Harriet joined the Swoop team this month. She has cycled, trekked and mountaineered her way through the entirety of the southern Andes and is now working with Sally and Luke to help customers plan and arrange great holidays to Patagonia.
What inspired you to travel South America?
I guess stories about South America have always struck a chord with me. My mother’s family lived in Valparaiso, Chile when she was a toddler and my uncle always told stories of learning to ride with gauchos in Chile. Then my parents visited Chile when I was 14 and I loved the stories they told on their return and I wanted to visit too. So I started to plan and save up for a trip to Patagonia which I made when I was 18. This was my first real wilderness experience and my first taste of trekking. I loved it and have spent as much time as possible in the outdoors (particularly the greater ranges) ever since.
I was inspired to return to South America in 2009 by the tales of Janne Corax, a Swedish mountaineer, cycling to and climbing peaks in the Andes and by John Biggar’s excellent guide to climbing Andean peaks. I too wanted to cycle to and climb those peaks!
What is it that you love so much about Patagonia?
There are few places on Earth where nature is still in control but Patagonia is one of them. It is a place where you feel you have to respect nature because of the scale of the landscape, the constantly changing weather and the way it makes you feel very small and inconsequential. There are huge swathes of Patagonia where no one has been and I find that very exciting and want to explore every corner of it. I love the diversity and beauty of the landscapes from the slightly magical (and probably fairy filled) beech forest, to the immense glaciers and dramatic towers of granite, to the open Argentinian steppe.
What was your favourite Patagonian experience?
In 2009 I set out from Rio de Janeiro on bicycle with my husband Neil. It took 3 months to reach the Patagonian Andes crossing mostly flat open pampa and agricultural land. Suddenly in the distance the monotony of the skyline was broken by a thin line of white snow mountains on the horizon. We had reached the Andes. We whooped and started to sing as the ground became more and more undulating. Then a huge white cone that seemed to stand much higher than the rest appeared on the skyline. We cycled towards Volcan Lanin for a couple of days, fell in love with it and decided we must climb it. We rented mountaineering gear and pedalled off with several days food towards the peak. Stashing our bikes at the bottom, we pulled on our boots and set off for a mountain shelter high on the volcano. The next morning we started early before the sun had risen so that the snow would be firm under our crampons. As the sun came up all the lakes of the lake district on both sides of the border began to shimmer orange and endless peaks came into view. Warmed by the sun and cheered by the views we reached the blustery summit at all the conical volcanoes around us. Wow, looking down at Patagonia laid below me is a sight that I will never forget.
With Lanin in the bag, a 2000m descent and a 60km cycle back to civilisation was all that stood in front of us and a huge hunk of Argentinian steak and bottle of vino. We legged it down the mountain, cycled back to town and arrived just after dark. That steak tasted amazing!
My favourite town is probably Chalten. There are few towns with that magnificent setting and that you can leap out of a cosy bed and be under hanging glaciers in time for lunch.
My favourite area is probably Aysen. There is a remote, rustic, end of the word vibe there that you don’t get in the more touristy areas of Patagonia. The people are wonderfully down to earth and they don’t seem to need much of an excuse to have an asado (lamb BBQ). The views from the Carretera Austral are stunning with General Carerra lake and Parque Queulat particularly memorable but there is also some beautiful hiking that lies just off the road that is often overlooked and is a haven for those looking for off the beaten path hikes. I also have a soft spot for Aysen because it is where I discovered real wilderness for the first time and where I met my husband.
I also love Lanin National Park, north of San Martin de Los Andes in Argentina and in particular Lago Quillen.