An Exploration, by Kayak, of the Labyrinths of Western Patagonia
Eager to protect the dramatic landscapes of Western
Patagonia, this September Cristian Donoso will lead an expedition by
kayak to this region, one of the most inhospitable places on earth.
Spending five months navigating open seas and fjords and pulling their
kayaks across glaciers, Donoso and his team will face daunting physical
and mental challenges as they gather information that will inform Chile,
and the world, about this little-known area.
With its labyrinth of rocky islands, serpentine channels, and icy
fjords, Western Patagonia in southern Chile is one of the least-explored
areas on earth. Nestled among glaciers that hug the slopes of steep
Andean peaks and drenched by storms that blow out of the southern
Pacific, the harsh region deters all but the hardiest explorers.
During this five-month ‘Transpatagonia Expedition’ the team will
traverse 2,039 km of the central part of Western Patagonia on open sea,
lakes, and rivers. They will travel overland for 150 km – including 22
km atop glaciers, dragging their kayaks with provisions behind them as
sleds. The group will ascend unclimbed peaks and visit uncharted
Cristian Donoso is a young Chilean explorer who, over the past 14 years,
has ventured almost 40 times into Western Patagonia’s’ most inaccessible
corners. Just like the indigenous people who paddled their fragile
canoes here for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, he
often travels by sea kayak which allows him to manoeuvre around the
narrowest fjords and discover their hidden beauty. “In order to
strengthen the protection of this territory, we have to know what’s
there,” says Donoso, who reports that today most Chileans have little
knowledge of the Western Patagonia region. He warns that such ignorance
makes it easier for those seeking commercial gain to exploit the
region’s natural resources – seafood, water, virgin forests – with
little respect for its biodiversity.
To enhance understanding of the region’s geological past, soil and rock
samples will be collected, then analysed by university scientists. The
explorers will also collect geological evidence, including stalagmites
in caves on Madre de Dios Island, showing how the climate has changed
over time. As well, scholars of the region’s human history eagerly await
the expedition’s reports on the remains of fishing and hunting camps
that belonged to the Kaweskars, who travelled the region for more than
A famous incident, the 1741 sinking of the English frigate Wager on the
north coast of the Guayaneco Archipelago, will come alive again when the
explorers dive into the sea to seek the wreck’s exact location. They
will then seek to trace the route narrated in the journal of John Byron,
who survived the shipwreck thanks to assistance from two indigenous
groups who spirited him and three other survivors through the
treacherous waters in their canoes.
For more information about the Transpatagonia Expedition click here.