Category Archives: Exploring the World

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The eternal twilight of Greenland

Greenland during the summer is embraced by an eternal twilight.

Read more about this amazing phenomenon in my latest blog post at Guide to Greenland: “Northern Lights in Greenland – the Midnight Sun“. 

2am sunrise in East Greenland

A 2am sunrise in East Greenland

Discover more about Greenland

I have a large number of blog posts about Greenland, so feel free to read more about my experiences and adventures here on my blog.  

Or, if this post has piqued your curiosity about Greenland in general, learn more about this amazing country by:

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Offline for a while…

Hi all –

Just a quick note to let you know I’m disappearing for a bit…

Where am I off to?   Well, I start here (no surprises 🙂 )

Then head to Nepal for 2.5 months of hiking, and Kenya for a month before returning home to Australia for Christmas.

I will catch up eventually (certainly by the end of the year)… and there will be a large number of blog posts… but not until I stop walking!

Stick with me!

Like my Facebook page to know when the next posts come out.   

And/or follow me on Instagram for some sneak-peeks along the way.

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The Abandoned Bluie East Two Airfield in East Greenland

On Day 5 of the 12-day Unplugged Wilderness Trek with Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides, I visited an abandoned WWII airfield code-named Bluie East Two.   

Rusted bits and pieces litter the ground at the abandoned Bluie East Two WWII airstrip

Rusted bits and pieces litter the ground at the abandoned Bluie East Two WWII airstrip

Read more about the history of the site, its current state and its future in my latest blog post at Guide to Greenland: Exploring Bluie East Two – an Abandoned WWII Air Base in East Greenland

Discover more about Greenland

I have a large number of blog posts about Greenland, so feel free to read more about my experiences and adventures here on my blog.  There are 14 posts in total for the Unplugged Wilderness Trek – best to start with Day 1 🙂

Or, if this post has piqued your curiosity about Greenland in general, learn more about this amazing country by:

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated!
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Thoughts on my second year of full-time travel

I wasn’t going to write a summary post for my second year of full-time travel, but re-reading my summary from last year I realise that a lot has happened, and my life has taken some unexpected turns!   So I changed my mind 🙂

Here is where I ended up going over the past year (you can click and drag the map, best view is with Africa in the middle):

The Silk Road

The year started out with an overland trip across the Silk Road with Madventure: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, and Iran.

I have to admit that I found this trip quite challenging.  “Overlanding” is about covering distance rather than really exploring a place, and this contrasts completely with how I usually travel.  To deal with the frustration I felt around this, I had to change my thinking to make it all about the journey, not the destinations.  I placed myself on a “mechanical camel” traversing the Silk Road as they did in the old days, scouting locations that I wanted to return to and explore more fully at a later date.

Staring out the window - Turkmenistan

Me in my “mechanical camel” traveling the Silk Road

And where would that be?  Definitely Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and probably Tajikistan.  Loved these countries!  They were very different to other places I’d traveled (well, except Mongolia many years ago), and there are plenty of hiking and trekking opportunities as well 😉

Other highlights:

  • The weirdness of Turkmenistan
  • Crossing the Caspian Sea from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan (I love being on boats)
  • The Registan in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.  It is more impressive than you can possibly imagine 
Registan at night - Samarkand - Uzbekistan

[click and drag to see full panorama]

Greenland

What can I say!  After 20 years of dreaming of visiting this incredible country, I finally went.  I should not have waited so long!  I absolutely LOVE Greenland!  I will return this year for a month and am already working on trying to arrange an extended stay in 2019.

The view across the Nuuk Fjord to an iconic mountain from near Café Inuk in Nuuk, Greenland

You only have to talk to me for about 10 minutes before I’ll bring Greenland up in conversation, and the most common question is “why are you so into this place”?

This is a very difficult thing for me to answer, but here are a few thoughts…

It is a fascinating place.  The way life works in Greenland is dictated by its isolation and the logistical difficulties faced when access to and within the country is so restricted by ice.  It has European tendencies (it is part of Denmark), but there is a whole other aspect as well, with hunting and dog sledding (in winter) and other elements of traditional life still present.  I find the dual-nature of Greenland intriguing.

Greenlandic sled dogs in Kulusuk - East Greenland

Greenlandic sled dogs are still a part of life in much of Greenland

It is surprisingly accessible.  Getting around Greenland (in summer at least) is actually quite easy, though definitely not cheap!  Air Greenland flies regularly to most of the larger towns, and boat transfers operate as the main mode of transportation within a local area.  In addition, although Greenlandic (Kalaallisut) is the official language, almost all Greenlanders speak Danish and most of the younger ones also speak extremely good English.  The latter was an unexpected but welcome surprise that allowed me to gain a little insight into Greenlandic life.

