The Dientes Circuit on Isla Navarino

By Rustyn Mesdag

For tour information : Erratic Rock Isla Navarino trekking

 

 

Billed as the southernmost trekking opportunity in the world, the rugged Dientes Circuit on Isla Navarino is miles beyond any ordinary trekking experience. For 53 kilometers, the route winds through an otherworldly landscape. Mountains broken out from the floor of the ocean. Where the Andes crumble into the Antarctic Plate. Where tenuous passes defy the staggering winds. Where spartan vegetation clings precariously bracing itself against the punishing climate and the manipulations of the introduced beaver. 

 

For the serious trekker, the five-day Dientes Circuit is a chance to experience unique terrain at what is literally the last scrap of land before the legendary Cape Horn and Antarctic Sea. And while the route offers many worthy experiences, like awesome views that stretch as far as the Cape Horn straits, it is also impressive for what it lacks, like crowded trails, clearly defined paths, and over-crowded refugios. In fact, there are no refugios on the route. There is not even an entrance fee to pay. Trekkers are only required to check in with the carabineros in Puerto Williams. From there, the trailhead is just three kms from the tiny village of Puerto Williams with a good possibility that you won’t see anyone else in the course of the circuit.

 

The Dientes Circuit is relatively new, developed in the early ’90s by Lonely Planet trekking guide author Clem Lindemayer. A few of the more prominent peaks along the circuit have been named after him. Cerro Clem, for example, makes an impressive profile and serves as an important landmark.

Because of the difficulty of the route and the distance of Isla Navarino from the beaten path, the Dientes Circuit receives a fraction of Chile’s annual trekking visitors. The route was marked with the Chilean numbered trail marker system in early 2001, but it is still far from a well-marked path. The Dientes trekker needs to be self-reliant and good at route finding. The 38 trail points are spread over a 53 km route, with four significant passes to cross and a myriad maze of beaver ponds and dams to negotiate in the valleys between. 

 

It is strongly advised to follow the route from Puerto Williams, as the markers are only painted on one side. Since the markers are cairns (rock piles), individual trail markers are often difficult to distinguish from their surroundings without the red signage painted on them to mark the route. 

Weather is also a strong factor, particulary the strength of the winds that sweep up from the white continent and make the passes, especially the final pass, Paso Virginia, very dangerous. Blasts of wind strong enough to knock a heavily loaded trekker from their feet are not uncommon and come without warning. 

 

The Dientes Circuit is broken into five stages, each stage requiring about five hours to complete. With the long daylight hours of the southern hemisphere summer, some trekkers might be tempted to combine two stages into one day. While it is possible to do the circuit in four days, it would involve a day with two passes to surmount or a very long final day, descending from the nearly 900-meter Paso Virginia back to sea level, over a distance of 23 kms. 

The route markers end more than 300 meters above sea level, looking down on Bahia Virginia, and from there, the trekker must negotiate through the cow pastures and calafate bushes to the coastal road. Then hike the final 8 kms of pavement back to Puerto Williams. Passing trucks will often stop for trekkers on the final stretch. Otherwise, it’s about a two-hour walk back to Puerto Williams. 

 

Just getting to Isla Navarino is part of the adventure itself. The Patagonian airline company DAP flies a 20-odd seat twin otter from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams daily in the summer. The flight over Tierra del Fuego and the Strait of Magellan is incredibly scenic, and oddly enough, the least expensive option. 

 

There are, however, other options. Though more expensive than flying, it’s possible to travel by boat from Ushuaia across the Beagle Channel to Puerto Navarino and then travel the 50-odd kms of coastal road east to Puerto Williams. For the truly intrepid traveler, the Punta Arenas-based Transbordadora Austral Broom operates a once a week passenger ferry to Puerto Williams, a 30-hour trip through the Straits of Magellan and along the Beagle Channel. Though spartan in accommodations and service, the passing scenery of hanging glaciers and mountains that float on water truly convey an end of the world sensation.

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