Sunday, 30 March 2014

Solo Hike to Lago Windhond

The 3 or 4 day trek to Lago Windhond on the south of Isla Navarino is not as popular as the more famous Dientes de Navarino Circuit, but the scenery is just as beautiful, the weather just as unpredictable, and the challenge, perhaps, more rewarding. Few people walk this trail to the south of the island and even fewer go beyond to the very end of Isla Navarino.

Now, after failing to reach the Windhond trail from the Dientes Circuit a few days before (due to dangerous snow conditions en route), my plan was to reach the lake via the Rio Ukika valley and, if time permitted, walk around the eastern edge of the lake to truly reach the southern end of Isla Navarino. Beyond that point Cape Horn is the only land before Antarctica. The very helpful lady in the Puerto Williams tourist office assured me that there was something resembling a path around the lake and was very excited at the prospect of me walking it (a nice contrast to tourist offices in many other places who seem to discourage people from exploring, especially solo, no matter what their experience level). Time was tight however, as my boat back to Ushuaia departed in only 4 days.

So, the day after I returned from the Dientes Circuit I visited the Carabineros to inform them of my return and my imminent departure, visited the supermarket to stock up, and tried to ascertain how to reach the trailhead. As it turned out, this was one of the hardest parts of the journey - the tourist office lady and the map hinted at a shortcut, but I only found a gravel road that stopped abruptly in the woods. Rather than get lost on day 1, I went the long way road, following Navarino's coastal road for a shot while then climbing up and turning south towards the municipal garbage dump. Following this dirt road past the entrance to some land owned by the Chilean Navy (the exit point for the shortcut?), I was soon on the path, which was well worn and clear. The Windhond trail is marked in the same way as the Dientes Circuit, with painted markers on trees and other objects. Like the Dientes Circuit, the markers on the lower lying parts of the trail have often suffered from beaver damage.

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This road joined the trail just after the garbage dump. Perhaps this is the famed shortcut?

For the first half of the day the Windhond trail follows the Ukika valley, gradually climbing to its head, passing several pretty lakes which are the source of the Rio Ukika and offering magnificent views of the backs of the mountains I walked along only a few days before on the Dientes Circuit. Ahead, the Dientes de Navarino slowly come into view - and to be honest, the views of the mountains were better than from the Dientes Circuit. The weather was even clear enough that I could see up a side valley towards Laguna del Paso, which was almost completely frozen when I crossed it the previous week.
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Climbing towards the end of the Ukika valley.

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Beautiful views of the Dientes de Navarino.
After passing a few lakes that were unnamed on the maps, the trail started to descend again, entering the Windhond valley and following the river as it slowly wound its way towards the Lago Windhond. Compared to the Dientes Circuit there is very little elevation change involved, and after my experience on that circuit I decided not to be too fussy about following the path exactly when the markers disappeared because of beaver damage. Instead, with the valley so narrow I decided just to head in the general right direction and pick up the markers again after the beaver ponds disappeared.

Shortly after the descent started I came across Refugio Beaucheff (marked as 'Ex-Refugio' on the map!), one of the few areas I had seen that was suitable for camping. Although I could have walked for a few more hours before dark, I wasn't sure if I would reach the lake in time, so decided to call it a day here and start out early the next day, which would be essential if I wanted to reach the south coast of the island. The refugio had long since blown down, but there were plenty of sheltered camping spots among the trees and a nice little stream for water (as with all the water Isla Navarino, I treated it because of the presence of beavers). I spent a quiet, sheltered night in the tent with nobody else at the site or even passing by.

The final 10 kilometres or so the next day were relatively easy. There is a river crossing on this section of the trail, but the route crosses at the best possible point with the  water only shin deep - though, of course, very cold! After that came a large section of the infamous turba - a three kilometre stretch of completely flat bog that marked the final part of the trek to Refugio Charles and the lake. In the morning sun I actually quite enjoyed this section, being able to really move quickly and put the kilometres behind me. Some of the boggy pools looked very interesting indeed, with all kinds of colours - but with no idea of how deep they were, I really tried to stay a safe distance!

