Wilderness Experience Natural History Field Course in Argentina’s Backcountry

Discover the Natural History of Patagonia with NATUCATE

Wilderness Experience in the Patagonian Andes

This twenty-six-day program is designed to familiarize participants with the unique natural history of northern Patagonia by cultivating and developing the fundamental skills of a competent naturalist and by applying basic scientific methods to guide inquiries into the natural world. Lessons will pull from topics such as earth history and planetary development, geology, meteorology and climate, basic plant anatomy and identification, plant ecology and biogeography, avian biology and bird identification as well as herpetology. Throughout the course, participants will also be instructed in developing the necessary skills to live and observe nature in the backcountry wilderness context in a responsible and ethical manner. Daily experience immersed in the very surroundings being studied will provide participants with ample opportunity to learn more about nature and about themselves, as well as providing valuable perspective on the relationship between the human species and the rest of the natural world we affect.

The program takes place in the southern Andean province of Neuquén, Argentina in the Patagonian cordillera: a dynamic region of ecological transition between the pre-cordilleran Patagonian steppe, the montane sub-Antarctic Patagonian forests, and the high elevation “altoandino” habitats. Mountains, plateaus, glacially-formed lakes, and rivers fed by abundant snowmelt – the profound and enchanting landscape of Patagonia is an ideal location to observe a diverse assemblage of species and habitats that have developed in extreme and dynamic conditions. Discover Patagonia and the Andean cordillera – Go NATUCATE!

Services Our Services

Included

  • Placement in the course
  • All meals during the project – participants help to cook
  • Assistance with travel arrangements
  • Accommodation during the course
  • Assistance with selecting travel insurance
  • Classroom hours
  • Assistance with booking flights
  • English speaking support by long-term experienced staff
  • Pre-departure information pack
  • Certificate
  • Course start: travel from the City of Neuquén to the field location
  • 24/7 support throughout the course
  • Course end: travel from the field location back to the City of Neuquén

Not included

  • Flights
  • Course end: transfer from Neuquén to Buenos Aires
  • Travel insurance
  • Course-related equipment
  • Visa fees
  • Personal expenses and optional excursions
  • Course start: transfer from Buenos Aires to Neuquén

Argentina

Start DateDurationCostNATUCATE-ID W.ARG-002
26 Days 3.525 €

The prices stated in euros are approximate values. Due to sharp fluctuations in the exchange rate of the Dollar, all prices will be calculated at the time of enquiry. Note: In case the minimum attendance requirement of four participants is not met we will need to cancel the course (up to 21 days before course start).

Requirements

Requirements

To take part in this Wilderness Experience you must be at least 18 years old and be reasonably fluent in the English language. Since this course will present you with various physical as well as mental challenges (e.g. hiking in various climatic/weather conditions carrying a backpack with both personal and group gear, food and equipment, exposure to different foods and living conditions, etc.), we will require a certificate of vaccination and a doctor's certificate confirming that you are healthy and fit enough to safely take part in the course. During the course participants will be in close contact with pack animals and/or other livestock, and the opportunity or need may arise where travel by horseback becomes an option. For these reasons, participants are required to get travel insurance that includes coverage of horse riding activities before departing to Argentina.

No prior specialist knowledge of course topics is required – it's far more important for you to be interested in nature, enthusiastic about wilderness and living in the outdoors, and be willing to apply yourself to learn new skills and gain new knowledge. In addition, you must have the flexibility to adapt to shifting circumstances, itineraries, and the cultural norms of this foreign country that may be significantly different from that which you may be used to. The success of each participant is dependent upon their ability to manage their time wisely, and maintain focus and self-motivation. Be prepared to observe, understand, speak, and live in a potentially new and more intentional way.

Details Natural History Field Course in Argentina’s Backcountry

Details

Your off-the-grid-adventure in South America

You will fly to Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires. From there you will travel by bus or by plane to the City of Neuquén in Neuquén Province. Once in Neuquén, all participants will meet at the Presidente Perón International Airport to start their 26-day-trip together. A chartered transfer will take you to the beginning of your path into the cordillera near the small town of El Huecu. From where you and your group are dropped off, you will travel by foot/horseback into the heart of an ancient volcanic crater to the headquarters of a Patagonian horse ranch located at the foot of the Andean Plateau.

The first day at the ranch will begin with an orientation meeting that will include an introduction to course logistics and cultural issues, backcountry safety and emergency protocols, as well as other important details. The next two days will be spent becoming acclimatized to the local environmental conditions, familiarizing yourself with the new landscape, and preparing for the expedition.

 

On the fourth morning, you will begin your backcountry expedition into the Andean Cordillera, leaving the ranch headquarters to follow the Río Trocomán, and eventually, the Río Pícunleo, upstream to their headwaters along the South American continental divide. This 18-day journey will lead you through a dramatic landscape, continuously being transformed both by the mountain-building forces resulting from the continuous collision between continents, as well as the opposing agents of erosion: water, winds, and ice.

