Dientes de Navarino is one of the most challenging treks I have done due to the weather and terrain. I was so exhausted at most points that I don’t even have photos of the worst part. The photos only came on the rare, good weather periods, so don’t get fooled.
It is said that only about 200 people attempt it each year, and fewer have finished the circuit.
Changing my pants midway on a rocky, upward slope, with rain pouring down. I stared at the sky and heaved, “Stop the f**king rain already!”
Trekking the Dientes de Navarino was never in my plans. I hadn’t even heard about this crazy-ass of a trek until a week before the hike. After arriving back in Ushuaia from an extremely fulfilling trip to Antarctica & South Georgia, a couple of my Antarctica buddies decided that they were going to Puerto Williams to do this multi-day hike.
Isla Navarino & Puerto Williams
Puerto Williams and the Dientes de Navarino circuit are both located in Isla Navarino, Chile. Puerto Williams is the southernmost city in the world, making the Dientes de Navarino trail kind of like the southernmost trek.
To be honest, I wasn’t that interested initially. I was feeling lazy and already had a plan to head north to do the O’trek at the famous Torres del Paine.
However, the whole idea of a raw, untouched trek and a visit to the world’s southernmost city was intriguing. After all, when would I get this opportunity again? Ushuaia is in the far South, and I’m literally halfway around the world from my home.
As such, I decided to join in after some persuasion from my friends. (Did I mention their professions are lawyer and consultant?) They admitted that they weren’t actually expecting that I would join in. That’s how convincing they are even with half-ass effort.
Preparing for the Dientes de Navarino Circuit
We read up about this 53.5km trek; it sounded challenging but not impossible to complete. One of my friends is also an avid hiker who had recently completed the brutal Aconcagua trek (The highest peak in the South American Continent). He has a goal to complete all the 7 highest peaks in each continent. To him, this seemed like just an extra training exercise. We even carried luxurious goods like random snacks and a bottle of coke as extra weight for training. (Boy, did we regret that. Although we did enjoy the coke and snacks)
My intention was really to tug along and enjoy a nice workout. I didn’t even bother reading up much about the trek myself. I was busy catching up on stuff after 16 days off the grid due to the Antarctica expedition and now disappearing again for another 4-5 days.
How to get to Isla Navarino / Puerto Williams from Ushuaia?
The most common way of getting to Puerto Williams from Ushuaia is via ferry/small boats. You can easily find companies operating that route at the small booths near the port. It is around US$120 two ways.
A couple of days before heading to Puerto Williams, we went around Ushuaia, renting the gears and equipment we needed. We also stocked food supplies because there are not many options in Puerto Williams. And Chile is more expensive than Argentina.
Note that Chile is quite strict on bringing in fresh produces when you go through immigration. Only bring dry, processed food. You can get fresh produce in Puerto Williams, if necessary.
Day 1 – Getting to Puerto Williams and Cerro la Bandera
On the day of departure, we headed to the port early morning and took a rather bumpy ride to Isla Navarino, Chile. We stopped at the immigration point and transferred to a van which drove us to Puerto Williams.
We checked out the town briefly and bought whatever outstanding supplies from one of the local outdoor gear stores (It is right opposite where the van drops you off). After a satisfying lunch, we started hiking between 3-4pm, which was actually way later than we anticipated. (In hindsight, this is a bad idea as our plan had assumed a full first day)
Before the hike, make sure to go by the police/ranger station and register yourself. This is how they keep track of who is on the trek. Report back at the same station when you return.
The start of the Dientes de Navarino trek involves a hike to the top of Cerro la Bandera. It is a day hike with a relatively well-marked path and viewpoints along the way. There isn’t much navigation needed, and we reached the top in time to snap plenty of sunset photos. At the gigantic Chilean flag perched on top of the hill, we caught one of the most amazing sunset. The orange light sets down on a stretch of the Beagle Channel, giving a dramatic effect.
The breathtaking scenery was all awesome and thrilling. The problem, however, was that this wasn’t our intended pitstop for the day. Our plan was to reach Laguna Salto and camp there.
