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Trail Restoration Project

Los Glaciares National Park Argentina

An American Alpine Club project
Supported by a generous grant from Patagonia Inc.

Second work cycle report

Trail work October to December 2009

Trail workTrail work

The following report was written by the project coordinator Rolando Garibotti.

While the focus of the six week long 2009 work cycle was similar to that of 2008 –restoration of heavily eroded trails in the northern area of Los Glaciares National Park– much energy was focused on a trail restoration course for Argentine National Park Service employees.

Trail work

The core of the team was the same as in the 2008 cycle.

• James Bouknight, 34, American, NPS trail crew leader, journalism major.
• Rolando Garibotti, 38.
• Nick Gillespie, American, 25, NPS trail laborer, firefighter, surfer, climber and singer-songwriter aficionado.
• Cullen Kirk, American, 24, NPS trail laborer, climber and photography aficionado.
• Leonardo Martinez, 37, Argentine, PE teacher, gaucho aficionado, outdoorsman.
• Juan Jose Landucci, 26, Argentine, Argentine National Parks employee, Tourism major, our “Mate” specialist.
• Mark Loseth, 26, American, NPS trail crew leader and climber.
• Max Ludington, 27, American, NPS trail crew leader, skier, mandolin aficionado, radio host and librarian.
• Diego Oyarzun 31, Argentine. Local trekking guide.
• Ben Logan, 25, American. NPS trail worker from Glacier National Park and climber.
• Marcos Mendoza, 29, American. Anthropology doctorate candidate and outdoorsman.
• Doerte Pietron, 28, German. Climber and mountain-guide.

Trail restoration course.
The idea of the course was from Claudio Chehebar, head of the regional office for all Patagonian parks, who together with Federico Soria orchestrated it. Although the AAC trail project is focused almost exclusively on actual work, we decided it was a good idea to share the expertise of the US volunteers.

The course run between the 24th of October and 1st of November and was attended by seventeen Argentine park rangers from a number of national parks across Patagonia. The course was organized by Garibotti and directed by Ludington, with Gillespie, Kirk, Loseth and Bouknight as instructors, and Oyarzun, Martinez, Garibotti and Landucci as helpers.

The participants were: Juan Alderete and Enrique Anderson from Lago Puelo NP, Joel Zambrano and Carina Rivas from Perito Moreno NP, Cristian Vellido from Monte Leon NP, Juan Montesino from Los Alerces NP, Paulina Losada and Diego Breccia from Bosques Petrificados NP, Fabricio del Castillo y Guillermina Massaccessi from Tierra del Fuego NP, Mariano Calvi and Lucas Fonzo from Nahuel Huapi NP, Federico Soria from the Delegacion Regional Patagonia, Carlos Benitez and Marco Taraborelli from the southern section of Los Glaciares NP plus Marco Cravea and Jimena Martinez Sanchez from the northern section of Los Glaciares NP.

Due to lack of funding in their respective parks, many of the participants were unable to receive any kind of per-diem and had to pay their way out of their own pockets, including basic expenses such as gas. It was impressive to see such a level of commitment on their part. The parks themselves made a big effort as well, having to make due for over a week with several employees less.

The nine-day course included more than 76 hours of field work. The focus was a number of techniques to help mitigate and stop erosion on heavily damaged trails. This included building drains, water bars, causeways, wood steps, rock steps, etc. Only materials available in the area were used (logs and rocks), and special importance was given to the longevity of the “structures” and sustainability of the trail. Since the parks where the participants work vary greatly in their ecosystems and geology, much emphasis was given in trying to address how different problems could be solved in each place. Also several discussions were focused on the realities of each park, availability of resources, labor and materials. One of the main conclusions was to focus primarily on drainage, which is a mandatory first step towards making a trail sustainable and requires no materials and relatively little labor.

The course was divided in several themes, drainage, rock work, log work and causeways. After an initial four hour theory class on the first day the reminder of the time was spent outside doing hands on practices and actual work. Thanks to this fact much work was done in the trail surrounding El Chalten, including countless drains and many new structures.

In spite of some initially difficulties due to the language barrier the course was a resounding success and likely similar experiences will be repeated in the future. The course required a large amount of time and energy from everyone involved and clearly put a dent on the work that was accomplished after it was finished. That said, it is obvious that the impact of the nine-day course will be far more important than if the project’s volunteers had spent those nine days working on the trails. This experience was so positive that it might force a rethinking of the remaining two years of the project.

Trail courseTrail course

Left: Nick and Enrique. Right: course participants and instructors.

In the days following the course, Bouknight, Gillespie, Kirk, Landucci, Loseth, Ludington and Martinez, traveled to Parque Nacional Monte Leon, a fairly new national park donate a few years ago by Conservacion Patagonica, where they spent three days helping with suggestions as to how to address some of the park’s severe erosion problems.

Trail restoration results:

Once the trail course was over, work resumed on the “Laguna de los Tres” trail, the most heavily damaged trail in the area. Due to bad weather much work was done in other areas too, within tree line, in the trail leading to Rio Blanco camp and in the trail leading up the Cerro Torre valley.

In the 2,000 man/hours of work the following “structures” were built to prevent further erosion and ensure trail sustainability:

• 74 wood steps
• 84 rock steps
• 38 square meters of retaining wall
• 104 drains
• 6 rock water bars
• 15 meters of causeway
• 19 wood water bars
• 19 meters of fill.

rock stepswood steps

Left: wood steps in the Torre valley trail, northern branch. Right: rock steps in the Laguna de los Tres trail.

rock stepsrock steps

Above, left and right: rock steps in the Torre valley trail.

rock stepscauseway

Above left: causeway in the Torre valley trail, northern branch. Above right: rock steps in the Laguna de los Tres trail.


