This trek has been on my mind for quite a while already. Known as the southernmost trek of the world, the circuit around the Dientes (“teeth”) range on Isla Navarino offers exploring a pristine mountain environment in complete isolation.
At the end of the world
Isla Navarino is located just south of Tierra del Fuego, not far from Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America. It has been colonized by Chile only in the 1950s. Today it as well hosts the southernmost town on Earth, Puerto Williams, with its roughly 2500 inhabitants. Many people are working for the navy here, but nowadays tourism seems to become more and more important. Here, at the start and finish of the trek, I was surprised to find pretty much everything needed, from an ATM to some cozy restaurants and hostels. It would have even been possible to stock up on supplies or fuel or to rent some gear.
The trek started with a steep climb up to Cerro Bandera, the so-called “flag mountain”, overlooking the Beagle Channel. After a while, the Dientes range became visible: A row of perfectly shaped teeth rising vertically towards the sky. During the next days, unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to spot them again, as they were draped in clouds all the time.
The route was leading around this mountain range for five days, although it certainly can be completed in less time. However, even when moving slowly, the sometimes demanding terrain made it a quite strenuous hike. Several passes had to be crossed, and although none of them exceeded 900 meters, ascents and descents often were really steep, especially during the second-last day. The trail itself was marked by in total 38 signs, called “snupies”, every now and then, but required careful navigation nevertheless.
Trading wind for snow
“Yet for all the wonderful, rugged terrain, trekkers often find the defining feature of their visit is actually the weather. Come fully prepared, or when it howls you’ll howl back.”
This passage in Lonely Planet’s “Trekking in the Patagonian Andes” (page 202) made me think a little, but I didn’t really believe in the possibility of snow even during summer time. Instead, I was expecting strong winds and thus always chose my campsite with care, well below the tree line. Spending the night at an exposed place could easily mean the end of my trip. I even heard some rumors about a shredded Hilleberg tent the week before…
However, it all turned out differently after all. Wind was never a problem, thankfully. But in the second night, the weather turned. Suddenly, I became awake, the tent wall touching both my feet and my face… How on earth was that possible??? At the same time, it felt much warmer than it has been before. It took me some seconds to realize that my tent threatened to collapse under the weight of the snow that has fallen while I was finding some sleep!
Fortunately, the snow disappeared later the following day. Overall, I was still quite lucky with the weather, despite the relative cold period in the end of summer. Next time, however, I might decide to carry a little heavier, but warmer, mattress. Not to mention my questionable choice of the most breathable rain jacket, which failed on serving its original purpose – being waterproof! From this perspective, snow was at least better than pouring rain. Well, all choices of outdoor gear are always a compromise. But maybe my compromise was not perfectly suitable in an environment as extreme as Isla Navarino…