September 22, 2023

An Italian Park Ranger in Patagonia

One of my first visits to Chilean Patagonia was in June, when temperatures begin to fall and natural attractions receive fewer visitors. This is the perfect time, if the weather is not too tough, to enjoy the majestic landscapes that this part of Chile has to offer. At the time, I travelled without a precise itinerary; I was exploring and getting acquainted with the vastness of the territory. I drove for many hours stopping in little towns along the way, talking to the locals and enquiring about places that were worthwhile visiting. 

While spending a few days in Puerto Río Tranquilo, I was told that one of the main attractions nearby was the Exploradores Glacier. This glacier is in the Laguna San Rafael National Park. The road from Puerto Río Tranquilo to the national park takes you to the heart of Patagonia, connecting the shores of Lake General Carrera with the Northern Ice Field. Just before reaching the entrance to the park, San Valentín, the highest mountain in Patagonia, greets you in all its magnificence.

As it’s customary in Chile, you need to register and pay a fee before accessing national parks. I was parking my jeep outside the entrance, when a ranger approached and greeted me in perfect Spanish, but with a slight foreign accent. Surprised by this unusual encounter since rangers in Chile are normally nationals, I immediately asked him where he was from. Very professionally, his initial answer was a vague: “from far away”. This stirred my curiosity even more and I repeated my question. When he told me that he was from Italy, I couldn’t believe my ears! Actually, he was from Veneto, the region where I had spent the most part of my youth.

I noticed how happy he was to speak in Italian. This, I believe, created an instant bond between us. During our first encounter I learnt that love for a woman and for the mountains of Patagonia had brought him to Chile some fifteen years before. He had decided to pursue his dream and live in a place where challenging mountain peaks were plenty to be conquered. He told me about the discipline and demanding routine of his years as a member of an elite military mountain corps in the Italian Alps. He spoke about his desire to be the first one to climb solo San Valentín in the winter, and about his activities as a guide to scientific expeditions in both the Northern and Southern Ice Fields, where one could spend up to three weeks walking and sleeping on a sea of ice. It was the first time in my life that I had met a person who would speak about mountains and glaciers with such passion and knowledge. 

Many other conversations followed our first encounter. We have become friends, and have had the opportunity to do treks together with clients in pristine places where you are in total solitude. My friend’s life is an endless journey in this wonderful region. One day he will probably stop doing extreme feats, but for the time being he continues to patrol national parks and thinks about the next mountain to be conquered. When he is not working as a ranger or climbing, he spends his days together with his wife and son in a secluded spot by Lake General Carrera, where the ice of glaciers and snow-capped peaks are never too far away.