Trekking: Fjallraven Classic coming to Chile

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Text and photos by Victoria Traxler
On a crisp October morning in Puerto Natales, Chile, the wind howled as 40 weary travelers sat around dinner tables, eating, laughing and counting the hours until dawn. It would be their last night indoors, warm and dry, sleeping in a bed, for the next five days. 

Soon they would be embarking on a journey through southern Patagonia, hiking over 100 kilometers and 3,000 meters of elevation to experience the iconic landscape of Torres del Paine National Park and to reap the rewards that only trekking offers. The mix of brand ambassadors, media, and retailers from South America and other countries worldwide had arrived to test the trails for next year’s new Fjallraven Classic destination – Chile. 

Fjallraven, a Sweden-based outdoor clothing and equipment company, hosts multi-day trekking experiences known as “Classics.” According to the brand, these trips offer a way for backpackers of all experience levels to connect with the outdoors, build a sense of community with others, and grow in their knowledge of recreating responsibly. It is a non-competitive event open to anyone up to the challenge. Participants purchase a ticket for the event and carry their own packs, tents, and gear, but logistics including freeze-dried food, gas for cooking, transport, and route planning are provided by Fjallraven. 

The idea for the Classic stems from Fjallraven founder Åke Nordin, who was inspired by dramatic landscapes and breathtaking mountains and dreamed of allowing others the opportunity to experience the same. They have been held in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the U.S., but 2024 will offer the first experience in South America.  

Fjällräven Classic event manager Carl Hård af Segerstad said the dream of hosting a Classic in Chile has been two years in the making. “The idea with Fjallraven Classic is to inspire people to get out in nature, close to where they are,” he said. “And from that perspective, it makes sense for us to go as far away from Sweden as possible. So, to set an event in South America makes all the sense in the world from that perspective.”

The Classic has been growing in popularity since its inception. The first classic was held in Sweden in 2005 and had about 152 finishers. Today, as many as 2000 hikers arrive at the Sweden Classic, with other locations varying between 200 to 1000 participants annually.  In efforts to mitigate negative impact, the company educates all participants on Leave No Trace practices, as well as provides trash bags. 

Before setting out on the trails, Segerstad and other Fjallraven leaders spoke on the company's mission and their goals in hosting a classic in Chile. The brand’s CEO of the Americas, Nathan Dopp, said the trial event in Chile was his 15th event with the brand. “This is everything the brand is,” he said. “It’s about getting different people from different parts of the world with different experiences and giving them a reason to be outside.”

The first day of the pilot Classic featured a winding trail through small mountains outside the park’s eastern entrance of Rio Serrano. The famed unpredictable Patagonian weather greeted the trekkers in full force, as wind and rain battered through the region before turning to snow the following morning. 

Day two offered another 20 kilometers wandering through the beautiful foothills and pampas of the park alongside Río Grey toward Lago Pehoé and the Paine Grande campsite, a popular refuge for hikers walking the ‘W’ or ‘O’ treks within the park. Snow was quickly replaced by sunshine and blue skies, offering stunning views of the Cerro Paine Grande, growing closer every hour as the trekkers approached their second campground. 

Day three gave hikers several options, including hiking up to the Mirador Glacier Grey, which offers views of the impressive six-kilometer-wide glacier, and to Mirador Britannico, which brings hikers up a valley surrounded by the dramatic stone towers Trono Blanco, Fortaleza and Principal, which each stand well over 2,000 meters high. 

By this point, many hikers were weary from the challenging terrain, but spirits on the trail were high. Many hikers shared maté in the refuges and swapped stories of other adventures. This sense of shared community and bonding while in nature is the atmosphere that Fjallraven aims to cultivate in all its events. 

“When we’re on the trail and we’re feeling the aches and pains, let’s talk to each other about that because the sooner we’re able to form new relationships and connections, the better this event will become,” said Stephen Golaszeski, Head of Latin America at Fjallraven, at the start of the trek. 

Day four between campsites Frances and Las Torres brought the trekkers alongside the stunning Lago Nordensjöld. Patagonia lived up to its reputation, offering all four seasons most days, including snow-filled mornings, sunny afternoons, and rainy evenings. Strong winds often accompanied the turbulent weather, reaching up to 90 kilometers per hour. 

The final day of the adventure allowed the group to view the iconic Base de Torres. This part of the park brings in thousands of visitors each year hoping to gaze upon the distinct three towers hovering above a beautiful turquoise alpine lake. The day was one of the hardest the group encountered, with another nearly 20 kilometers of trail and 1000 meters of total vertical elevation gain. But, a clear blue sky offered breathtaking views of the stunning towers and alpine lake, a well-deserved reward to the backpackers who had journeyed so far through the rugged landscape. 

As the group gazed up at the towers, two condors flew overhead, marking a truly remarkable Patagonian experience. 

Incorporated throughout the experience were elements of cultural education, including a presentation from Foundation Cerro Guido, a 100,000-hectare estancia north of Puerto Natales. For the last four years, Cerro Guido has been focusing on conservation efforts to conserve wildlife, such as the puma, by seeking coexistence between livestock and wildlife and culture. Pia Vergara, the foundation’s executive director, gave a presentation on the importance of their work in the region. 

“It is a very good opportunity to showcase our work, network and collaborate,” Vergara said of the collaboration. “That people who come from so far away have the opportunity to live and feel what Patagonia and its culture is something very important and powerful.”

The pilot event offered just a taste of what is to come for the Chilean Fjallraven Classic in 2024. Nevertheless, Segerstad said next year’s Classic will likely not take place within Torres del Paine National Park due to the challenges of establishing reservations and permits. 

“They have to cope and deal with the larger pressure of people coming in there. And then it's not easier to make an event in the park compared to outside of the park,” he said. “Also to be able to create that experience, I think a lot of what's pushing us out of the park rather than inside the park.”

Organizers will take notes based on the pilot event and assess any changes needed, but they plan to open ticket sales in March.

The Classic pilot event in Chile was accomplished in conjunction with Volkanica Outdoors, a Chilean outdoor gear retail company that distributes Fjallraven, and Racing Patagonia, an organization dedicated to developing international sporting events in southern Chilean Patagonia since 2004. 

“I believe that the Fjallraven Classic will be a great contribution to our Patagonia and Chile,” said Racing Patagonia founder Stjepan Papavic. “It is a great opportunity to enhance the international promotion of this territory, but also to promote outdoor life and respect for nature.”

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