With three days to complete the six-day hike, we fought again time, tides and Pacha Mama (Mother Nature) herself. Read on to hear the story of this gruelling 72km hike to the southernmost point of continental South America.
Hola da Lachie,
Walking ‘home' after our 30-hour ferry from Puerto Williams, we rounded a corner when a random car screeched to a halt next to us and who else but Scotty Runacres jumped out. After three months apart the boys were back together again and set for an epic year ahead. Not only that but we were fortunate enough to be staying in Arturo's place again.
Whenever we stay, Arturo is exceptionally generous and moves next door with Polet, his sister, to give us his entire tiny house to stay in. Not only that but he and sister have wholeheartedly welcomed us into the family. They've cooked lunches and dinners with us, showed us around Punta Arenas, taken us to play soccer with locals and even taken us out to party for their cousins' birthday. It's been a unique experience to live with a family and we are constantly blown away by their generosity.
As great as it is in town, it's only ever a day or two before we're out the door on our next trip. This time, we were off to hike out to a 40m tall cross atop Cabo Froward, the southern-most point of continental South America. This six-day hike covers 72km of wild Chilean coastline, including three river crossings and an optional side trip up a mountain. However, with Arturo's cousins' birthday only four days away, we figured three and a half days would be plenty of time (for us over-confident lads).
Scoring four different lifts, we hitched our way down to the trailhead. Despite not arriving until midday, we were finally set to start our 18km first day. Most of the afternoon was spent walking along pebbly beaches watching dolphins jump high out of the water or on muddy tracks through peat bogs with huge eagles circling overhead. While taking all this in made walking slow, we made it to a campsite beside the second river crossing in time for dinner. The word passed on from other hikers was that the next two river crossings, 8km apart, had to be done as close to low tide as possible. Because of this, most people cross the rivers on separate days, but with no time to lose, we planned a mad dash for the next day.
Rising early we found a route through the second crossing as quickly as we could. Due to our ‘two-rivers-one-day' plan, we crossed a few hours before low tide, resulting in a butt naked, bag-over-the-head crossing. Taking no time to thaw out from the long stretch of icy water, we were off again. Putting our heads down we walked at a cracking pace so that we could make it to the next river before the tide beat us.
Successfully smashing out the two river crossings before lunch, it gave us the opportunity to take on another 20km out to Cabo Froward and back that afternoon. We dropped our heavy packs, grabbed a few snacks and hit the trails again in yet another race against the tide and sunset. Many hours were spent tiptoeing around the seemingly endless coastline, all of which was as slippery as ice. Not only that, but the ever-rising tide continually threatened to cut us off from the end and therefore the cross.
As we spotted the cross on the hilltop only 2km away, the tide finally started licking at our heels and pushed us off the rocks and into the thick scrub above. With no more food left and daylight rapidly disappearing, we had no choice but to wait for the tide to drop to continue or start heading back to camp.
Retrospectively, turning back was actually quite an obvious and sensible option, but not wanting to quit and feeling the excitement of being so close, it was hard to make the call without feeling like we'd failed our goal. However, this made us think about what our goal actually was. Were we doing the hike just to say we'd made it to the most southerly point? Or were we really out there to see just what an incredible and diverse place Patagonia is? Putting it into perspective like this was gratifying and ‘knowing when to call it' will be an important lesson to have learnt as we move forward throughout the year.
Regardless, it turns out turning back is much easier said than done. With the tide now cutting off the rocks, we had to bush bash along the coastline, travelling only 400m in the first hour. As the light began to fade over the horizon, the tide let us back down onto the rocks, our slippery arch nemesis. Eventually making it back to camp, we feasted on the abundant muscles before cosying up in bed as the night's rain settled in.
Our final night was spent at a Refugio (hut), learning about many incredible places we can visit in Chile from other travellers. Oh, and we learnt that the mussels in the area are frequently infected with paralytic shellfish poison, a poison with no antidote that can result in respiratory paralysis, or put simply, death. They tasted pretty damn good though.
Still alive in the morning, we smashed out 12km before a quick breakfast. This early start was so that we could make a 9km side trip up Mount Tarn. Ditching the packs, we turned the dial up from trot to canter and basically ran to the top. We climbed 800 metres of elevation over 9km through the forests, bogs, mud and rock scree in just over an hour. Standing on the summit we were hit with our first taste of a full-fledged Patagonian wind. It felt like we were puppets being thrown around by a two-year-old.
After being blown back to the carpark, we found a fellow Aussie who offered us a ride home when she returned from her walk. With everything falling into place, we cooked up a great lunch and casually ignored all the other potential lifts. Six hours later, as it began to get dark, we were starting to wonder if we'd made a mistake in waiting. Fortunately, she eventually returned and the ride home was filled with a plethora of advice and couch-surfing contacts for our journey north.
The cherry on the cake was that we made it back in time for an awesome night out celebrating Arturo's cousin's birthday. The night started out with a Chilean wine and sugar mixed inside a melon and ended sometime the next morning getting jiggy in Punta Arenas' nightclubs. After such a big week, we recovered with caramel crepes in bed, pretty much our staple diet in Punta Arenas.
After having thoroughly covered most of southern Chile, we've now said goodbye to Arturo and are on our journey north. Over the past few weeks, we've been jumping back and forth across the Chilean and Argentinian border, searching for the quieter places of Patagonia. The more remote the better as far as we're concerned. More updates soon.