Hiking: Ushuaia to Puerto Almanza – prologue

Puerto Almanza is a small fishermen hamlet and Ushuaia’s closest neighbor at some 70 kilometers by road. To get there, you can take the highway (ruta) 3 through the beautiful Tierra Mayor valley and turn right on the gravel road J (jota) which heads back to the Beagle Channel’s southern coast. Or you can hike.

This trek is about 45 kilometers long along the coastline, depending on how many detours you take. It took me 3 days, but depending strength, hurry, day length and Fuegian weather, you can choose to either hike fast or spread the trekking; the hike is nowhere very enduring but well worth some exploration, and its beautiful landscapes deserve time for contemplation.

I chose to hike from Ushuaia in the direction of Almanza for no particular reason. You can hike the other way around if you wish. In that case fix a ride to Puerto Almanza. Going this way, you might save yourself a few meters climbing up. However, you will most likely have the (at times) fierce Patagonian wind straight in your face.

Hiking poles are not really necessary as there are no serious mountains or difficult terrain to conquer. They might be a hassle on narrow paths through low scrubs and close-together trees. Preferably bring a tent as there is not much shelter to be found. Maybe you’ll find an empty shack and no-one will come along to kick you out, but don’t count on it. Also, bring warm clothes and a dry set for when you get soaked by rain or crossing a river. Take enough food for the number of days you think you’ll be out, plus extra for at least a day in case you get slowed down or would like to stretch it a bit. At Puerto Almanza you’ll find a place where you can buy groceries (though limited) or get a good, warm meal on your arrival (if open).

Private camping along the freezing Rio Encajonado

Private camping along the freezing Rio Encajonado

Bring a few water bottles with you to refill along the trail. The water coming from the mountains down rivers, streams and tubes is ice-cold, refreshing and safe to drink. There is a chance of some pollution by animals crossing the streams, but it is limited and I wouldn’t be bothered. I never had any problems drinking this water. Choose water that is clear and fast running. Cook it or use a filter or tablets if you absolutely want to be sure. You’ll find water refill opportunities nicely spread out during the trail, but be sure to never run out. Always fill up those bottles on every occasion. I found it very effective to camp near a river or source, so I had plenty of water to cook and starting the next day well prepared with my bottles filled with fresh water.

As there are many rivers to cross here (at least 5 in this time of the year), bring a small, lightweight, fast-drying camping towel. Depending on the season, your ability to jump peddles or your 100% waterproof hiking boots you might be able to cross with dry feet. In any other case, take of your shoes and socks, take a deep breath and go in slowly away from the currents …. the freezing water will make those toes tingle.

On this trek you might feel closer to civilization than wished for. Hiking from Ushuaia looking behind you on the trail once in a while, the city remains in sight from several beacons and peninsulas on the way. I actually was surprised to see the city’s lights on my 3rd night out. Also, Ushuaia’s well known lighthouse remains visible on the first days. This lighthouse is passed by many ships, either on daily excursions and as a main gateway to and from the city. Some catamarans continue on the channel to the penguins near Harberton. During the trek a good few ships will accompany you on the way.

Suspicious cows at estancia Remolinos

Suspicious cows at estancia Remolinos

On the trail you’ll pass by three estancias and a few estancia’ outposts. There may be people and dogs, there may be none except for a few semi wild cows and horses. The trail itself is not marked but usually pretty easily followed. Estancia Tunel is a favorite destination for a short hike from Los Escarpados. From there, you’ll notice the trail is mostly used by cows and horses. In many places there’s more than one trail to choose from. From estancia Punta Segunda, in addition to the trail there’s a dirt track used by trucks or other heavy vehicles. The next estancia, Remolinos, is connected to Puerto Almanza by the 20 kilometer long gravel road K. Still, you can always chose to hike the narrower paths for a more natural feeling. Getting closer to Puerto Almanza, the first houses already appear some 15 kilometers before getting there, and although there seems to be not much activity around, the sometimes well attended to gardens proof otherwise.

And then there’s always a virtual connection to the outside world by phone. Up till beyond estancia Tunel you’ll be within reach of the Argentine cellular network and from there you’ll pick up the Chilean signal which provides for the town of
Puerto Williams on Navarino Island, Chile. Though the signal may be wary, you’re never far off, but your phone searching for the network might make your battery run out fast. Or just turn the damn thing off. Really, you’ll get used to it and it does bring you into closer contact with nature and yourself.

View of Ushuaia and the Andes foothills from my camping spot

View of Ushuaia and the Andes foothills from my camping spot

Being this close to civilization may feel both reassuring and disappointing. I liked to think I was on my own, far away from human presence, surrounded by gorgeous, wild nature, feeling wild and free. I did, truly. It’s just in the mind.

However way you go, enjoy! And don’t ever let the weather at these southern latitudes put you down. It can be nasty, cold, windy and rainy, but the good thing is, it usually changes fast too. Four seasons in one hour, that’s Tierra del Fuego! And half of that in theory should be spring and summer 😉

 

 

 

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