonstrating mental fortitude and pure joy for life. It has been amazing to watch Caz expand his passion for tea, Owen grapple with complex regional concepts and environmental issues, and Sunny develop her love of Spanish and camping. We’ve seen LJ lead the group with firm compassion, Alex sing goofy songs, and Isaak connect with others through music and humility. We are proud of Talon for spreading his gratitude and joy for living outside and Eva for acting as a natural born leader and dream interpreter. Sam has connected with his peers and the people we meet through humor, while Pia brings a curiosity and inclusivity to all our meetings and lessons. We witnessed Honza diving into our community service with gusto, Anja sharing her bubbling laughter with our hosts, and Ian reveling in the glory of beautiful campsites and newly gained knowledge of the landscape around us. It really is an incredible group of human beings and we hope they are much changed and transformed by the experience. We look forward to seeing you soon!
Paz y amor,
Kevin and Gina
April 26, 2023
Buenos dias! We emerge from the wilderness – a band of wild humans, wind whisperers, water waders, wandering explorers – forever bonded to the ice fields and U-shaped valleys of Patagonia. The group has grown in camp craft and a calm comfortability with the unknown – taking on wet feet, high winds, and flavorless polenta with bravado and grace.
A lot has happened since we last made contact. Here are the highlights.
On the second day of our trek we loaded our heavy packs (full of five days of rations and less clothes than we anticipated) and hit the ground for a seven mile day to our Cancho River camp. It was tough! But, extremely beautiful. We received our first glimpse of the Soler Valley – a U-shaped glacier valley with steep walls that lead 5,000 feet up to tall peaks, and that later ends in the Northern Patagonia Ice Sheet 11,000 feet above the valley floor. With wet feet and empty bellies we stumbled into camp ready for a fire and a hot meal.
Day three was a much needed layover day. We awoke to a warmer morning and the kids received their camp stove and kitchen safety lesson, and then went off in cook groups to make their breakfast. From this point on they would be in charge of planning and cooking all their meals from the rations given their group. After breakfast, we had our first glaciology lesson to learn the basics of glacier formation and dynamics, in order to better understand the landscape in which we found ourselves. Then, the afternoon was filled by some service work – mainly trail clearing and fence repair. Our gaucho guides had butchered a cow the day before, so we returned to camp for a nice asado of fresh ribs! What a lindo surprise.
On day four we made our approach to the Soler Glacier up the Cancho Valley. It was a six mile hike that included two big river crossings, which was a nice opportunity to learn the proper technique. Our camp lay behind a moraine, protected somewhat from the consistent glacial winds. Many of us agreed that it was likely the most beautiful campsite any of us had ever seen. Day five was another layover day and our main day by the glacier. It did not disappoint! We basked in the sunlight, a nice gift from the weather gods, and made our approach to the glacier. It’s hard to describe the sensation that arises in the presence of massive ice formations. They are dynamic phenomena – living in a sense, and dying in another. But it filled our hearts with a sense of wonder as we watched waterfalls emerging from the ice, as we heard the thundering boom of ice moving and settling, and we gasped in awe as the cloud cover cleared and revealed the 12,000 foot peak of ice above us.
The sixth day we awoke to clear skies, allowing us to leave Moraine camp with full views of the tops of the mountains. We made our way back down the Cancho valley, re-rationing at our first camp, and then crossed a river on our way to Don Moncho’s ranch. This really tested our river crossing knowledge and packing, as we found ourselves waist deep in glacially cold water. But we made it without mishap and found ourselves at Don Moncho’s shortly after, with a nice warm fire to help dry us out.
We awoke on day seven to a warm, clear sky, sun drying our tents from the rain the night before. And, we received a double surprise: bright green and red parakeets roaming the apple trees! Who knew that parakeets lived in mountainous Patagonia? And who knew that we would be able to eat some fresh fall apples halfway through our trek? This would start the main service portion of our trip, and we spent the afternoon moving large logs to serve as fence posts down in the valley. The hike up was arduous in the afternoon heat, and then equally challenging as we carried large posts on our shoulders several miles downhill from the hanging valley above.
The following day was another layover, but busy nonetheless. It started with a morning lesson on glacial flood plains and how the increase of glacial lakes can affect flooding. Then, in the afternoon we split into groups for some more community service, which included more trail clearing and hauling fence line up from the river to the ranch. That night, John surprised us with some marshmallows, and we were able to reflect on our time doing community service around the fire with a treat.
On day nine, we awoke to some stormy skies. Our perfect Patagonia weather had finally begun to look more like fall. We packed up lazily and hit the trail, headed toward Don Luis’ ranch down the valley. This day included some rain and, what else, several more river crossings! We arrived to camp tired and chilled, but were able to set up and build a fire to warm up.
