The hike of our lives (4/5 days on Sierra Valdivieso)

We have been on some amazing day and multi-day hikes in both Chile and Argentina. Why do this? To experience the nature as close as possible, and to go out in nature where it is only possible by walking. Also on the multi-day hikes usually we get away from the crowd. On my list (and if it is on my list, I will add it to Esben’s list) is a 4 day hike on Isla Navarino (located just south of Ushuaia) called Dientes de Navarino, what we didn’t know was that the price of taking a 30 minute boat ride and an 1,5 hour bus ride would cost 250 USD per person (roundtrip). It would have been cheaper to fly from Punta Arenas in Chile to Isla Navarino. Isidro (our host and our Argentinian family) instead suggested a hike in the Andes mountains just north of Ushuaia called “Sierra Valdivieso”.

First mountain pass hiking the Sierra Valdivieso

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After doing some research on Google we found one GPS track: https://www.gpsies.com/map.do?fileId=difchbideyrgyxns with a description made 2 years ago, but we also knew, that things change quickly in the mountains. We downloaded the trail, and used it on a typographic map on the cellphone. We also had a trail on Maps.me but it was a lot shorter then the GPS track. We were not able to find any detailed map with the trail on, so we decided to use the two maps (the typographic map with the GPS track and Maps.me) on the cellphone. I also read a description of the hike on a blog, that was from January 2016, simply because  couldn’t find anything newer. It sounded like the perfect adventure. Several places in both descriptions there had not been at trail to follow, so for the first time we would get more experience in reading the maps and finding our own way. It added a new layer to our hiking experience.

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I recorded the whole hike on my Garmin Fenix 3 watch. If you want to do this hike – you can find more information and the GPS track and typographic map at the end of this post.

What did we bring of food, check out this post “Get inspired – how to eat right when hiking”. Day 1 started with breakfast at Isidro’s house. The last piece of fresh fruit for the next 4 days.

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Day 1: 17 km, ascent 300 meters, descent 400 meters and walking time 6:10 hours

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We parked Lance at the end of the trail, and walked 3 kilometers on Ruta 3 before taking a right turn onto a gravel road. We crawled across a few gates, and met a local farmer. He was the last person we would see for days. So the beginning of the trail was easy going.

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But not for long! All we had to do was to follow the river, but soon the trail just disappeared. If we got too close to the river the underbrush was too dense, so we had to walk in between the trees. It sound easy, but it was slow going. Some placed we think, that we were following some kind of trail, but it kept disappearing.

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Several times we had to stop, and take some of these off. They are not a problem, when they are located around the ankle’s, but when they got closer and closer to the crutch, we really felt how they could sting through our pants.

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Further along the trial or no trail, we found clear evidence of the beavers. The Canadian beavers were introduced to the island in 1946 to try and establish a fur trade. There is urgency to eradicate the beaver, as some bold beavers are starting to swim the Magellan Strait across to Patagonia where they are now settling (Source: https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2016/01/31/chasing-beaver-at-the-end-of-the-world/). As you can see on the pictures the eradication has not worked.

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With no native predators and a vulnerable ecosystem, the beavers have had the complete run of the island, and have literally begun terraforming it with their network of beaver dams. It is estimated the beavers inhabit an area of about 60,000 hectares, necessarily restricted to the waterways.

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Everyday during the hike we saw the destruction and consequences of the beaver dams, so keep reading! We finished day 1 after crossing the river. We already  knew from our research online, that we would encounter several river crossings, and did some research how to walk across. (1) always walk upstream when finding a spot to cross, then you know what is downriver if you trip and get dragged downriver, (2) unbuckle your backpack, so you can easily get it off if you trip, (3) with trekking poles walk sideways with your chest pointing up river, (4) start further up river than your planned exit point, so you don’t get in a situation where you have to walk against the current and (5) don’t hurt your feet, we usually wear our Crocs.

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Day 2: 14,5 km, ascent 750 meters, descent 300 meters and walking time 8:10 hours

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On day 2 we started walking in this (upper and lower pictures)… it is some kind of red moss. It is red, very wet and extremely soft, and extremely demanding to walk in. Every time we took a step, we had to lift our feet to a knee high position to take the next step.

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We looked at both our maps. Maps.me was following the river through the red moss, but the GPS track was on higher ground. So we decided to go for the GPS track, and got to higher ground.

