BootsnAll Travel Network

Isla Navarino – the Dientes Circuit

We caught a 20 seater plane (22 if you include the pilots) from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams – the southernmost town (population 2,262 – it said so on a board in the town) in the world. Argentina has marketed Ushuaia as the most southerly place quite succesfully (claiming that Puerto Williams is only a “naval base”) but you can see it across the water to the North of you, so clearly not true!

Puerto Williams from plane

We landed to blue skies and very little wind, which was great as we had a 4km walk into town from the airport. The airport is literally 250m away from town, but you have to cross an estuary and the road heads a long way inland before you get to a bridge (which was constructed from an old barge & lots of wood!)

In town we bought supplies for 5 days, and even managed to find benzina blanca (fuel for our stove) which had been rumoured hard to find – we got ours in the hardware shop next to the supermarkets. The next job was to register with the police before setting off on the first day on the worlds most southerly trek.

Day 1: Puerto Williams – Laguna el Salto

We head back along the road we walked along from the airport to a large statue of the Virgin Mary (very random). It was more road for a while before we headed into beech forest and the start of a long old climb up to Cerro Bandera (a flag was place here a while ago when there where tensions between Argentina & Chile). We had great views over the Beagle Channel, Puerto Williams and towards the Dientes mountain range themselves.

From Cerro Bandera towards Ushuaia

Once reaching the flag we traversed along the ridge towards Laguna el Salto, following a vague trail (and quite often making our own). It was a steep decent down to the lake, where we set up camp and enjoyed a warming cup of soup. We didn´t get to the lake until about 6.30pm, which wasn´t bad going considering we left PW at around 1.30pm & it was a steep old climb up to the flag with full (but didn´t feel particulary heavy) bags.

There was one other tent by the lake, and we´d seen a couple of day walkers on the way back down as we headed up, but this certainly fulfiled wilderness requirements.

Day 2: Laguna el Salto – Laguna Escondida

The first part of the day was spent climbing up & alongside a waterfall up out of the vegetation into a stark, rocky, ´plateau´before heading up a pass at the foot of the Dientes. From here we could see the next pass (Paso de los Dientes) – and a traverse over blouders & four patches of snow finally got us there – lots of concentration on the snow, we didn´t want to end up in the lake below!

From the Paso de los Dientes we had great views over the islands making up Cape Horn (about 150km further south). We wondered how many people there were further south than us at this point, not many – cruise ships in Antartica & the scientists on Antartica & not many others.

We then descended down towards Laguna Escondida – seeing the damage made by beavers (introduced to the island at some point) for the first time (there are about 12,000 of them on the island & they have killed a lot of trees).

Beaver ponds

We didn´t camp by the lake itself – far to exposed to the wind (although it wasn´t blowing much, we didn´t want to wake up at midnight to gales and no tent protecting us), so we headed down a stream for a while, and found a semisheltered sopt looking out over the islands of Cape Horn. One good thing about beavers is that it makes finding firewood very easy, so in the cold evening we enjoyed a nice fire and the watched the clouds come & go from the moutains around us.

View from tent, night 2

Day 3: Laguna Escondida – Laguna Martillo

Another nice day, a bit of wind, and another pass to cross on our way. It is names Paso Ventarron (which I think is windy), but is wasn´t too bad for us, we even managed some peanuts & a little rest before heading down a semi scree slope into more beaver ponds heading towards the lake. A very short day, only 4 hours ‘on the road’ so to speak (including breaks).
We set up camp by a stream near Laguna Martillo, enjoying the sun and generally chilling. We had a bit of rain in the late afternoon, but it cleared after an hour or so, for us to cook tea & enjoy another warming fire.

Day 4: Laguna Martillo – Laguna de los Guanacos

The day started well, by finding a pass over the pensinsular by Laguna Martillo which, although was on the trail, wasn´t obviously marked. However, that was when our luck ended (with regard to staying on the trail anyway – the weather stayed fine, which was a godsend).

As we had lost the path, we made up a path up through incredibly steep forest to come out of the bushline. My instinct at this point was to turn left, but Nick was fairly certain it was right & after consulting the map and finding some cairns, that was the way we headed. We knew the path climbed northeastwards towards Paso Virginia so we climbed steadily upwards over rocky boulders & the occasional patch of scree, towards what we thought was the pass. About 50m or so from the top Nick headed up to see if he could see where we were supposed to be going. About 15 minutes after disappearing from sight, he returned (I was convinced at this point that he´d fallen over the edge). We weren´t in the right place…he´d reach a flat spot but couldn´t see any signs of Paso Virginia or trail markings.

Out with the map, perhaps we should be further round to the right…there were two other passes on that side, it certainly wasn´t the first one, so it must be the second one.
We decided to slowly travese across and down to that. We got there and headed up again (still no signs of trail markers). It was a harder climb up than the first attempt, but we slowly made progress. Nick went ahead & again just from the top dropped his bag to see if he could work out where we were. We were wrong. Nick realised that the flat spot he´d reached on the first climb up was the one mentioned in the trail notes, we were just too far round to the right!

So it was back the way we´d come. Back down & along & back up to the top & left across the barren plateau. We found trail markers!!!

We found Paso Virgina – with great views over the Beagle Channel to Ushuaia. We could even see the path all the way to the campspot!
Towards Ushuaia

It was a steep slide down scree slopes, which was fun, a travse along a guanaco path high above Laguna los Guanacos to the head of the lake. We´d been walking (with very few stops) for 9 hours, it should only have taken about 5. It was quite exposed by the lake, but we couldn´t face another step, it was 7.30pm, we were cold and it was trying to snow. So we tried to find a semisheltered spot in the scrub, cook tea & sleep.

Despite the three climbs, it was a really good days walking (sounds strange I know), but we had such good views over the moutains and channel that it didn´t seem to matter, it was just good to be out.

Day5: Laguna los Guanacos – Puerto Williams

Not a good nights sleep – wind picked up and was howling & it was snowed. It was still snowing when we thought about emerging from the tent, but we decided we´d sit it out to see if it cleared. About half an hour later, we were really worried that the tent wouldn´t hold out, so we decided to pack up & head out. Quite fun in gale force winds & snow, but once packed we headed back to the path.

Within 20m of the campsite we were both floored by the wind. It was going to be tough in these conditions, but the snow highlighted the path for us, so at least we could see where we were supposed to be going (for a while). We lost the path several times on the descent through beaver ponds & into forest, but managed to pick it up again just at the right moment to head out of the forest onto an area burned by forest fires. We could see the wind pushing the snow/rain down through the gap & where grateful that we weren´t having our ´bad´ pass day.

The weather cleared slightly and the traverse down to the road was hard work, with lots of making it up through scrubby bush & spiky calafate bushes, but we eventually made it.

Los Dientes after fresh snow

The 8km walk back into town only took about 1 1/2 hours – only one car passed us in the same direction, a cop car. We didn´t get picked up by them (they were full), but it would of been quite amusing if we had!

Apart from the tent on the first day, we didn´t see another soul until we hit the road on the last day. It was a really good walk & we both really enjoyed it. There was a lot of fresh snow on the Dientes and the surrounding mountains – making it all very pituresque.

Tags: , ,

2 responses to “Isla Navarino – the Dientes Circuit”

  1. Katie says:

    Just wondering how you are going to cope with small scale and full Great Britain after all this….!

  2. Posted a link to this trip report. … I just might have to go back to South America after reading your blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *