Category Archives: Argentina 2015

Tierra del Fuego National Park

Costera Senda (Coastal Path) – Paseo de La Isla – Mirador Lapataia (Lapataia Viewpoint) – Senda de La Baliza – Arias Port, 12km. 

Today’s outing was to the southernmost national park of Argentina, Tierra del Fuego. A minivan from the town center brought tourists to the pier of the Zaratiegul Bay, where the trail starts. (Before that we had to pay a hefty park entrance fee of USD 17 per person!)

The park personnel told us that the Senda Costera would take 4 hours, but at the trailhead the sign showed us that miraculously the estimated hiking time got shortened to 3 hours : )

This 8km trail was following the coastline, occasionally dropping to some small, pretty isolated pebble beaches and walking up in the beach forest. We usually make a stop at nice viewpoints or beaches, but the rain and some loud, young Israeli groups behind us kept us going.

By the time this trail ended, Philippe had enough and decided to go back with an earlier bus. I was eager to continue on another trail to the Arias Port.

After a short gravel road where Philippe walked in the other direction, a new path “Paseo de La Isla” lead me to a cute, small peninsula, hiking along the coast of Lapataia and Ovando River. The lush, intimate landscape with water-birds was a welcome change from the earlier trail. Too bad that Philippe did not come along, because this was the prettiest part of the trail so far. There was no one around and it was a small adventure, trying to find a path alone. I always love the feeling alone in the stillness of the nature.

Soon next to another trail “Mirador Lapataia.” Going through the open, low bush area, I could see the panorama of the snow-capped mountain range in the surrounding area. After a short forest, I came out to the viewpoint and looked down the beautiful Lapataia Bay and its Arias Port. The circled bay was secluded by the intricate coastline and protected by the natural gate of islands. A short moment the sun came out and reflected the water in blue. I knew why a local travel agent person raved about this place. It was beautiful.

As I had a little bit more time before the 5pm bus, I walked on a short trail along the Lapataia Coast. At a peaceful pebble beach an old buoy stood and the path ended with a fence. From there it is the off-limit Natural Reserve Area which continues to the border of Chile….

Camino Estancia Túnel

Playa Larga to Estancia Túnel, 10km

After moving to a more comfortable, closer-to-the town apartment, we went for a walk to Playa Larga, east of  Ushuaia.

Along the rugged coast scattered with windswept trees (bent down to 45 degrees) we could see small islands floating on the Beagle Channel and the snow-capped mountain range of the Isla Navarino (the Navarino Island) of Chile on the other side of the water. I thought of the wild 5-day mountain hike on the island roaming under the unpredictable weather, which I read in one of the hiking guidebooks. Even for a mountain lover like myself, these mountains look too wild and inhospitable…

Walking up and down hills and crossing a beautiful stream flowing down to the sea, we arrived at the gate of Estancia Túnel, a forlorn farmhouse, located at the isolated shore. It looked abandoned at the first sight, but someone seemed to be working there. Beyond that, the path continued on the seemingly endless, isolated coastline where no one lives.

As usual, the weather was temperamental. There was sun, there were clouds, then very very dark clouds and windy rain at the end. We decided to hitchhike back to town and were picked-up in no time by a friendly kayaker. A blue sky with a rainbow was waiting in Ushuaia, which was only 5km away…

Philippe cruising on the Beagle Channel, Yasuko to the mountain

Philippe loves the sea, sailing, anything related to water and wind. Yasuko loves mountains but easily gets sea-sick.

Ushuaia has a perfect solution for us: it is sandwiched between the sea and the mountains. So today Philippe set off to a boat ride in the Beagle Channel and Yasuko to hiking on the Cerro Martial.

Glacier Martial is a small glacier at the foot of Mt. Martial just behind Ushuaia. I set off walking 7km to the area from the town. The mountain area was still in patched snow. It was Sunday so many families came out hiking. The panorama of Beagle Channel was impressive. I tried to spot Philippe’s boat on the sea, but of course I could not see…

Crossing the Magellan Strait

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Crossing the Magellan Strait

Puerto Natales to Ushuaia, 7am bus, 13h ride to Philippe’s dream town, 760km

As a little boy I used to watch a show on French TV where the main acts were sailors, adventurors, boat racers, well, Robinson Crusoe type of people telling their adventure stories. The show was presented by Nicolas Hulot and called “Ushaia”. At that time, I didn’t know Ushaia was a place, but the show sure made me dreaming.

