Tag Archives: hiking and trekking

Hiking Iceland – In the Shadow of Vatnajökull – Day 1

My trip to East Iceland started out a little too early in the morning and I’m thankful for 2 things:

  1. the fact that it never gets dark here in the summer makes it easier to drag oneself out of bed at 5:30am
  2. I’m staying very close to Reykjavik domestic airport and didn’t have to get up even earlier

Daniel, the Icelandic Mountain Guides representative, met myself, Eric and Melinda (from the US) at the airport to ensure we had everything and there were no issues, and I promptly fell back to sleep for the 50 minute Air Iceland Connect flight to Egilsstaðir as soon as I was clipped into seat 1C.  I’ve never sat in the first row in a plane before!

We arrived on time and were met off the plane by Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir.   I’m terrible with names in the first place, and Icelandic place and people names are really challenging me!  But thankfully she explained “just think of Thor and then the famous Icelandic singer, Björk, and put them together”.   Ah!  That made it very easy 🙂   And I learned that the Icelandic letter “Þ” is pronounced essentially like “th” in English!

The airport was actually the meeting place for the whole group, and we soon met Wolfgang and Sabine (a couple from Germany), Martin and Wolf (father and son from Germany), and Maria (from France).  Introductions done, we did a pitstop at the local Nettó supermarket for fresh supplies for the next 4 days, made our lunch on the picnic table near the carpark, dropped off some luggage that would be transferred to the end of the hike for us, and then were on our way to the start point of our trek.

We had all signed up for the 4-day lightweight-backpacking trek: “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” in East Iceland.  The name aptly describes the trek, which travels down the remote eastern edge of  Europe’s largest glacier – Vatnajökull.  The “lightweight backpacking” part meant that although we would be staying in huts where sleeping bags and mats were provided and where Icelandic Mountain Guides had food caches, we would need to carry our clothing, sleeping bag liner, anything else we deemed essential, and a portion of the fresh food for the 4 day trek.   

It was a pretty grey old day with low clouds, so there were not many views as we traveled firstly along the edge of a fjord and then up to a higher plateau in the direction of Mt Snæfell (“The Snow Mountain”), the highest mountain in Iceland outside of a glacier region. 

Driving to the trailhead - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Driving to the trailhead in our minivan. No. That is not Mt Snæfell. It is still in the distance, its peak covered in snow. Note the the lack of fences – Icelandic sheep roam free in the East.

After about an hour, our driver pulled off to the side of the road and stopped.  Once we’d all piled out with our gear, he promptly took off back the way we’d come, leaving us standing in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere.  Þorbjörg quickly assured us that it was all good, and pulled out the map to show us the plan for today and the next 3 days.

Getting dropped at the trailhead of - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

We then set off across rocky, unmarked land (there was no trail to follow) as we hiked along the edge of one of Iceland’s many water storage dams.  

Hikers walking past wildflowers in front of a water storage dam - - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

One of the most impressive features we came across in this rather flat terrain was a rocky outcrop that allowed us a slightly elevated view of the landscape.  We managed to find a spot that was more-or-less protected from the wind to have lunch, and Þorbjörg surprised us with a snack of Kleiner – yummy Icelandic donuts.

Lunch spot and Kleinur - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

I’m not a huge fan of doughnuts, but these were delicious! Even cold!

Despite our relatively sheltered position, it was quite cold.  So after I hurriedly ate my sandwich, I kept myself moving by taking photos of the surroundings

View from lunch spot - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The view from our slightly elevated lunch spot

and all the nearby wildflowers.  There were quite a few!

Wildflowers - East Iceland

We were slowly making our way towards one of the glacier tongues of Vatnajökull, at the base of which sat our home for the evening – Geldingafell Hut.

Hikers walking towards Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Can you spot the little yellow hut?

But before we arrived, we started to come across swathes of bright green moss growing in the wetter areas of the lava field.  Its vividness amidst the almost monochrome volcanic rock was startling and I loved how it held the water droplets so carefully in its embrace.

Bright green moss holding drops of water - - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Unfortunately, not all was well with parts of this green carpet, and Þorbjörg also pointed out some “witches circles” caused by a fungus that attacks the moss in a circular pattern.