Beyond the flag, there is no proper navigation. We relied on small stone towers with red marks that past hikers have set up, together with MapsMe app to navigate. We trotted on against the cold, strong wind that whistled in our ears. Almost immediately, we found ourselves having to do a whole lot of navigation.
As the sunlight dwindled, we found it harder to spot the stone towers in the darkness. We took out our headlights and tried to carry on. Suddenly, we found ourselves walking along the sides of mountains with a steep downwards slope to our right. Any misstep would not have been fun. We had to backtrack a few times as we found ourselves lost in the dark.
We finally made it to flat terrain with a water stream and decided to set up camp there. It was not our planned destination for the day, but it was simply too hard to find our way in the dark. The Patagonian night was freezing, but exhaustion quickly took over and put us to bed after a quick dinner.
Day 2 – The Runaway Tent
We woke up to a wet and windy morning. It took a great deal of mental strength to get out of our cozy sleeping bags. Our plan to start early was obviously not happening. One of my friends decided to head back to town after last night’s experience. Trekking by the side of a steep drop in the night really did a number on her morale. She wasn’t sure if she would be able to finish the hike. Based on our research, there were supposedly more dangerous passes further down the trek.
I struggled internally between turning back and continuing on. I hated trekking in the rain, and this was the best place to turn around if I wanted to. After some deliberation, I decided to press on.
A team of 3 is now down to 2.
We bided farewell and continued. Not long after we started hiking, the rain started again and would not stop for the whole day.
If there is one thing my hiking buddies should know about me (Hi to future travel buddies!), I hate rain when I’m outdoors. The weather affects my energy level drastically.
Day 2 involved going up and down the mountainsides, climbing with hands and legs. The rain and fog resulted in reduced visibility; we had to continually check our maps while trying to spot the next stone tower. Sometimes, we had no idea if a marking was an actual marking or some random stain on rocks.
The highlight of Day 2 would come midway through one of the mountain passes. Pluck! Our runaway tent had detached from my friend’s backpack and rolled down the side of the mountain. It finally got lodged in a bush of bushes.
We looked at each other, dumbfounded at what just happened. That was the only tent we had. We needed to retrieve it if we wanted to continue the trek. My friend bravely slid down the rocky terrain slowly with a hiking pole and recovered the tent.
By late afternoon, we finally reached Laguna Salto, which was our initial goal for Day 1. Due to the terrible weather, we decided to set up camp. That meant we are now a whole day behind schedule. The land area around the lake was all muddy and soggy due to the constant rain. We made do with what we can on the shitty terrain and hid in the tent. Our stuff were all wet, making the cold even worse.
Day 3 – Great Views on The Dientes de Navarino Trek
Day 3 started beautifully. It was a great morale booster for me as we woke up to an impressive view of the lake that looked all gloomy the day before. We grabbed a quick breakfast and headed up Paso Australis (805m).
I was way more energetic with the Sun. We kept moving and managed to get some great photos of the scenery. We also saw a couple of other hikers along the way. Navigation was way easier on vast, open terrain.
All was well and good until lunchtime. The sky started to turn gloomy, and rain drizzled down again. Along the way, we went past different terrains. The muddy ground turned into sink mud as they became really soft due to the rain. Sometimes we went ankle-deep with one foot briefly stuck into the ground. The sinking soil resulted in us having to bash through forestation to create alternative paths. We met a group of trekkers who were turning back due to the weather. For some crazy reason, we were undeterred and carried on.
Midway through, the rain started getting heavy. I had started the day with my non-waterproof pants since the weather seemed good. In an attempt to keep my wet clothes from becoming soaking wet, I literally changed my pants on the side of the slopes (while cursing at the sky). *Cue dramatic music and lightning effect*
We trekked till dark this day to cover more ground. Our initial campsite plan is out the window as we were obviously not meeting the schedule. We ended the day next to a small pond, but the water was not drinkable. We tried unsuccessfully to set up a fire as the wood was all wet from the rain. And it soon started to drizzle. Consecutive cold nights in wet clothes were really damaging to morale.