As a slightly bigger boy, I filled those gaps. Started sailing and had other places sticking in my mind; Magellan Strait, Cape Horn, Beagle Channel…

And finally we are in Ushaia. The self-proclaimed southernmost town in the world (not true, its Port Williams a few miles away). At first it looks like any other touristy port town – it’s almost a bit disappointing.

To get here, we took the 7am bus from Puerto Natales. After a 2.5h ride, we were dropped with some other travellers in the middle of nowhere being asked to wait for the connection to arrive. Hop off. The waiting time was shortend by a sheep who came to see if there was something to eat in those big backpacks. 15 minutes later the connection to Ushaia arrived from the other side of the “Ruta del fin del Mundo”. Hop on.

The ride continued for hours through vast “nothingness”, occasional estancias (large-scale ranches) and thousands of sheep where your next neighbor may well be hundreds of “gravel roads” kilometers away.

A little later (i.e. some hundreds km away), we crossed the Magellan Strait, the waterway cutting off the southern tip of South-America, connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific ocean. Again, it was nothing but a 20 minute ferry ride from one side to the other. And the other side is called “Tierra del Fuego” (Land of Fire).

Around 3 pm we crossed the border from Chile to Argentine. There we had the living proof that multi-tasking is possible in laid-back Patagonia. The border control guy was discussing loudly and at length his personal house purchasing project on the phone while occasionally pushing that big fat “Exit Chile” stamp on our passports. Patience is helpful.

Close to Ushuaia the landscape changed drastically from the very flat, dry brownish land with occasional grasses to green forest with a snow-scattered high mountain range backdrop.

Now we’re off for a Beagle Channel boat trip. Hasta pronto.

“W” Hike – Torres del Paine – Day 6

Refugio Grey to Refugio Paine Grande (11km, 3.5h) – Catamaran – Puerto Natales by bus

Last day of our “W” hiking

To take 12.30 pm boat from Lake Pehoé, we left our refugio at 8 am to allow enough time for the estimated 4 hour hike. The path was familiar and easy, even though it looks always different from the opposite  direction.

We arrived at Lake Pehoé too early and relaxed at the terrace of the Refugio Grande Paine, enjoying the view and chatting with other hikers.

A boat took a full load of tired, yet happy hikers from the pier and glided on the azure-color water to the other side of the lake. From the boat we could see the entire panorama of the Torres del Paine range: imposing Los Curenos and sharp peaks of Los Torres, with the profound Valle del Francés – almost like a review of our 6 day hike.

At the end of the pier a bus was already waiting to transport the smelly crowd back to Puerto Natales. We were happy to get back to a hotel with a working shower and comfy beds for a good night sleep…

“W” Hike – Torres del Paine – Day 5

Refugio Paine Grande – Laguna Los Patos – Refugio Grey, 11km, 4h

We woke up to another sunny day with blue sky. A complete change from yesterday!

The Grande Paine Refugio is located in front of the expansive blue Pehoe Lake, and features a magnificent view of the Cuernos and Cumbre. It is an enormous refugio with 110 beds and a big camping site next to it. Unfortunately this incredible location has an incredibly bad level of hospitality. Philippe was greatly upset by their unfriendliness and inedible scramble eggs (or something yellow, dry, hard with a indefinable taste). We both returned them. This hotel felt like being run by people greatly bored with what they do. But that might just be what happend if you have a monopoly.

Happy to leave this refugio behind, we set out for the 5th day’s hike. A short winding climb lead us to a small lake with ducks, Laguna Los Patos. Very soon we came to a viewpoint of Grey Lake. The lake was, yes, very grey due to the glacier flowing into the water. Several icebergs were floating and far away the huge Grey Glacier waited at the end of the lake.

After arriving at Refugio Grey and relaxing on the sunny terrace for a couple hours, we walked to the Glacier Outlook point. It was incredible view in the blue, sunny sky!

But then again. We had a close to disgusting dinner. Some meat and rice cooked by somebody without taste buds and pride. Sooo disappointing. If you can’t cook, just don’t,  don’t!!

