Anybody that is visiting the very southern tip of Patagonia should make an effort to get to Isla Navarino and trek the Dientes de Navarino. Argentina often claims Ushuaia as the most southerly settlement, but Puerto Williams sits even further south and is the start of the brilliant hike that leads you into the interior of the Isla Navarino, a route billed as the most southerly trek in the world.
Dientes de Navarino means ‘Teeth of Navarino’ and is named for the jagged mountains found in the interior of the Island.
The route was first laid out in the 1990s by Australian climber Clem Lindenmayer. In 2001 the Chilean Ministry of Natural Resources named a peak of the Dientes Cerro Clem (Clem Peak) and a range Montes Lindenmayer in his honour. Sadly Clem died trekking in China in 2007, but the legendary Dientes de Navarino circuit serves as a reminder of his intrepid work.
Isla Navarino and much of Tierra del Fuego beyond has been devastated by Canadian beavers. Introduced in the 1940s when the military government in Argentina known as the Junta, imported 25 pairs in the hope that it would turn this unproductive area of Patagonia into a hub of the global fur trade. With no predators to control the beaver’s population grew rapidly meanwhile the worldwide demand for fur crashed. Walking the Dientes de Navarino circuit, you will see some of the worst of this devastation.
In 2017 Beavers caused internet blackouts by chewing through the fibre-optic cable linking Tierra del Fuego to the rest of the world. Conservationists now believe that they are causing further problems by facilitating the explosion in numbers of invasive muskrat and mink. The muskrat are attracted to the stagnant water behind the beaver dams, and the mink prey on the muskrats. The mink also hunt many of the birds and rodents that are native to Tierra del Fuego. There are now well over 250,000 beavers in Tierra del Fuego. The Argentine and Chilean governments are looking at programmes of eradication running to over $30 million.
Dientes de Navarino – The Walk
The trek should not be attempted by those not experienced with wilderness walking and navigation. If anything happens to you on the circuit, it could well be 2-3 days before any help would be able to get to you.
In addition to the remote location and tricky terrain, the weather can be ferocious and change rapidly. Winds strong enough to knock me (weighing 90kg with a heavy backpack) off my feet were commonplace.
That being said, the Dientes de Navarino trek is one of the most beautiful treks I have ever done, and if you have the necessary skills, it should not be missed. If photography is in your agenda, I highly suggest you read my post on ‘Landscape Photography Planning, which might give you some ideas.
The route starts from Puerto Williams. The town has a small supermarket and other shops where you can pick up supplies and are also some lovely places to eat if you look around. The route typically takes 4-5 days although you can easily extend that to explore a bit more of the Island.
Without exception everyone must report in at the Police station the morning that they set out on the trek, letting the police know what day you expect to return. It is even more important to remember to report in when you have finished. If you forget it is likely they will spend valuable time and resources to come looking for you in difficult terrain.
Dientes de Navarino – Day1
Once you have all the necessary supplies, the start is well signposted out of town. You start ascending through relatively thick forest that keeps the top of the ridge hidden from view until you are nearly at the top. This is a blessing as the climb is tough and seems never to end, but there is nothing like being thrown in at the deep end!
After about an hours climb you reach the tree line and are rewarded with views of the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia in Argentina. The ridge is called Cerro Bandera (Flag Ridge) as there is large Chilean flag that flies as a sign of defiance to both the ferocious winds, and to Argentina across the Beagle Channel.
After catching your breath and taking in the views, the route heads south skirting the top of the treeline traversing and alternate scrub and loose scree. As you round the slope, you are treated to your first views of the Dientes de Navarino. The tree line here is pressed flat to the hill by the unrelenting winds. Be careful here that you are not caught out by a gust while traversing one of the precarious scree slopes.
Eventually, you descend steep scree that takes you down to an ideal camp spot next to Laguna del Salto. This spot feels relatively sheltered after the buffeting up on the ridge.
Dientes de Navarino – Day 2
You gain hight by way of a steep climb up a dry river bed the other side of Lago Salto heading for Paso Australiano, again named after Clem, the pioneer of the Dientes de Navarino route. As you gain hight and pass the tree line, surrounded by jagged peaks on all sides, the vegetation disappears, giving way to a landscape stunningly beautiful in its bleakness.
Traversing a steep slope high above Laguna del Paso the views are breathtaking, and you catch your first glimpse of Pico Dientes de Navarino, the tallest peak on the Island, rising out of Lago Picacho Diente Navarino.
The descent leads down to Laguna de Los Dientes where you are at the most southerly point of the journey. It is worth pausing to think about what lies just beyond the shoreline of the Island. Cape Horn and the roaring Southern seas so immortalised by sailors from countless generations.
The shores of Laguna del Dientes are a testament to the devastation caused by the beavers on the Island and further afield in Tierra del Fuego. Keep your eyes peeled for beaver lodges. If you are happy to take a bit more time on the trek, there are plenty of good places to camp around Lago del Dientes.
If not head west to Lago Escondida (Hidden Lake). It can be difficult to find a place to pitch your tent if it has a large footprint, so it is an idea to make sure you have some daylight left to help you find a camp spot.
Dientes de Navarino – Day 3
Takes you up to Paso Ventarron (Gale Pass) which more often than not lives up to its name. 100kmh winds come as standard. The views are breathtaking. From the top, the interior of the Island is laid out before you like a map.
The route down from the pass is steep at first. You then skirt around the Lindenmayer Mountains following a series of lakes as you continue a more gentle descent for the rest of the day heading for Laguna Zeta, the camp spot for the night.
Laguna Zeta is one of the most beautiful camp spots on the Dientes de Navarino trek. We camped higher up looking down on the lake, but there are plenty of places around the lakeshore. The swirling mist that sporadically reveals the peaks of the Lindenmayer range and other parts of our surroundings made it feel like ‘The land that time forgot’.
Dientes de Navarino – Day 4/5
Potentially the most exciting day as you head up to your final pass. Skirting a couple of more lakes, you head for Paso Virginia. The climb up is tough going at first through thick mud, scrabbling for tree roots to haul you up. Caked up to the knees and elbows in thick mud, it was a relief to make it through the Lenga forest out on to the Alpine slopes leading up to the pass.
Paso Victoria is a wild, windswept pass that feels very much like walking on the moon. Make sure you look back for a final view of the interior of Isla Navarino. However, as this disappears behind you, you are compensated by the breathtaking view of Laguna de Los Guanacos and Beagle Channel beyond.
The route takes a steep descent down loose scree to reach the shore of the lake. As you continue your descent beyond, the lake vegetation starts to reappear around you.
As you follow the river, there are two clearings in the Lenga forest. These are very wet, but we found a dry camp spot in the second clearing on a slightly raised area to the right just before entering the forest again. We spent our last night here, going to sleep under clear skies and relatively warm weather, only to wake up under a thick covering of snow.
You are not far from the finish here so if you do not want to spend another night camping, you can keep going and be back in Puerto Williams the same day. Follow the stream straight down the mountain through the forest. There is a lot of clambering over fallen trees and hopping across streams. Eventually, you come to the track that leads the way back, past an abandoned fish factory, to Puerto Williams, where you will be grateful for the local king crab Pisco Sours to ease the aching joints.