The Dientes de Navarino Circuit is one of the world’s most southerly hikes. This is part 5 of 6 posts about the 5 days I spent hiking the circuit in December 2013 and January 2014. This section covers the long trek from before Laguna Martillo to Laguna Guanacos.
Part 1: Preparation
Part 2: Laguna Salto
Part 3: Monte Bettinelli and turning back
Part 4: A long day to Laguna Martillo
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.
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, solid ground! The two hikers I had seen the previous day had set up camp here – definitely a much better spot than mine!
The next hour or so of the path was one of the easiest parts of the whole circuit – descending gently 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.
After the lake though 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 low, thick bush. On the map this appears clear and relatively flat, but there was 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! This section of the Dientes Circuit (which is also one of the steepest) was very, very muddy to say the least – well above my ankles and even up to my knees in certain points. Although 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 roots.
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, 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 safest (read: only) way down from Paso Virginia.
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. This was 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.