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Isla Navarino: the Dientes Circuit

This is a short description of our trek on the island. It is a part of my photo report on our trip to Chile. I have targeted the writing to people who are interested in walking the Dientes Circuit.


A plan to travel to Isla Navarino was born long before we left. I was not particularly enthused about the idea as I thought there were many other more exciting trekking opportunities in Patagonia. Eventually, at the end of November, I succumbed to the pressure. In retrospect, I am glad I did. Even though the island may not quite provide the spectacular scenery of Torres del Paine and other famous places in Patagonia, it makes up for it by offering a pristine wilderness experience in a great setting away from the crowds.

Isla Navarino is a little out of the way for an average traveler. Unless you own a private yacht, hitch a ride on one, or are lucky to catch a ride with the Chilean Navy, your options of getting there are probably limited to one - Aerovias DAP. In high season, they fly to Puerto Williams, the only town of any size on the island, from Punta Arenas, the transportation hub of the southern Chilean Patagonia, almost daily. We reserved and later bought tickets on their web site before leaving for Chile. Lonely Planet describes the trek, the Dientes Circuit, in its "Trekking in Patagonia". As we have followed the route indicated there, I have also adopted unofficial names used therein. I have also included GPS coordinates of all out campsites and some more or less significant points along the route using the WGS 84 datum. You can also download all the waypoint coordinates in the Garmin PCX format or GPS Trackmaker format.

Day 1: Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams

We arrived at the airport in Punta Arenas early. It was not until about an hour before departure that DAP opened their counter for check-in. Our Internet tickets worked. By now, I should have learned to take it for granted, but you never know in a foreign country. The only problem we knew about beforehand from their website, was that one could only bring a check-in bag of 10 kg per person. With all our gear and food supplies, I was nowhere near that limit despite carrying quite a bit as carry-on. Radka was relatively close, but my back pack was about 19.8kg, which cost us about $10 extra. But as long as they did not make us leave anything behind, we were OK with that.

As we passed through security, our wish of having film hand inspected was again granted, but a different embarrassment awaited for me. They discovered a pocket knife that I forgot in my camera bag. I was pleasantly surprised, however, as it was not to be confiscated but rather checked in and returned to me in Puerto Williams. Afterwards, we scattered around the terminal, and shortly before the departure we were herded by a cute DAP attendant to the plane, a 20 passenger Twin Otter DHC-6 turboprop plane. A flight in a smallish propeller airplane always carries a sense of adventure for me, but aside from the tight quarters, it was a smooth pleasant going the entire way.

Just before Puerto Williams, the clouds have finally parted from below us and we could see the Beagle Channel and Isla Navarino from above. For my taste, there was not enough snow in the mountains on the island.

Our destination, Puerto Williams, is a town of about 2400 people on the northern shores of Isla Navarino, an island south of Tierra del Fuego, from which it is separated by the Beagle Channel. The channel bears a name of the ship of Captain Fitzroy on which Charles Darwin in 1834 cruised these waters on his journey around the world. Although the town itself is not very interesting, it has a distinction of a southernmost town in the world, being located at about 55 degrees southern latitude.

Shortly after landing, our baggage was loaded onto a pickup and we were offered a ride to town. There we met up with Karel, Martina and Premek who had been on the island for two days already, having traveled there early after an aborted attempt to cross the Chilean Tierra del Fuego. They directed us to a supermarket and a bakery for our final run at supplies, while they registered us for the trek with the police. As the entire island is somewhat of a military zone with a naval base in Puerto Williams, one is supposed to do this, although it is a formality.

It was an hour long walk on a dirt road to our first camp near a little dam in a valley of Rio Ukika southwest of town. We camped in a small forest clearing, a nice secluded spot.