“W” Hike – Torres del Paine – Day 4

Domo Frances – Campo Italiano – Grande Paine Refugio, 11km, 3h

After another quiet night with non-snoring hut mates, Philippe slept till almost 9am. To Philippe’s delight, we had fresh and tasty scramble eggs for breakfast for the first time.

Outside it was grey and drizzling. Once the weather improved a bit, we decided to give it a go. Soon after our start the horizontal rain was upon us and turned into hail. It was hitting us so hard on our face that we had to bend our head down to the trail. No time to see anything. Everything got drenched in no time.

But in less than one hour we got out of the local weather hazard to the sunny side of the mountain. When we looked back, we could see the ominous grey weather and the blue sky in the same panorama. That’s the famous unpredictable Patagonian weather everybody talks about.

“W” Hike – Torres del Paine – Day 3

Refugio El Chileno – Domo Frances – Glaciar Lookout – Domo Frances, 16.5 km

The strong wind was howling the whole night and shaking our whole hut. Olga said in the morning that she was afraid that the refugio would be blown away.

So we woke up to the foul, true Patagonia weather. Yesterday Philippe and I were talking about the Patagnian wind: we hear so much about the gusty wind in Patagonia, but where is the wind?

Here we are – our first encounter with the infamous Patagonian weather. Gusty winds up to 80km/h. Looking out from the window, wind-loving Philippe screamed with excitement, while traumatized-by-tornados Yasuko was scared to be blown away by the gust. During the breakfast, it rained, the wind howled, the rainbow came out.

After the rain slowed down, we decided to brave into the wind with a full rain gear. The gust was so strong that the wind scooped the lake water and smashed it to our face with full speed. Everytime it happened, Philippe said to me, “Duck!” behind the trees, we contniued this exercies for half an hour. It was not easy to do this with a backpack of 11kg : ((

The trail at the lakeside was so exposed that the gust came in a full swing and I could see two men almost knocked into the bushes… Scary!!

After fighting through the heavy headwind and rain for one and half hour, we were relieved to arrive at the Domos Frances, the next hut.

We decided to wait for better weather at Domos Frances. in the meantime, Philippe had a nap, in a dome-like room with plenty of space.

“W” Hike – Torres del Paine – Day 2

Refugio El Chileno – Refugio Los Cuernos, 11Km

A beautiful hike through the bushes full of red flowers. We made a nice lunch stop at the elevated area with large, flat and smooth granite rocks, enjoying the full sun and a fantastic view of the azure-colored Nordernsjöld Lake. What a gorgeous day!

On the trail we talked to Olga, a chatty Polish from London, and Chantal from Vancouver. It is always nice to encounter wonderful hiking mates.

“W” Hike – Torres del Paine – Day 1

Hotel Las Torres – Refugio el Chileno – Mirador Base Las Torres – Refugio el Chileno – 13.5 km

The logistics to get to Los Torres del Paine is complex. First we had to take a 7 am bus for 2.5hrs to get to the national park entry about 112km away from Puerto Natales and after a short introdcution by the national park staff, we changed to a shuttle bus heading for the trailhead.

The heavy clouds made me concerned but I was nevertheless excited to start this hike. Immediately after the bus left the town the expansive Patagonian steppe continued miles after miles, zigzaging the hills and passing hundreds of wild guanacos (llama-like animals) gazing on the hills.

Finally the bus dropped a  full load of hikers with their heavy backpacks at the trailhead.

After 15 min. of walk, the luxurious Hotel des Torres appeared and Philippe wanted to make a short stop for what he thought to be the last acceptable expresso for a week (which proved to be true).

Now fuelled by espresso and hot chocolate, we shouldered our heavy backpacks and started our hike.

Our first destination was the Refugio Chileno where we would stay for a night. There we dropped our backpack and headed for the Torres del Paine viewpoint.

There were a lot of hikers on the trail, including a group of teenagers for a school outing. The trail was uphill and narrow, traversing the gravel, sometimes slipperly, mountain slope.

After arriving a the refugio earlier than expected,  we made a short lunch stop at the terrace before heading for the mirador (viewpoint), with a light daybag only. It was quite steep up for one hour. In the meantime, the sky opened up and the weather turned out to be fantastic.

The last climb through gravels and rocks opends suddently to the white-green glacier lake and soring granite pillars of Paine (2’850m)! Stunning!

Even though we had to share this view with hundreds of people and some men who proved their heroic maleness by jumping into the glacier lake, we admired the view…