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The Shonka Route

The Shonka Route is a continuous line of footsteps between the southern and northern continental extremes of South America. An interactive map is available at the bottom of the page.

Section 1: Panama

I began hiking south from the Panama Canal and attempted to cross the Darien Gap with plans to enter the Andes in Colombia along the Cordillera Occidental. Anti-guerrilla forces on the Panama-Colombia border detained and ejected me from the region. The journey was then reset at the southern extreme of South America in Cape Froward, Chile. That story is the incredible beginning to The Caminante!

Section 2: Cape Froward to Mendoza

I hiked north from the Straights of Magellan to the Torres del Paine National Park and traversed via the “W” loop. I then crossed into Argentina, negotiated part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields while hiking north to El Chalten, and finally crossed back over to Chile, north and east of Lake San Martin. Here I followed hiking trails and the Carretera Austral north until Palena, Chile, where I crossed back over to Argentina just south of Esquel. I then paused the hike for the first of three climbing seasons to attempt the highest peaks in South America without support. After the climbing season, I returned to south of Esquel and hiked north along the Huella Andina in Argentina until Volcan Lanin. A wet Chilean winter forced me to retreat and rejoin a previous line of travel passing through San Martin de Los Andes, Argentina. This defeat added two additional months of hiking and during the struggle I had broken my GPS. I then hiked along the dry eastern slopes of the Andes in Argentina without a GPS, as showed by the line of star map icons loaded from SPOT emergency beacon data.

Section 3: Northern Argentina & Bolivia

The dry winter in Argentina slowly moved toward spring as I passed around Mendoza via vineyard roads and caught the beginning of the Incan Road, just north of Uspallata. I then followed dirt tracks, train tracks, hiking trails, animal paths and paved road north to the Bolivian border. During this time I walked across the entire Argentinian Altiplano, a beautiful, desolate region averaging 12,300′ in elevation, and also crossed three major salt flats, including the Salar de Hombre Muerto. I entered Bolivia at La Quiaca and continued along train tracks and dirt roads until the southern shores of Lake Poopo. Here I paused the hike again for a second climbing season starting with Tupungatito and Tupungato east of Santiago de Chile. This 2014-2015 climbing season was extremely successful. I returned to the southern shore of Lake Poopo after the climbing season and cut a direct cross-country line of travel across the high desert plains to south of Lake Titicaca, entering Peru at Desaguadero.

 

Section 4: Peru

UNESCO has designated the Qhapaq Ñan or Incan Road in Peru as a World Heritage Site, so I had GPS tracks for the entire length of the country. This took me through unbelievable back country and remote villages, along the same paths the ancient Incas walked. The modern Peruvians still use these same trails to this day! The Qhapaq Ñan led directly to Machu Picchu and before exploring the ruins I began a third climbing season in the mountains outside of Arequipa, Peru, and in the isolated Apolobamba range on the border of Peru and Bolivia. Upon returning to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu, I explored the ruins, then continued along the Incan Road to the Ecuadorian Border.

Section 5: Ecuador & Colombia

I crossed into Ecuador in the jungle at La Balza and made my way up to the Colombian border using train tracks, dirt roads, hiking trails, and some road walking. I also attempted a cross-country route from the Cotapaxi region north to Colombia. The lower elevations from Cotapaxi north meant that instead of rock and ice, these were jungled hills and steep muddy slopes. That forced me to retreat and retrace my steps. Backtracking was a daily occurrence and so it is difficult to know the total distance the Shonka Route covers. I crossed into Colombia at La Hormiga and used a road walking route to avoid guerilla conflict areas and large cities. I ended the journey on April 22, 2016, on the shores of the Caribbean.

Lodging, hiking supplies, stove fuel, and suitable hiking rations are not readily available in the small villages along the Shonka Route. In these villages I took public transport or hitchhiked to larger cities in order to resupply. This afforded cultural immersion I might have missed by staying only in the mountains. This was also imperative to allow my body to rest and heal from hiking 10-12 hours per day.

Explore the Shonka Route:

The Caminante is the first book in a series about a three-year journey in South America, during which I walked the length of the continent. A complete immersion into the cultures, traditions, politics, cuisine, and wild natural spaces of six amazing countries!

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