Trip Reports: Dientes De Navarino - Tierra Del Fuego, Chile - January 2012
Last week Claudia and I and took a zodiac boat ride from Ushuaia to Isla Navarino, an island that is actually in Chile even though it’s right across the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia and Argentina. So, coming and going, four more stamps in our passports, which are nearly full of Chile and Argentina stamps after three months of border crossings between the two countries. By now, the amount of stamping and filling out of immigration forms has reached a certain level of inanity to us.
But I digress… our reason for heading to Isla Navarino was to trek around the Dientes de Navarino, a small but rugged mountain range on the island. We spent five days out there on this wild and adventurous route, enduring a full range of extreme weather and trekking through some spectacular scenery.
After clearing customs (again) in Puerto Williams on Isla Navarino, we registered with the police (in case we never returned), stopped at a market for some cheese and sausages (which we weren’t allowed to bring into Chile), and then we finally started our walk into the mountains!
We climbed up through the lenga forest and then crossed a high tundra plateau where we had an excellent view of the Dientes. We were excited! Right from the start we could sense that this trek was much different from the other more famous Patagonian treks. This already felt much more wild and authentic compared to the Disneyland feel of Torres del Paine or Fitz Roy.
After camping the first night at Laguna del Salto, we headed up past Laguno del Paso and over towards Paso de los Dientes, seen on the right. Clouds were streaming up over the pass, portending foul weather on the other side.
From the pass we had a brief but awesome view of the clouds moving in through the rugged valley. This would be the last we’d see of the mountains for a while… soon we were totally socked in with rain and fog!
This trek doesn’t really have a real trail, but the route is marked with cairns and painted symbols. Nevertheless, it can be quite confusing at times, and route finding was often a puzzle – which I kind of like! In the fog we were grateful for the cairns; otherwise it would have been nearly impossible to know where to go.
These green shrubs glowed a fluorescent green color in the grey fog.
Along the way we got a bit lost on the wrong route for a short while, but finally made it to our next destination – Laguna de los Dientes. Our spirits were low, since we were soaked and chilly in the rain, the peaks were hidden in the fog, and the weather showed no sign of changing. Camp spots are extremely difficult to find in these mountains because the ground is almost everywhere bumpy, rocky, or wet, but after some searching we found a flat spot to put the tent. Later that day I was much happier when I opened the tent door and saw the peaks out!
At some point in the past, in a stroke of short-sighted brilliance, North American beavers were introduced here. They have since wreaked havoc on the native forests, leaving most of the areas around the lakes littered with dead tree carcasses. We saw a couple of these industrious critters during the trek.
The Dientes reminded me a bit of the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, with the jagged peaks rising above broad lakes. We realized here how much we’ve missed camping near alpine lakes, a feature that seems rare in the Andes, I guess. Somehow having lakes around makes a landscape feel a bit more like paradise. And this place felt like a little mountain paradise indeed, except for the hellish weather!
The rain left that night and the next day was gorgeous! Well, gorgeous for Magellanic standards, anyways… Here’s Laguna Escondida, ringed by a rugged wall of mountains.
Although the sun was nice that day, as we neared the top of Paso Ventarron, we got a taste of the infamous Cape Horn winds. It was shockingly windy up here, sometimes sending us staggering backwards. And this, I think, was pretty tame wind compared to some of the stories I heard and read of people getting knocked over and even dragged around on the ground by ferocious winds. Apparently that’s fairly common around here.
Going down the other side of Paso Ventarron. It was so windy here, my eyebrows were blowing in the wrong direction! I don’t recall this ever happening before… but then again, they seem to be getting bushier as I get older… Anyhow, it was windy.
That evening we camped at Laguna Martillo, a spectacular setting with the spire of Cerro Clem towering above. When I saw that the sunset colors were lighting up, I let my dinner get cold while I ran off to take some photos!
Did I mention that the weather is crazy here? Here’s our tent Laguna Martillo the day we got there. At right is fresh snow in the morning. Quite a surprise to see that when I opened the tent!
Since we had no layover days on this trek, we had no choice but to pack up the wet tent and start trekking through the snowstorm. This was another adventurous day when we were totally reliant on the cairns and markings to show us the route ahead. We were worried that it would snow enough to cover up all the route markings and cairns, in which case we would be screwed and would have to stay put. Luckily the snow didn’t accumulate enough for that.
Antarctic conditions on Paso Virginia. Again, we were very thankful for the cairns; otherwise this route would be quite a compass challenge on this broad featureless plateau. This pass is notorious for hellacious winds, so our little snowstorm actually wasn’t so bad as it could have been.
Nevertheless, we were both relieved to have made it safely over the last pass of the trek. As if mirroring our emotions, a rainbow appeared down valley where we’d soon be camping for our final night of the trip! Below is Laguna Guanaco.
The last day was a glorious calm sunny day, and an uneventful hike took us out of the mountains, back to Puerto Williams.
We both agreed that this was one of our two favorite treks we’ve done during our three months in the Andes (the other being the Valle de Aguas Calientes near Chillan). It was a perfect grand finale adventure for our trip! Now we’re just chilling out in Ushuaia for our last couple days here before catching our flight back to Buenos Aires then home. It’s been an epic trip, but three months is enough, and I’m super excited to get back home to Ouray!