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The 3 kilometre long bog

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Some very interesting colours in the turba (bog).
At the far end of the bog some very clear markers mark a change in direction that heads to the Refugio Charles. Somehow I missing these markers completely, I carried on over a decreasingly clear path, realised I was lost, and decided instead to head straight to the lake, which was now visible through the trees. It would be easy to find the Refugio from the lake, I reasoned. Ha! The Refugio is about 400 metres back from the lake, well hidden in the trees, and it was only after about 45 minutes of fruitless searching, after which I decided to retrace my route back to the bog, that I came across the path and the refuge by accident. A welcome sight, but now I had wasted a lot of valuable and wasn't sure I could make it around the lake to the ocean.

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Inside Refugio Charles

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Visitors' book inside refugio charles

Reading the visitors' book inside the hut, the last entry as December 26 (the date was January 5) - could I really have been the first visitor of 2014, and the first person to pass here in over a week? Reading the entries in the book it seemed as though almost everybody had passed through and continued to Bahia Windhond. I desperately wanted to go there too, but with only a few hours before dark I wasn't sure I could do it - plus I had read that a major detour, possibly up to 9 kilometres, was needed at the far end of Lago Windhond in order to reach the ocean. With that in mind, and having the Refugio Charles area to myself, I decided to give up on reaching the "End of the World" and instead "make do" with Lago Windhond. I put up the tent next to the refuge and headed towards the lake, marking the point where the trail heads to the woods very clearly by hanging my fluorescent water proof cover on a nearby tree. No way did I want to get lost again without any of my gear!

As I sat by the lake and watched the sun go down behind the mountains to the west, I wondered how many other people had been here. The difficult of getting to Ushuaia and Puerto Williams made it all the more worthwhile and realised I realised how lucky I was that this trail existed and allowed such free and open access to this amazing landscape.
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Between the lake and the refuge. The refuge is hidden in the trees to the right in the far distance.
Dusk, Lago Windhond
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Dusk, Lago Windhond

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Campsite at Lago Windhond

The next morning I packed up and prepared for the two-day hike back. Although the Windhond hike could be done in one long day, or varied by crossing over Monte Bettinelli and joining the Dientes Circuit (as I had tried to do in the opposite direction the previous week), I was in no particular hurry and wanted to enjoy the comparatively gentle walk back to the ex-refugio Beaucheff. After spending the night there, I awoke to find the ground and surrounding mountains covered with a fresh layer of snow - what a great way to end a fantastic hike, walking the calm, peaceful valley in fresh, untrodden snow, and not having seen another person for four days.

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Mountains dusted with snow on the final morning
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It's a long way home...
Related reading:

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Dientes de Navarino Circuit Part 6: Laguna Guanacos to Puerto Williams

This is part 6 of 6 posts about my 5 day solo hike on the Dientes Circuit on Chile's Isla Navarino. This part covers the final section of the hike: from Laguna Guanacos to the road on the north of Isla Navarino which leads back to Puerto Williams.

Part 1: Preparation
Part 2: Laguna Salto
Part 6: The final stretch to Puerto Williams

After a quick farewell to my favourite campsite and great views of the snow, the path for this final day was basically a sharp descent all the way down to the road that runs along Isla de Navarino's north coast. The path was relatively easy to follow, ducking between trees and bushes, crossing a few flat areas, and then entering a large forest that involved a lot of clambering over and under fallen trees alongside a noisy river (Laguna Guanacos' outlet). Overall it was quite a tedious final leg, not very difficult but requiring enough concentration to be annoying. Eventually the path left the forest again and the landscape opened out and I appeared virtually next to the road, quite a way above it.

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Final campsite next to Laguna Guanacos

At this point anything resembling a path disappeared and it was simply a case of making my way down through the meadows towards the road, avoiding the mandatory beaver ponds. The trail eventually hits the road more or less near an old crab packing factory, quietly sitting abandoned opposite a large bay area. In the trees a sign and map indicate the start of the trek for hikers going in the opposite direction. I can't help thinking even finding the trail would be hard in that direction.

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The Beagle Channel

All that was left was the 7km walk back to Puerto Williams along the relatively flat gravel road. Despite the Lonely Planet's ascertain that drivers often offers hikers a lift 'even if they are not specifically hitchhiking', half a dozen drivers sped past me towards the town without any indication that they wanted a smelly hiker in their car. Oh well. Back in Puerto Williams it was a quick trip to the supermarket to stock up on junk food and other goodies I had missed in the last few days, then back to Bella Vista to sleep and plan the next adventure.
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Related reading:

The Dientes de Navarino Circuit Part 5: Laguna Martillo to Laguna Guanacos

This is part 5 of 6 posts about my 5 day solo hike on the Dientes Circuit on Chile's Isla Navarino. This section covers the long trek from before Laguna Martillo to Laguna Guanacos.