Flying or boating are the main methods used to get around Greenland

Flying (aeroplanes and helicopters) or boating are the main methods used to get around Greenland

It is beautiful.  Did you know that there are no trees in Greenland, but a surprising number of wildflowers in the summer?  I only explored part of the South and East of Greenland last year and they were very different to each other.  South Greenland (in the Narsaq/Narsarsuaq area) is basically sheep country – quite green in summer with lots of rolling hills.  East Greenland is much more remote and dramatic, with spectacular craggy mountains and ice-filled fjords.  Both have their charms, though I admit I was more drawn to the mountains of East Greenland.  

Images showing the contrast between South Greenland and East Greenland

The landscapes in South Greenland (top) and East Greenland (bottom) are very different!

There is no-one there.  The world’s largest island has a population of only 56,000 people and hosted 86,000 tourists in 2017, so you don’t have to go far before you are surrounded by wilderness and completely alone.  Land is not privately owned in Greenland and you can wander and camp wherever you wish – unfettered freedom to explore, enjoy the outdoors, and disconnect from the world.  I’ve already talked about how the silence is one of the reasons I love long-distance trekking so much, though it is very difficult to explain its impact unless you have experienced it for yourself.  Silence and being present in nature abounds in Greenland and is another reason I love it there. 

Panorama of the Tasilap Kua valley in East Greenland

[click and drag to see full panorama]

I re-found me.  The person I was while working as an astronomer in Chile was very different to the person I became while working in Melbourne.  It took almost 2 years of travel, but I finally re-claimed the person I want to be while in East Greenland last year.  Would I have found her somewhere else?  Quite possibly.  But the fact that this coincided with my stay in Greenland is part of the reason why this place is so special to me.

Me with my copy of Nanook's Ataasiusutut Misigissuseq CD

Ecuador

After traveling across the Silk Road, fulfilling my dream of visiting Greenland, and visiting great friends in Portugal (with a side trip to the Azores), my plan was always to live in one place for several months in South America and figure out how I was going to continue to fund this lifestyle of a full-time traveler.  I chose Ecuador as my base, as Chile (my home in South America) has become too expensive and I have always loved Quito. 

Panoramic View of the Historic Center of Quito from the Basilica

[click and drag to see full panorama]

I have to admit, the first 6 weeks were pretty rough!  I had a hard time making the transition from travelling around without a care in the world, to staying put and trying to sort my life.  Plus, my head and heart were still in Greenland.

However, after making some great friends through a Spanish conversation group and figuring out that I really liked living in the area just east of Parque La Carolina, I ended up loving my 6 months in Ecuador.  I didn’t do a lot of touristy things (though I did get out for a few hikes), I simply test-run what it was like to live there.  In the end, it was remarkably difficult to leave and, if I decide to go back and live in South America full-time, it will almost certainly be in Ecuador.

View Laguna Caricocha from the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

Laguna Caricocha and the Cayambe volcano (just to the right of the lake) from my perch at the summit of Fuya Fuya.

Patagonia

It was not part of my plan for the year to end up in Patagonia for a 7th time.  However, one of the joys of full-time travel is that you can decide things as you go, and when my friend Mathilde (who I’d met in East Greenland) said she was going to be there in February – I thought “why not”.

Mathilde and I at the Mirador Cerro Fitz Roy - El Chaltén - Argentina

Mathilde and I at the Mirador Cerro Fitz Roy

I had a fantastic 5 weeks (mostly in Argentinean Patagonia) hiking and hanging out in one of my favourite parts of the world.  I crossed the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition off my bucketlist – undertaking this remote and incredible journey with Serac Expeditions and Swoop Patagonia, and really enjoyed hanging out with old friends as well as news ones that I made along the way.

[click and drag to see full panorama]

What did I discover

The general things that I talked about last year under this heading are still very valid.  But in addition:

  • I finally cemented in my mind that outdoor adventure (particularly long-distance trekking) is my thing.  My two favourite experiences from this year were the Unplugged Wilderness Trek in East Greenland with Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides, and the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition with Serac Expeditions and Swoop Patagonia.
  • That maybe, just maybe, I can make a living as a travel photographer and writer!  This has always been my dream and I have had some early success this year in offering photography/writing services in exchange for experiences with different companies.  I’m focusing on this much more now and seeing where it could ultimately lead.  Very exciting!
  • That I really love living in South America 🙂  I knew this from when I lived in Chile, but spending 6 months living in Ecuador this year has re-confirmed it for me.
  • That I really want to go live in Greenland for a year – to experience the full change of the seasons and more of the culture and place.
  • That I don’t want to live in Australia at the minute.  As much as I have loved coming home and visiting my family and friends, I actually don’t want to live here right now.  The cost of living, the nanny-state restrictions on what you can and cannot do (most of which should just be common sense), and the parochial outlook of many Australians really struck me this trip home.  I love Australia and have no doubt that I will return one day.  But it is not my place right now.

