Dientes de Navarino Circuit
We flew from Punta Arenas to the southernmost town in Chile (and the world), Puerto Williams. The flight was on a 10 seater airplane and our neighbors were 2 Australians who would start the trek with us. As the plane headed over the stunning Darwin Range and deeper into Tierra del Fuego and close to Cape Horn, I knew we were reaching the remoteness we desired.
Boasting a population of ~3,000, Puerto Williams is quite quirky and different – there are roaming town dogs and horses galavanting through the dirt streets! This town is located on Isla Navarino, on the southern shore of the Beagle Channel. The day before starting our trek, we registered with the police (in case you never return!), bought some food rations, and a topo map at the newer camping store in town. Although this trek is gaining in popularity, we shared the trail with only two other groups.
Day 1: Laguna Salto, 12km, ~710m ascent
Today we hiked over Cerro Bandera, which is a straight ascent up a ~1200 foot mountain. The summit boasts wonderful views of the Beagle Channel and a large Chilean flag waving in the face of nearby Argentina. In addition to meeting the two other groups here, we were joined by a group of town dogs.
We named the dogs Hank (he looks like a hank), Scratch (he was quite itchy and would drag his belly across the trail), and Blanco (we needed to name one in Spanish). They accompanied us the rest of the exposed route above treeline into Laguna Salto. Although one of their ulterior motives was obtaining food, they didn’t beg nor act aggressive when we were eating. Clearly it wasn’t their first trek and they often pretended they were in a dog park chasing each other and birds! Being around dogs certainly made us miss our own trail partner, Jethro, but he would have been a frozen, muddy mess had he come along!
We arrived to Laguna Salto down a steep and stable talus field, then pitched camp in non-soggy ground and promptly took a siesta! The weather was moody, but mostly gentle with intermittent drizzling rain and a “calm” fuegian wind.
Day 2: Laguna de los Dientes, ~7.5km
Hank, Scratch, and Blanco were taken back into town by a hiker returning from Lago Windhond. We liked the dogs, but didn’t want them to do the rest of the circuit with us!
Today’s hike was mostly above tree line in exposed talus and tundra. Luckily, the weather gave us a show and provided a wide variety of precipitation – including: rain, sleet, hail, and snow. Every 20 minutes, a new rain/sleet/snow-shower would bombard us, sometimes horizontally. With the intense fuegian wind, it felt like driving with your head out the window into a freezing rain!
We went over two mountain passes, Paso Australia and Paso de los Dientes. From Paso de los Dientes you can see Cape Horn, which we imagined we saw (but probably didn’t!). After Paso de los Dientes we traversed through a long barren tundra plateau and then descended into the scenic Laguna de los Dientes. There we found a scenic campsite in some of the only non-soggy and non-rocky ground around.
Day 3: Laguna Martillo, ~9.5 km
Overnight, the wind picked up and we awoke to find our tent covered in ice and much of the mountains in a fresh coating of snow. Fortunately, much of the precipitation stopped, however, the wind was here with vengeance. We passed Laguna Escondida and made our way to Paso Ventarron (which appropriately means “strong wind, or gale” in Spanish). Long at last, we were introduced to the infamous Fuegian winds. Katie was launched 3 feet sideways and on several instances we had to nearly crawl up the pass! It is similar to the sensation of hang-gliding, without the hang-glider. On the other side, the wind was more calm as we continued our hike into Laguna Martillo, first hiking over Paso Guerrico.
Unfortunately, much of the shoreline has been heavily destroyed by North American Beavers. For some reason, they were introduced as hunting game for their pelts. Since, they have run rampant, as there is no natural predator, leaving soggy ground and chewed lenga forest in their wake. Regardless, Laguna Martillo is stunning, and is framed by Cerro Clem and the Montes Lindenmayer (named after the author of the original Lonely Planet trekking Patagonia). We settled into a campsite, on an island we affectionately named “Beaver Turd Island.”
Day 4: Laguna Los Guanocos, ~10.5km
Today we trounced through soggy (muddy!) low-lands on our way to Paso Virginia. We stopped for lunch at the scenic Laguna Islote before trudging up a near vertical wall of mud for 30 minutes. Our gaiters proved quite invaluable and kept our feet mostly mud-free. There are certain areas of this trail that are in dire need of maintenance, and this is no exception. However, with the remoteness of this hike, trail maintenance would be a luxury!
Coming out of the mudfields, we made a slight navigational error before getting back on track up Paso Virginia. En route, we passed through two barren plateaus (with their false summits) offering wonderful views back towards Ushuaia, the Darwin range, and the Montes Lindenmayer. From Paso Virginia, the route descends nearly 1000 feet to Laguna Los Guanocos in ~1/2 mile. The first few steps were absolutely terrifying on loose soil, but the remainder was through rather stable scree, making a quite fun descent.
We camped in a rock shelter behind Laguna Los Guanoncos, which is perhaps one of my favorite campsites of all time. On one side, we had a view out towards the Beagle Channel and Isla Hoste. The other had Laguna Los Guanoncos, and its classic glaciated trough of a ~270 degree cirque of 1000 foot cliffs. The weather was fantastic and we were able to eat and sit outside of the tent for the first time this trip. To cap it all off, I finally had a colorful sunset to photograph!
Day 5: Puerto Williams, 14km
Perhaps the most anti-climatic day, we bushwhacked through tough lenga forests filled with mud and downed trees. Making our way back to the coast of the Beagle Channel, we walked the remaining 7km on the road back to Lakutaia Lodge. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in hitchhiking a ride from the 2 cars that passed.
I would certainly recommend this hike to anyone that likes a challenge with weather and a remote landscape. I’d imagine this is what Torres del Paine was like before it became a zoo of trekkers. Route finding was not difficult, and has likely become easier as the trek gained in popularity. The route is marked heavily with cairns and also “snupies,”; despite this we got briefly lost twice. A sound knowledge in topographic maps and GPS should be more than sufficient. Adequate gear and a wind-worthy tent are essential.
Pros: rugged and remote, entertaining weather, outstanding scenery
Cons: horrific mud and beaver damage
Tips: the camping store in Puerto Williams has topo maps, ample white gas and even gas canisters for sale. They rent camping equipment and have a small selection of other camping items for sale. There are 3 grocery stores in town with more than enough staples for this 4-5 day trek.
Next up, Torres del Paine.
Latukaia Lodge – much appreciated luxury after this trek
Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams on Aerovias DAP – we had the Lakutaia folks book this for us as it was hard to track down booking info. There is also a ferry from Ushuaia and Punta Arenas.
Food: lakutaia lodge and el resto del sur (one of the few restaurants in town)
Drink: Club de Yates Micalvi (a cool bar in a converted ex-Navy ship wheelhouse).
Trail guide: Lonely Planet Trekking Patagonia