After you leave the ancient inland seas that make up the lowland plains, your group will ascend to the Patagonian plateau and travel deep into the Andean “cordillera principal”, a complex system of mountain ranges being formed from the uplifting western edge of the South American continent.

After gradually making your way up the Río Pícunleo watershed over a seven-day period, your group will hike up above the tree line to the spine of the Andes to follow an old gaucho herding trail that traverses ridgelines and crosses high mountain passes. You will spend two full days and nights up in this spectacular “altoandino” environment with unobstructed views of the surrounding mountain peaks and volcanoes.

On the tenth day of your backcountry journey your group will descend from the “altoandino” to establish a basecamp at Laguna Negra, a high mountain lake formed after the most recent glacial retreat, some 10,000 years ago. Your group will spend the next week at this basecamp, allowing you the opportunity to get out and explore this valley in greater detail and to slow down and experience the Patagonian environment in a more focused way. During this extended base camp stay, participants will also spend two nights and one full day on a solo experience to have some time alone and to explore your individual relationship with nature on a potentially deeper level. At the end of your stay at Laguna Negra, your group will hike up and out of the valley to descend back across the plateau and return to the ranch headquarters by a different route than the one you departed on at the beginning of your journey.

 

After your return, the following three days will be spent at the ranch, allowing time for rest and recuperation, and to reflect on your recently acquired knowledge and experience. These few days will also provide you with an opportunity to explore and enjoy the ranch before the final day of the course, when your group will hike back out to the nearest road to meet the awaiting chartered transfer who will return you to the City of Neuquén.

The primary focus of this experience will be to explore the fascinating diversity of life forms in Patagonia and the intricate relationships that exist between these organisms and their environment. Typical field days during the course will involve hiking with backpacks along the planned route, punctuated by lesson presentations, focused field experience, and group discussions. Travel days will alternate with occasional days of “rest,” which will be spent focusing on various study topics. The nature of the programme is, however, dynamic, and depending upon what is encountered, you may opportunistically take advantage of observing subjects/topics of interest that are encountered unexpectedly. Due to the group’s partial reliance upon nature to provide the subject material, participants should expect the schedule to change with some frequency. It is within this environmental context that you will observe and study both the landscape and forces that still shape it, as well as the various biological organisms that have evolved to endure and even thrive in such conditions. Specific attention will be paid to plants and vegetation types characteristic of the semi-arid steppe of the “southern cone," but you will also learn about bird, reptile, amphibian, and other wildlife species that live and reproduce in this region. Given the significant influence that humans have on natural ecosystems, you will also spend some time focusing on the varying influence that humans have had, and continue to have, on this landscape and its inhabitants.


Course Subjects

Course subjects

Subjects covered in the course include:

  • Earth history and planetary development
  • Geology
  • Meteorology and Climate
  • Basic plant anatomy and identification
  • Plant ecology and biogeography
  • Avian biology and Bird identification
  • Herpetology
  • The influence of human populations on Patagonian ecological systems

Everybody interested in a Wilderness Experience abroad should be able to adjust to entirely unfamiliar standards of living in their future host country. Therefore, we would like to point out the importance of being flexible and adaptable regarding the accommodation and sanitary facilities provided by the project. Those are very basic and – depending on the project – cannot be compared to Western standards. The equipment and furnishings are limited to a minimum; air conditioning is not available. Depending on your host country occasional power blackouts or water outages are quite common. Please contact us if you have further questions about your accommodation. We are pleased to provide you with comprehensive information since we would like you to feel entirely prepared for your time abroad.


Accommodation

Accommodation

You and your group will primarily be camping in remote backcountry locations and/or staying in very rustic accommodations. Please do not expect to have access to email, internet, telephone, and/or commercial laundry services between leaving and returning to Neuquén. At some of the course locations, you will have meals provided, but for the most part you and your group will be carrying and preparing your own meals. Since the range of available foods suitable for backpacking will be limited, plan on menus including bread, crackers, cheese, salami, honey, jam, and muesli or granola for breakfasts and lunches. For dinners, you will often have rice, lentils, pasta, polenta, and meat. During your few days at the ranch hot water for showers is heated in wood-fired hot water heaters. It takes about 45 minutes to get a full tank of hot water. Power is supplied by small hydroelectric turbines. Small electrical loads like lights, laptops, and speakers work fine, but the system doesn’t support higher draw electrical items like hair dryers. There is a washing machine available at the staff house. The ranch also has its own garden that provides staff members and guests with vibrant fresh greens for daily salads, as well several other vegetables. With free-ranging grass-fed beef, lamb, and goat; as well as fresh dairy from the dairy cow, much of what is eaten at the ranch comes directly from the land. In the kitchen the chefs prepare a wide variety of foods ranging in style from California cuisine to traditional Argentine dishes for the guests.

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