Red Hot Chile

Northern Patagonia

   

Terra Luna Lodge, which sits on a grassy hill on the southwestern shore of General Carrera Lake, at 1,955 feet the deepest lake in South America, is the first adventure lodge to lure hikers, climbers, kayakers, and mountain bikers to this remote part of northern Patagonia. Fly fishermen and some intrepid kayakers have ventured here in the past to fish and paddle the turquoise water of Río Baker, 15 miles southwest of Terra Luna, but precious few have made the trip down to explore the glaciers, peaks, and ice fields of 6,723-square-mile Laguna San Rafael National Park, the mountainous playground beyond the western shoreline of General Carrera Lake. Maybe that's because it takes a while to get there; plan on a three-hour flight from Santiago to Balmaceda and then a six-hour drive to the lake.

Paula Vera, a Chilean from Santiago in her thirties, and her husband, Philippe Reuter, a 33-year-old Frenchman with arms like pipe wrenches who holds the Guinness world record for climbing up and skiing down the world's ten highest volcanoes, own Terra Luna and Azimut 360. In November 2000, they finished construction on a plush, red-roofed pine lodge with room for 20 guests and a restaurant overlooking the lake and Mount San Valentín beyond—in addition to a guesthouse with four apartments. They envision the lodge as a base for hard-core expeditioners to tackle rarely explored nearby peaks, such as San Valentín, Patagonia's highest at 13,310 feet.

As in other parts of Chile, Terra Luna's sports equipment is less than state-of-the-art, and well-defined trails are scarce. Nevertheless, you can venture out on one of a litany of guided multiday expeditions, like horseback riding in the nearby San Lorenzo mountain range, rafting the Class III Río Baker, climbing Mount San Valentín, or even boating to marble caves on an island in General Carrera Lake. Philippe, Paula, and another Chilean guide lead the trips. I opted to venture out alone, and hiked through a lenga and coihue forest to the top of a nameless peak littered with seashell fossils and pedaled a mountain bike 15 miles from the headwaters of Río Baker back to Terra Luna on a stretch of the old gravel Carretera Austral that was so windy and lonesome I alternately sang and swore at the top of my lungs just for the sheer pleasure and terror of knowing that nobody was going to hear me.

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