What’s next

I’ve been home for 2 months now, relaxing, spending time with family and friends, and getting myself sorted for more adventure.   The next 6 months has me visiting friends in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, then trekking pretty solidly for several months through Iceland, Greenland, Nepal and Kenya.

More from the road soon!

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Hiking Argentina – Valle de Olum y Laguna Bélgica – Ushuaia

Having exhausted the main day hikes out of Ushuaia (well, except for the Martial Glacier, which didn’t seem too interesting) and not being terribly keen to pay to enter the Tierra del Fuego National Park again (I’d already done the best hike in the park – Cerro Guanaco – in 2016), I needed one more day-hike to fill in my time in the far south of Argentina.

Fortunately, I overheard another girl in the dorm room talking about a hike she’d done with some local friends-of-a-friend to the Valle de Olum and Laguna Bélgica, and decided I’d see if I could find the trail on Wikiloc.  I love Wikiloc, and it didn’t let me down – there were actually two GPS trails available!  I downloaded both to Maps.Me and put the word out around the hostel about my plan.

Wikiloc map for the trail to Valle de Olum and Laguna Bélgica - Ushuaia - Argentina

Wikiloc is a great place to look for GPS coordinates for different hiking trails

I must have done a reasonable job as a guide and hiking companion to the Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier because Matthias decided to join me again.  The irony was – he was from Belgium – but I didn’t tell him beforehand that our destination was Laguna Bélgica (Belgian Lake) 🙂

Fortunately, the trail began directly opposite the carpark for Laguna Esmeralda, so we caught the transfer out there (for a change, there were actually 3 of us waiting at 9am!) and started hiking through the Lenga forest. 

Yellow dots marked the start of the trail to the Valle de Olum and Laguna Bélgica - Ushuaia - Argentina

The first part of the trail was very easy, marked with yellow dots, and passed through Lenga forest. Matthias leading the way

The trail was obvious (well, once we’d walked through someone’s property) and we followed the yellow dots and worn path along the river, marveling at just how much damage beavers are doing in this part of the world!

Beaver damage - Valle de Olum and Laguna Bélgica - Ushuaia - Argentina

Evidence for beavers is everywhere in the Valle de Olum. It is impressive just how big an area they can destroy – and it is total destruction!

The hike through the forest was not terribly steep, and without too much effort we reached the top of the tree-line and the “beaver dam”.

Beaver Dam - Valle de Olum and Laguna Bélgica - Ushuaia - Argentina

Exploring the Beaver Dam in the Valle de Olum. Matthias is walking over the beaver dam wall in the image at the bottom

At this point, the yellow markers we’d been following disappeared and so we switched to following the Wikiloc GPS trail on Maps.Me for a while.

the way to the Laguna Bélgica - Ushuaia - Argentina

Laguna Bélgica is up there somewhere! It turns out it was almost at the top and over to the left

The climb got steeper at this point and we eventually came across a new set of markers … stone cairns.  These were very easy to spot while we were still hiking through vegetation, but became increasingly challenging to find as we ascended the stony trail to the Olum pass.

Stone Cairns marking the trail Laguna Bélgica - Ushuaia - Argentina

Yellow markers gave way to stone cairns to mark the route to Laguna Bélgica. They were pretty obvious while we still had vegetation (top) but much harder to spot once we’d reached rock (can you find the cairn in the bottom image?)

The views back into the valley and across to Laguna Esmeralda were incredible

View back into the Valle de Olum - Ushuaia - Argentina

The view back down into the Valle de Olum and across to Laguna Esmeralda. Spectacular!

but it seemed as if Laguna Bélgica was never going to appear!   We were almost to the pass itself, before we finally came upon it – and I told Matthias its name 🙂

Laguna Bélgica - Ushuaia - Argentina

A Belgian admiring Laguna Bélgica

We stopped here to explore and have some lunch, and contemplated going all the way to the pass.  But we could only see one cairn, and the way looked even sketchier than what we had already scrambled up, so we decided to head back to ensure we didn’t miss our return transfer to Ushuaia.