The tenth day we got to work clearing a downed tree that had destroyed one of Don Luis’ corrals. We then went to the woods to carry some more large cedar posts and began to build the corral back up again. The kids worked hard, and with Don Luis’ guidance, some muscle and a constant stream of mate, we finished the job. Earlier that day we had the opportunity to reflect on an essay by Cronan – “The Trouble with Wilderness.” Many students brought up interesting points about how to envision a middle ground and start to see humanity and wilderness as interconnected and good. That evening, we sat down again for another conversation, this time with Don Luis. He told us about his history in the valley herding cattle and developing his ranches. He told us about his lassoing technique, and one he hopes to learn.
The final day we awoke to below freezing temps – frosty buckles and tarps, and frozen socks. We faced our longest and deepest river crossing yet, but accomplished it and built a quick fire on the other side to warm up. We made it safely back to the main ranch and got some clean clothes on as the day finally warmed up. We now will slowly make our way north back toward Steamboat, stopping at several small towns on the way.
Again I have to keep this short, but the valley we are hiking is beautiful and intense. Social dynamics aren’t an issue. We cook and carry our own food in groups of 4 students and meal coordination has been a useful lesson. At this point I have 8 service hours. Wish I could give more detail but I will tell you all about it with photos when I get back. The glacier is incredible. Having a great time and I love you both. All the best, Owen.
I hope everyone is doing well and healthy. I miss you all more than words can describe. I Hope Jonah has healed up and Bowie is happy. Look forward to seeing you all so much. Love Talon
Hi everybody! We’ve been trekking through the Soler valley for 11 days and have seen amazing views. I’ve been having a blast and I’m in awe of people I’ve met, and things I’ve been able to accomplish. Thank you so much for this opportunity. Love you lots! Anja
Ahoj mami a tati! Je to yady fakt super a nodne si to uzivan. Bavil jsem se s kid me s ktergma mame ton tek a je moznost tady vylezt ledovec na 2 tydenni trek. Vim ze tata se sem chtel podivat a vazne rad bych jsem s tebou letel znova. Je to fakt zaziten a nikdy jsem nic takajuo nezazil. Moc vam dekuju za sanci neco takoughle zazit! Honza
Hi! I miss you guys. We just finished our 11 day trek. It was so fun. Can’t wait for more and to share with y’all. I love y’all. Laura Jett
Hi Mom Dad and John! We finished our trek and after many freezing cold river crossings, I can’t wait to come home! Miss everyone (including the dogs) so much! Pia
Dear Mom and Dad,
Backpacking has been amazing. We have just got back to the main ranch. Today we had a very deep and cold river crossing but it is all part of the experience. I love you both. Caz
Dear mom and Dad,
Miss you guys. Yesterday I ate it on my face but I’m fine. Having a lot of fun, loving the gear and tent. Doesn’t do great in the cold though. Dad I don’t know if I will want to go to Moab this trip is hard and I will want to rest for a bit. I really need a haircut. Love you see you soon! Isaak
Hi mom and dad,
Backpacking in Patagonia has been super fun. Today is the first stormy day, we’ve been lucky. I miss you guys. Love, Alex
Hi mom and dad, I hope you guys are doing great! Our trek is complete, it was very gorgeous and wild. I have taken tons of photos and can’t wait to share them with you all when I get home. I love and miss you guys. Talk soon! Sam
By the time you get this we will have finished our 11 day backpack. However, we are still camping afterwards so our next shower and real bed will be the 29th. We hiked to the glacier and I touched some really, really old ice. The mountains here are pretty crazy. The tallest one we saw was ~10,000ft above the valley. See you soonish, Ian
Dear mom, dad, Delia, Isaac and Ellie,
I miss you so so much. I think of you when I eat mashed potatoes, or a goat head prickles me. I can’t believe I’ve been away for so long. Today we helped repair a broken fence. I finished my first book and am now reading The Giver. I can’t wait to watch the movie with you Delia. Mom, I still love my fish tattoo and think of you when I look at it. I trust nine of you have eaten the candy stashed in my room. Missing you lots, 143-Eva
PS Gina and Kevin are amazing and I am very lucky to be with them both.
PSS Isaac please water my plants.
We are coming to the end of our backpacking trek and it has been incredible! I’m learning how to cook with my cook group, and it turns out I don’t actually suck at cooking! The actual trek has been really fun and I have seen some pretty jaw dropping stuff. I cannot wait to tell you all about this trek in person! I love you all so much. Say hi to Vinny for me. Love, Sunny
April 24, 2023
Hello Chile GS families and friends,
We are happy to report that the group is healthy and well, and continuing their epic adventure in the Soler Valley near Laguna San Rafael National Park. Although we, too, are anxious for more details, I can share that the group has spent the last week exploring high mountain passes, moving amongst glaciers, and working closely with the Chilean gauchos that inhabit this incredible landscape. We are looking forward to a more extensive update from them to share with everyone when they finish their trek later this week. Stay tuned!
April 17, 2023
Hola from Patagonia!