Part 1: Preparation
Part 2: Laguna Salto
Part 5: Paso Virginia and Laguna Guanacos
Part 6: The final stretch to Puerto Williams

What a change in fortune! Scenery-wise and weather-wise, this was by far the best day of the Dientes Circuit, moving from lakes to the high Paso Virginia and back towards the Beagle Channel again, with the end of the trek in sight.

Waking up to blue sky and warm morning sunshine, I was actually able to dry most of my gear outside my tent while I had breakfast and packed up.

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Campsite before Laguna Martillo, night 3.

After getting slightly lost just slightly out of camp (judging by the well-worn trail going the same direction as me, I was not the first person to go wrong here), I was soon back on track, climbing the short distance up to Paso Guerico to the first views of Laguna Martillo and the Lindenmayer mountain range. These mountains were apparently only named in 2003, and were named after the author of an early version of Lonely Planet's Trekking in the Patagonian Andes. Straight away I wished I had pushed on a bit further the previous evening - not only would the views from here have been fantastic, but there were many great camping spots among the lenga bushes, well protected from the wind and on - shock - dry ground! The two hikers I had seen the previous day had set up camp here - definitely a much better spot than mine!

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Magnificent mountain views approaching Laguna Martillo.
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Walking the shore of Laguna Martillo, opposite the Lindenmayer mountains.

The next hour or so of the path was one of the easiest parts - descending to Laguna Martillo and then skirting around it next to the shore, the flat and clear path was a nice respite. Even the next lake, which like many on Isla Navarino seemed to have formed after beavers devastated the landscape, was relatively easy to pass despite the heavy boulders on the shoreline.

At this point following the path became a little more difficult. Across the valley I could clearly see the plateau and Paso Virginia, but between me and it were numerous streams, ponds, and sections of quite thick bush. On the map this appears clear and relatively flat, but there was also not a single trail marker or SNUPIE in sight. In the end I decided that since I clearly needed to cross the valley and ascend the far side, that is what I would do: I knew the general direction and trail markers would surely appear later on.

As it happens, I was right and just as I started to climb again, another SNUPIE appeared from the trees. Perfect! Unfortunately this section of the Dientes Circuit (which is also one of the steepest) is very, very muddy to say the least - well above my ankles and even up to my knees in certain points. Only only climbing a few hundred metres, progress was slow (and often backwards!), and was only possible by accepting that I was going to get filthy, and pulling myself up the slope using branches and tree routes.

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Out of the mud and the forest and onto the final climb to Paso Virginia.
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These route markers, or SNUPIES, mark the path of the Dientes Circuit. If you can find them.
Warnings abound about the crossing of Paso Virginia, which is notorious for high winds and down which only one safe path exists. I was lucky in that the weather was extremely calm, but even then caution was necessary as the path headed towards several "snow patches" which were in fact, small frozen ponds covered in snow.

On the far side of the plateau the cliff, overlooking Laguna Guanacos and the next campsite, the Beagle Channel came back into view and it was even possible to see across to Argentina and Tierra del Fuego. As you can see in the photo below, it looked so close!

The cliffs at the end of Paso Virginia are heavily corniced and great care is needed to find the correct route. Worryingly, I saw several sets of footprints in the snow on some of these cornices - an incredibly dangerous place to walk! Instead, the correct path contours around to the right (east) for a short while before plunging down the scree. Probably the easiest way to find the path is to find the scar on the landscape below and visually follow it up. Although the descent looks scary, there is only minimal exposure and it really is the safe (read: only) way down from the pass.

View of Laguna Guanacos, the Beagle Channel, and Argentina. The steep path down is to the right!

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After the Paso Virginia descent. The path is visible in the centre and the far left.

At the bottom of the cliffs the path contours around Laguna Guanacos about 10 metres above it, crossing a steep scree slope and making a nice, gentle end to the day's walking. The campsite at the head of the lake was the best of the trip, with the best sites accessed by jumping across Laguna Guanaco's outlet stream. For once the ground was dry and flat and I was able to enjoy a view of the Beagle Channel in front of the tent and Laguna Guanacos and Paso Virginia behind. Probably the best day of the trip (though it would be brutal in bad weather), definitely one of the best campsites, and only a relatively short walk from the road and Puerto Williams on the final day.

