On my first solo extended out of the country trip, I found myself at a pub in Bruge drinking with the a bunch of new friends I didn’t know the day before. A quote that stuck with me from that night was that you travel not to experience everything, but to find all the great things about a place to return to. In the travel atmosphere that is suggestive of the bucket list and country counting attitude, I am all for the counter viewpoint of also returning to a place that once put you in a state of awe. The Huemul Circuit is currently my favorite hike in the world, so a return trip to Patagonia meant I’d head back there.
As I start to write this, I am not sure how this report will go. This is the first time I’m writing up the exact same hike on this page and it didn’t deviate much from my first trip. Secondly, my SD card crapped out during this trip leading me to lose a good portion of my data unbeknown to be until I started going through the pictures post trip. To that end, I’m approaching this write up of the Huemul Circuit as a complement to the my first report with the insight that the trail has gotten much more popular.
This is part 2 of my Patagonia and Carretera Austral trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below.
trip report: getting in
For details of our five flights hopscotching down to Patagonia, click here to expand.
Our trip begin with an uneventful early morning repositioning flight from Washington Dulles Airport (IAD) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) on Southwest Airlines, save a wonderful sunrise to send us on our way. It was the first of 5 legs for us to hopscotch down to Patagonia.
Once we landed in FLL, we had to travel cross town to Miami International Airport (MIA) to catch our main Aeroméxico flight. This was one of the reasons why I scheduled an early morning repositioning flight even though our next flight was in the evening, the other being the low price. To travel from FLL to MIA, the Tri-Rail was the simple and cheap way to go. However, it can take about 2 hours to make the commute. From FLL, there is a free connecting shuttle to the Tri-Rail station and the train ends at at MIA.
Once we arrived at MIA, we were able to get lunch and relax for the rest of the afternoon in the Delta Sky Club Lounge (Yelp) with access from our Aeroméxico business class tickets as part of Skyteam Alliance (Delta). The relaxing continued as we boarded our second leg of our trip from MIA to Mexico City (MEX) on Aeroméxico’s Boeing 737-800 with lounge chairs in a 2-2 business class formation.
We had a 12 hour overnight layover in MEX, so I had booked us a room at the Holiday Inn Express (tripadvisor) near the with the shuttle. Between a slight flight delay, 30 minutes through immigration that is even necessary for all connecting passengers, and a not so efficient airport shuttle pickup, the room might not have been worth it.
The next morning, we were back at MEX for our 3rd leg. This time it was on Aeromexico Boeing 787-8 with a 2-2-2 business class formation and layflat seats. It would be a long 10+ hour flight covering most of the day to fly from MEX to São Paulo (GRU). So we spent the flight being pampered and catching up on movies.
Our plane landed in GRU late at night and I left us with 24 hour layover between the bookings so we could breakup the many flights. I used my 1 night Marriott category 4 certificate from my old Chase Marriott Premier renewal for a night in downtown São Paulo at the Renaissance Hotel (trip advisor). This was the same area we visited last time on the recommendation from a local couple. It’s a nice area to walk around, window shop, and to have a great sushi buffet lunch at the Mori Ohta Sushi (trip advisor).
Also on our São Paulo friend’s recommendation, Uber was the recommended way for us to travel around the city. After we stretched our legs, we called for an Uber and were on our way back to GRU. Our 4th leg was on Gol Transportes Aéreos, the Brazilian Skyteam partner with Delta, from GRU to Buenos Aires Ezeiza International Airport (EZE)
and this was the beginning of our one way reposition ticket into Patagonia using 12500 Delta Skymiles per person. We again find ourselves at the back of the flight like the peasants we are. But before our flight, we visited the nice Gol Premium Lounge (review from minhasalavip.com.br) for dinner with our Priority Pass from our credit card (details at Dr of Credit).
While our flight into EZE was uneventful, our connection at EZE was a mess. Our flight in was late at night just before midnight. Our 5th and last leg was on Aerolíneas Argentinas from EZE to El Calafate (FTE) at 4am in the morning. After about a long hour wait through a slow moving immigration, we thought we would be able to go to our gate airside right away and get 3 hour sleep. Instead, they sent us all the way outside (landside) from terminal A around a large construction area to terminal C where Aerolíneas Argentinas flights are housed. Then, they wouldn’t let anyone through security until a couple hours before their flight meaning we’d have an hour to kill landside. There was only a small restaurant at terminal C with nothing else but empty check in counters and construction zone outside. Meg took a nap on our camping air mattress in the corner landside along with many others stuck landside. I spend the entire hour looking for an atm with cash. Luckily, I was able to pull out ARS$8000, or roughly USD$209, at an ATM all the way back in terminal A. When we were finally able to go through security, we crashed from an hour or so by the gate and our entire flight into El Calafate.
