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.
Subjects covered in the course include:
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.