Related reading:

The Dientes de Navarino Circuit Part 4: Monte Bettinelli to Laguna Martillo

This is part 4 of 6 posts about my 5 day solo hike on the Dientes Circuit on Chile's Isla Navarino. This part covers the trek from Paso de los Dientes to Laguna Escondida and onwards towards Laguna Martillo.

Part 1: Preparation
Part 2: Laguna Salto
Part 4: A long day to Laguna Martillo
Part 6: The final stretch to Puerto Williams

This felt like a long day, despite only being around 10km. In the morning I was tempted to have another attempt at Monte Bettinelli, trying to convince myself that conditions could not have been that bad the previous day. But, in the end sense prevailed and I formulated a plan to push on with Dientes, taking three more days to complete it, and then hike the Lago Windhond trail another time.

Heading back through the forest, the yellow markers seemed more prominent in this direction and I was very quickly back at the boulder field where the Dientes Circuit and Windhond trail split. At this point it started raining, and it didn't stop for the entire day (apart from when the rain turned to snow). Not wanting to stop for very long (and having no visibility to enjoy the view), I quickly passed some of the key landmarks on the trek: Laguna de los Dientes, Laguna Escondida, and up towards Paso Ventarron. 

The one saving grace was that there was no wind at all, but the rain continued unabated and I knew finding an even remotely dry camping spot for the night would be tough. From the descent from Paso Ventarron onwards I was scouring the land either side of the trail, looking for higher ground or a patch of grass that wasn't a puddle. Unfortunately the ground is so soft and moss-like that even the higher ground was sodden, and I resigned myself to another poor camping spot. By now there was also a couple of hikers a few hundred metres in front of me who were also looking for a spot, and I just knew if one came up, they would grab it first. Eventually I gave up and instead of pushing on to Laguna Martillo I found a quite spot in the bowl between Paso Ventarron and the next pass, just before Laguna Martillo. Though the ground was rather swamped and the site surrounded by nasty looking puddles, it was relatively sheltered by the surrounding peaks. I took water from the nearby lake, filtered it, used the SteriPen, boiled it for ten minutes, and then used the SteriPen again when it had cooled. I did NOT want to be taking chances with water like that...

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View from the tent, night 3. Those pools do not look like good water sources!

Day 4, though, would offer much better weather and many more photos.... Related reading:

Monday, 24 March 2014

The Dientes de Navarino Circuit Part 3: Laguna Salto to Monte Bettinelli

This is part 3 of 6 posts about my 5 day solo hike on the Dientes Circuit on Chile's Isla Navarino. This part covers the trek from Laguna Salto, over Paso Australia and Paso del los Dientes, to Monte Bettinelli.

Part 1: Preparation
Part 2: Laguna Salto
Part 3: Monte Bettinelli and turning back
Part 6: The final stretch to Puerto Williams

Being something of a stubborn person, I don't like to do most things the by the book. In fact, when it comes to hiking I prefer to try the hardest routes (hence the selection of the Dientes Circuit), try all of the side trips, and cram as much as possible into one hike. With that in mind, my plan for day 2 was to follow the normal Dientes route until Paso de los Dientes, and then instead of swinging West to continue the circuit, head South and South-East along a less well-trodden path to the summit of Monte Bettinelli, then descend on its far side to join the Lago Windhond circuit. The route is (allegedly) marked, so in theory, this seemed tough but doable...

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Climbing above Laguna Salto. The spur on the right side is where I camped. The Beagle Channel is still visible.

In the morning my doubts from the previous night were confirmed - the Dientes trail does indeed continue from Laguna Salto by climbing straight up a narrow waterfall for about 15 minutes! Cue a large amount of mud and, of course, water. This is one part of the circuit that really could do with some form of trail in order to preserve the fragile environment. By the top of the climb you are well above the tree line and in peaceful, mountainous terrain. Even in December there was knee-deep snow on the ground in places and although route finding was not too difficult (the trail goes between several passes so it is hard to get lost), the map does show several small lakes which I was wary of inadvertently walking over.

What did surprise me was that even in this harsh environment there were quite a few small plants growing, including some strange specimens that looked like cactus peeking out from underneath the snow.

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After climbing up from Laguna Salto the environment changes significantly.

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Strange cactus like plants growing high in the passes.


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Looking back from Paso Australia.

