July 8, 2015 / Comments (0)

Wild Women: Tres Chicas Locas

south america

In response to the movie Wild being released, I featured some Wild Women who are going against the norm when it comes to people’s perception of what a hiker should be. The women featured are some of the most badass hikers, male or female, out there! There are so many amazing women that we needed a part 2 of the series!

Today we are featuring a a badass group of ladies: Trinity, Shelley, and Sarah decided to go on the ultimate adventure and hike the length of South America over the course of a year. Between using hand drawn maps with information from locals, cow encounters, and hiking passes up to 5,000 meters these women have experienced it all! Need inspiration and encouragement for an upcoming trip? You got it!


Tell me about the Tres Chicas Locas! What did you accomplish in South America? How did you decide to do this route as opposed to hiking one of the ever popular big three (AT, PCT, or CDT)?

Trinity: It never crossed our minds to do one of the big three. Adventures come together in unexpected ways and with unforeseen people (yes, we were friends, but we weren’t childhood BFFs plotting this trip for years on end). During our trip, we explained the origin of our trip as forming “por el vino” (over wine):

Trinity says to Shelley over a casual glass of wine, “I think it’d be really cool to hike the length of South America but I don’t have anyone to do it with me.”

Shelley, “I’ll do it.”

Trinity, “Really?”

Shelley, “Yep. Field will too.”

Shelley and Trinity text Sarah, “Want to hike the length of South America with us next year?”

Sarah, “Definitely!”

A year later we started hiking.


What was your experience backpacking before this trip?

Trinity: We all met at a summer camp, Cheley Colorado Camps, where hiking and backpacking are two of the primary activities. Sarah and I met at camp as teenagers and then became backpacking counselors in college. Shelley, although she day hiked a lot, only had a few backpacks under her belt prior to the trip.

female lightweight backpacking

Tres chicas walking down to a salt flat in northern Argentina at sunset.

What did you do to prepare?

Trinity: We got to know each other – like, really know each other. Most people ask about gear, route, logistics etc. But the most important part of planning for our trip was the week we set aside to team-build and connect in Buenos Aires prior to hitting the trail. During that week (over wine of course), we shared results of personality tests, discussed past working and personal relationships, and prepared a cohesive mission statement, “we will hike, as much as our guiding principles allow, from Ushuaia to Quito over the course of a year.” Our guiding principles (outlined in our blog) assisted us in decision-making to execute our mission.

hike south america

Settling into camp on our approach into Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile (Trinity and Sarah)

What was the worst day or experience?

Trinity: New Year’s Eve 2011, a hot summer day in middle Patagonia. Our trail took us over a mountain through a cut bamboo path to a massive lake on the other side. As we gained elevation, the path became less maintained – pokey thorn bushes overtook the trail and bamboo had grown in, leaving six-inch stumps that we were constantly tripping over. Not only were we bleeding from the thorns and slippery with sweat, but we were being swarmed by hordes of tabanos (horseflies). It was the prime of tabano season in Patagonia (December through January). What’s awful about them is the dawn-til-dusk swarming, deafening noise and the way they love to dive-bomb your eyeballs (even with sunglasses). It was horrific. We all displayed our own personal coping mechanisms as we powered through the day – I turned into an over-zealous cheerleader, Shelley retreated into a silent, meditative state, and Sarah was cussing her mouth off. Finally, the tabanos subsided with the lake breeze when we reached a small cove on the other side of the mountain. We collapsed on the beach and in silent, unanimous agreement, stayed there overnight (even though we could have continued for another 6-8 hours of hiking that day since it was only early afternoon). The next day, we refused to continue or return to where we came from – we would either hail a boat (we had seen them from afar) to take us across the lake or hike back protected in the night – when the tabanos would be asleep. Later that afternoon, I sprinted on a thin trail to an adjacent bay and into the water full-clad waving my arms to hitch a boat ride across.

south america hiking map

An example of our typical map (from Cienaga Redonda to Los Molinos, Argentina): up and over that valley, turn right at the end of the salt flat, follow the river, turn left at the tire tracks, through the valley of sand and turn right at the pile of rocks and then follow the horse “trail” to get to Los Molinos in three days

What about the best?

Trinity: That’s too tough of a question. Here are a few favorite moments:

-When we hiked into a remote border patrol station between Chile and Argentina, they cooked us dinner, cheered us with beer and lead us on a sunset horseback ride. South American hospitality colored our trip.

-Sharing “mate” (traditional tea) and listening to stories from “el viejito” (the little old one), Don Rial, while waiting out three days of bad weather in his Patagonian two-room hut. We hiked three days from civilization to reach him so he could extend his knowledge to us for traversing the upcoming dangerous pass.

-Spotting flamingos and vicunas (a relative of deer) in the magical altiplano (high plain) of northern Argentina as we hiked over salt flats surrounded by behemoth 6000m peaks.

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Turning in for the night in Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo

Was there anything that surprised you about yourself? What about the the other chicas?

Trinity: We learned how to be patient. At the beginning, we had certain expectations of what we would accomplish (note the word “accomplish” – very industrious) when we hiked into a town – take a hot shower, eat a hot dinner, write a blog post, do some laundry etc. We thought these were very basic, simple expectations but they continuously didn’t come to fruition which was quite frustrating for us. Then, we stopped setting expectations and instead of trying to force our future, we let go and went with the flow. We accepted invitations when people invited us in, cooking us dinner, and letting us sleep by the fire. Even though we maybe didn’t get a shower, we shared stories and moments we didn’t want to wash away.

treating dirty water

Trinity setting up dirty water to settle overnight. We collected littered bottles from the side of the road to increase our water capacity after finding out we’d have no water sources the next two days.

Were there any surprising skills you learned on this adventure?

Trinity: How to act around cows and overcome cow PTSD.


What advice would you give to other women looking to go backpacking?

Trinity: Just get out! We’d remind ourselves that cowboys got along just fine with a lot less sophistication than what we were carrying. Nervous? Reach out to us for a pep talk – who knows, you might end up on a trip with one of us. Your trail awaits you.

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Trinity and Shelley hiking along a lake between Villa O’Higgins and Cochrane, Chile two nights after staying with Don Ria

What do you cherish most about hiking?

Trinity: The relationships forged on the trail. Backpacking naturally simplifies life and allows you to be ever-present, which in turn opens you up for both nurturing relationships and deep self-reflection. There’s a beauty to be able to hike for hours laughing and joking with two good friends, and then continuing in satisfied silence which brings heightened awareness of each other, the trail, and the nature surrounding you.

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Sarah, Shelley and Trinity overlooking Cordillera Raura, Peru

Do you gals still get together for adventures? Do you have anything planned for the future?

Trinity: Yes! But not as much as we’d like because our schedules don’t always overlap. We’re excited to go backpacking in Colorado for Shelley’s birthday this August!

peru backpacking

Shelley atop 5,000m San Antonio pass in Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru

Curious to learn more about how they hiked the length of South America? Check out their blog at Eat, Hike, Sleep, Hike!

Looking for more inspiration? Check out these other wild interviews: Jennifer Pharr Davis, Liz “Snorkel” Thomas, Helen “Cat” Beckers, Heather “Anish” Anderson, Trish, Alex, and Sage, and Kristin Gates!

Last modified: September 1, 2017

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