​Dientes Circuit & Lago Windhoek. Golden automn in Chile’s southern end. (Part 1)

Isla Navarino is most famous among hikers for the multi day hike of the Dientes Circuit. The island is opposite of Ushuaia and belongs to Chile. There’s a ferry (or rather water taxi) that takes you for expensive 120 USD from Ushuaia in about 30 minutes to the other side and included is then a 50km bus trip on dirt road to Puerto Williams. I hesitated a while due to the price and the (supposedly) remoteness and difficulty of the trail until I heard from more people how great the trail is and decide to go. 

Day 1. Ushuaia – Puerto Williams – Laguna del Salto.

At 9.30am I am waiting to board the ferry which should leave at 10am but it’s about one hour later in the end. I don’t speak Spanish and can’t ask but I am in no hurry and patient by now. At least I have time to read my mails, I have one from the agency offering flights from Puerto Williams to Punta Arenas for just 90 USD. Cheap comparatively! Unfortunately it’s only free on Monday or Friday and as Monday seems hard to manage for my hike, I send a mail confirming Friday with my credit card details, hoping it goes through as I won’t be able to check mails again before my trek starts.

Finally we depart and after 30 minutes or so we arrive on the Isla Navarino in the middle of nowhere, where the agricultural inspection of our luggage (food!) takes place. I bought most of the hiking food in Ushuaia as Puerto Williams is tiny. Anything but fresh food can be brought in. I didn’t dare taking nuts and dried tomatoes as I heard it was taken away from others but I could have brought it. 

The little harbour

The agricultural inspection office and our 2 busses
On the road to Puerto Williams

An hour later in Puerto Williams we are driven straight to the immigration station where our passports are checked. Then we can leave and discover the island. I need first money, chilean pesos and then check the “supermarket”.  Not easy to find something good, I just end up with some parmigiana, bread and an apple for lunch. I decide I have enough food otherwise as I don’t want to spend too much money and am still spoiled from Antarctica cruise. 

Some nice houses in Puerto Williams

I already met a few other people who want to do the trail, starting either today or tomorrow. Although I have now one week for the whole circuit which I think should take me not more than 4 days, I decide to start anyway as the weather is great. I can also safe money sleeping in my tent instead of the hostel. 

The plaza de la virgen… Kitsch!
And this one a kilometer further off trail, a very nice and peaceful spot

At the plaza de la virgen I continue on a dirtroad to the trail head. At the start is a big toilet building and it’s possible to camp here. The trail seems well marked with 32 signs indicating the kilometers plus red markers all the way.

Trail map and starting point
Trail markers

 It’s a beech forest which starts to feature beautiful automn colours. After the first easy bit, the trail goes uphill for quite a while and very steep!  Soon I am completely wet from sweating. My backpack is heavy, I have more gear (warmer stuff) and food for 5 days. Not used to this anylonger! 

Finally I reach the top of the hill above the tree line at just some 550m altitude. The view is amazing, Puerto Williams, the Beagle Channel and the Dientes mountain range.

Puerto Williams and the Beagle Channel

From there I follow the ridgeline but always a few meters below. It’s so great to be back in the mountains! The trail is not easy but doable and the views are ever more stunning as I get closer to the lakes. The red automn trees make everything even more beautiful! 

Down below the lake Salto where I am camping tonight
Lakes everywhere

The trail to the next campsite is just 4h30 from town according to my guidebook. It will take me 4h in the end but as I only started after 2pm, it’s getting late now and the sky covered. Finally Laguna del Salto is in view and a steep descent on scree later, I am admiring the view.

Beautiful automn colours
Wet ground…!

Before realising that that’s where I need to set up my tent. In a swamp where everything is wet. It takes me at least 30 minutes to find a good spot as I prefer to hide from possible wind but everywhere it’s wet. In the meantime the 2 Germans I already met earlier arrive, but it’s just us here (and they set up their tent far away). In Puerto Williams I was a bit afraid that there will be quite a lot of hikers but seems it’s not yet the case and even though not anylonger that isolated as my guidebook and blogs describe, it’s fine enough for me!

I set up my tent, cook dinner, watch sunset and it’s already time to write the blog and sleep… 

Day 2. Laguna del Salto – Paso Dinientes – Laguna Windhoek 

I am not sure any of my readers who followed me already in New Zealand will believe me, but I only got up at 8.30am this morning! The night was difficult, not much sleep and although my body was warm inside my sleeping bag plus thermal liner I felt cold inside. It was definitely a cold night anyway and as I was able to fall asleep again in the morning I got at least some more sleep. I take my time in the morning, leaving just before 10am or so. Maybe I am finally able to slow down and take it easier? 

Next up

The trail is going uphill through more impressive landscape. The mountains aren’t actually that high here (the highest peak is just 1180m) but as the treeline is already at around 400m altitude, it feels like being up high in the mountains. The arid steep summits remind me of the Dolomites. 

Love these mountains!

Up and up I go to the Laguna del Paso, passing on its right to the Paso de los Dientes. It’s not an easy walking but as I am used to mountains I can handle well the scree. The markers are sometimes distant and just some stone piles, but by now I am very used to tracking the trail and manage to follow it fairly easy. 

Laguna del Paso

After the pass , I am making a detour. I read on a blog that you can follow another trail to the Lago Windhoek. There’s not much more southern you can actually walk and I find it quite cool to also walk all my way to the end of the world (of course I was further south in Antarctica but this was on a ship!). Plus there’s a hut, although it was advised that you should rather tent. 

