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Patagonia Trail Project

Los_Glaciares_National_Park_Argentina.jpeg

This American Alpine Club (AAC) project—supported by a generous grant from Patagonia—spanned two seasons: October-December 2008, and November-December 2009 and involved over 4,400 man-hours of work inside the park.

The goal of the project was to help restore heavily eroded trails in the area of Seccional Lago Viedma, around El Chalten, in the northern part of Los Glaciares National Park (LGNP) a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The park is renowned for its? iconic mountains and glaciers and is an area of great interest to climbers and hikers alike. In the northern area of the park lie the Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre massifs. During the past 30 years Seccional Lago Viedma has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of visitors, from a few hundred in the early 1980s to more than 90,000 in 2010.

Although 99% of the visitors are hikers this is a very popular destination for climbers and between 200 to 400 visit it every year. This increase in tourist pressure has resulted in accelerated trail erosion as well as removal of soil-binding shrubs in the vicinity of campsites. Other impacts include poor sanitation facilities and practices and increased health risks related to water pollution. Park authorities have made notable efforts to minimize these impacts, banning fires about thirteen years ago, and banning horse travel just recently. Some of the conservation and restoration programs within the park have been constrained by limited funding, as well as limited awareness on the part of the users. Thus far, there has been little help from the many commercial operators in the area despite their low permit fees.

This AAC project hoped to set a precedent of stewardship and was carried out by climbers, an amateur—non commercial—user group. The project was conceived and spearheaded by local climber Rolando Garibotti.

Planning

The planning was done in March 2008 with the help of Brian Bergsma—Trail Supervisor for Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) with over 20 years of experience in trail restoration projects—and the Director of the Regional Delegation for the Asociacion de Parques Nacionales (APN), Claudio Chehebar.

Work

The work was carried out by a team composed by a number of local climbers and by seasonal trail crew employees of various US National Parks—Grand Teton, Glacier, Zion, and Grand Canyon—who kindly agreed to volunteer for this project and provided much-needed expertise. A biologist specializing in high-altitude plant ecology, led the revegetation part of the project.

The second work cycle also involved a nine-day trail restoration and erosion-prevention course for park rangers of various Patagonian national parks. Seventeen rangers from Parque Nacional Lago Puelo, PN Perito Moreno, PN Monte León, PN Los Alerces, PN Bosques Petrificados, PN Tierra del Fuego, PN Nahuel Huapi, PNLG zona sur y norte attended.

Results

The project was a resounding success.

We focused our energy on building structures with the best techniques available to ensure their longevity. This is a key point in trail restoration because badly-built structures can last as little as one season—and are more of a waste of time and resources than anything else. The structures constructed during this work cycle should help serve as examples for future work crews of the techniques that must be used to build sustainable trail restoration and erosion prevention structures.

In spite of working in some of the harshest weather conditions one could ever encounter the team was able to build the following erosion prevention structures:

  • 121 wood steps 
  • 310 rock steps
  • 190 drains
  • 33 rock water bars
  • 32 wood water bars
  • 350 meters of "new" trail
  • 28 feet of bridge
  • 50 square meters of retaining wall
  • 15 meters of causeway
  • 45 feet of causeway
  • 7 checks
  • 19 meters of fill 

Read the 2008 work report.

Read the 2009 work report.

Read the Revegetation Reports.

Special thanks go to Patagonia Inc for the very generous grant that made this project possible, to Patagonia Footwear for providing their exceptional shoes and to MSR for the generous donation of a number of tents. Special thanks also to all the volunteers who have kindly donated their time to this project.