Trekking to the end of the earth
“You know,” our guide Luis said nonchalantly, some of these peaks haven’t even been named yet.” Wow. This was my Ranulph Fiennes moment. There we were, standing on the summit of Mount Reber in the heart of Tierra del Fuego's rugged, savagely beautiful interior, surveying a range of needle-sharp ice-coated peaks, some over the border in Chile, which we now knew to be unexplored.
Mind you, this was only about 20km from the capital of the island, Ushuaia. Not so far away from the Beagle Channel. Close to the place where Jeremy Clarkson was hounded for his inappropriate number-plate (NB: the people of Tierra del Fuego couldn’t be more friendly and welcoming. Usually.) So this was a trek full of contradictions: climbing through a national park with its conservation regulations, but using guanaco tracks, as there are no human footpaths. Wilderness-lite? It didn’t feel like it: we had to cling to steep valley sides as we clambered up to a shrunken glacier (lots of evidence for global warming here); the LED-bright starlit sky over our campsite at Launa del Caminante was uncompromisingly pollution-free.
Flower-spangled meadows, streams that really did tinkle, forests of ancient pine; wildlife scuttling for refuge, surprised by this rare human presence. Only a handful of hikers make it here. But the views: it was the views which made these three days really special. The Andes at their last gasp, spikily refusing to lie down at the foot of the South American continent.
I can’t enthuse too much about this hike but it’s difficult to put its appeal into words so unique (for me, and I live in Wales) was the experience.
Would it suit you? We say yes, if:
• You enjoy camping and don’t mind carrying your own gear. Even though this is deepest Patagonia, it doesn’t get that cold at night in summer.
• You want a real wilderness experience without having to travel for hours or days to get to it.
• You want to experience an Andean landscape without potential altitude problems - the tree line is at 650m and the snow line at about 900m, there are many peaks with all-year-round snow to be seen, but in the summer you won’t have to negotiate snow underfoot.
• You’d like a more intimate knowledge of Tierra del Fuego, where the landscape is totally different from the rest of Patagonia and the Andes.
• You are a wildlife aficionado – we saw many condors, Fuegan foxes, Fuegan parrots, falcons, eagles, woodpeckers, silver fox, guanaco, beaver, black-necked swans.
• You’d like a bit of exercise before doing an Antarctic or Australis cruise.
• You are willing to accept there may be changes to the itinerary if the weather is bad – this is Patagonia!
It won’t be the thing for you if:
• You are not reasonably fit – it is not technical but quite hard going; 6 hours per day but with an hour of this for lunch and 2 or 3 stops for 15 minutes, depending on group skills.
• You suffer from vertigo.
• You are not happy to share a tent.
• You are not prepared to carry your personal gear in a backpack.
• You are not willing to use walking poles – they really are necessary.
• You are not willing to accept disappointment if the weather forces a change in itinerary.
• You have what might be construed as a controversial number plate...
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