Stories from the Maiden Voyage of "Mountains to the Sea: Ecosystems of Chile"

Spring Break 2017, CoF International Programs launched the maiden voyage of the first Forestry faculty-led program to Chilé, “From the Mountains to the Sea: Ecosystems in Chilé”. The week-long program was led by OSU professors Chris Still, Carlos Gonzalez-Benecke, and Dave Shaw with the goal of introducing U.S. forestry students to Chilé and the comparisons between forestry practices and ecosystems in Chilé and the Pacific Northwest.

18 students from different backgrounds, majors, and campuses were a part of this new program, including several Chilean students from the Universidad Austral de Chilé (UACh). Arriving in Chilé, the group teamed up with Camilla Tejo, a Chilean researcher who has been collaborating for several years with OSU’s forestry department as part of the Chilé Initiative. Together, Chris, Carlos, Dave, and Camilla led their class on an explorative mission from the Andes to the ocean.

The first day of the program began in the mountains. The class visited the Alerce Constero National Park where they hiked to see the “Great Grandfather Alerce” tree; one of the oldest and most iconic trees in Chilé with a birthdate over 3,500 years ago.

Next, they visited the Universidad de Austral where they met with Chilean students and faculty members Oscar Thiers, Iván Díaz, and Antonio Lara. They visited the university’s research and discovered that the research being conducted in Chilé is very similar to the silvicultural research at OSU. They also got the chance to visit the university’s field station, San Pablo de Tregua.

Day three is what most students agree was the highlight of the trip. Oscar led faculty and students on a day-long hike into the Chilean forest - an environment not so different from the lush green of the Pacific Northwest. Students gained hands-on-experience as they took measurements along the way with assistance from Oscar and the other group leaders. Students also got an unexpected look into Dave Shaw’s passion for mistletoe. The end of the hike was marked by a massive, ancient beech tree (genus nothofagus). Chris Still remarked that this moment was his favorite of the program.

Returning from their journey into the woods, Antonio and Ivan split the group into teams and assisted them in a series of activities culminating in team presentations. That night, everyone gathered around to celebrate a full day with some traditional Chilean barbecue organized by Carlos and the head of the UACh research station.  

The next morning, the group began the “Sea” aspect of the “Mountains to the Sea” program and caught a boat for Chiloé Island where they settled in for lunch in Puerto Varas, a town nestled among a series of volcanoes and overlooking the biggest lake on Chiloé. One more ferry ride, and the OSU team met up with researchers at the Senda Darwin Biological Field Station. That evening, one of Darwin’s rangers took students on a nocturnal trek into the island’s forest to hunt for bioluminescent fungi.

The final day of the program began with a trip to the western cape of Chiloé where they took a boat out onto the ocean waves. While examining landscapes they had walked through only days before and sighting an active volcano guttering puffs of smoke, the group spotted a colony of Humboldt penguins perched on ocean rocks. This was an unexpected treat since the penguins were believed to have already begun their seasonal migration away from Chiloé. This was especially interesting to Carlos Gonzalez and he reflects on this moment as his favorite of the journey.

Once again on solid ground, students were given free time to explore the historically-rich city of Ancud, the second largest city on Chiloé hosting a variety of museums, shopping locales, and eateries.

On their last night in Chilé, the whole group attended a traditional curanto Chilean feast – a special type of stew originating on the Archipelago of Chiloé which combines a variety of meats and seafood. Cooking the curanto is a fascinating and collaborative process that starts with the digging of a large pit. The bottom of the pit is lined with smoldering rocks, then a giant, pit-wide, leaf is layered on top. The next layers include mussels, clams, and another leaf, then lamb, chicken, pork, another leaf, then potato, bread, pastries, another leaf, etc. until the pit is filled. Everything is weighed down with a tarp and more rocks. The OSU group’s last night in Chilé was spent with new friends, great food, and – as Chris Still notes – a small dance party.

Some students chose to remain in Chilé for a few more days to further explore the country’s cities and diverse landscapes. According to Carlos Gonzalez, a native Chilean, these landscapes include high-altitude geysers, moving glaciers, massive fields of blooming wildflowers, the virgin forests of Patagonia, and deserts where the world’s oldest mummies have been excavated, so alien that they were used to test NASA’s Mars rover. One student, Cameron Minson, chose to stay on in Chilé for a Spring Term internship.

For many students on the program, this was their first time leaving the United States. In a single week, they were given the opportunity to immerse themselves in a different culture, discover international forestry practices and research, and explore the incredible diversity of Chilé’s ecosystems. Chirs Still believes that travelling internationally is an invaluable asset to education that “helps students grow as people, see things in a new light, and expand their horizons”.

Over Spring Break 2018, Chris Still and Carlos Gonzalez will once again be leading OSU students on the faculty-led program, “Mountains to the Sea: Ecosystems of Chile” for a whole new adventure. Click here for more information on this educational tour of a lifetime and how you can apply to join the 2018 trip. Deadline to apply is January 9th, open to graduate and undergraduate students.  


- Written by Rebecca Leclere, CoF International Programs

Completion/Archive Date: 
Monday, January 15, 2018