Great contrast between the colourful trees and the grey rocky mountains

The detour trail is luckily featured in my app as I have troubles finding it in the beginning. I decide to give myself half an hour and if the trail is not marked I will turn around as I don’t want to rely only on my phone. But once I am on the trail back down in the forest it’s easy to find. Two hikers coming up tell me it’s not always easy but doable to find the trail and that it has taken them 6h. It’s just after 12am so I can do it, but I  didn’t think it would be that long. 

So I walk and walk and then realise I have to hike up again. My phone app doesn’t have altitude lines so I cannot really see much about the trail. And it goes really high up to the Cumbre Bettinelli at 860m elevation (higher than the pass). But it’s worth the struggle, the views are amazing! High mountains all around me, some still have snow, plenty of dark mountain lakes in the valleys and all the way down is the ocean and the Drake Passage. 

Strange separation, on the right red rocks and on the left white ones with moss
Very windy!

It’s very windy and cold so I can’t stay too long, continuing up high to some viewpoints before a very steep slope down where I meet two more chilean hikers. They tell me only one guy is ahead of me and that the forest is boggy. But first some more easy and flatter scree before entering the forest. Seems alright I think but then it gets tough. Fallen trees all over, mud, slippery steep parts. If I hadn’t gone through my boot camp on the Te Araroa I might have cried now or turned around.  Instead, I put music in my ears and continue. 

That’s the trail. Somewhere. Just scramble over the trees and try to find the trail on the other side.

River crossing

A river crossing on fallen trees, more forest and finally I am out of it. Only to find myself in wetland. At least it’s flat now and I start to sing along with my music for the next few kilometers, wondering if it was worth going down as tomorrow I have to walk back the same trail. More and more wetland but it’s becoming a nice walk, jumping from dry spot to dry spot from time to time. 

You better not fall in. The muddy water is at least half a meter deep (luckily I only measured with my hiking poles and not my body)

At 5pm I reach the Rifugio Charles, a rather old wooden hut. It’s has a lot of charm but I rather sleep in my tent. There’s a hammock outside and a few fireplaces. In case it rains or gets stormy I can still hide inside so I decide to camp just next to the Hut. 

Nice wooden hut
Rather old interior
Beautiful hut book

Then I walk the few hundred metres to the Windhoek lake in the sunshine!  It became warmer and warmer the further I hiked downhill and is pleasant now. At the lake the other hiker, a German, already set up camp and is trying to catch some fish.

I walk back, wash myself and hang out in this wonderful thing, the hammock. So comfortable. Maybe only someone who has lived in a tent for so long can appreciate it as much as I do… Dinner also takes place here, watching the mountains and the sun go down. It’s so peaceful and quiet at the end of the world! 


Day 3. Laguna Windhoek – Laguna Escondida 

It was peaceful until someone arrived at 9pm and then 2 more at midnight in complete darkness. A lot of chatting and noises meant I didn’t sleep and started reading my Chile guidebook until 2pm or so. As the morning starts with blue sky I start hiking nevertheless at 8.30am. I am not particularly looking forward to that forest section, actually I really don’t like walking a trail twice, knowing exactly what to expect.

So I walk and walk and get lost after the river crossing. I bushbash back onto the trail but am covered in sticky needless I have to get rid off. Then it’s the steep uphill part and climbing over fallen trees. I am now hiking just in my shirt, sweating all over. Music makes it again easier but I am reliefed once I am out of the forest. 

There’s another climb to come but that doesn’t bother me because there are beautiful views!  It’s much clearer sky than yesterday and I spend a lot of time just enjoying the impressive landscape around me. 

Back on top of the mountain I can now easily walk down towards another forest, in awe of the colourful automn trees. I am so lucky to have great weather although there’s supposed to be rain tomorrow. A guided group of 10 or more pass in the other direction, I am reliefed they are not going my way. 

I am not sure but I think this has all been dine to the trees by the beavers. A pest in Fireland (as the possums in New Zealand). The beavers were introduced in the 1940s also by the fur industry and have multiplied terribly since.

Can’t get enough of these colours!

Back on the Dientes trail it’s another few kilometers to the campsite where I plan to camp. First to the Laguna Dientes among red, golden, brown, orange coloured trees.

You better like rock hopping 😉

There are a few possible camping sites but it’s not well sheltered and I feel it might be better to continue. I am tired now and hot, but I look forward to be able to wash myself and my hair and dry in the warm sunshine later. It’s just 4pm when I reach Laguna Escondida. I walk around it towards another strange mirador (who needs this?) and descend to more sheltered camping spots. 

Two tents are already here but it doesn’t look well sheltered, plus it’s wet again! I choose less wind over dry campground and set up my tent before heading back to the lake to wash myself. The other two tents belong to two German couples, I already know one of them from the ferry. I sit in the evening sun and have a soup and then polenta with parmigiano. For some reason polenta is not working out, probably I didn’t cook it well enough and I can’t eat it. So it’s gonna be cookies for dinner tonight! It’s very windy in the evening and I worry about my tent. Will it hold and will it be warm enough at night in the wind? Let’s find out 😉

Can it get any better?

One Comment Add yours

  1. Jasmin says:

    Das sieht alles megaschön aus! Wow! Mangelnde Trailmaintenance und sumpfiger Boden gehören wohl vielleicht auch einfach dazu – einige Bilder könnten haargenau so auch in Neuseeland entstanden sein. 😅

    Liked by 1 person

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