By Michael Lanza
As we climbed toward Paso Australia, on the southernmost trek in the world, the Dientes Circuit in Patagonia, the wind gathered strength, shoving us forward and sideways, spinning us around. As if to suggest that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet, our young Chilean guide, Maurice, warned, “It’s going to be windy up there at Australia Pass.”
In fact, at the 2,641-foot (805m) pass, it became hard to stand and walk. We alternately braced ourselves against the most furious gusts and stumbled a few steps forward during lulls of merely howling gales. Clouds hurried overhead, slamming against a row of stark, stone pinnacles jutting into the sky, some of the peaks that give this remote mountain range its name: Dientes de Navarino, or “Teeth of Navarino.”
My friend Jeff and I were on the 22.7-mile (36.5k) Dientes Circuit. At 55 degrees south latitude, the Dientes, which reach nearly 4,000 feet in elevation on Chile’s Navarino Island, lie just 60 miles from the tip of South America—Cape Horn is visible from one pass on clear days—and a short flight from the Antarctic Peninsula.
Established in the 1990s, the Dientes Circuit wanders through jagged, rocky mountains that appear nearly devoid of vegetation, over passes virtually always hammered by powerful winds. We passed by numerous alpine lakes tucked amid the many rock spires of the Dientes.
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The circuit received fewer than a hundred trekkers a year when I did it several years ago. Indeed, for four days out there, we saw no one and were very likely be the only people on the circuit. There are not many outstanding hiking destinations on the planet you could say that about.
Now, with a few guide services leading clients on the Dientes Circuit, and, according to reports I’ve read, cairns marking what had been an unmarked, mostly off-trail route not many years ago, the number of trekkers on it may have grown somewhat. Still, given its remoteness and the cost and logistics of getting there, the Dientes Circuit undoubtedly remains one of the loneliest multi-day mountain treks you’ll find on the planet.
Wondering what Patagonia was like before it became a darling of the international trekkers’ set? The austral summer is just around the corner; start making plans now. See my story “Unknown Patagonia: The Dientes Circuit,” which includes many photos and information for planning the trip.
See also my story “Patagonian Classic: Trekking Torres del Paine.” And if you’re looking for other ideas for a trip of a lifetime, see this menu of all of my stories about international adventures at The Big Outside.
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