Our guide explaining how "witches circles" are formed

Those who have been following my hiking adventures in Patagonia, Iceland and Greenland know how much I “love” cold river crossings.  Day 1 placed two of these in our path.  But now I have my neoprene socks – I have no fear!  🙂

Crossing a river - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Thank goodness for neoprene socks!

There were a few small snow drifts to navigate (nothing compared to what we had on the Icefjords and Remote Villages trek in East Greenland) on the final uphill to the hut, and Þorbjörg welcomed us to our home for the night by tasking us with opening all the shutters that protect the windows from wild weather.

Approaching, and arriving at Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Approaching (top) and arriving at (bottom) the Geldingafell Hut. You can see the glacier tongue above the hut in the top image.

Geldingafell Hut is very small and cosy inside – especially for 9 people.  There is nowhere really to sit except for on the bunks, which is why we were all very happy that the skies finally cleared and the Sun started shining brightly just after we arrived!

View of hut and river valley from behind - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The Geldingafell Hut has an amazing view over a beautiful river valley. The pyramid-shaped building at bottom left is the outhouse

I decided to go for a short hike up the hill behind the hut before dinner to get a clearer view of the glacier and epic views back down over the hut and the valley below it.

View behind the Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The hills behind the Geldingafell Hut. I hiked up to where that little plateau juts out at the top left

And arrived back just in time for our al fresco dining for the evening – minestrone soup and spaghetti bolognaise 🙂  We all enjoyed sitting outside in the warm sunshine, but eventually had to retreat inside as the Sun approached the horizon and the temperature dropped.

Hiking companions sitting on the ground outside the Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

For dessert, Þorbjörg “went shopping” for us in the Icelandic Mountain Guides “store” out the back of the hut.  Because of the remoteness of this hut, the company estimates how many trekkers they will have during the summer and caches enough dry/tinned food during the winter (when they can access the hut by snowmobile) to cover their estimate.  The logistics for some of their treks are really impressive!

Icelandic Mountain Guides store at Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The “store”. A food cache set up by Icelandic Mountain Guides during the winter when they can access the hut by snow mobile

Sitting on our beds, we downed chocolate cake, Jägermeister (thanks to Wolfgang and Sabine – no Wolfgang – half a glass does not constitute “the smallest amount possible just for a taste”), and hot chocolate before most people turned in for the night.  I stayed up a little longer to catch a beautiful sunset at around 11:30pm, and then followed suit.

Sunset at hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Worth waiting up for!

Trekking Information

Distance = 11.39km

Time taken = 5 hours 07 minutes

Map

Basic Map of Day 1 of In the Shadow of Vatnajokull - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of Day 1 of Shadow of Vatnajokull from Strava

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 4-day trek “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

 

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Greenland-Assaqutaq-from-above.jpg

Hiking Greenland – Abandoned Settlement of Assaqutaq

When you start researching things to do around Sisimiut you very quickly come across excursions to Assaqutaq – an abandoned settlement about 10km away.  The Hotel Sisimiut offers a boat tour to and from the settlement, but what I really wanted to do was take a boat out and then hike back.  I contacted Jan from Sisimiut Private Boat Safari to arrange and, with instructions to bring gloves and a beanie, was down at the harbour at the agreed meeting time.

The ramp down to where Jan's boat was docked in Sisimiut Harbour - West Greenland

The ramp down to where Jan’s boat was docked in Sisimiut Harbour

Jan’s boat is small – equipped to carry only 4 people at a time.  It is also open which means we were bundled up in freezer suits to combat the chill in the air (gloves and beanie not included). 

My friend and I in freezer suits ready for out boat outing - Sisimiut, West Greenland

All rugged up!

Jan, made of sturdier stuff, just wore a normal jacket and beanie!