The hardest part of the trek (and perhaps one of the hardest parts of the whole Dientes Circuit) was the short section from Paso Australia to Paso del los Dientes. Here the path contours across steep slopes, below high cliffs with Laguna del Paso far below. The route is really quite tricky in places, especially with a heavy backpack, and you need to take great care not to lose the track or starting descending towards the lake. There are several sections across snow slopes where it would be difficult to arrest a slide if you fell. All the time Laguna Paso sits ominously below, still largely frozen.

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Laguna del Paso, looking very ominous in its frozen state.

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Navigating the slopes above Laguna del Paso, looking back at Paso Australia.

With that said, the most difficult section of the trail, requiring a couple of steep exposed climbs, is over very quickly and before I knew it I was at the head of the small valley looking south across a small lake known as Laguna Picacho, towards the southern end of Isla Navarino. Monte Bettinelli - the target for the day - was clearly visible, and it was even possible to see Lago Windhond in the distance. This was surely one of the best vistas of the whole Dientes Circuit, along with the penultimate day on Paso Virginia.

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Paso de los Dientes. Monte Bettinelli is visible on the left in the background.
The lake would be a great place for a quick lunch stop, but by now the wind was howling unhindered from the south of the island and I wanted to get to lower ground. At the far, south, end of the lake was decision time - this is where the (relatively) well marked Dientes Circuit and the Lago Windhond trail diverge, the former indicated by red markers, the latter by yellow. I briefly considered continuing along the Dientes Circuit, but the draw of Lago Windhond (and hopefully the very south of the island) was too great, so I clambered down and over massive boulders, struggling to see any more yellow markers until I entered the forest again. Throughout Navarino the trees holding route markers have been devastated by beaver activity, but the Dientes Circuit is at least reasonably well maintained. The Windhond trail unfortunately is not, though luckily it is not heavily tree-lined and Monte Bettinelli is an easy target to spot!

The open ground and clear cairns made progress much quicker and after a quick water refill I made rapid progress up the slopes - aided (and sometimes hindered) by extremely strong tail-winds. Surely I could get close to Lago Windhond tonight and then finish the trek tomorrow! The view from the summit plateau was amazing, offering panoramas of Isla Navarino and even across to neighbouring islands in the west.

Feeling great about finally reaching the summit and sure that the most difficult part was over, the next section stopped me dead: the path narrowed considered and curved around a very steep snow slope, out of sight, with a drop of several hundred metres below. I double-checked the markers but the other possible route was even worse and the marker there clearly meant "not this way". In better conditions the path would not have been so risky, but in heavy snow I did not want to take the chance - it was so narrow that it was not even cut into the rock and as it curved around I was not sure what lay beyond. If the path got any worse I wasn't sure I would be able to turn around and come back, so I had to do it there and then: it was clearly too dangerous to continue with a heavy pack and in these conditions. Lago Windhond and the south coast of Navarino would have to wait.

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Fall-back plan:camping just above the tree line after failing to cross Monte Bettinelli.

Disappointed, but already forming a plan to squeeze the Windhond trek into my itinerary separately somehow, I headed back across the mountain - now head on into the winds - down towards the tree line where I found a sheltered spot to pitch the tent for the night. As consolation the weather calmed down, giving fantastic views of the sunset over Navarino's mountains.

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Continue with day 3 to Laguna Martillo Related reading:

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Dientes de Navarino Circuit Part 2: Puerto Williams to Laguna Salto

This is part 2 of 6 posts about my 5 day solo hike on the Dientes Circuit on Chile's Isla Navarino. This part covers the trek from Puerto Williams, up Cerro Bandera, to Laguna Salto.

Part 1: Preparation
Part 2: Laguna Salto
Part 6: The final stretch to Puerto Williams

The official start of the Dientes Circuit is slightly west of Puerto Williams. It is easy enough to find - you take the only road leading out of town at turn left at the large statue of the Virgin Mary. From there it is a gentle walk up to a small area that looks like a car park or picnic area (take a right where the road splits for a second time).

The start of the trail perhaps gave an indication of things to come - the official notice board clearly indicated that the correct route was via the red markers, while markers on the trees, painted with 'Dientes Circuit' in blue, indicated a different direction. Guessing that both probably ended up in the same place, I took the right-hand path. This track quickly climbs through the forest, the peace only punctuated by large patches of snow falling from the trees in the morning sun. After about an hour the trail plunges back out into the day light, in a clearing on the hillside just below Cerro Bandera. As I continued several trails seemed to converge - perhaps the alternative route indicated by the tree markers?