Waterfall on the way down from Laguna Bélgica - Ushuaia - Argentina

Views from our descent from Laguna Bélgica. It was very steep!

It’s amazing how you don’t really get a sense of how steep a trail is until you start to descend it.  We spied a couple of people coming over the pass from Laguna Turquesa (it is in the next valley across) and thought they were absolutely crazy heading down such a steep mountain.  But upon reflection… we had actually just done the same thing.

Recommendation

If you have hiking and navigation experience and want to get away from the “crowds”, the Valle de Olum to Laguna Bélgica is a good trail to do and easy to get to.  You get a bit of everything (Lenga forest, Patagonian vegetation, rocky scree) and some amazing views back down the valley and across to Laguna Esmeralda.  It would have been great to hike the whole way over the pass and back to the road, but unless you can arrange transportation back, that is a little more logistically challenging.

Time: 9:30am – 2pm

Cost: 350ARS for the transfer to the Laguna Esmeralda carpark

 

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Hiking Argentina – Laguna de Los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier

One of the hikes I wanted to do around Ushuaia this time, was to the Laguna de Los Témpanos and the Vinciguerra Glacier.   I’d already hiked the first part of this trail with Autumn, JB, Marjorie and Cyril when we went to Laguna Encantada, but really wanted to get to the Glacier – the only one in the region that actually has a glacier tongue.

I let it be known around the hostel that this was my plan, and that other people were more than welcome to join me.   I was super-keen for others to join so that a) I wasn’t hiking alone, and b) the cost of the taxi to get there was shared.  In the end, there were 6 of us – me, Shane (Aussie), Matan (Israel), Steffi and Hanspeter (Switzerland), and Matthias (Belgium).

It was an absolutely gorgeous day as we hiked along the flat Andorra valley with its mystery wooden structures.  My new theory on these things is that they are actually drying racks for peat – given I saw another large stash of them the other day in the peat bog on the way out to Laguna Esmeralda.

Start of the hike to Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

The Andorra Valley is really beautiful, if a bit wet and spongy underfoot

Since I was the one that organised the excursion and I had actually done the first part of the hike before, I was the unofficial guide for our group.  I steered everyone to the bridge across the river and up through the Lenga forest until we reached the signpost where the track forked to Laguna Encantada and the Vinciguerra Glacier.

Signpost identifying the different tracks to Vinciguerra Glacier and Laguna Encantada - Ushuaia - Argentina

Signpost at the crossroad for Vinciguerra Glacier and Laguna Encantada

This time I took the left-hand fork, which turned out to be much, much easier than the route to Laguna Encantada initially.  It was even flat for a long time, if more than a little slippery!

Trail through the forest to Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

The trail through the forest was nice and flat, but quite slippery because of all the logs. The sign on the tree wasn’t the first or last we saw advising us to take care

Eventually we did start climbing, and there was a moment where we really couldn’t figure out where the trail went.  Up until that point it had been very obvious but, judging by the state of the ground, we weren’t the only ones to wonder which way to go!

Trail to Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

The trail is mostly obvious and does get quite steep

We did eventually find the markers (stay low when you think you should go high) and continued on until the forest eventually spilled us out into a clearing with a stream and a waterfall.

Green clearing, stream and waterfall on the way to Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

Beautiful place for a rest stop!

We had a short break here soaking in the sun, and then hiked along the stream towards the scree-slope we could see in the distance.

Final part of the trail to Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

Another flat bit before the final uphill

This last part was probably the steepest section of the hike, as we climbed the moraine towards the glacier and its lake.

Final scree slope on the way to Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

Final approach to the Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier

The view was absolutely worth the effort!

Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

Impressive view of the Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier

We stopped here for lunch and to admire the view, and ran into some more people we knew from the hostel!  Small world 🙂   

We hiked around to the right hand side along the river and past some small pools

Small pools near Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

Small pools on the way to the glacier tongue

to reach the glacier tongue itself.

Vinciguerra Glacier tongue - Ushuaia - Argentina

Standing at the edge of the Vinciguerra Glacier

As always, I’m fascinated by patterns in the ice.

Patterns in the ice of the Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

The patterns in the ice are one of the many reasons why I love hiking out to see glaciers

Unfortunately, and before we knew it, it was time to turn around and head back to meet our taxi that we’d arranged to pick us up at the start of the trail at a specific time.  In hindsight – we should have made this at least an hour later … but it’s hard to judge these things when you haven’t done them before. 

So with one last look at the Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier we headed back to catch our ride.