My friend in a freezer suit sitting in front of Jan with just a normal jacket on - Sisimiut Boat Safari - West Greenland

Tyson in a freezer suit and Jan … not

As we made our way around to the entrance of the Amerloq fjord in which Assaqutaq is located, we had wonderful views of the colourful buildings of Sisimiut.  This, despite the very low cloud that didn’t look like it would be clearing off anytime soon 🙁

The colourful houses of Sisimiut as seen from the water - West Greenland

The colourful houses of Sisimiut as seen from the water

Jan kept a keen eye out for whales, seals and other wildlife as we motored along but, unfortunately on this day, the waters were very quiet.  We did see some fishermen with a lot of winged friends

Fisherman being swarmed by seagulls as he attempts to check his nets from his boat - near Sisimiut - West Greenland

and Jan made a brief stop at an historical site with the remains of round stone houses

stone ruins of old houses on the way to Assaqutaq

Ruins of old stone houses on the way to Assaqutaq

before arriving at Assaqutaq half an hour after setting out.

front of the boat with the buildings of Assaqutaq in front of us - Sisimiut - West Greenland

Arriving in Assaqutaq

The settlement is an interesting mix of derelict buildings and ones that have been refurbished to accommodate primarily school and scout groups.  Jan explained that hunters, fishermen and other people who follow more traditional Greenlandic practices are often brought in to teach the kids some of these skills and about their heritage – an awesome idea if ever there was one! 

As we tied up to the dock, we were greeted by 5 kids on a school camp.  While 4 of them endeavoured to manipulate a canoe and catch fish (no supervision at all, they had to figure it all out for themselves), the 5th one started peppering us with questions in very good English!  “I’m feeling lazy”, he sighed when we asked him why he wasn’t in the canoe.  And his response when we asked him where he learned his English: “YouTube”!

School kids fishing and maneuvering a canoe in Assaqutaq near Sisimiut, West Greenland

Being a native English speaker, I’ve often lamented that it is much easier for a motivated person to learn English from anywhere in the world than to learn any another language – simply because English is so ubiquitous and so dominant in popular culture.  Certainly, many of the people I’ve met who have learned English have cited YouTube or TV or Hollywood movies as one of their key reference sources.  The other: having the opportunity to talk to English-speaking tourists they encounter – something that is very much put into practice in Uzbekistan.  And while I acknowledge that most languages have a web presence these days, try teaching yourself Greenlandic via YouTube … it is not so easy to find material, nor is it easy to find a Greenlander outside of Greenland and Denmark (yes, I’ve started learning a little Greenlandic – thanks Memrise)!

After hot tea and biscuits at the dock, Tyson and I set off to explore the crumbling structures of Assaqutaq. 

My friend looking in the window of one of the derelict buildings at Assaqutaq near Sisimiut, West Greenland

It was absolutely beautiful! 

The faded paint that is slowly being stripped off the walls by the harsh Greenlandic weather,

Several photos of the faded exterior of derelict houses in Assaqutaq near Sisimiut, West Greenland

the almost empty, half-collapsed but still brightly painted interiors,

Several images of the interiors of the abandoned houses in Assaqutaq near Sisimiut, West Greenland

the overgrown cemetery,

Wooden crosses and paling fences around the graves at Assaqutaq cemetery near Sisimiut - West Greenland

Assaqutaq cemetery

and the complete silence

Panorama over Assaqutaq from one of the highest points on the island - Sisimiut - West Greenland

[move mouse over image to see the full panorama]

made for a fascinating, if slightly eerie exploration of this settlement that was abandoned in 1968.  In fact, Jan’s wife was the second-last child born in the settlement – her family home now slowly falling into ruin.

Derelict porch of a house in Assaqutaq near Sisimiut - West Greenland

The derelict remnants of the house that Jan’s wife grew up in.

We poked our heads into the refurbished building the school group was occupying, walked through the old fish processing plant, and checked out the church as well (you can get married here if you wish!)

Images of the exterior and interior of the refurbished church at Assaqutaq near Sisimiut, West Greenland

before Jan pointed us in the direction of where to start the hike and gave us some instructions on how to find the trail.

Assaqutaq is actually located on an island, separated from the mainland by a narrow stretch of water.  There is now a bridge spanning the gap, and it is one of the coolest bridges I’ve ever crossed!

My friend making his way across the footbridge with Assaqutaq in the background, near Sisimiut, West Greenland

Tyson braving the footbridge

It is made of wooden planks tied together and to the bridge supports by rope, but there appears to be some missing and the experience of crossing this bridge can be described as “unstable” at best.  It was so much fun – we did it twice!

detail of the wooden planks and ropes tying the footbridge from Assaqutaq to the mainland together - near Sisimiut, West Greenland

The wooden planks of the footbridge are tied together with rope

The next obstacle was a scramble up an almost vertical cliff

My friend climbing the almost vertical slope to get to the trail - Assaqutaq, West Greenland

and then some bush-bashing until we finally stumbled upon the foot-width trail heading towards Sisimiut.  The views back over Assaqutaq were stunning!

