Walk through town and join Highway 7, a moderately trafficked dirt road. The Regular Hiking Route follows X-901, a beautiful but fenced dirt road that culminates in the view of a stunning glacier, for about 28 km until it ends at a blockade just after the Mirador Calluqueo. Along X-901 there are few residences but extensive fence line on both sides. At the end of the road, the route transitions into a braided single track trail that may be confusing to follow.
Jan: I recently changed the regular packrafting route of GPT36H. This change avoids 35 km of gravel and adds around 70 km of paddling on the two lakes and one river. It’s a big detour but adds impressive beauty. Note that paddling Lago Cochrane is very challenging as wind can be fierce. Follow the regular packrafting route only if you are willing and prepared to possibly wait several days on the shore of Lago Cochrane if wind makes paddling this lake unsafe.
The trail, called La Ruta de Los Pioneros since it is frequently used by the local people, occasionally passes run down refugios as it winds through the forest. At the beginning of the climb to the highest pass, the trail joins a glacial river. Eventually the trail leaves the river to the west and follows a higher route above the valley that is occasionally marked by stone cairns. The top of the pass is at approximate elevation 1.300 m. From this point, there are several kilometers of very exposed hiking among rolling hills.
The track descends down to treeline at a small, unnamed lake which is the source of the Río Bravo. Join the river and cross it as necessary. There are some stone cairns that mark the way, but they can be hard to spot. When the route is unclear, just follow the river bed. Where the trail deviates from the river bed to the east, it becomes easier to follow. The trail soon climbs about 80 m and remains above Río Bravo. Here there is the occasional small area to camp. To reach Lago Alegre, the trail leaves Río Bravo and travels through an open forest.
Packrafters put in for Lago Alegre at a red sand beach. In general, both banks are very steep and heavily vegetated, but there are some flat areas near the shore where it may be possible to camp. Take-out is located at a rocky beach on the southeast end. 100 m from the Lago Alegre shoreline is an intact refugio; if you look closely inside, you may spot the etchings of GPT trail blazers, Jan and Meylin.
From the refugio, there is a well-formed track to Lago Christie. The Regular Hiking route around the east side of Lago Christie is generally easy to follow, but be aware of the occasional spurs that leads away from the main route. The track climbs and descends frequently as it makes its way around the lake and offers a beautiful view of several glaciers. Watch for the occasional stone cairn or red spray-painted arrow to indicate the way. Camping is possible in the forest.
The route exits onto X-911, a well formed and lightly trafficked gravel road. X-911 ends at X-905, and hikers continue to follow this road for around 20 km towards VIlla O’Higgins. X-905 is fence lined most of the way with the occasional residence.
Río Mayer is a big, no-nonsense river that is swift at higher flows. It does however mellow out where the GPS route indicates packrafters should put in (a small beach on the other side of the fence).
The Regular Hiking Route follows the Carretera Austral into Villa O’Higgins.
Town: Villa O’Higgins
The biggest thing to realize about Villa O’Higgins is that nearly all of the lodging and restaurant options only take cash and there is no ATM in town. The closest place to withdraw money is Cochrane which is a 9-hour drive. Fortunately, there are two grocery stores in town that take credit cards. Lodging options vary from camping to a bed in a hostel.