Cerro Bandera is marked by a large flag pole - the purpose of which was apparently just to annoy the Argentines across the water by asserting Chilean authority over this island. Around the period of the Falklands War, Argentina made several other claims to small islands in and around the Beagle Channel. Although no flag waves today, Cerro Bandera marks the highest point of the first day. It also marked the last sun I would see for some time, as Patagonia's infamous winds immediately stepped into its place, and visibility dropped significantly. The heavy snow that started didn't help as I headed south into the valley, the hilltops still well covered. Semi-regular cairns guide hikers across the hill and onto the valley side.

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Looking back over Cerro Bandera, with the Beagle Channel just visible in the distance

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Heading towards Laguna Salto and the Dientes de Navarino

The path continues for several hours, contouring the hill just above the treeline and, when the weather is clear, offering clear views of the Dientes ahead and various lakes in the valley below. The scenery is picturesque, but after 4 or 5 hours I was happy to find the path gradually dropping down towards the lake. The final 30 minutes involves an extremely steep drop through a boulder field - great caution is needed here to avoid injury.

Laguna Salto marks the end of the first day. The area around the lake is heavily used (a popular one night trip is to walk the first day of the Dientes circuit and then return via the valley), and all of the camping locations around the lake are soggy - the only question is, how soggy? Having settled for a slightly less soggy spot on the east side of the lake I settled down, happy that I still had water and didn't have to take any from this heavily used area.

Despite having a map and a compass, it was not immediately clear to me that night where the trail for day 2 even continued...

Related reading:

The Dientes de Navarino Circuit Part 1: Preparation

This is part 1 of 6 posts about my 5 day solo hike on the Dientes Circuit on Chile's Isla Navarino. This part covers preparation and logistics.

Part 1: Preparation
Part 2: Laguna Salto

An Idea is Born
"This trek into the wild interior of Isla Navarino should not be taken lightly. It is not recommended for solo trekkers. Although somewhat protected by the mountains further to the west, the island experiences constantly unstable and often savage weather, with strong winds and summer snowfalls. The route is extremely isolated and mostly above the tree line in exposed terrain, where careful navigation and route finding is required.

I suspect the Lonely Planet Trekking in the Patagonian Andes' blurb about the Dientes Circuit was meant more as a disclaimer than a recommendation, but with an introduction like that, who could resist? Having already trekked extensively in Chile's Torres del Paine and Argentina's Los Glaciares parks, I was looking forward to this third famous Patagonian adventure.

The Dientes Circuit, also known as the Dientes de Navarino or the Teeth of Navarino, is a 54 km (34 mile) trek often billed as the 'most southerly trek in the world'. Its starting and ending point is Puerto Williams (the world's most southerly town) on Chile's Isla Navarino, across the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia in Argentina. Over 3 - 5 days trekkers can expect to encounter typical Patagonian weather including hail, snow, and of course the notorious winds, as you cross mountain passes, pass through valleys, and circle lakes.

The relative difficulty of reaching Isla Navarino means the circuit is far less busy than the aforementioned Patagonian treks. Although you are likely to see a few other trekkers here, you do indeed to be completely prepared and independent: there are no facilities whatsoever on the circuit.


Getting to Isla Navarino
There are three main ways to reach Isla Navarino:
  • By ferry from Punta Arenas (Chile)
  • By plane from Punta Arenas (Chile)
  • By boat from Ushuaia (Argentina)
I settled on the final option. The ferry from Punta Arenas takes around 36 hours, but sails through almost the whole length of the Beagle Channel, passing scenic mountains and glaciers. I would probably have gone for this option if I had not already taken the Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt ferry a few years ago on the way back from Torres del Paine. I considered the flying option since the views over the channel and the surrounding mountains would surely be fantastic; however, the airline has a strict 10kg luggage limit and I was sure I could not meet it with all my camping and photographic gear. The boat from Ushuaia goes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and takes about 30 minutes, plus 90 minutes to drive from Puerto Navarino to Puerto Williams. The cost in December 2013 was $115 USD.

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Clearing Chilean immigration on Isla Navarino is generally a laid-back affair
Clearing customs on Isla Navarino is generally easy, though it is worth noting that Chile and Argentina have very strict rules about importing food (particularly fresh fruit) - bags are searched and sometimes x-rayed on entry. There seems to be no problem with dehydrated camping food though, providing it is in the original packaging. In both directions the 'search' of my bag consisted simply of opening the top and looking at the immediately visible items.