View from on high back down over the abandoned settlement of Assaqutaq - near Sisimiut, West Greenland

View of Assaqutaq from the trail

and the trail, once found, was pretty obvious through to unmissable – especially once the red-or-blue-paint-on-rocks trail markers began.  I later found out that the trail markers had just been renewed the previous weekend.

Images of the trail leading from Assaqutaq to Sisimiut, West Greenland

The trail and its red markers (painted on the rocks) were usually very visible.

After about a kilometre, we came across a grave that was the most obvious visible sign of the old whaler’s station of Qerrortusoq,

Old grave at the site of Qerrortusoq - on the trail from Assaqutaq to Sisimiut, West Greenland

and a little further along, a group of students and teachers from Arctic DTU camped by the trail.  They invited us to have tea and explained how in their program (which is focused on construction engineering in Arctic environments), the Danish and Greenlandic students spend their first 3 semesters in Sisimiut, and then finish their studies in Denmark.  We had come across the group during the very first activity at the start of their commencing semester, where they get to know each other by spending 3 days camping near Sisimiut working on a project together. 

The awesome footbridge we’d just crossed was a project from 2 years ago (apparently the wooden planks were originally evenly spaced, but the knots holding everything in place had moved), and for the past two years, students have been working on building a small cabin for their own use when they need a break from study.  They were more than enthusiastic to show us around and explain what they were doing and, after waiting a couple of minutes for the finishing touches to go on, I even got to be the first person to walk up the newly constructed stairs to the hut 😊

Images of the hut being fitted out by the students of DTU

The hut being built by the students from DTU. I love the use of the shape of Greenland to secure the large windows (middle), and in the bottom left image we are learning about the special stove they are installing which also provides hot water.

We spent quite a while chatting about the unique features of the hut and how to construct a cabin that is completely isolated from everything, before wishing them well in their studies and heading further along the trail.

Despite the less-than-spectacular weather, with the fjord on one side and the mountains (their tops admittedly lost in cloud) on the other, it was a really stunning hike.  We stopped to enjoy the mist and light playing out over the fjord

Light playing on the fog and fjord between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut, West Greenland

I love abstract scenes!

while keeping a wary eye on how low the cloud was reaching on the mountains.  Although the trail was well marked, we didn’t want to be walking in fog.

My friend hiking towards a mountain obscured in the fog between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut - West Greenland

Keeping a wary eye…

In fact, the only time we temporarily “lost” the trail was when it descended into a mini-forest of Dwarf Arctic Birch that had managed to grow as tall as Tyson!  It is amazing what can happen with abundant water and a sheltered position.

My friend almost completely covered by the dwarf Arctic Birch forest between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut - West Greenland

For reference, Tyson is around 2m tall

Yes, there are boulder fields to negotiate, and rocks to scramble over and climb, but the hike between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut is not overly technical and these kinds of obstacles just make it even more fun and interesting 😊

Images of some of the trickier parts of the trail between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut, West Greenland

There were quite a few rocky obstacles to overcome between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut

We were almost all the way back to Sisimiut when the cloud started to lift and the sun finally put in an appearance.

Images of the final parts of the trail between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut - once the sun had come out. West Greenland

Blue skies!

When this happened, the whole feeling of the hike was transformed from one of mystery to one of joy and I look forward to returning one day to hike the whole thing under blue skies. 

I’m super-keen to see what those mountains look like from the trail!

Recommendation

If you like hiking, I highly recommend taking a boat transfer from Sisimiut to Assaqutaq and then walking back to town.  It is stunning to experience the area from both the sea and the land, and the trail is only moderately difficult with quite a few boulder scrambles and small rock climbs.

Cost: Have a look at the Sisimiut Boat Safari website for details.

