Building a footbridge over a hundred feet above a steep, rocky canyon is an engineering challenge. Building that same footbridge 5 miles from the nearest road, though rugged Patagonian mountains, creates a logistical as well as engineering puzzle. Aided by 10 volunteers and 8 horses, our trail building team just finished a new hanging footbridge across the Aviles River. With critical technical assistance from park superintendent Dago Guzman and mechanic extraordinaire Flavio Veloso, trail crew members Luigi Solis, Evaristo Jara, Alejandro Gangas, and Camilo Oliveros completed the job under five (long) days. Built with support from the Butler Conservation Fund, the footbridge stretches 95 feet (29 meters) from one bank to another, over 110 feet (34 meters) above the river itself.
This feat accomplished, the Aviles Valley trail is now complete! Over the past months, the trail crew built the rest of the Aviles Valley Trail, which includes a one-way trail running the entire length of the valley and 15km loop trail between the Stone House and the new footbridge.
Hikers can make their way from the Stone House, in Valle Chacabuco, all the way up the Aviles Valley to the Jeinimeni National Reserve, 23km in total. From there, they can continue on through Valle Hermoso, around Lago Verde and Lago Jeinimeni, to the reserve guard station, and from there to the town of Chile Chico, on the shores of Lago General Carretera.
This route is a historic connection from Chile Chico south. One of the volunteers from Cochrane told the rest of the group stories of her grandfather’s days smuggling contraband from Argentina south into Chile through this valley, hiding in the forests and rock outcroppings. Others have brought horses and livestock through this area for decades. Now, hikers can traverse the same route on a clearly marked, accessible trail.
Curious about how the team constructed this dramatic bridge? See below.
Step one: before construction can begin, team carefully loads horses with supplies—including bulky items such as the generator, for the power drill and welder.
Step two: led by Evaristo Jara, team makes several trips up and down valley to deliver all needed materials.
Step three: site selection. The trail crew had scouted the general area for the footbridge previously, but had not decided on the exact spot for the bridge. The right spot must have very solid rock on both sides, at the same level so that the bridge is not inclined, with good access and excellent views. After some discussion, the spot is selected.
Step four: meanwhile, the volunteer trail crew works to complete the trail up to the base of the bridge. Their efficient, determined work allowed the professional crew to focus on bridge logistics.
Step five: perforating the rock. The team drills a series of holes in the rocks, inserts metal rods, and fills with cement—a tested method for creating a sturdy foundation for the bridge.
Step six: Tyrolean traverse. To move supplies to the other side of the river, the team sets up a rope traverse (with one person completing the challenging up-and-down crossing to bring the rope across).
Step seven: Creating the same metal anchor on the other side of the river.
Step eight: laying the cables. With the anchors set on both sides of the river, the team stretches sets of cables across the river, locking them into place on either side.
Step nine: walkway construction. Secured with climbing harnesses to a fixed rope across the river, Dago and Luigi affix the planks of the walkway to the cables.
Step ten: meanwhile, Camilo, Evaristo and Alejandro cut wood steps for Dago and Luigi to use.
Step eleven: meanwhile #2, Flavio begins welding the pieces that will become hand and guardrails.
Step twelve: with the walkway in place, the team moves on to erecting the guardrails.
Step thirteen: Evaristo works on the staircase up to the west side of the bridge, on a high rock
Step fourteen: after 12+ hour days of work, often in the rain, the bridge is complete!
Step fifteen: the crew packs up and heads back down the valley with all supplies. Bridge remains, open to all hikers.