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Cockpit Aerodromo Gna. Zanartu in Puerto Williams

ID/reference Latitude Longitude Elevation (meters) Remark
Puntaa-53 13' 13.83858''-70 47' 58.72706''- Punta Arenas
Ind1-0 -54 56' 18.32465''-67 37' 11.91317''14.3053 Intersection just outside of Puerto Williams
Inc1-54 56' 53.42132''-67 38' 29.18161'' 85.6825 Campsite

Day 2: To 'Laguna el Salto'

We woke up to grey skies, an unwelcome change from the previous day. We headed up a steep trail through a beautiful forest of southern beech trees. The trail would switch back up the slope for the most time (GPS: Ind2-0, Ind2-0). Martina, Karel and Premek soon left us quite a bit behind. Radka and I were keeping up with Zdenek and Radana for the most part. With our backpacks heavy with all the food for the rest of the trek, it took well over an hour before we got above the timberline on the slopes (GPS: Cbande) of Cerro Bandera. We took a little break there, enjoying the views of Puerto Williams, the Beagle Channel and Tierra del Fuego to the north.

Up to here, the trail was well established as this is supposedly a popular hike for people from Puerto Williams. Farther on, the trail becomes less distinct though it is occasionally marked by paint signs on rocks. As we traversed the slopes of Cerro Bandera toward Cordon de Los Dientes, we could see numerous lakes down in the valley below us. The slopes gradually steepened, until we reached a point above 'Laguna el Salto', where the only reasonable way was back down into the valley. We obliged on the steep talus slopes, where I got to appreciate my heavy mountaineering boots. In the somewhat boggy terrain above the lake, we found a few campsites. It was only two in the afternoon, and still full of energy, I spent the rest of the afternoon looking for photo opportunities around the lake. I found some in the forest devastated by beavers, that were introduced to the island. At least all the dead wood made gathering camp fire wood very easy.


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Radana, Radka, and Zdenek above the Beagle Channel Premek, Martina and Karel on Cerro Bandera Puerto Williams Heading toward Cordon de Los Dientes Above Rio Ukika valley Cordon de Lost Dientes
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Cordon de Lost Dientes Tree above 'Laguna Salto' Wetland flora Wetland flora 'Laguna 'El Salto' Beaver landscape
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Sunset Lenga tree

ID/reference Latitude Longitude Elevation (meters) Remark
Ind2-0-54 57' 19.33940''-67 38' 21.37055''261.3622 -
Ind2-1-54 57' 31.42594''-67 38' 07.17328''477.8975 -
Cbande-54 57' 39.18118''-67 37' 58.46542''593.0144 Cerro Bandera
Ind2-2-54 58' 11.67919''-67 38' 29.96072''705.9685 -
Ind2-3-54 58' 27.81248''-67 39' 06.09511''686.0212 -
Ind2-4-54 59' 00.11224''-67 40' 10.63097''672.563 -
Inc2-54 59' 31.29071''-67 40' 44.72674''500.0077 Campsite

Day 3: To 'Laguna Escondida'

The plan was to leave early, around eight in the morning. And what a beautiful sunny morning it was. As usual, Radka and I took forever to pack up, leaving everyone else waiting. Martina, Karel and Premek were especially in a hurry as they wanted to head for Lago Windhound near the southern coast of the island to do some fishing. From where we were, there were no trails in that direction, but they were hoping that they could avoid miles of waterlogged forest by sticking to a higher ridge above timberline for some time. Radana, Zdenek, Radka and I were going to continue along the circuit.

We climbed a steep slope to the right of a waterfall above the lake, and followed the valley above timberline. After finding a way through another steep section of the valley with a waterfall, we walked into a flatter area right below the Cordon de los Dientes. There was no vegetation here, just rocks and snowfields. Combined with the sunny weather and some clouds building up on the horizon, it made for a very photogenic scene, one of the best along the circuit.