Time:

  • Boat transfer: ~1/2 hour (though it depends on how much wildlife is around)
  • Assaqutaq: as long as you like. We spent about an hour here but could easily have spent longer
  • Hike back to Sisimiut: 3-4 hours

Hiking Information

Distance = 9.8km

Time taken = 4 hours 30 minutes (includes stopping and chatting with DTI students for almost an hour)

Map

Basic Map the hike from Assaqutaq to Sisimiut - from Movescount

Altitude Profile

Basic altitude profile of the hike from Assaqutaq to Sisimiut - from Strava

Download trail as .gpx or .kml

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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greenland-russell-glacier-face.jpg

Hiking Greenland – Russell Glacier

It was quite difficult to tell how many days I should allocate to exploring the area around Kangerlussuaq before starting the Arctic Circle Trail trek.  There seemed to be a fair few options for things to do – the Russell Glacier, visiting the Greenland Ice Sheet at Point 660, Sugarloaf Mountain, Garnet Rock, a wildlife safari – and in the end, I decided on 2 days at the beginning and 2 days at the end.  Unfortunately, this was curtailed to 1 day at the beginning (thanks to Air Iceland Connect dropping their direct Reykjavik-Kangerlussuaq route) and no days at the end (thanks to being stranded in Sisimiut due to bad weather) – so the only activity I managed was a trip out to Russell Glacier with Kang Mini Tours.

Our guide, Tommy, arrived at Old Camp to pick me up at the agreed time, and off we headed up the gravel road.  Running approximately 53km from Kellyville to the Icesheet, it is the longest road in Greenland and accounts for around 1/3 of the road infrastructure (outside of the settlements) in the country! 

Our 4x4 jeep on the road to the Russell Glacier

It was originally constructed to give access to the icesheet so that Volkswagon could test their cars under extreme cold and almost zero traction conditions.  However, this activity no longer takes place and it now provides inexpensive access for scientists studying the ice as well as for tourists wanting to visit the world’s second largest icefield and the Russell Glacier.

As we followed the meandering Akuliarusiarsuup Kuua river (more commonly known by its Danish name: Sandflugtdalen), Tommy told us some of the history of Kangerlussuaq, kept a keen eye out of wildlife – particularly Musk Oxen – and also explained a little about the geology and botany of the area.  

Akuliarusiarsuup Kuua (Sandflugtdalen in Danish) is the river that flows from the base of the Russell Glacier to the Kangerlussuaq Fjord

Akuliarusiarsuup Kuua (Sandflugtdalen in Danish) is the impressive river that you follow all the way from Kangerlussuaq to the Russell Glacier

Our jeep ride ended just past the locked boom-gate at the end of Aajuitsup Tasia lake, and we followed a trail up and over the ridge

Aajuitsup Tasia lake as seen from the trail ascending the hill in front of the Russell Glacier, Kangerlussuaq, West Greenland

Looking back down the trail to Aajuitsup Tasia lake

for our first view down onto the Russell Glacier itself.

Looking down on the Russell Glacier from the ridge - Kangerlussuaq - West Greenland

Looking down on the Russell Glacier from the ridge

Words cannot describe the shear magnificence of glaciers, and even though I’ve seen a lot of them in my travels both here in Greenland and also in Patagonia, I never tire of their intricate beauty.

different views of the ice making up the Russell Glacier near Kangerlussuaq in West Greenland

Ice details. I am fascinated by ice, so glaciers are a constant source of wonder for me

One of the incredible things about the Russell Glacier is just how close you can get to its 60m-high face. 

Me standing on rocks looking across the river at the 60m high face of the Russell Glacier

Looking up at the 60m high face of the Russell Glacier

And although you should never approach too closely (you never know when the glacier may calve and send ice falling to either crush you or cause a wave that will sweep you off your feet), there are places where you can literally reach out and touch it.

One such place was right near this waterfall spilling into an ice cave under the glacier.  Just a little further around, the glacier was still directly grinding on the surrounding rocks, buffing them with the smooth sheen that is so typical of Greenlandic geology.

