Hiking, day 1: Los Escarpados to Rio Encajonado

Arriving at Los Escarpados (about 7 km from town), the starting point for my hike, the weather is deteriorating at a fast rate. If there is anything you can depend on here, it is that the weather is undependable. I fix my backpack butt-headed against the wind, take a deep breath and I’m off. It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon, April 3rd. Ushuaia lays behind me, the Beagle Channel’s waters look dark and cold and thick grey clouds move fast through the air. From the first beacon I head down in the woods and enter the gate leading to the first farm (estancia) on the path. I arrange the fittings of my pack for the first short and steep climb over roots. As imagined, the path is a bit muddy due to heavy rains in the last few weeks. Autumn surely made its point. Anyway, the fuegian woods are pretty humid year round. Pretty and humid, that is.

Estancia Tunel on the Beagle channel

Estancia Tunel on the Beagle channel

It takes me about one hour to get to estancia Tunel, strolling up and down in the woods and over small green hills. In summer time these will be covered in a white and yellow blanket of little flowers. Now it’s just green, with geese poop. Not much time to enjoy the scenery at the estancia this time, but the grayish skies takes some of the colors out anyway. That’s for another time. I continue hiking up the hills, probably less than 100 meters above the channel now. The hills here have been cleared from trees to make space for the farm animals, cows and horses. Tierra del Fuego is a graveyard of trees, either destroyed by the harsh climate, human initiated fires or cutting or the hard work of over-active non-endemic beavers.

Now I walk through bushes about my height on a small path. On the right as always the channel. After just about two hours of hiking, I get close to my first stop for the night when the sky starts to open up and reveals a beautiful clear blue sky, clean from smog and contamination, clear and lucent. I hear water running fast and get to the rim of a canyon. I walk down to meet the river that flows through the canyon and ends in the Beagle Channel. It looks, and is, freezing cold. Then I go back up to see if there’s a bridge – quite naïve, why would there be a bridge? The sun now lights a mix of orange, yellow, green and reddish trees.

Trees grow in strange forms on the island

Trees grow in strange forms on the island

I stumble back down, enjoy seeing the sun on my little peninsula for the night and then face this monstrous, cold river, Rio Encajonado. Ok, it’s a stream really. I take of my shoes and go in, my heart skips a beat. The stream runs fast and I feel its strength on my legs. I am in knee-deep and I’m very happy once I made it to the other side (which can’t be said for the geese and chi mango cara cara’s that occupy this stretch of land). Their loss. I sit down in the short grasses to dry my feet rapidly and put my boots back on, and start looking for a good camping spot. My definition for good would be good enough to enjoy the sunset sitting in the entrance of the tent with a cup of tea and perfect for a beautiful serene sunrise while slowly waking up laying warm and cosy in my sleeping bag.

It appears easy to find a beautiful spot, but a bit of a challenge to find a flat one. My little peninsula evidently was occupied by Yamana indians, who made their huts of twigs on shallow holes along the coastline.

Beautiful sunset after a cloudy day

Beautiful sunset after a cloudy day

The round forms are easily recognizable, and although most are now carpeted in green, on the sides the fish shells, leftovers of a typical meal, can be found in huge amounts. I do find my good spot however, and am treated to a slightly windy but beautiful sunset. At 8 p.m. Ushuaia’s lights illuminate the city, while I seek the relative comfort of my tent.

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