Following our example from our last trip to El Chaltén, we looked to hire a taxi to share with another couple. The prices would work out to be cheaper to split a taxi 4 ways (ARS$1325 per person, ARS$5300 total – USD$34.71 per person) than waiting for a bus (ARS$2000 per person – USD$52.38 per person). The additional benefit is that we’d go a lot earlier and faster. Interestingly, the taxi and bus stands was moved by the luggage carousels. It wasn’t long until we found another couple to join us on our drive in.
From FTE, it was a 3 hour taxi ride to El Chaltén.
On our way in, we were welcomed by a fox chilling out at a viewpoint along Lago Viedma.
The flights themselves down to Patagonia from North America always seems like a slog themselves even with business class flights on two legs. We were glad to get in early have at least a full day to recover before starting our hike.
trip report: Huemul Circuit Return
- name: Huemul Circuit
- type: loop
- distance: 43.1 miles (38.4 miles to Bahía Del Túnel)
- elevation change: 9799 ft. ascent & descent
- time: 4 days
- location: Parque Nacional Los Glaciares
Huemul Circuit video
To complement this trip report, travel2walk presents a short companion video. Due to all the videos lost from my SD card malfunctions, I did what I could. I guess I’ll have to go back, what a shame. 🙂
Again, videos are still a new thing I’m playing around with and I have plenty to learn about what works and what doesn’t work. I’d welcome any suggestions as well. If you like these, please subscribe to my Youtube Channel to let me know, thanks!
Patagonia greeted us with it’s trademark gusts when arrived in El Chaltén. Seeing people walking backwards to avoid the blistering wind and the dust that it picked up was a common sight. We ended up delaying our start for the Huemul Circuit by another day.
Our 2 nights in town included New Years Eve and we would start the new year . El Chaltén was also much busier this time around since it was during the peak holiday season and room availability was extremely limited. Booking ahead of time, the best option I could find for the first night was USD$90 at Pudu Lodge (booking.com). Luckily, we were able to find a last minute deal at for a private room at Max (booking.com) for New Years Eve for USD$45. The booking.com network seemed to have larger availability then the hotels.com network for many areas we traveled through for this trip preventing us from taking advantage of hotels.com’s reward (see details at travel is free).
We spent our couple of days catching up on sleep and running errands around town in preparation for our hike (see below). As always, we tried our best to sample the many restaurants around town. However, some of our favorites and other top restaurants were all either fully reserved or had late dinners since it was New Years Eve. So, we hit more of the mid tier places in terms of price and quality mainly because we didn’t have to wait. This included La Wafleria (trip advisor) and Monte Rojo (trip advisor).
Our favorite place to hang out was the wine bar, La Vinera (trip advisor), in the middle of town. Their happy hour 2 for 1 deal was the best in town and it included hot mulled wine, which was a perfect contrast for the blistering cold. We didn’t frequent this place last time since we were on a tight schedule, but we made up for it this time around.
preparations & equipment
Our preparations for our hike started with a visit to the ranger station to get an update on the condition of the trail. Like always, the rangers were as insistent as ever to anyone that inquires about the Huemul Circuit, expect that they had to do it way more often then a couple years ago. With the large number of people looking to hike the Huemul Circuit, it also seemed like the rangers are giving less instructions to properly setup for the Tyrolean Traverses and are no longer checking that you know how to do it. There was still the standard video shown at the ranger station, but now it is just on a loop rather than by request. If you are looking to start earlier than 9am in the morning, make sure you register with the ranger station the day before.
Despite being over mobbed by all the visitors and trying to dissuade everyone, the rangers were helpful in giving us the lowdown on the expected weather. We follow their recommendation to push our plans by a day and wait out the windy weather.
