When: 15-Mar-2019

Summary

  • Distance: 10.5km round trip. This is from the parking lot at Lago Roca.
  • Duration: 6h, including a break of about 1h total, enjoying views and a coffee break on the way down
  • Elevation gain/loss: about 970m each
  • Cerro Guanaco is 973m high
  • The walk starts at sea level (Lago Roca).
  • This is a very well marked track, including distance numbers.
  • Check out this link for general information about Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego.
  • You can find information on current ticket prices here.
  • We stayed a couple nights in the park. If you have the time, I can recommend this as there are a few trails and smaller tracks to check out. Like a walk to the viewpoint at the "fin del mundo" - also the end of the Argentine version of "la ruta del fin del mundo (the road to the end of the world). This road, also known under its formal name ruta 3, begins in Buenos Aires and stretches over 3,000km all the way to the southern most tip of Argentina.
  • You can get a free stamp for your passport (or to put anywhere else) at the visitor’s center.
  • You have to start the trail before 12pm. For safety reasons, the park rangers want you to check in and out at the Alakush Visitor’s center. When checking in, you’ll get a little sheet of paper. When returning you can throw this into the mailbox on the outside of the building.
  • The campground we stayed at had basic toilets. Consider this not an actual campground but more like a place in the park where you're allowed to put your tent.
  • There are toilets and a restaurant at the Alakush visitor’s center. But keep in mind that it closes around 6pm (closing time when we were there).
  • Important note: This is the kind of trail that you definitely should check the weather for!

Location

 

  • Sendero Cerro Guanaco is part of the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, which is located roughly 12km from Ushuaia.
  • There are daily and regular buses leaving from the visitor’s center in Ushuaia. It may also be an option for your hostel to organise a pick up for you.
  • We opted for walking from our hostel and eventually ended up hitchhiking the final few kilometers to the entrance with one of the park rangers.
  • Inside the park are a few bus stations you can use to get back into town.

Difficulty Rating

Below is my personal grading of the track including some key points. Check out the intro page to the SB scale here if you want to know how I do the rating.
The overall difficulty rating for this track is (with 10 being the hardest): 4.6 / 10
This is made up of the following categories:

Category A: General - 7 / 10

Distance: 10.5km round trip
Duration: 6h
Elevation gain/loss: 970m each

Category C: Weather - 5 / 10

It was really windy that day. Although we didn’t feel much of the wind during the first parts of the trail being protected by trees. As soon as we went beyond the tree line, it became very windy. At the top we had to be extra careful to not get caught by wind and fall over the cliffs.
On the way up the wind was coming at us pushing us into the opposite direction.
It was raining on and off all day.
Temperatures were quite cool. It's fair to say we did the hike in mid March, which is beginning of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.

Category B: Terrain - 5 / 10

The trail can be divided into 4 different “sections”, each roughly a kilometre long: forest up to the tree line, a rocky section, a big open grass/mud field which can get VERY muddy during or after rain, the final section goes up along the side of a mountain ridge made up of scree and sharp rocks.
Between the 2 and 3km mark, there was a really muddy section due to rain on the days prior and the trekking day itself. We somehow tried to work our way around the mud as it was quite deep. I found myself hanging from tree branches with my backpack slightly dipping into the mud a couple times.
I considered this fun but not everybody does :)
The scree section is along a narrow path. A wee bit exhausting to walk on. It felt like 1 step forward and 2 steps back.

Category D: Special Conditions - 2 / 10

Being just a day hike from camp our backpacks weren’t too heavy. Still a bit more than usual as we packed some cooking stuff to have some freshly made coffee at the top enjoying views. Didn't quite work out with the wind.
Additionally the walk from our campsite added another 3.5km to the distance in each direction. So our actual total walking distance that day was 18km.

Category E: Individual Condition - 4 / 10

We both were a bit tired from the hike into the park the day prior.
Our fitness was quite good but not superb. This was also our first real hike in Patagonia. Weather wise it had no mercy on us. Wind, wind, wind, rain and rain.

My Experience

Sendero Cerro Guanaco (in English: Cerro Guanaco Trail) is located within the Tierra del Fuego National Park at the Southern tip of Argentina. Christian and I spent a few consecutive days in the park, taking our time to discover all it has to offer.

The track up to the top of Cerro Guanaco was part of our personal park exploration tour. My hiking career was still young back then and this would become the first hike to impose a challenge on me. Not only due to the trail itself but also due to the weather conditions that day.

We camped at one of the campgrounds between the Alakush Visitor’s Center and “el fin del mundo”, which is the end of Ruta 3. Argentina’s highway 3 is the most Southern established road and ends within the park. “El fin del mundo” is Spanish for “the end of the world”.

On the day we set out to do the Cerro Guanaco trail we first headed for the visitor’s center to warm up a bit. From the center it’s a little more than a kilometre to the official start of the Cerro Guanaco Trail. This hike can also be combined with the Hito XXIV Trail. This is a track that follows along the bank of Lago Acigami/Lago Roca all the way to the international border of Argentina and Chile.

 

 

There's a sign on the trail that shows you when to turn "right" (Northeast) for Sendero Cerro Guanaco or continue on the trail towards the border. From here it goes up, up and up. 

The whole trail is reasonably steep and was, due to some rainfall prior and on the day itself, full of little adventures: a few river crossings and fields of knee deep mud. I considered the muddy parts fun as it challenged us to puzzle our way around rather than just following a given path.

The path is well marked with wee signs indicating distances, the first one being 4km (= 4km to the summit). There’s a marker for every one kilometre. Our personal perception was way off that day. When we reached the 3km marker it felt like we’ve already walked 3km instead of 1km. The few hikers we met on the trail had similar thoughts.
Given that this track was one of the first challenges of hiking to me I sometimes wonder how it would be walking it again with today’s level of experience. The final kilometre to the summit still remains one of the longest distances I've ever perceived. It seemed so endless. Walking one step forward, falling back two. Winds pushing towards me, making me slide down the scree that I walked on.

I was in awe with the diversity of the hike, especially given the low elevation. It felt like leveling our way up through the path. Starting with a steep forest bit, but protected from the wind. Then came mysteriously looking trees that seemed to want to confuse us off the path. Once we've had that quest mastered we had to make our way across a mud field. That's when climbing skills came in handy, hanging off from branches that saved us from sinking in too deeply.

And then, the final quest: The never ending kilometre...

More than once was I questioning why I was doing this. While making our way up, both of us were each to themselves, pushing forward, left with our own thoughts and only these. In my head I was creating a poetic story full of drama around this. Did I have to go all the way to the end of the world to face my limits, to be brought to my knees? Anything to keep my mind distracted from telling me to give up and "just" turn around - while my legs would keep moving. One step at a time.

And then again: Quiet but effective whispers of

"J u s t turn around..."

I was fatigued, the weather was draining, and the wind, oh the wind. My new nemesis. And yet, sooner than we knew it, we made it to the top.

 

 

Our initial plan was to have a nice coffee break on the summit to enjoy the views. But by the time we got there the weather was getting worse and worse. Wind was now accompanied by rain. We were busy trying to keep our balance instead of being blown off the mountain range. Despite this, the views were humbling. We were given a chance to look at the last bit of continuous land mass of the South, before there are only water and Antarctica. One of the many moments I remember giving a piece of my heart to the region that is called Patagonia.

Even with pretty madly looking clouds we could see as far as Ushuaia, the Beagle Channel, even a bit of Puerto WIlliams. 

As you can see on the photos we did have our coffee break in a short “good” weather window on the way back.

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