Me at the Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

Taking a final look across the Laguna de los Témpanos to the Vinciguerra Glacier

Million thanks to Shane, Matan, Steffi, Hanspeter, and Matthias for sharing this excursion with me!  I had a great day with you guys 🙂

Recommendation

This is an awesome hike out of Ushuaia.  There are many tour operators in town who offer this excursion, but it is actually very easy to do it yourself with little risk of getting lost (well, except for that one small part – we missed the trail coming back down as well).

Time: 9:30am – 4pm

Cost: 300ARS for the taxi from La Posta Hostel to the trailhead, and another 300ARS back (shared amongst us)

Maximum elevation gain: 550m

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Hiking Argentina – Laguna Turquesa – Ushuaia

Just 2km back down the road towards Ushuaia, the hike to Laguna Turquesa is far less popular than the hike to Laguna Esmeralda.  There were only 2 of us in our transfer who were going to do it (myself and a Marcielo from Buenos Aires), and we had the trail to ourselves up until we reached the lake itself.

We were both waiting at the main bus station near the Tourist Information Centre at 9am, but unfortunately a 3rd person didn’t show up to make the transfer happen.  So, it was 10am again before we set off.   Why don’t people want to get out early before the weather turns bad??!!  I’ll never understand…

Sign at the start of the hike to Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Sign at the start of the hike to Laguna Turquesa. I actually took this when we returned – there were a lot more people heading up later in the day

Right from the outset, the trail rises quite steeply through the Lenga forest

Lenga forest on the way to Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Marcielo leading the way through the Lenga forest. This is the way all hikes begin near Ushuaia

and doesn’t let up until you hit the treeline, where it opens out into a green valley leading up to the lake.

Green hills on the way to Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Looking back the way we’d come on the way up to Laguna Turquesa

We actually detoured up to the right, rather than heading straight for the lake, and carefully climbed a very steep shale slope to arrive at a high lookout over the Laguna itself.

Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Our first viewpoint over Laguna Turquesa

It was an amazing view, and I was intrigued that there were actually 2 people snorkeling!  Given the temperature of the water, they had to be wearing dry-suits, and I have no idea what they might have seen in there.

People snorkeling - Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

They *had* to have dry suits on! I have no idea what they would find, but I thought they were keen to be snorkeling in Laguna Turquesa

From our high perch, we also had a panoramic view back across the Carbajal-Tierra valley towards Laguna Esmeralda, which is where I was hiking yesterday.  This provided a completely different perspective on the extent of the peat bogs, which form fascinating patterns from this birds-eye view.

Laguna Esmeralda as seen from Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Laguna Esmeralda as seen from the scree slope above Laguna Turquesa

Given there was no wind, we stayed up here enjoying the view and the peace for about 45 minutes, before veeeery carefully picking our way back down to the shore of the lake itself.  Unfortunately, because it was completely overcast, the lake was not showing off its brilliant turquoise colour, but it was still beautiful. 

Me at Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

On the shore of Laguna Turquesa

We hiked around to the far end of the lake, which looked just like an infinity pool

Laguna Turquesa infinity pool - Ushuaia - Argentina

From this angle, Laguna Turquesa looked just like an infinity pool

and climbed again to a different high vantage point that included a view of both Laguna Turquesa and Laguna Esmeralda.

Laguna Turquesa with Laguna Esmeralda in the background - Ushuaia - Argentina

I love this view! Laguna Turquesa with Laguna Esmeralda in the background. You can see the steep shale slope we climbed initially over on the left

Again, it is an out-and-back hike, with a very easy and fast descent.  Plenty of time to take in the views so you don’t arrive too early for the minivan pickup!

Hiking in the green valley - Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Heading back through the green valley towards the trail head of Laguna Turquesa

Recommendation

This is a beautiful, short day hike that would still be manageable for people who don’t do a lot of hiking.  The hike itself is a little tougher and not as interesting as Laguna Esmeralda, but I preferred the views from above the lake.

Time: The suggested time is 1.5hrs each way, but if you have some fitness you can do it in less.  In total, there was 4.5 hours between being dropped off and picked up by the transfer – which is more than enough time to visit the lake, and scale some of the steep hills around it.

Cost: The transfer from the main bus station near the Tourist Information Centre costs 350ARS per person for the return journey.

Maximum elevation gain: 330m to Laguna Turquesa, 420m to our highest lookout over the lake

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Hiking Argentina – Laguna Esmeralda – Ushuaia

In contrast to Laguna Encantada, the hike to Laguna Esmeralda is the most popular from Ushuaia outside of the Tierra del Fuego National Park.  Transfers to the trail head are scheduled to leave from the main bus terminal near the Tourist Information Centre at 9am, 10am and 11am (returning at 4pm), but need a minimum of 3 people to run.