Day 4 – Conquering Paso Virginia in the Dark
This was the day we had planned to finish the hike. The morning continued to be freezing cold. We nibbled on marshmallows for breakfast while still wrapped up in our moist sleeping bags. Better cold than freezing. (This is still a fun memory we share today when we tell the story)
After garnering the strength to brace the cold, we pushed on. Gloomy weather with the same challenging terrains greeted us. This was also the day we had to go through the most dangerous pass in the hike (Paso Virginia). Clean, natural water sources were getting scarce, and we had to ration our water supply.
We trotted on with sore bodies and dry lips. We finally made it to the start of the dangerous Paso Virginia, as the Sun went down. There was no proper place to camp at the top of a rocky mountain, so we had to make it through. The dangerous pass involves a descend down the top of a mountain to Laguna Los Guanacos.
Looking back, we were probably insane to have done this pass in the dark. I have no idea how we survived this, but we practically went on all fours and slowly slid our way down. My friend led the way as I followed closely behind. Despite being extremely exhausted, my senses heightened in reaction to the situation. You can’t exercise too much caution here as a fall might be deadly. It started to drizzle as we stopped midway through the pass. My friend was totally burned out.
“Let’s go!” I said
“Let’s go!” he replied but did not move.
I definitely got nervous here, seeing that even my experienced friend has almost zoned out totally. Finishing the circuit that night was out of the question, but we had to at least complete the pass for flat terrain suitable to camp.
After resting for almost an hour, we continued as the rain showed no sympathy to insane dudes sliding down the mountainside in pitch darkness, supported only by our headlights.
We finally made it to the base of the mountain. After setting up camp, my friend simply knocked out. “Wake me up for dinner,” he said, but he never did. I was so cold and miserable that night, I could not sleep and used the canister burner to stay warm.
Day 5 – Blessing the wood with blood
We started the day early and thought maybe we could still get back by late morning, in time for the ferry ticket we had bought beforehand (It is cheaper to get both ways).
However, we quickly hit a roadblock. We were totally stuck in the same area for nearly 2 hours, unable to find a path to progress into the next area. By then, we knew it was impossible to make it in time. We decided to sit down by a platform next to the lake and rest. There is no more time pressure.
Sunlight started shinning, and we took our time to take some photos of the reflective lake. Looking back up to the top of the mountain we were at last night, we stared in disbelief at how we had made that descend in the dark.
With a refreshed mind, we decided to explore another route off the “path” shown on MapsMe to get into the next area. After stone hopping through a river, we finally merged back into the original “route.” The weather was considerably good this day. We continued trekking for hours; it was never possible to have made it back in time, even if we hadn’t gotten stuck at the roadblock.
We definitely had a wrong perception of the distance on the map. A short portion on the screen turned out to be way longer in reality. Adding in navigation time and wrong directions, the time taken increased significantly.
The terrain is now more green as we went past wetlands and forests. In this last leg of the trek, I would get the honor of blessing a piece of deadwood with my blood. Wet leaves and branches coupled with a steep slope presented an optimal environment for a tumble. I rolled down the slope and smashed my head.
Fresh red blood oozed out from my forehead, covering the ground and my hand. Both of us were shocked by the amount of blood, but I quickly confirmed that I did not feel any concussion for the moment. We did a quick treatment using our first aid kit and carried on.
We finally completed the trek around late afternoon after getting an amazing view of the Beagle Channel. I quickly took off the boots and changed into slippers. By then, my feet were filled with blisters which have multiplied in numbers since Day 2. We finished the trek on the side of the road, some distance from the city.
Laying on the green patch of grass and watching the sheep graze, a sense of relief and accomplishment set in as we finished what turned out to be a real endurance challenge.
After waiting for a while, we managed to hitch a hike back to the ranger station. Our friend had stopped by when she returned and told them to ensure we got back. The bloody patch on my head drew obvious attention as they gave us directions to the local hospital.
They also helped us get accommodation as we have to stay over the weekend. The next available ferry to Ushuaia was on Monday. We got a room in a local house and washed up.
