We’ve come in the blue light of dawn, hoping to catch the private security personnel off guard. Tomás idles the truck over the Rio Colorado towards the mountain hamlet of Alfalfal. The once- sleepy settlement of herdsmen and homesteaders is today obscured behind the great orange wall of the monstrous 531MW Alto Maipo hydropower construction project.
Our cab is stuffed with Chilean mountain guides, conservationists and activists. The bed is packed with ice axes, crampons, five days’ mountain food, camera equipment and an inflatable kayak. ‘Over there,’ says Tomás pointing to a stadium-sized concrete paved pool. ‘That’s where I use to play football in the grass.’ We sink low in our seats, bracing against the cold shadow of the cliffs above us as much as to remain out of sight of the checkpoint. Tomás, Vivi, Felipe and I have spent the past ten years trespassing in the central Chilean Andes to gain access to its privatised and prohibited mountains. But the plan for this expedition is by far the most outrageous.
Extract from the eight page feature story and photo set I created from our October 2020 clandestine expedition into the Río Colorado Estate. I put together a team of mountain guides, conservationists, activists and hired a mule herder to take us for five days into this 142,000 hectare territory on the outskirts of Santiago. Our aim was to explore the citizen led Queremos Parque (We Want a A Park) campaign that has gained majority support in the parliament and senate to declare an accessible national park for the capital’s 7million that would potentially be the biggest conservation story in Chilean history. Along the way our team made the first ever recorded ascent of Cerro El Barco and the highest known descent of the Rio Colorado.
Many thanks to supporting comment from Senator Alfonso de Urresti, Kristine Tompkins, James Hardcastle from the IUCN, Viviana Callahan, Tomás Gonzales and Felipe Cancino; as well as expedition logistical support from Alpacka rafts and Patagonia Chile.