Andes Valleys, the Alto Chubut, Argentina
Introducing the Criollo Horses of Argentina
Have you ever dreamed about riding alongside Patagonian gauchos exploring the valleys of the High Andes, Argentina? We follow ancient trails that were originally cut to move cattle herds from the Pampa up to the highland pasture in the mountains, and brought back down to the more sheltered paddocks around the home farm in the Autumn.
Riding Argentine Criollo horses escape from civilization for a few days and experience the wilderness in its pristine beauty. And learn to make the “sapucai” the gaucho call that carries far across the rolling grassland, and which is the name of our ranch that is the destination of this ride.
Duration 8 days, 7 nights, 6 days riding.
Start & end Bariloche in the heart of Patagonia’s Lake District.
Riding level: confident rider; intermediate and advanced.
Accommodation summary: hotel (2 nights); estancia (2 night) camping (3 nights).
The Alto Chubut
Day 1: Bariloche
We’ll meet you at Bariloche airport and drive you to the hotel in the town centre. Bariloche is surrounded by mountains and sits right on the lake-shore, a perfect spot from where to begin the ride. Depending on your flight time, there should be time to walk around the small town and explore the chocolate shops for which it’s famous. There’s a vibrant café culture and lots of live music in the evenings. In the last couple of years several micro-breweries have been established in town indicating that Bariloche really is a lovely place to spend time!
In the evening we’ll have a detailed briefing about the coming days and then adjourn to a nearby restaurant.
Overnight: hotel; dinner.
Day 2: drive to the estancia. Ride into the pre-cordillera
Set off from the hotel after breakfast and drive out to the estancia (35 miles). Meet the horses and we’ll run through the tack and riding style that these horses are accustomed to. Riding as part of a group of horses may be new to some riders, so we’ll go through the dos and don’ts and make sure everyone is settled with their horse; there are plenty of horses to choose from, so we’re sure to be able to make a good match for you. We’ll explain how the ride operates and what each rider is expected to do. Finally, we’ll run through a couple of safety points.
The ride takes us to the heart of the pre-cordillera (which means ‘foothills’) between rocky mountain formations and the openness of the Patagonian steppe. After lunch at the ranch post we continue our journey into this pristine environment.
Overnight in camp, surrounded by nature and without any noise from other people; review this first day of the adventure.
Riding time: 5 to 6 hrs
Overnight in camp. All meals
Day 3: crossing the Paso sin Nombre.
This morning we set off on the trail for the high ground. The land here is quite dry and typical Savannah land: lots of scrub plants and tough grass that the horses like to browse, but few trees. A top performing dairy farm in England would expect a stocking rate of 2 ½ to 3 ½ cows per Ha. That’s to say that one Ha will yield enough grass, hay and silage to feed 2 ½ to 3 ½ cows for the year. On the Argentine pampas the stocking rate is 0.1 or put another way, 1 cow requires 10 Ha to find enough grazing! The point is that cattle farming here is ultra-un-intensive and extensive: horses are left to their own devices for most of the time, when they’re not working.
This morning we ride through the foothills leaving behind the gentle rolling hills and valleys and enter the “Altiplano” or high plateau with panoramic views in all directions including back to Bariloche and Lake Nahuel Huapi. Crossing these remote tracts of land, absolutely devoid of human footprints, gives an appreciation of the stark beauty of the Andes. We’ll see small herds of deer, including the introduced Red Deer from Scotland, with occasional condors overhead.
Reach the “Paso Sin Nombre” at 1700m ASL. The land opens up to a huge valley in the middle of the mountains: welcome to the “Alto Chubut”. A few hours ahead and we reach an idyllic location surrounded by an ancient lenga forest where we stay in a mountain refuge. ‘Lenga’ comes from the Mapuche language and means ‘beech tree’.
Riding time: 6 to 8 hrs
Overnight in refuge. All meals
Day 4: reaching the summer pasture.
This morning we follow the valley of the Pantanoso stream, leaving behind the wooded area of the Foyel, to the confluence with the Chubut River. Yesterday we passed the headwaters, today the Chubut is a healthy size. The landscape is wild, sometimes almost violent, but always breathtakingly magnificent.
Establish camp on the banks of the river and spend the night in this environment of nature in its purest state.
Riding time: 5 to 6 hrs
Overnight camp. All meals
Day 5: reaching Sapucai.
This morning descend from the Chubut Valley, passing abandoned gold and silver mines, to reach an old farmstead still occupied by the Miranda family whose ancestors worked the mines. 2 hrs beyond we reach El Sapucai, our special mountain refuge, that sits on the bank of the river. A delicious supper and a hot shower await!
Riding time: 5 to 6 hrs
Overnight El Sapucai. All meals.
Day 6: El Sapucai loop trail.
Just behind El Sapucai the land rises steeply (I swear it’s 45 degrees!). It is staggering what these horses can do and they climb the slope as sure-footed as a mountain goat with the stamina of a marathon runner. Stunning views from the top. Continue up and over the back to a mountain tarn just shy of the snowline. Picnic lunch then home via a different trail that descends through the beech forests back to El Sapucai and the completion of the loop.
Riding time: 7 to 8 hrs
Overnight El Sapucai. All meals.
Day 7: El Sapucai and return to Bariloche.
Today is our last day with the horses. We will follow the west bank of the Chubut River until we reach the Escuela Vieja. This is an easy, gentle ride through unique landscapes and little by little the first villages begin to appear. We share one more picnic with our baqueanos (‘cowboys’) before boarding our transport back to Bariloche. A return trip that tends to be passed in silence: each person has so much to ponder and process from this unique trail.
Riding time: 2 to 3 hrs
Overnight hotel. Breakfast and picnic lunch.
Day 8: ‘Regresso’: airport transfer to dovetail with your flight.
A private vehicle will run you out to the airport in time to check-in for your flight.
Riding time: 0 hrs
Included in the price
Saddle horse; Pack horses and spare horses
Transfers and road travel in private vehicle
Meals as described and dinner on the first night
Bi-lingual guides (Spanish and English)
Assistance from the team of gauchos
Accommodation: 2 nights hotel; 5 nights on the farm/camping.
Min 2 and max 8 riders
7 nights accommodation:
2 nights camping (a tent for every two riders, sleeping bag and mat available if needed)
2 nights at El Sapucai mountain refuge (DOUBLE occupancy rooms, shared bathroom)
1 nights in mountain refuge
2 nights in Hotel, DOUBLE or twin-share basis; single supplement available upon request
How difficult is this ride?
Trails through the foothills of the Andes are very varied: in places they are flat and easy, in other places the gradient is steep and the trail can be rocky, and care is required. The days can be quite long, remember that, in summer, we are a long way south and daylight can last about 20 hrs out of 24. It’s possible that Spring or Autumn weather can turn against us and snow in not unknown (though unlikely). The horses are well-mannered and responsive. They also have incredible stamina. Walk, trot and canter are used.
We carry a VHF radio phone and can communicate via a satellite phone if/when required. The guides are “Wilderness First Responder” trained.
We provide a “Field Manual” with full kit list, reading list and a host of other detail, available as soon as a reservation is confirmed.