While there, I inquired about several aspects of the Huemul Circuit I had questions about from my previous hike. First, it is illegal to camp at the bivek spot between the Túnel glaciers. This may partially due to the increased traffic on the trail or that they did want inexperienced campers camping outside the main campsites. I also inquired about the trail from Campamento Paso de Viento leading onto the moraine toward Glacier Viedma and the rangers said it should not be attempted without a guide. There is a real possibility of unseen fissures since it is on the moving glacier.
If you are looking to help out at Los Glaciares National Park, they are always looking for volunteers.
food for hiking
When in South America, our favorite hiking food are the empanadas. While there are several bakeries in El Chaltén, our favorite empanadas out of the 4 we tried was Panaderia Que-Rika (trip advisor). They had the most flavorful and greasy empanadas with a hint of spice.
Trip advisor‘s highest ranked bakery Lo de Haydee panaderia y cafeteria was decent, but they are more liked for the best internet in town.
Other than empanadas, we bought some chocolate and cured bacon from the local grocery store to go with some instant mashed potatoes and Mountain House meals we had left over from our previous hikes. We also had a few Cliff bars that Meg mostly ate for breakfast, I haven’t been want to eat them at all recently while backpacking.
With the Huemul Circuit, we again needed to rent harnesses, carabiners, safety line, and a long cord to cross the 2 Tyrolean Traverses. The outfitter now include the long recovery cord with your rental package, however on the trail, no one wants to leave their behind since they may feel the need to return it. You also need a paper topographic map with you.
Since we had the time, we checked the prices from the different outfitters and found Patagonia Hikes (trip advisor) had the cheapest rental deals. Since we forgot our map at home, we had to buy another one. They also had the cheapest camping knife in town. Lastly, they still had the discount for using cash.
We did find that the Camping Center (camping-center.com.ar) had the cheaper isobutane gas container.
Below is a listing of the gear with comments afterwards. Our hotel was able to hold onto our travel gear.
- Depending on the wind, lining the inside of your bag or large ziplocks might be better than a rain cover. The wind we experience this time around would have taken off the covers. Though if you are expecting both the rain and wind that strong, it’s best to delay a day or a few.
- We actually forgot our headlamps for this trip, but we never needed them with the long days in the Patagonia summer. We also had our phones for backup.
- This is one of those hikes I’d recommend trekking poles. Working up the scree and down a steep steep decline was much better with them.
- With the amount of people packed into the campsites now, I would recommend having earbuds to block out the sound.
day 1: El Chaltén to Campamento Laguna Toro
- distance: 10.2 miles
- elevation change: 2515 ft. ascent & 1589 ft. descent
- time: est 5 hours
On the first day of 2019, we headed off early on the trail under better conditions. Though, there were plenty of wind and ominous clouds over head. It was still better conditions then our last time out this way.
Once again, we followed the signs toward Laguna Toro at the first intersection. The trail starts to climb upwards after 0.4 miles through a ravine.
Then continues to gain elevation over the next 2 miles at a grade of about 11.9%.
The trails reaches a flat just before the junction toward Lomo Del Pliegue Tumbado viewpoint. We talk about heading up there once again, but the ominous clouds were hanging above the direction toward the Fitz Roy.
The next climb through the woods covers about 3/4 of a mile accompanied by cows and the mud at about an uneven 10.7% grade. The trail was a stream last time we were here, so this was relatively easy.
Once out of the woods, it was another mile crossing open meadows with views out to Lago Viedma. We met a couple hiking out here that had tried to do the circuit, but the terrible weather held them up for 3 days at Laguna Toro. Based on what we saw in town, it was probably the smart idea.
We took an empanada lunch break once we reached the opening with our first view down the Río Túnel drainage about 5 miles into the hike. The gusting wind made it a short lunch break as we were happy to get moving.
The downhill over the next 2.5 miles is a constant -11.2% grade with a continuous view down the valley.
Once we reached the valley floor, we came to the multiple stream crossing over a rocky area. The trail here isn’t too difficult to follow. The second crossing here is Arroyo Piedritas, which comes down from Paseo de Las Agachonas. Paseo de Las Agachonas can be accessed from Laguna Torres on the other side of the ridge (wikiexplora) involving a Tyrolean Traverses. There is also said to be able to make your way down to the Huemul Circuit from Paseo de las Agachonas.
It was another relatively flat 2.5 miles to Campamento Laguna Toro crossing brushy pine trees and a couple more streams, Arroyo Oxidado and Arroyo Mojado. The water levels were lower than our first time around and our feet barely got wet.