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At the same time we also hit dense forest a lot of places. There was absolutely no trail to see or follow. We fought our way through the forest making our own trail.

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The good thing about being in the forest was that the ground was more dry, but being on higher ground also meant that we had to climb across some smaller canyons. All in all is was slow going – really slow going!

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Then out of nowhere we found what looked liked a marked trail, but we quickly lost it…

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We were pretty much following the same contour line on the map through the forest, combined the the GPS track. We got to the point where we had to take another important decision, which way to go. The GPS track was turning right up through a valley before the trail on Maps.me. We took the decision to follow the same contour line until we would reach the trail marked on Maps.me. We made one more water crossing, and on the other side was a trail marked with other footprints. The trail matched the trail marked on Maps.me.

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We could pretty much follow the trail all the way up through the mountain pass. The clouds was closing in on us, and we got more hail than rain.

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With all the hail and a little bit of rain everything got really slippery, and Esben went down! Esben was fine, but the trekking pole was bend pretty bad

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Esben is my handyman, but this time he only had to fix his own trekking pole

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When we got further up through the mountain pass the ground got more rocky, and the trail disappeared with only an occasional footprint. We were still following the trail on Maps.me and we made it over the pass. We call it “Mount Fitz Roy Junior”, and after being surrounded by clouds, we were lucky that it cleared up.

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We found a place to set up the tent in the mountain pass close to a small lake. Esben jumped into the lake for a quick shower. The temperature in the lake is only about 2-3 Celsius. The clouds were closing around us, so for the first time we tried to cook our dinner inside the tent.

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It quickly got very cold. We had ice on the inside and outside of the tent. In the right picture you see how frozen Esben’s socks were in the morning, even the water in our bladders froze. Hoping for the weather to clear next morning, because the view from the pass over the “five lakes” should be amazing.

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Day 3: 17,5 km, ascent 350 meters, descent 950 meters and walking time 8:30 hours

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It was a cold but clear morning. Drinking coffee and hot chocolate to keep warm

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We didn’t walk far before the landscape opened up

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There was not just “five lakes” no there were lakes everywhere

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Lunch spot – life is amazing

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During our descent we were still following the trail on Maps.me, seeing footprints on our way, but not a well trotted trail. Through dense undergrowth and descending on steeper parts it was easy to follow a trail where other hikers had been walking. Still we had to keep an eye on the trail on Maps.me not to take a wrong turn.

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We have never in our lives seen so many waterfalls in just one day – simply amazing

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Again “lost” in beaver-land

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Watching the destruction and all the dead trees, though this place did not show any recent beaver activity

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Beaver dam

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The beaver dams create lakes, which means that new areas are floated. It has a huge impact on nature, especially the trees (more about that on day 4). Still the landscape was just breathtaking with the reflections of the mountain in the lake (click on the picture to view it in full size and quality).

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We walked all the way to Lake Fagnano and turned east, were we could follow and ATV trail following a river. When we packed down the tent this morning it was packed with ice, so we new it was gonna be wet. We found a great level spot by the river, where we could set up the tent, hoping that it would dry out before dark. What we didn’t knew, was that there was still ice left when we unpacked the tent.

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Everything was put out to dry, and we had our warm clothes on. We made dinner while enjoying the sunset. After 45 minutes the tent was almost dry! Love our NEMO Moki 3P.

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Day 4: 24 km, ascent 1000 meters, descent 700 meters and walking time 10:00 hours

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Ready to pack down the tent and hit the trail, for what we planned and thought would be our last day on the trail. We started the day by crossing the river, YES, this time there actually was a bridge and we also met a man on his ATV, the first person since we passed the Russian farmer on our first day. Heading towards the “Paso de Beban” through a huge piece of forest that had been burned down due to a wildfire (we think the fire was back in 2012, but we are not sure). Together with the GPS trail and the trotted trail from other hikers is was pretty easy. We primarily got into trouble when the trail split out in different directions. A huge effort has been made to replant the area, but since the summer is so short and the winter is so long, the trees don’t have that many months to grow. It will take decades before the new trees will again become a forest.