After a short break, we made our way up toward a pass ahead of us. It was very windy and rather chilly on top, so we did not hang around for long and traversed snowfields and a steep slope above 'Laguna del Paso' into another lower pass, that the Lonely Planet calls 'Paso de Los Dientes'. From there we could see clouds building in a valley to the south of us. We descended through the barren terrain into the valley, passing a few lakes, before stopping for lunch at one of them. This gave us time to take in jagged peaks above us. Further down the valley, the trail angles west above an area of beaver ponds. From here, we could see the islands south of Isla Navarino, perhaps as far as Cape Horn. We did not enjoy the view for long, as a rain shower blew in. After gaining a ridge separating us from another valley, in which we could see a big lake, Laguna de los Dientes, we lost the trail, this time for quite a while. We bushwhacked all the way down to the lake. Its shores were also cleared by beavers.

Continuing along and past the lake, we climbed gently toward 'Laguna Escondida', where we looked for a suitable camping place. This proved to be quite a challenge in the exposed uneven terrain around the lake. We ended up on a little peninsula protruding into the lake. Well, I figured my tent could stand any wind Patagonia could throw at it. I did have to guy it out and secure all the stakes with 20 kilogram boulders, but then it stood there like a rock. Zdenek and Radana's tent did not fare so well, collapsing at times, but otherwise holding up nicely. The worst of wind came at night. I got out of the tent to check on it. The Southern Cross was out, but even at 2a.m., it did not seem completely dark. The wind was raging, blowing up surf from the lake.


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Just above 'El Salto' Mountain scenery near the Dientes Zdenek overlooking the Dientes Mountain scenery near the Dientes 'Laguna del Paso' Ominous clouds
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Flora Unnamed lake Our smaller trekking party Islas Wallaston 'Laguna de los Dientes'
'Laguna Escondida'

ID Latitude Longitude Elevation (meters) Remark
Ind3-0-54 59' 54.61225''-67 40' 44.26416''716.543 -
Ind3-1-55 00' 10.54366''-67 40' 24.83427''799.4561 First pass of the day
Ind3-2-55 00' 19.86709''-67 39' 49.43223''760.2827 'Paso de los Dientes'
Ind3-3-55 00' 45.30419''-67 39' 39.43319''675.4468 -
Inc3-55 00' 48.31654''-67 41' 53.71460''543.2666 Campsite

Day 4: To 'Laguna Martillo'

The wind subsided somewhat after sunrise, which was a good thing. Cooking and packing with everything flying around is not much fun. From the lake we descended a little through a sparsely wooded area to a wide open valley. It was an easy going from there to the first pass ,'Paso del Condor', on mild talus and scree slopes. While having a snack on the pass, a few condors seemed to be very interested in our presence. First they would make a flight show for us, as they rose up and down on the wind currents around the top of the pass, coming very close to us many times. Later, one of them landed nearby, posed for us for a little while, and when we came too close for comfort to take photographs, he took back off. A magnificent bird.

We descended into another valley, with many lakes and beaver pools. The sun was shining tempting some of us to take a dip in a lake to wash. We reached the next pass quickly after finding a way through a forest by following a creek bed for a while.

Radka changed into shorts, which marked the only time one of us would wear them in Patagonia.

We passed a kidney shaped lake, 'Laguna Hermosa' before we reached 'Laguna Martillo'. With the experience of the previous windy night still on our minds, we looked for a sheltered spot on its banks, without much luck. So we continued along a beaver cleared shoreline until we came up on a tent of a German couple. She ran out to greet us and tell us, that the trail goes straight up away from the lake rather then following the shore line. I did not quite understand her hyperactive behavior at the time, but it turned out she just was that way, as we later met her on the plane back to Punta Arenas and even on the bus to Torres. By then, seeing and hearing her anywhere else would have stirred up nightmares. Anyhow, we did go up and found a really nice camping place on the shore of the lake just where the trail returned back to the lake. We stayed up till about midnight over a campfire that evening to watch the stars.


