I have just returned after leading a kayak trip along the Magellan Strait over the last three days with a final dash by Zodiac to Cape Froward - the end (or start) of the South American mainland. This trip also marks the end of my time in Southern Patagonia.
Over the last 8 weeks I have had some amazing experiences in both Chile and Argentina. Fortunately I haven't had time to keep updating my blog, but I have tried to post regularly on Instagram. So here is a quick run through of what I have been up to during my time in Patagonia. When I get some time I will blog in more detail about locations I have visited or if you have any specific questions drop me a message, I would be happy to help.
My initial plan was to spend the season here, kayak guiding in Torres Del Paine national park. However I decided after a few weeks it was not for me and I would prefer to do some freelance work and travel. Meeting so many travelers and realising how much there was to see in Patagonia alone, I was gripped by wanderlust.
Torres Del Paine
'Before I came to Chile I had heard and read so much about the weather and yes it is windy, sometimes very windy!. But it is much drier than I expected. Compared with Ireland it is like a desert and the need for rain gear is limited. I've never once worn my waterproof trousers. The air is very dry which results in sore cracked lips and hands if you do not look after them. The dry conditions also had massive consequences in 2012 when a tourist accidentally started a fire that destroyed thousands of acres of park.
The kayaking in the park and in Patagonia is very controlled. You must seek permission from the Navy for each outing and stick to certain agreed areas. This meant I only guided on the Grey and Serrano rivers while in Puerto Natales region. They wind their way through the massif towards the labyrinth of fjords on the west coast. Occasionally if it is not too windy it is possible to access the ice bergs at the end of Lago Grey.
The views of Torres Del Paine were incredible on a clear day and nearly surreal. However I often felt disconnected from the scenery. Its hard to explain but coming from whitewater and sea kayaking it lacked intimacy and excitement. I likened it to a "green screen" effect. You can see it in the picture above.
While kayak guiding in Torres Del Paine I did manage to squeeze in some hiking along parts of the "W" route. Firstly the towers of Paine and then an over night trek to Grey glacier. The vibe in the park is fantastic with hikers from all over the world hitting the trails. Everyone with a story to tell and their own adventures going on.
One of the best parts of the park is the wildlife. On the bus ride in you can see Guanaco, Rea, Condors, Kara Kara, Falcons and lots of Kai Ken. Unfortunately I wasn't luck enough to spot the elusive Puma or Huemul deer. As it is a public bus it is not possible to stop but if I was visiting again I would certainly try to spend more time watching the wildlife.
El Calafate and El Chalten
After four weeks in Puerto Natales I headed to Argentina and the town of EL Calafate. Situated on the shore of the huge torquise blue - Lago Argentina. On the bus journey you pass through the start of the vast barren Patagonia Steppe.
An hours bus ride from El Calafate brings you to Perito Moreno glacier. One of the largest in the world. It was an awesome site but the overly controlled tourist look outs and high cost of access did take from it a little.
A quick over night visit to El Chalten gave me enough time to hike to the amazing Lago del los torres at the base of Mt Fitz Roy. A 7.5 hour round trip in glorious sunshine made for a tough but rewarding day.
After Fitz Roy I returned to El Calafate for a flight south the the worlds most southerly city- Ushuaia. I was really surprised by Ushuaia and glad I visited. It has the feel of a mountain town in the Alps but its beside the sea. There was still some snow around and the air was cold. The streets are full of people in matching jackets from each of the cruise ships that go to Antarctica. If you're in the area and have five grand to spend you can pick up some last minute deals!
For activities its expensive and its mainly tours on offer so I decided to hire a mountain bike with two German guys (Daniel and Florian) from my hostel and hit the trail along the Beagal Channel. We also tried to climb a mountain in search of a glacier, but we were defeated by the snow!
Magellan Strait and Cape Froward
After a few days in Ushuaia it was time to head north again back to Chile. The 11 hour bus journey was not as bad as expected and passed pretty quickly. I was back in Punta Arenas to guide a kayak trip along the Magellan Strait. After meeting with the clients and making some last minute schedule changes due to the weather we were ready. On the first day we kayaked around Agua Fresca bay on the second we kayaked south towards Cape Froward and set camp before dashing by zodiac to climb the steep headland. Exceptional weather had us basking in sun all day without a breath of wind. Rare in Patagonia! The climb was a challenging 60 minutes in wet steep conditions but the view at the top over the Magellan Strait was spectacular. During our boat ride we were regularly treated to acrobatic displays from schools of dolphins leaping 5 foot out of the water. We camped in a beautiful bay with views south to Isla Dawson the impressive twin peaks of Mt Sarmiento. The next day we paddled to a small Sea Lion colony before making the 20km paddle back to our starting point. Over the three days I lost count of the number of Dolphins we saw, at least twenty sightings both near and far.
Now I have a few days to rest in Punta Arenas and enjoy the local specialty of banana milk shake and chorizo sandwiches! Tomorrow I head north to a very different landscape and the driest desert on earth - the Atacama.
Keep up to date on my Instagram @dhkayaking
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Kayak instructor, athlete, business owner and outdoor enthusiast from the west coast of Ireland.
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