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When hiking a loop it is important to stop and turn around

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The same view, but from higher elevation

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As soon as we were out of the area with burned down forest, we saw major destruction from the beaver dams

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So what happens? The beavers built dams, and when the dam is getting bigger and bigger the area above the dam will slowly be floated. Some places we could see some kind of trail, but mainly we found our own way first following the GPS track and later walking between the GPS track and the trail on Maps.me making our way towards the “Paso de Beban”.

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The bigger the dam the bigger is the floated area

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The trees can not live in that much water, so the trees will die (left picture). In the right picture you see a water way made by a beaver. Again in this area there was fresh signs of beaver activities.

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Heading through the valley to wards the “Paso de Beban” passing about 10 beaver dams on our way

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Above the tree line, which is in only about 600 meters. That is how far south we are! The way towards the pass became a mix between big boulders, and loose rocks. The different colors of the rocks made the landscape beautiful.

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We reached the top of the pass in 860 meters

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From there we pretty much had to follow the contour of elevation through another mountain pass before descending through a valley. This was also the only place that we met snow.

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Finally we had the view of the valley, where we would be descending

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The first part of the descent was very steep, and we were lucky that we could follow a trotted trail, because it is very easy to get off track (you don’t want your descent to end at a cliff). At this point we were sure, that we could follow a trail all the way back to Ruta 3, where our van was parked, but no.

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Once again the beaver dams made the descent through the valley very difficult. Where the GPS track was going, there was a lake due to a beaver dam. This is the biggest and widest beaver dams, that we have ever seen. The only way was to walk around the “beaver” lakes, making it a huge detour. It was slow going, crawling over logs and checking the map every 5-10 minutes. We could see, that other people had been walking around and over the logs (beavers only crawl underneath), but there was never a well-trotted trail.

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The sun was setting when we finally passed some of the last beaver dams, we were not gonna make it back to the road. After looking at Maps.me there was only 800 meters as the crow flies to a nearby shelter. We checked the weathercast the morning, that we started the hike, and day 4 (Saturday) it was going to rain. We also got drizzle/light rain coming down the mountain pass, so we decided to go for the shelter. We barely made it before sunset, and 30 minutes after getting to the shelter (refugio) it started to rain. It was at the refugio, that we met another two people. They had just walked to the shelter from the highway (Ruta 3), and could report, that our van was still parked at the side of the road. The two guys had already cut some wood, so it was easy to fire up the small oven. It was just amazing sitting inside the small cabin and enjoying the first heat for 4 days. For dinner we cooked polenta with tomatoes sauce and added parmesan cheese and ketchup on top, and for breakfast we had the last massed potatoes (powder) with ketchup on top. For the first time we ate the extra food, that we bring!

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Day 5: 5,5 km, ascent 100 meters, descent 200 meters and walking time 1:30 hours

It was raining the whole night and it was still drizzling in the morning. We put on our raingear, and left the cabin. The drizzle quickly stopped, but the terrain was soaked. Making our way towards the highway (Ruta 3), we could follow ATV trails. The only problem was, that there was not just one ATV trail, but trails going in different directions. We used Maps.me in combination with the ATV trails, and headed in the direction of a forest road, that was marked on Maps.me. We got to the forest road (right picture).

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The rest of the way was easy going on the forest road. Was it the right decision to stay at the shelter, and not walk the last 5,5 km to Ruta 3? For us it was… We would never have found the forest road in the dark. On the way out we also passed by a newly built area with picnic tables perfect for camping, but it is only accessible with 4×4. Also a new bridge had been constructed over the river. The reunion with Lance was thrilling.

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This had been the hike of our lives! We had been lucky with the weather, and the hike really added another level of hiking experience. We have already talked about, what should be next… so keep following our adventures.

Are you ready for this hike? When you download the GPS track the length of the hike is shorter, than described in this post. We removed detours from the recorded trail, and the track is automatically simplified. You can do it in 4 days, but we would recommend 5 days. The weather can also delay you, and the amount of snow in the mountain passes will vary, depending on when you do the hike. We would recommend to do the hike from late November to mid Marts. Expect a lot of snow in November/December, and less during the summer. There still was a little bit of snow left in the “Paso de Beban” when we did the hike from the 7th-11th of Marts 2018. Two days later the first snow fell in the mountains. Get the map and the GPS track for the Sierra Valdivieso hike here: https://www.gpsies.com/map.do?fileId=pubmnyxxiwhzpwka

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Nature is beautiful – so get out there!

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