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'Laguna Escondida' in the morning Escondida tentscape Southern exposure Looking back from 'Paso del Condor' Looking ahead from 'Paso del Condor' Condor in flight
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Condor Bath valley 'Laguna Hermosa' Navarino desert is deadly 'Laguna Martillo' Ridge silhouettes

ID Latitude Longitude Elevation (meters) Remark
Ind4-0-55 01' 20.89663''-67 43' 24.41839''694.1926 'Paso del Condor'
Ind4-1-55 00' 53.65025''-67 44' 25.67756''504.3335 -
Ind4-2-55 00' 49.07122''-67 45' 14.11725''510.3418 -
Inc4-54 59' 48.21035''-67 46' 36.06249''443.5305 Campsite

Day 5: To 'Laguna los Guanacos'

The day got off to a slow start under grey skies. As I was making breakfast, I saw three people marching along the lake, just where you are not supposed to go, and, of course, it was Martina, Karel and Premek. They had been on the way since six. They did not make it to Lake Windhound as the forest proved too thick. Before we got on the way, we were again visited by a condor.

The trail follows a river below the lake for a while, and later turns north toward the next pass. As I could see pretty well, where we were heading, I suggested reaching higher terrain above timberline quickly by first following the contour and then climbing steeply into the open. But we decided to follow the trail instead, which proved very difficult. We lost it many times while crossing many intersecting valleys, and generally working too hard. But the views were good and it started to clear out a little. After scrambling up a steep slope, we finally reached the timberline, spotting a few guanacas in the distance. It was still a long ways to the pass, 'Paso Virginia' as we had to cross a long, relatively flat, area of the ridge.

On the other side, the terrain drops off steeply into several valleys. Martina suggested following one in which they camped their first day on the island, but we could choose only between cliffs and a very steep icy snowfield, or a miniature glacier, to descend into it. So we opted to follow the trail into another valley. It was still a very steep descent during which we dropped some 300 meters in a few minutes. The terrain around 'Laguna los Guanacos' was very exposed, so we continued a bit lower by a waterfall to a few beaver ponds already below timberline, and set up camp there.

We spent the rest of the afternoon observing beavers and ducks. It was December 31, but thickening clouds and later drizzle forced us into our tents. Later in the evening Radana and Zdenek came over to our tent. By this time, it was raining heavily. We awaited the arrival of the new year, all hunched up in the tent, killing time by playing dice, which only Radka seemed to be really enjoying. Moisture was condensing on the walls of the tent, it looked like it could start raining inside any time soon. We held a toast to the new year from glasses with a little map of the island. Nice touch. Zdenek brought them all the way from home and carried them all the way around the island up to here.


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Tentscape Navarino flora rocks Stunted tree Across the valley Camera shootout. Looking west.
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Cordillera Darwin Last but not least What is ahead? 'Paso Virginia' Barren landscape 'Paso Virginia' and 'Laguna de los Guanacos'
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The other valley Tricky descent Rocks Out of place 'Estero Virginia' Evening swim

ID Latitude Longitude Elevation (meters) Remark
Ind5-0-54 59' 20.56325''-67 47' 08.27384''433.4369 -
Ind5-1-54 58' 31.00377''-67 47' 52.35236''418.7769 -
Ind5-2-54 58' 24.84719''-67 47' 50.49359''507.2174 -
Ind5-3-54 57' 59.39984''-67 47' 29.01453''775.9038 -
Ind5-4-54 57' 46.37546''-67 46' 38.55312''849.4441 'Paso Virginia'
Ind5-5-54 57' 32.44917''-67 46' 25.08790''577.8738 -
Ind5-6-54 57' 10.80324''-67 45' 46.30899''542.786 -
Inc5-54 57' 04.82832''-67 45' 37.70010''476.4556 Campsite

Day 6: From the mountains to the beach

It was still raining in the morning. We packed up when the rain changed into showers. As we followed the valley down, it stopped altogether. We followed beaver clearings along the creek, 'Estero Virginia', for quite a while, which made for easy going, before we entered a thick forest. It was slippery, but the forest was beautiful. We emerged into an area burned by a forest fire after a while, and later reached pastures from which we could see the road back into town. In between, was a wet land area, which we crossed, dry for the most part. We had lunch by the road as the clouds gave way to sun.