I was there at 9am, but unfortunately I was the only one ☹  So I went and sat in the sunshine overlooking the wreck of the St Christopher in the Beagle Channel for an hour listening to Frederik Elsner on continuous repeat.

The wreck of the St Christopher, which sits in the Beagle Channel in Ushuaia

One of the icons of Ushuaia – the wreck of the St Christopher

By 10am there were enough people for the transfer to run, so we finally drove the 22km out to the start of the hike.   With strict instructions to be back at the carpark at 4pm (or we would be walking back to Ushuaia), off we headed on the very well signposted route to the lake.

This hike is by far the easiest I’ve done around Ushuaia so far, but is very interesting as it passes through 4 distinct landscapes.  First up – a native lenga forest that was logged in the mid-20th century.

Lenga forest - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

As with all hikes around Ushuaia, you start off in Lenga forest

This gives way to the Carbajal-Tierra valley, one of the largest peatbogs in South America. 

Peat bog - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

Peat bogs and mountains – this is very typical of the landscape around Ushuaia

Peat forms when vegetation (in this case, mostly Sphagnum moss) doesn’t fully decay in anaerobic conditions, and if you have ever tried to walk across it you know that it is very wet and spongy!  For this reason, and due to the popularity of this hike, they have built log “roads” to help hikers across the worst of it.

Log paths across the peat bog - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

Because of the popularity of this hike, there were quite a few of these log paths to help across the peat bogs

There are also loads of beaver dams

Beaver dams blocking the river - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

You see lots of beaver activity on this hike, from felled trees to the dams that almost block the river

and the turquoise colour of glacial meltwater is always beautiful.

Glacial meltwater - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

I love the turquoise colour of glacial meltwater

The third vegetation landscape is native primary forest, though I have to admit that it looked pretty similar to the Lenga forest to my untrained eye.  I guess the tree trunks are thicker…

Primary forest - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

It looks pretty similar to the forest lower down, but apparently this is primary forest

And then you reach the high peat bog, which apparently has some very specific species of plant that are only found in areas under extreme conditions (according to the sign at the start of the hike).  Although I usually want a Geologist hiking with me, there are times when a Botanist would also be very welcome!

High peat bog - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

The high peat bog near Laguna Esmeralda is really beautiful

The final ascent to the lake is back on dry ground

Final approach - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

The last part of the hike to Laguna Esmeralda is much dryer

with an amazing turquoise river running beside

Me overlooking the high peat bog and river on the way to Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

Amazing view over the high peat bog on the way to Laguna Esmeralda

and an incredible view of Laguna Esmeralda once you crest the rise.  

Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

The view of Laguna Esmeralda and Ojos del Albino Glacier

It must be very special to camp there overnight (the camping spot looks great!) and experience this landscape first thing in the morning before the clouds come over and the wind picks up.  Next time!

Campsite - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

The campsite at Laguna Esmeralda

Behind the lake sits the Ojos del Albino glacier

Ojos del Albino Glacier - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

Ojos del Albino glacier sits at the other end of Laguna Esmeralda

and although I didn’t have enough time to hike all the way there, I did hike past the lake for a while to see what I could see.  Mostly more forest with fallen tree “hurdles”, and non-wind-swept parts of the lake that had a spectacular milkiness.

milky water - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

Looking back towards where I first arrived at Laguna Esmeralda across the milky water

This is another out-and-back trail, so the return journey was the same as the hike in.  Was much faster though, so we ended up having to sit in the carpark (not the prettiest spot) for about 45 minutes waiting for the minivan to come and pick us up.

Recommendation

This is a really easy and beautiful day hike – great for people who don’t do a lot of hiking but would like to get out into the nature around Ushuaia.

Time: The suggested time is 2hrs each way, but if you have some fitness you can do it in less.  In total, there was 5.5 hours between being dropped off and picked up – which is more than enough time to visit the lake, but not enough time to hike all the way to the glacier.

Cost: The transfer from the main bus station near the Tourist Information Centre costs 350ARS per person for the return journey.

Maximum elevation gain: 158m

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Hiking Argentina – Laguna Encantada – Ushuaia

I arrived in Ushuaia to discover that my fellow salsa-dancing aficionado from Melbourne, Autumn, also happened to be in town.  She invited me along on a hike that her and her travelling companions were planning for the next day, and I was more than keen to join despite a desperate lack of sleep.  She was a bit vague on the details of where they were going, but it didn’t really matter 😊

Turned out that after a later-than-anticipated start (who knew it could take so long to buy bus tickets?!), we ended up hiking to Laguna Encantada, which starts along the same path as that to Laguna de Los Témpanos and Glaciar Vinciguerra, but keeps going straight rather than dog-legging around to the left.