Wow! We greet you from an incredibly gorgeous and special place. We have touched down in the land of giant peaks and smooth, vast rock faces. And, as a pleasant surprise, all is tinged with a fiery red, orange and yellow, since down here it is, of course, fall!
We arrived in Coyhaique on Wednesday afternoon, and took the evening to settle into our quaint little hostal in this now bustling town, growing little by little from tourism and the ever present city-flight remote-worker boom. It’s nested in a valley cut by the Rio Simpson. And, as a student put it: “if you look East it’s Yosemite, North it’s the San Juans, South it’s Switzerland, and West is just nice!”
Our first night we enjoyed a tasteful Cazuela – a delicious soup made of chicken, squash, potatoes and corn – and then got some much needed rest. The next day we had an orientation presentation from John and Ari from Patagonia Frontiers about our upcoming trek, and then we were put to work buying rations and groceries for meals while navigating the metric quantities and Spanish names on packages. The students then were given ample independent exploration time to get lunch in small groups, and shop around town in the afternoon. They sure made Profe proud with all the Spanish they were using to navigate those interactions!
On Tuesday we said farewell to our hosts, Veronica, Joaquin and Mama María Esther (some of the boys even bought her flowers as a thank you present!), and then caught the public bus south towards Puerto Bertrand. The views were, once again, breathtaking. We passed Cerro Castillo and Puerto Tranquilo, two towns that we will return to visit later in the trip, and ended up at Puerto Bertrand, 300 km south of where we started! We stayed the night at Señora Mirella’s, eating a delicious three-course meal up at the neighbor’s house. We also took a cold plunge in the turquoise waters of Lago Bertrand, and then warmed ourselves by the fire.
We woke up early with frost-covered tents, and boated down Lago Plomo to our headquarters, Rancho Patagonia Frontiers. This was our first introduction to our hosts, gauchos Don Moncho and Don Luis and we immediately set to work prepping our packs and food for the trek. We also got a glimpse of the majestic Soler glacier, one we hope to visit in our upcoming trek.
The kids are doing great! They have had lots of independent time to explore the small towns, and are both nervous and excited for trekking 11 days in glacial territory. It’s paradise on earth down here – we hope the photos give you a taste of it!
Paz y amor,
Gina and Kevin!
Dear Mom, Dad, Ellie, Delia, Isaac and Bob (I hope). I’m in Chile and doing well. There have been ups and downs but I have worked through them. As we travel south the land becomes more jagged and full of mountains. This place is ethereal. It’s all too easy to imagine dragons soaring over the red forests and diving in the turquoise lakes. Delia, there are so many dogs here! We can’t pet them though. Look up pictures of Puerto Trabquilo. Miss you all. Hope Bob is alive. 143. Eva
Hi Mom and Dad,
We are having a lot of fun. We are about to start backpacking and today we swam in a lake. I love you guys so much. Alex
Dear Mom and Berkmeister,
We have spent our first few days in Chile in the town of Coyhaique. It was very cool and amazing to experience the culture and work on my Spanish. Caz
Hi Mom, Dad and John,
Hope all is well at home and that intercession isn’t horrible. So far, Chile is incredible. We’re driving to the start of our trek and the views are some of the best I’ve seen (even nicer than Switzerland!). Miss everyone and the dogs a lot! Love you all, Pia
Hi Mom and Dad! Only have a few sentences but I wanted to tell you I’m having a great time, social dynamics are fun, and it is beautiful. Will show pictures when I get back. I love and miss you, Owen
Hi Mom and Dad, Sorry I didn’t call, I got my times wrong. Have fun in Costa Rica and I will here. Love Isaak (also tell Oscar to be smart)
Hi Everyone, So far Chile has been incredible! The group is amazing and all the locals have been so welcoming. I bought some Chilean lactaid, so wish me luck! Well, I love you guys so much and cannot wait to tell you all about it. Off to pretend to be homeless. Sunny
Hey! Chile has been amazing so far and such a great experience. We are about to go backpacking after being in Coyhaique and getting lots of ice cream. All of my gear is great especially my sleeping bag. Thank you si much. Lots of love, Anja
Hi! Chile is really, really cool. The mountains are awesome and the trees are red for the fall. I’ll see you soon. Ian
Hi Mom and Dad! Loving this trip so much. Can’t wait to show you pics. Hope you guys are doing well. Thank you so much. I love y’all, Laura Jett
Sam note to parents: Hi Mom and Dad, hope you guys are very good! We are getting ready for our trek. This place is super surreal by far the prettiest place ever. I’m taking tons of pics. Thank you guys. Miss you lots. Love you guys! Sam
Hi Mom, Dad, Jonah and Bowie, I miss you all so much. I hope everything is going okay. And, I love you guys! Make sure Jonah doesn’t look like a beaver. Much love, your son.
Ahoj Mami a Tati, je to tady super! Chybíte mi a moc vám dekuju, ze mi umoznujete takovyhle a veci a strasne si toho vázim. Dekuju! Honza