We followed the road toward the town and camped about halfway to it next to the shore on a little hill with a great view of the Beagle Channel. Later, Premek, Radka and I decided to walk to town to buy some more food. By this time, Radka and I needed it badly. The small rations were getting even smaller over the last couple of days. There was quite a bit of traffic on the road and it was not a long time before we caught a ride with a Chilean family returning from a fishing trip. They saved us at least an hour of walking.

We were not quite sure if any stores would be open on New Years Day, and we were happy to see that quite a few were. So we stuffed ourselves with empanadas and bought many more good things for the evening. There was not as much traffic going out of town, but a second car and probably the first of that could hold us, pulled over, and we were back at the camp before we knew it. I have to give it to Chileans when it comes to hitchhiking (and many other things).


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Rainy morning view Premek finding his way though the forest Emerging from the forest Fungi Puerto Williams Trash on display
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Virga Changing light Sunset Sunset Changing light Changing light

ID Latitude Longitude Elevation (meters) Remark
Ind6-0-54 56' 49.70860''-67 44' 12.30346''303.1792 -
Ind6-1-54 56' 16.24711''-67 43' 16.77691''30.16687 Road
Inc6-54 56' 25.08985''-67 42' 03.15661''11.42126 Campsite

Day 7: Puerto Williams

Our last day on the island. We walked back to town on the road. We were passed by maybe one car the entire way, as the holidays were over for most people. We had lunch in a little restaurant and waited near the DAP office for a lift back to the airport. The plane was delayed as was our ride. We had better weather on the way back to Punta Arenas than when coming to the island, so we could see Ushuaia on the Argentinian side of the Beagle Channel and the heavily glaciated peaks of Cordillera Darwin, before the terrain flattened out toward Punta Arenas.


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A tent with a view Mr. and Ms. Duck Morning view The last kilometer Virgin Mary
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Next time Holidays are over License plate Back at the airport Fuegian Andes

A few more tips (water, weather, navigation, photo ops) and links

Water is plentiful on the island. Ever since my bout of dysentery, giardia, or whatever it was, in the Peruvian Andes, I try to avoid drinking untreated water. So I carried a water filter. Pick your own favorite water purification method, even though it may not be even necessary as the circuit does not see much traffic (yet).

Weather is fickle, so be prepared for rain and high winds. A good deal of the trek is in exposed areas above timberline. You may see snow in summer according to some. When we were there, the daytime temperatures on the island ranged between 5-15 C, with nighttime around 5, even with a heavy pack not exactly a bikini type of weather...

The trail is marked for the most part, but it is hard to follow in places. A topo map or (and) a trail description is a must, unless you are an adventurous soul with plenty of time on your hands and a lot of food in your backpack. Also, there is quite a bit of bushwhacking on many sections of the circuit. The entire circuit is a walk, even though some minor scrambling may be required in places, especially if you go off the best route. All five day stages can probably be walked in just about five hours each if you do not make any stops, which we did, stretching the overall time camp to camp to 7-8 hours daily.

There is plenty of photo opportunities. If you like mountains, you are going to be in your element. We saw a good number of birds, and you may have better luck with guanacas than we did. Beaver activity signs are everywhere, but you may have to wait for a while before you get to see one. Days are very long in summer, putting sunrises out of reach of most but few dedicated photographers. Many of the campsites are in deeply inset valleys, which somewhat limits what you can do with the best light. As a testimony to high winds, there are many wind shaped, contorted trees that are certainly worth your photographic interest.

Finally, here is a few links to some web resources about the island:

If you know of other interesting links about Isla Navarino, please contact me and I will be happy to add them to the list.
Last updated: April 27, 2002
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