24 Jun A Conversation with Patagonia Explorer and “Unbounded” Filmmaker Garrett Martin – Part One
In 2016, four young travelers set off unaided into Chilean Patagonia. For four months the team trekked and pack-rafted along the longest continual trail network in South America, documenting their journey, the region, and the local people. During the post-production of “Unbounded,” Adventure Collection Managing Editor Sabine Bergmann spoke with Garrett Martin, the director and cinematographer of the film. This is Part One of a two-part series.
SB: You titled your film “Unbounded.” Why?
GM: Everyone says that Patagonia is indescribable, but there’s also the literal fact that it’s difficult to describe exactly where Patagonia is. Scientists debate about it; the government debates about it. If you ask ten different people, “Where is Patagonia?” — every person will probably give you a different response.
So I wanted to look at Patagonia as more of an idea: an idea of this limitless place that’s extremely beautiful, with generous people, and that happens to be one of the last wild and untouched places in the world. “Unbounded” is about looking at Patagonia not as a distinct place at the bottom of South America, but as all of Chile, and as all of the wild places scattered around the world.
SB: And the lens for that is a 3,000km trail?
GM: The interesting thing about The Greater Patagonia Trail is that it’s not a trail: It’s a trail network. It’s made up of sections. You can go pack-rafting here, you can hike there, and at times you can summit mountains. There are so many different avenues to pursue.
SB: Was it established by the government of Chile?
GM: It was made by Jan Dudeck. For the past four years now he’s been blazing the trail himself, hiking and setting GPS coordinates. His girlfriend helped, and there are a few others who have documented certain areas of the trail, but it’s mostly just him.
SB: Oh, so when you say it’s not a trail, you’re saying there’s no physical trail?
GM: There were a few markers, but mostly, Anthony, our guide, was just looking at our GPS, figuring out where to go, and occasionally we’d go a little bit off track.
SB: So the four of you are out there, picking your way over rocks, saying, “As long as we’re on this side of the mountain, then we’re okay?”
GM: Yep, that’s pretty much it! A lot of the trail goes through extremely rough terrain, too: high mountain passes and eroded cliffs. We were constantly looking at our feet. A few times, I had to force myself to look up and realize where I actually was, and look around at the landscapes because they were so beautiful. They were spectacular.
I remember being in Puyuhue National Park — that’s where we summited a volcano — looking out at a landscape that looked like Mars. We were on these mounds, in this really desolate, remote, barren area, and behind us was geothermal activity, with smoke rising from molten lava, and in the distance was the volcano we were going to climb. I remember standing there and thinking: This is exactly what I had envisioned when I wanted to come here. It felt like we were hundreds of miles from civilization.
SB: Were you hundreds of miles from civilization?
GM: No. We were probably 30-40km from civilization. But when I say “civilization,” that’s a small town with 10 huts or houses. It’s probably hundreds of miles from a major town.
In between the small towns of the trail there’s complete and utter wilderness. There are some indigenous communities, and people that are living out there on their land. But in the northern sections, we would go for four or five days and not see a single person. And we would go months without seeing a tourist or traveler.
SB: Sometimes I’m surprised at how quickly you can go outside of a town, and the rest of the world just vanishes away from you.
GM: It’s crazy.
SB: Was that feeling of isolation crushing or was it freeing?
GM: Freeing. It’s easy to get stuck in a routine when I’m home: wake up, work, eat, go to sleep. Out there, every single day is something completely different. It takes you out of your routine and takes you out of your comfort zone — but it almost feels more comfortable.
SB: Going out of one’s comfort zone can be a risky thing. Did you have any close calls?
GM: Yes. We had a couple near-death situations.
The time we got closest to hitting the SOS button was when we got trapped in an overgrown forest. We were pushing through with our hands. Anthony, our guide, was using a pack-rafting pole as a machete just to get through. And remember, we had 50-60 lbs on our backs, and had to get on the ground and crawl under trees and branches. One day we were hiking for eight, or nine hours, maybe more, and we covered a kilometer — maybe.
Eventually, we had to set up an emergency camp. We were only 2km from where the trail would connect! But there was a canyon below, and on all sides was a complete drop-off.
SB: What did you do?
GM: The only place we could go was backwards. So we realized that we had to hike 30-40 km back to the start of the trail. That took a hit on the morale, for sure.
SB: One near-death experience, to me, sounds like enough, but you said there were two!
GM: The other one was scarier, for me. It was one of the sections where a portion of the trail was eroded, and we got to a point where we were going almost 90 degrees directly uphill. We had to zigzag up, and there was a river gorge below, and we got pretty high. And I fell.
GM: Luckily, I caught onto a rock, but I was just hugging it there on the slope. If I hadn’t caught that rock, I would have been going all the way down, because the pack is so heavy, it would have tugged me down with it. I don’t know if someone would survive that kind of fall.
SB: In that situation, a lot of people would think, “Okay, I’ll just let the pack go.” But your film is in there!
GM: Exactly! That was the scariest part, I think. We had to carry all of the footage with us. So, yeah, I was scared. It was really bad, because I was terrified, and we had only just started!
To be continued … Read Part Two here.
Learn more about “Unbounded” at the film’s official website.
Inspired to immerse yourself in Patagonia? Adventure Collection member company NOLS offers wilderness courses and expeditions — from two weeks to 135 days — focusing on mountaineering, sea kayaking and outdoor certifications. Prefer a shorter excursion? Try Backroads’ week-long Patagonia hiking tour.