Like many hikes in Latin America, there is no public transport to the trailhead, so we ended up catching the local bus to the turnoff that goes up the Andorra valley, and then were incredibly lucky to be picked up almost immediately by a young couple who could fit the 5 of us in the back of their ute (with the rubbish) for the 5km trip to the end of the road.  Score!

The trail starts off very easy – tracking along a flat, brilliantly green river plain with steep mountains on either side. 

The green valley at the start of the trail to Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The start of the trail to Laguna Encantada passes through a wide, flat, green valley

This led us past what looked like a graveyard for wooden pallets – certainly one of the most puzzling sights I’ve ever seen on a hike, and one for which we could not think of a reasonable explanation.   Closer inspection revealed that these wooden structures were not pallets, but rather looked like drying racks, similar to what I’d seen the locals use to dry fish while I was in Greenland.  Unfortunately, there was nobody around to ask, so the we had to make do with our own imaginings, and the mystery remains unsolved.

Mystery structures in the valley before the climb Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

What are these??

We eventually came to the sign at the start of the hike, and were relieved to discover a bridge that would allow us to cross the river without getting wet.  After some deliberation about which of the trails we would actually do, we decided to tackle the most difficult one first (to Laguna Encantada) and see how we went from there.

Sign at the start of the hike to Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The hike to Laguna Encantada starts at the same place as the hike to the Vinciguerra Glacier. Hmmmm… which one to choose?

Like all hikes in this part of Patagonia, this one starts off by climbing through the Lenga forest, with felled logs helping to keep shoes relatively dry and free of mud through the worst of the boggy patches.

Hiking through the Lenga forest on the way to Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

Hiking through the Lenga forest on the way to Laguna Encantada

It was a relatively steep climb which eventually ended at a large open meadow with more vibrant greenery and views of the higher mountains.

Green valley approaching Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

At the top of the Lenga forest we came out into this vibrantly green valley

And eventually, Laguna Encantada itself.

Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

Laguna Encantada and its surroundings

The lake is surrounded by steep mountains, lush green grass, and sits at the base of a tall waterfall.

Waterfall that feeds Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The light was absolutely terrible for taking this photograph, but the scene was gorgeous

And seems to have been formed due to beaver dam (common around Ushuaia) blocking the water flow.

Beaver dam blocking Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

Beaver dams are everywhere in this part of Patagonia. It seems that a beaver dam is partially why Laguna Encantada exists

After a quick exploration of the lake shore and a discussion in French with the only other hikers we’d seen, Jean Baptiste, Cyril and Marjorie decided that we would climb to the saddle point that you can see in the middle of the above image for a view from upon high of the Laguna.

It was steep!  And impossible to see where you were putting your feet, with Majorie ending up with a boot and trouser-leg full of mud at one point.

Climbing through the grass towards the pass above Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The first part of the climb to the pass above Laguna Encantada was steep and grassy, and impossible to see where you were placing your feet

We eventually reached the top of the green slope, only to be confronted with a further, equally steep slope of scree. 

Extremely steep scree slope that we climbed to get to the saddle over Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

It was steeper than it looks… This was an incredibly steep scree slope that we climbed

And onward we climbed…

With shaking legs and bursting lungs, we finally arrived to the most incredible view from the saddle point.   On the one side, there was the view back down to Laguna Encantada.

Climbing the scree slope above Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

Another view of the steep scree slope we climbed above Laguna Encantada. Autumn and Cyril are still on their way up

And on the other side, a view over into the next valley, another bowl of green with a river running through.

View to the other side of the pass above Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The other side of the pass above Laguna Entantada was just as beautiful

It was a stunning place.

Saddle point overlooking Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The pass offered spectacular views all around – but it was freezing cold!

Unfortunately, as with most passes in Patagonia, it was also very cold and windy, so after about 20 minutes we started our careful descent, back the way we had come.

Descending the scree slope above Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

Descending the scree slope back towards Laguna Encantada was much easier than climbing it

I don’t remember much about the hike back to the trail head as I was mostly helping Autumn prepare for a job interview that was scheduled for midnight that night Argentinean time (the timezone difference with Australia is terrible from Chile and Argentina). 

When we reached the bridge across the river at the start of the hike, we very fortunately ran into some Israeli hikers who had arranged a transfer to come pick them up at a specific time.   We hadn’t done such a thing and so were facing a 5km hike down the road to where we could pick up the local bus to take us back to town.  They said we could jump in their transfer if there was room.