Puerto Williams
There are no hotels on Isla Navarino, only hostels. I stayed at the Bella Vista in a private room which was only slightly bigger than the bed it contained (and was very cold). However, the views over the town and the channel were great and I am told it is one of the best options in Puerto Williams. Either way, for $20 USD a night there is not much to complain about.

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View from Puerto Williams over the Beagle Channel to Argentina























I saw three supermarkets in Puerto Williams, all of which carried enough produce for a camping trip - though nothing specialised (such as dehydrated meals) was available.

Before embarking upon hikes from Puerto Williams, you are supposed to register your destination and expected return date with the carabineros (local police), and check-in when you return. I have no idea if they will come looking for you should you fail to return, but registering is worthwhile, literally takes a minute, and they are very used to dealing with tourists with less than stellar Spanish.


Equipment List
Gear is always a balance between weight and necessity, but in the subarctic conditions on Isla Navarino you cannot take shortcuts; weather changes extremely rapidly and every day I experienced high winds, warm sunshine, rain, and snow. Temperatures can drop close to zero even during the day, before wind chill is taken into account. Below is a generally complete list of what I took:

Essential items
  • Tent (REI Arete 2 ASL)
  • RAB Ascent 700 sleeping bag
  • Thermarest
  • Trangia stove (I was unsure of fuel availability in Puerto Williams so brought some from Ushuaia, where alcohol is easily available in the first aid sections of supermarkets)
  • Leatherman
  • Compass
  • SteriPen for water sterilization

Clothing

Photographic equipment
Given that one of the main purposes of this trip was photography, deciding on the right equipment was very difficult. Eventually I settled upon:
I decided against taking the (extremely nice, but also quite heavy) Canon 70-300 f4-5.6 IS L, and against taking my old Rebel body as a backup / second camera for the UWA lens. With hindsight these omissions were not a problem - I saw very little on the trail that would have required a 300mm lens and almost all shots were taken with the good old Canon 24-105. Although rarely used, the MeFoto was invaluable for low-light evening shots (although more so on my other Isla Navarino hike to Lago Windhond).


Maps, Trail markings, and Navigation
The Dientes Circuit is generally marked by a series of posts ('Snupies') that indicate the direction. However, these should not be used as the only method of route-finding - in several sections I struggled to find the next marker, even in good conditions. Often the path remained visible, but sometimes multiple routes confused things. In low visibility it would be a nightmare relying solely on the markers. A single topographical map is widely available in Puerto Williams - I paid 3000 Chilean pesos for mine (about 5 USD). I didn't see this map anywhere else outside of Puerto Williams. Before the trip I bought Lonely Planet's Trekking in the Patagonian Andes book and photocopied the relevant pages to carry with me. To be honest, I never used them on the trip, though the route descriptions make interesting pre-travel reading.

If you use a GPS (I didn't), the locations of the trail's Snupie markers are available online. Of course, GPS should not be used as a substitute for navigational skill - I have seen several instances (Iceland for example) where extremely low visibility has caused wildly inaccurate GPS readings - just when their users needed them the most.

Puerto Williams also has a small tourist office (right around the corner from the immigration building) with some of the friendliest, enthusiastic, and most helpful staff you can imagine. They are well worth a visit.

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View of the Dientes de Navarino from Puerto Williams

Drinking water
The tap water in Puerto Williams is generally safe to drink. On the circuit itself there were quite a few small streams, many of them snow melt from higher up, on most days of the walk. I generally found no need to carry more than a litre of water at once because of this.  The exception to this was the first day, where there were very limited water sources.

The abundance of beavers across Isla Navarino means giardia ('beaver fever') is a major concern, so all water needs treating before drinking. I used the SteriPen which sterilizes using UV light and is very handy as it treats viruses, bacteria, and cysts. The UV light does not kill these nasties but it damages their DNA, preventing them from reproducing. I have used the SteriPen on quite a few trips now and have had no problems except for battery issues. It is always worth carrying a spare set of batteries though, as once the warning message appears the batteries die quite quickly. There are quite a few versions of the SteriPen available; I have the 'Journey' version which comes with a small plastic particle filter for initially cleaning up water sources (like most treatment methods, the UV light works well in clear water) and a handy water bottle whose neck is wide enough for the pen to fit into.

Having bought my supplied and registered with the police, I set off on day one of the Dientes Circuit...
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