I went to the local hospital to get my head wound cleaned up that evening. Luckily it wasn’t anything serious. Both of us were walking like penguins for a few days from the blisters. I also lost almost all my toenails since he rented boots weren’t the best fit during the hike.
Hiking the Dientes de Navarino
We came, we conquered, albeit with sore and weary bodies. Dientes del Navarino – one of the most raw circuits that I have done. If you enjoy the pristine wilderness that comes with bashing through trees, trekking across steep mountainsides, navigating rocky terrains, and circumventing muddy sinkholes that render paths impassable, this is your kind of trek. The ‘path’ is not properly maintained, and terrain changes with weather conditions/forces of nature.
The one constant throughout the whole trek is that whenever we rejoice about something, e.g., good weather, getting back in the right direction, or managing to make up time to our goal, SHIT WILL HAPPEN. A seemingly short and quick path on the map can turn out to be a whole navigation and terrain nightmare. Some areas can also become very dangerous depending on weather conditions, as we met some trekkers who had to turn back due to unforgiving weather.
We didn’t have the best luck with the weather but not the worst either. Nights were generally cold and miserable due to the rain. Gears that had direct contact with the rain were soaked and did not dry; gears that didn’t come into contact with the rain were wet as well due to the moisture. This also added to the weight to carry. It definitely trains your mental fortitude as you put on wet and dirty gear day after day in the cold while navigating challenging terrains.
On the plus side, you get to enjoy amazing views of lakes, mountains, and landscapes when the weather is good. It is also easier to indulge in the peace or wrath of nature as this trek is still relatively untouched (for now) compared to other popular hikes in Patagonia. You won’t have to deal with massive hordes of tourists/trekkers.
All in all, it has been a very challenging and eventful journey. I am glad that I did it with lots of memories to tell. The hike would not have been as strenuous and would be much more enjoyable if the weather was less crazy. Nonetheless, this is by no means an easy hike. Getting lost is a real possibility, and you should only attempt it if you are an experienced hiker and have good physical fitness.
Dientes De Navarino Packing List
Here are some items you might want to consider packing. We did not have all of them, but I would definitely have brought these along in hindsight.
- Highly recommend trekking poles, not as much for momentum but for balance and safety. Really came into use when trekking by the side of the mountains
- Consider carrying an emergency beacon in case things go really bad, especially if you are hiking alone.
- High-cut hiking shoes or boots. Low-cut shoes could get stuck in the sinking mud, make sure your shoes are fit tightly to your feet. (I trekked mainly with snow boots I rented in Ushuaia, the length was good, but the material certainly wasn’t). It was one of the main reasons I got so many blisters on my feet.
- Power Bank(s) to recharge your devices
- Water filter or chlorine tablets. Not all water sources along the way are clean/safe to drink directly.
- Spare socks to change when your socks are wet.
Other Recommendations for Dientes de Navarino Trek
- Do it with a companion if possible, as it can get dangerous.
- Make sure to waterproof your items properly. Wrap or line up all your stuff with plastic/trash bags. We certainly learned that the hard way and did more waterproofing during our O’trek, which proved to be super important.
- It is good to have a time buffer. I think it would have been more enjoyable if we had allocated more days for the hike. We could have stayed in the tent and not head out during crazy weather. More time to really soak in the quiet nature as well. 4 FULL Days is a general timeline.
- I can’t stress this enough. Remember to have proper TRAVEL INSURANCE COVERAGE because accidents can happen, particularly during these sorts of challenging treks. Just like how I fell and smashed my head. I use WorldNomads and IMG Global.
Potential Itinerary for Trekking Dientes de Navarino
A typical 4 Day itinerary could be as follows. This did not work well for us since we started off really late on Day 1 and had to play catch up throughout the hike.
- Day 1: Puerto Williams to Laguna Salto
- Day 2: Laguna Salto to Laguna Escondida.
- Day 3: Laguna Escondida to Laguna Martillo
- Day 4: Laguna Martillo to Puerto Williams