A lot was learned from how the work done in 2008 faired over the Fall, Winter and early Spring. In the “Laguna de los Tres” trail the speed of erosion is much worse than previously thought, with two inches of soil loss in a single year in some areas. This has forced us to re-anchor some of the structures built in 2008 and also more generally has reinforced the need for hugely oversized anchors for any structures. Ultimately, after this project finishes, the work on the Laguna de los Tres trail will have to be maintained yearly to ensure it’s preservation. This trail is simply too steep and exposed to envision maintenance free structures.

That said, all the structures built in 2008 held up very well, with only a handful of steps –from around 300- needing repair. In all the sections where work was done it is clearly visible that people have found the “improved” trail inviting, choosing not to short cut or step around the structures.

While the objective of this project is to repair trails around the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre massif, it has become apparent that the final impact of the project will be less pointed but much broader than that. With the time and resources at hand we might not be able to complete the work required to turn the entire Laguna de los Tres trails into a “sustainable trail”, but our work, including the trail course, is inspiring some land managers to follow a much more deliberate approach toward trail building and maintenance.

One clear example of the above is that, since January 2010 the nortern area of Los Glaciares National Park has its own trail crew. As an initial experiment the park decided to commit five salaries for four months (until late april) to the trails. It is the first time in the patagonian parks that several people are specifically assigned to trail work.

That said, trail work is by no means a new concept in this area. A lot of work was done between 1997 and 2005, when now retired park rangers Adrian Falcone and Susana Queiro were in charge. Their slew of trail projects focused mostly on reroutes to solve the design problems of the existing trails, these included four long reroutes in the Rio Blanco trail, some more than a kilometer long (one 20 minutes from the trail’s start, two before and after Laguna Capri, one around Laguna Capri and one before the Poincenot camp around an ugly marsh). In the Torre trail a long reroute was done around a burnt forest area and in the Pliegue Tumbado trail the upper portion was completely redesigned. This reroutes have all held up very well.

It should be explained that the majority of the trails in the area are historic trails, which were not specifically designed for foot or horse travel but originated spontaneously as a result of cattle grazing initially and later as a result of climbing expeditions. In general they take the shortest line between two points rather than taking a sustainable line at a sustainable grade.

During Falcone and Queiro’s tenure some energy was also focused on building erosion prevention structures, of which two projects stand out, a long cause way over a marsh before the Poincenot camp that is still working well and close to 100 steps on the lower third of the Laguna de los Tres trail, half of which are unfortunately eroding away. Some of the knowledge that the US members of our trail crew have been able to contribute is the techniques required to ensure the longevity of the structures built. This is not a minor detail when time and resources are limited. It is always preferable to build fewer structures that last a long time than to build more that last only a couple of years.

One of the items that had been missing from the local knowledge was the importance of drainage. When in March of 2008 Brian Bergsma -Trail Supervisor of Grand Teton National Park- and I carried out our first evaluation of the area we saw only one drain in the entire area. Water, together with horses –which were banned in 2007 when Carlos Duprez was in charge- have been the main culprits for the heavy erosion that these trails have seen. With horses gone building drainage is the next step.

An eroding agent that is specific to this area is the wind, which blows at varying strong speeds most of the year. It is difficult to understand what its real effect is, but there are many examples of gullies up to three feet deep in places where water erosion could not have possibly taken place. Unfortunately there is no apparent simple solution to this problem, other than relocation the trails as much as possible within tree-line.

Another aspect in which this AAC project might be helping is in setting a precedent for a proactive approach to conservation on the part of a user group, in this case climbers. Because parks in Argentina are so short of labor and resources it seems necessary that users, both amateurs and professionals (guides and guiding companies for example) take responsibility for their own impact and help land managers with the preservation of the places they love and care about. This concept might also apply to the US, where certain land managers such as the National Forest service are very short of resources and are unable to address the problems they have in the areas they manage (the condition of the trails in the Wind Rivers can be one example).

The revegetation part of the project will continue in March of 2010, during the southern Autumn. An evaluation report of the revegetation work done during the previous cycle can be read here (in spanish, pdf).

Revegetation work will continue in March and April 2010.

As part of the project the AAC helped support Juanjo Landucci’s (one of the project’s Argentine volunteers) trip to the US to volunteer for two months for the Grand Teton National Park Trail Crew. The intent of the trip was to further Juanjo’s knowledge of trail building and trail maintenance techniques. During his two month long stay he was able to work with many of the different crews in a wide variety of projects. A full report of his trip can be read here (in spanish, pdf). Many thanks to Grand Teton National Park for inviting Juanjo, for allowing him to volunteer with Trail Crew and for providing lodging and transport for him.

Many thanks go to Carlos Zoratti, chief ranger for Seccional Lago Viedma, for all the help provided. Also, special thanks go to the El Chalten Chamber of Commerce that secured free lodging for all the participants of the course in a number of local hotels: Albergue Rancho Grande, Cabañas Aires del Fitz, Hotel Inlandsis, Hosteria Senderos and Posada Lunajuin. Thanks also to Eli Carreras for the donation of a chainsaw to the project and a very special thank you to all the volunteers that make this project possible.

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Related articles Project description Work reportsReport 2008Report 2009 Revegetation reports Revegetation 2/09 (pdf) Revegetation 4/09 (pdf)Revegetation 12/2009 (pdf)
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