The Shonka Route is a continuous line of footsteps between the southern and northern continental extremes of South America. Click here to check out Google Earth for an incredible perspective on the distance; mobile users will need to download the Google Earth App. You can also check out Google Maps below:

Hotels, hiking & mountaineering equipment, stove fuel, and suitable high-calorie hiker foods are not available in some of the remote villages along the Shonka Route. I took public transport in a number of these villages to larger cities for rest + resupply. That approach to this journey provided an incredible cultural immersion; I saw it all, from pueblos in the High Andes to richly diverse capital cities.

Section I (Panama): I began hiking south from the Panama Canal and attempted to cross the Darien Gap with plans to enter the Colombian Andes in the foothills of the Cordillera Occidental. An anti-guerrilla military unit on the Panama/Colombia border detained and ejected me from the region. So I retrieved heavy winter gear and flew south, restarting the journey on the southernmost point of South America at Cape Froward, Chile.

Section II (Cape Froward to Mendoza): I hiked north from the Cross of the Seas to the Torres del Paine National Park and traversed via the traditional “W” hiking route. From the eastern park boundary, I hiked into Argentina, negotiated part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields while moving north to El Chalten, and finally crossed back to Chile northeast of Lake San Martin. Hiking trails and the Carretera Austral led north until Palena, Chile, where I crossed back over to Argentina just south of Esquel. Here I paused for a climbing season to attempt some high-altitude peaks. After the climbing season, I returned to the south of Esquel, hiking north along the Huella Andina Trail in Argentina until Volcan Lanin, where I crossed into Chile just south of Villa Pehuenia. A series of gear failures plus high avalanche danger in the early winter forced me to retreat and rejoin my line of footsteps as it passed through San Martin de Los Andes, a setback that added two months of hiking with no latitudinal progress. I finished this section by hiking along the dry eastern slopes of the Andes in Argentina while waiting on a replacement GPS, shown by the line of star icons loaded from SPOT emergency beacon data.

Section III (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 roads 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 for a second climbing season, starting with Tupungatito and Tupungato east of Santiago de Chile. After the climbing season, I returned to the southern shore of Lake Poopo, where I cut a direct cross-country line of travel across the high desert plains south of Lake Titicaca, crossing into Peru at Desaguadero.

Section IV (Peru): UNESCO has designated the Qhapaq Ñan or Incan Road in Peru as a World Heritage Site. I was able to obtain GPS tracks for the entire length of the country. This route traversed incredible backcountry & remote villages along the same paths the ancient Incas walked; the modern Peruvians still use these same trails! Before exploring Machu Picchu, I began a third climbing season in the mountains outside 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 V (Ecuador & Colombia): I entered 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 Cotopaxi region north to Colombia. The lower elevations from Cotopaxi north meant that these were jungled hills and steep, muddy slopes instead of rock and ice. That forced me to retreat and retrace my steps. Backtracking was a daily occurrence, so it is difficult to know the total distance the Shonka Route covers, although mapping software indicates it is more than 8,000 miles. I crossed into Colombia at La Hormiga and used a road walking route to avoid guerilla conflict areas and large cities. I finished the Shonka Route at the northern extreme of South America in Punta Gallinas, Colombia, with nothing ahead but the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.

 Click here to check out Google Earth for an incredible perspective on the distance of the Shonka Route!

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