To keep warm, we kept hiking back down the road toward Ushuaia, and met the van coming up the road.  We arranged with the driver to pick us up on the way back down for 100ARS each, and just in time too!  Because a little further down the road there was a large, white pig-dog that we didn’t like the look of and couldn’t tell if it was tied up or not.  The local dogs who had adopted us along the way were also whimpering, so our guess is that it would have attacked us had we tried to go past.

 

Recommendation

If you want to get off the main hiking paths around Ushuaia, Laguna Encantada is a really nice hike with very few people.  It is fairly well sign-posted all the way to the Lake, though if you decide to scale the mountain to the right like we did (or climb to Laguna Encantada Superior) – there is no path – it is a choose you own (very careful) adventure.

Cost:  Although we caught the local bus (7ARS) and then hitchhiked up to the trailhead (free) and back to town (100ARS), I later managed to arrange a taxi for a similar excursion for 230ARS each way.  If you can find others to split the cost – that is a much easier way to go.

Time: We took about 7 hours return to do this hike.  If you only hike to Laguna Encantada it is much, much shorter – probably more like 4 hours return

Maximum elevation gain: 381m to Laguna Encantada, 795m to the saddle point

 

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Hiking Argentina – Loma del Pliegue Tumbado – El Chaltén

Another of the key day-hikes from El Chaltén is to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado.  This seems to be everyone’s last option (the Senda Laguna Torre and Laguna de los Tres are far more popular), but the park rangers tell me that it is actually one of the most spectacular hikes … IF you have a clear day.

Sign for the trail to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

Sign at the start of the trail to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado

Unfortunately, with the exception of part of the day we hiked to Laguna de los Tres, Mathilde and I didn’t have a lot of luck with the weather ☹  Undeterred, we headed out anyway to chance our luck on things improving in the 3 hours it would take us to reach the viewpoint.

Trail to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

Mathilde heading the charge up the trail to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado

This hike is quite different to the others in that there are not many mountain views until you have gone quite a long way.  Rather, it is a steady and surprisingly steep uphill climb through Patagonian grasslands and then Lenga forest

The Lenga forest on the way to Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

The trail passes through Patagonian grasslands and a Lenga forest that is quite extensive

until you arrive at the first real viewpoint about 2 hours later.

First Viewpoint Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

First viewpoint on the way to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado

Hmmm… our hope that the clouds would lift did not look like it was going come to pass.

Nevertheless, we had walked this far, so we figured that we might as well hike the final 40 minutes to the actual viewpoint.  This part of the trail is very exposed and takes you across bare, rocky ground, usually fighting an incredibly strong wind.  Fortunately, on this day, the wind was very mild – perhaps part of the reason the clouds were still lingering on the mountains!

Mathilde hiking the final part of the trail to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

Mathilde hiking the exposed final part of the trail to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado

We reached the top and headed down for what view we could get over the mountains, lake and glacier.  In fact, it looked almost identical to when I did this hike in 2015!

Views from the Mirador Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

The view we were able to see from the Mirador. I would really love to see this on a clear day!

The difference this time was that I got to share the frustration and cold with a friend 😊

Mirador Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

Mathilde and I at the Mirador Loma del Pliegue Tumbado.

Pictures taken, it was time for a fancier version of my regular day-hiking lunch (in place of salami, I had prosciutto in my cheese and processed meat sandwich!)  Previous hikers have built several rock walls to try to gain some protection from the normally fierce winds that blow across this exposed hill – so Mathilde and I (and several other new friends) hunkered down behind one of these to eat. 

Lunch behind stone walls at the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

Having lunch behind stone walls that were built to offer a little protection from the wind

In 2015, I think I lasted 10 minutes, even with the protection of the rock wall.  This time, Mathilde and I managed to enjoy the views from the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado for about 45 minutes before the cold and the worsening cloud cover drove us back towards El Chaltén.

But we did have one fantastic surprise along the way!  A woodpecker doing his thing 😊

Woodpecker on the trail to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

I guess I’m just going to have to come back again to do this hike, as I’m really curious to see the amazing view described by the park rangers.

Recommendation

The Senda Loma del Pliegue Tumbado climbs higher than the Laguna Torre hike and the Laguna de los Tres hike.  For this reason, the park rangers don’t recommend it if the day is forecast for wind or rain.  If you get a nice day, however, they say it is an incredibly beautiful view from the end.  

Distance: 20km return

Time: 6 hours

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