Cochrane Outdoor Education Program Hikes Four Days, 33 Miles through Aviles Valley

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

We’re now starting the second season of an outdoor education program run in partnership with the local high school, Liceo Austral Lord Cochrane.  Begun with support from the Butler Conservation Fund, this program develops outdoor skills, leadership, and engagement with nature among the community’s 15 to 18 year olds.  During the program’s pilot year, we took all freshman and sophomore students on three hiking and camping trips, covering over 40 miles in total.  Students got the opportunity to visit the future Patagonia National Park, where they learned native flora and fauna, hiking safety and precaution, backcountry cooking, Leave No Trace, orientation, map reading and first aid basics, among other things.

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

To kick off the program’s second year, we put together a longer, more challenging hike, through Jeinimeni National Reserve into the Aviles Valley, for the program’s most motivated and engaged students.  Read on for more about this fantastic trip.

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Day 1:  We organized a group of 10 students who had excellent in the program for this challenging hike, which had never been done before with youth.   When we came up with the concept for the trip, we weren’t sure how students would respond to the challenge.  Their attitude was incredible.  Although students had beginning-of-the-year exams and had to sacrifice a weekend, they were highly motivated to organize everything involved in this type of trip (transport, food, insurance, tools). We organized 3 groups of 5 people, sorted out food and tents, traveled 150 miles in a small bus from Cochrane to the Jeinimeni National Reserve, set up our tents, and ate dinner.  Everyone was excited to spend the first night camping, getting ready for what would be the beginning of out trip the following day!

Day 2:  With backpacks of about 30 lbs, we began the long walk that would eventually take us back toward Cochrane.

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

First, we hiked along the border of Lago Jeinimeni, continuing up the river that has the same name, which we crossed several times until we reached a lookout with views of the beautiful Lago Verde.

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

This lake, which is surrounded by a colorful southern beech forest, makes for one of the most inspiring vistas of autumn that one could find—which helped us forget the steep climb that brought us there.

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Then, we went down to the shore of the lake, where we looked out across snowy slopes and a spectacular valley, Valle Hermoso, that would lead us toward the northernmost point of the Valle Aviles. To reach the valley, we crossed a millennia-old forest of southern beeches, moss and orchids, and finally arrived to a small spot where we set up our tents and kitchen, to rest after a long walk of almost 17 miles.

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Day 3: The rain that fell during the night did not prevent us from getting our well-deserved rest. Now, the group was already established, everyone with clearly defined roles, so we sped through breakfast and breaking down camp. With beautiful sunny weather, we walked south along the eastern side of the Avilés Valley, before once more changing our shoes to search for the best spot for crossing the Avilés River.  Now on the west side of the valley, we continued retracing the tracks that, many years ago, pioneers had forged with their animals and families to reach summer pastures.  These early settlers created this access paths that connected two important towns (Cochrane and Chile Chico), which had no roads between them, in order to sell wool and buy supplies.  We were transported to the past, feeling our walk connect us to the footsteps of our ancestors.

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

That day, we found the 11 mile walk very pleasant, and when we arrived early to our third campsite, we took the time that afternoon for those who were dirty and “tough” to get “rinsed,” enjoying the freezing waters of the Avilés River. During the evening, we enjoyed a nice group conversation over a delicious pasta dinner. Frost started to appear, and with the last bit of energy we had left, we wrote messages about taking care of our environment and thanking nature for welcoming us on rocks we found in the river.

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Day 4: Shortly after beginning our hike, we crossed the hanging footbridge, which many of us knew from the activities of last year’s program…. And we felt victorious!

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

So we kept on walking the remaining 4 miles, eager to arrive home soon. Accompanied by a beautiful sunny day, we crossed the fields of the Patagonian Steppe and enjoyed the wild landscapes that Patagonia Park protects!

After hiking more than 33 miles, this group of young students and their guides formed a close connection, providing the mutual support needed to overcome physical and mental challenges.  We all had time to reflect on the actions and behaviors we humans must take to take care of our Earth!

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Lessons and reflections from the hike:

  • “We must take care of what is ours” — Gonzalo Fuentes, student.
  • “We are responsible for what happens to the environment!”– Kimberly Cadagan, student.
  • “Our strength is not from our bodies, but from the will of wanting to do things” — Mabel Altamirano, School teacher.
  • “These youth have an enormous potential; there is much more to keep learning and that is great. We want to share more than just the hike: to them support and a message they will not find in schools or colleges or universities. Build your lives, fight for what you want and don’t just satisfy yourselves with having an 8 hour job where they will tell you when you can take your vacation unless that makes you happy, because you must always search for happiness, for yourself, for others and everywhere around.” —  Jorge Molina Vidal, Program Guide.
  • “Patagonia has a spirit and we must defend it! We need to learn how to leave aside all greedy interests of humans who want accelerated growth, and instead respect the rivers, forests and animals of our beautiful Patagonia!” — Cristián Restrepo Ruiz.
Photo: Cristián Restrepo

Photo: Cristián Restrepo

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