Waterfall and Ice cave at the base of the Russell Glacier near Kangerlussuaq, West Greenland

Amazing waterfall flowing into an ice cave at the bottom of the glacier

Speaking of which. I’m thinking of creating a coffee-table book of the patterns of Greenlandic rocks.  What do you think of the idea?

views of patterns in the rocks surrounding the Russell Glacier near Kangerlussuaq in West Greenland

Greenland has some of the most beautiful and interesting rocks I’ve ever seen. I absolutely love the “rock art” here

I ended up spending the entire day out at the Russell Glacier, even though the tour was only meant to be ~3 hours long.  When I returned to the jeep at the allocated time and complained that 1.5hrs wasn’t nearly enough time to explore the area, Tommy said that he had to return later in the day to drop off supplies to some locals and that he could pick me up then if I wanted.  Absolutely!

It was an incredible day spent enjoying the peace and solitude of this remarkable site

The purple Niviarsiaq - Greenland's national flower - growing between the rocks in front of the Russell Glacier near Kangerlussuaq, West Greenland

Niviarsiaq – Greenland’s national flower – is amazingly hardy and can seemingly grow anywhere!

and it struck me that this is what the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina must have been like at some point.   While Russell Glacier is nowhere near as big as Perito Moreno, it is still a spectacular glacier – made all the more so by the lack of infrastructure and the thousands of tourists.  

Panorama of the Russell Glacier near Kangerlussuaq, West Greenland

[Click and drag to see full panorama]

In fact, I pretty much had the place to myself!  I only saw 3 other people during the entire day – it seems everybody heads out to Point 660 instead!  

Three visitors hiking to the main viewpoint over the Russell Glacier with the sheer wall of the glacier in front of them. Near Kangerlussuaq, West Greenland

The only other people I saw for the entire day I was at the Russell Glacier. Here they are hiking to the main viewpoint over the glacier. I love the scale depicted in this image.

Tommy returned to collect me at the end of the day and we stopped off briefly to explore an old plane that crashed back in the 1960s.

remains of a plane that crashed near Kangerlussuaq in the 1960s - along the road to Russell Glacier

And although we kept a keen eye out for wildlife, the best we saw were a few Musk Oxen down in the river valley, a very long way from where we were driving.  Oh well, perhaps I’ll get luckier as I hike the Arctic Circle Trail.

Recommendation

A visit to Russell Glacier is a highlight of any stay in Kangerlussuaq.  Unfortunately I can’t compare it to Point 660, but I loved the solitude of the glacier and the fact I was pretty much the only one there on this occasion.  This certainly wouldn’t have been the case at Point 660 judging by the number of buses I saw heading out there.

The trip with Kang Mini Tours is comfortable and informative and Tommy was happy to stop for photos as often as we wanted.  For most people, 1.5 hours at the glacier would probably be enough, though keep in mind that around half that time is spent walking to the main viewpoint and back.  The hike is not difficult, but it does take some time.

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:

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!
Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:

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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Hiking Argentina – Chorillo del Salto – El Chaltén

Another of the short trails that I didn’t hike on my first visit to El Chaltén in 2015, was to the Chorillo del Salto.  Given that the end-point is a waterfall and lofty views are not really part of the agenda, I waited for a day where the tops of the mountains were once again obscured by cloud (I didn’t have to wait long!) and headed out.

The trail begins in the same place as the Laguna de los Tres hike and follows the road towards the Lago del Desierto, crossing it on several occasions.

Trail to Chorillo del Salto - El Chaltén - Argentina

The start of the trail to the Chorillo del Salto

It is a mostly flat but quite picturesque walk that parallels the river and passes through small groves of Lenga trees

Various views from the trail to the Chorillo del Salto - El Chaltén - Argentina

Views from the short and easy trail to the Chorillo del Salto

and is a fantastic opportunity to explore some of the hardy vegetation of the Patagonian steppe.

Vegetation of the Patagonian steppe - El Chaltén - Argentina

Vegetation of the Patagonian stepped. It’s mostly very dry and spikey!

It only takes about 40 minutes at a relatively slow walk to reach the waterfall, and you’ll know you’ve arrived because the place is usually crowded with people who quickly jump off the buses that pass through here to have a quick look.  But I have to admit, it is a nice spot (especially if you wait for all the bus passengers to return to their vehicle) and the waterfall is beautiful.

Chorillo del Salto - El Chaltén - Argentina

The waterfall – Chorillo del Salto

Recommendation

A really great option if the clouds have closed in and you are still looking to get out and about.

Distance: 6km return

Time: 2 hours with a long break at the waterfall

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