We arrived early in the afternoon to Campamento Laguna Toro and had our pickings of camp spots. We made sure to stay far away from the shed, where we suspected the mice live.
Since it was dryer this time around, the water source at the back of the campsite we found last time was dry. However, there is a nice stream about 200 ft on the trail after the campgrounds that had clear water to filter.
The rest of the campsite got filled up throughout the afternoon and well into the evening. A benefit of increased hikers on the trail is a better social component. We were able to hang out with the new friends Nick, Christina, Olivia, Irene, and others over the course of our hike sharing stories of travels and experience. While there were those on the trail that didn’t care for the social component or preferred to remain in their own groups, we found there were plenty that did.
day 2: Campamento Laguna Toro to Paso del Viento Refuge
- distance: 7.4 miles
- elevation change: 2759 ft. ascent & 1918 ft. descent
- time: 5:25 hours
With the amount of people at the campsite, we expected a packet trail the following day. However, we were the third group out out of camp at 8am and the traffic was relatively light on our hike for the day. This maybe due to the long January day or just hikers from other countries hold to a later schedule. On the John Muir Trail I would be middle to late of the pack starting to walk around 8am.
It was a cloudy day once again as we rounded Laguna Toro on the right side of the lake. We crossed the stream and headed toward the gap in the rocks. If you are looking to ford the stream, stay close to the lake itself and cross at the mouth of the river.
Following cairns, we made our way around the rocks
toward the first Tyrolean Traverse of the hike 1.5 miles from camp.
We were the first making the crossing on the day as we pass one group on our way up and the other group decided to ford the river. I always found it curious that the crossing is probably at the most dangerous rapids on the river. The dryer climate on this trip in January lead to shallower streams and rivers. This possibly made fording the Río Túnel down river at the mouth of the lake and even upriver of the Tyrolean Traverse might have not too bad. Care is still needed if you are to ford the river especially upstream as there are bad consequences to be carried away there.
We made it easier on ourselves this time around by sending our bags over separately.
The number of people on the trail can lead to choke points for traffic, especially here at the Tyrolean crossings (ziplines). One of our friends on the trail said he had to wait an hour for the first crossing behind some inexperienced hikers who took a while to figure the setup out. He said he only waited for the experience of the Tyrolean crossing, which seems to be the general attitude toward it unlike our originally dreading the extra exposure to danger.
According to some other friends, they ended up missing the first crossing all together (I believe I actual got them in a picture, see below). Instead they stayed north of the river after the crossing point and found a steep goat trail with plenty of loose rocks that lead to the glacier. From there, they just walked on the glacier to rejoin the route. I wouldn’t recommend this route as it isn’t on the map and these friends were very experienced hikers.
The uphills fun for the day starts after the crossing as the trail starts to work up over the the glacier. For the next half mile, the trail gains at 18.9% on some rocky terrain.
A full view of Glaciar Río Túnel Inferior comes into view was we crest a the rocky side of the mountain and continue down for a few brief steps toward the toe of the glacier.
Seeing how the skies were clearing up unlike our previous trip where it was opening up on us with rain, we were much more comfortable to get onto the pristine ice earlier this time around. We had stayed up on the scree for majority of this section of trail previously, though it was still on the glacier that pushed up under the rock piles of the mountain.
Actually seeing yourself traversing across the glacier was something else and among the many highlights of the hike.
We stayed on the glacier for about 0.75 mile taking the splendor in and
hoping over cravasses. Well, very small ones at least.
With the higher number of hikers, the specific route up the moraine from Glaciar Río Túnel Inferior was better marked with clear cairns indicating the route you should scramble up. I didn’t anticipate how well marked it was going to be and spent some time looking for places to head up before seeing the well marked cairns.
Our extra time spent looking was also a product labeled track on the OSM track (see below). We would have been better off having our track from our previous hike loaded.
The view of Glaciar Río Túnel Inferior is still as impressive as ever as we scrambled up the scree.
We took a brief break at the former bivak spot between the 2 glaciers. Again, the park rangers have said it was illegal to camp here. We did find a small, perhaps seasonal, stream just passed the bivak spot.
After our brief break, the fun really starts with a 21.6% grade incline over three quarters of a mile in the first of two spurts. At least the open views are plenty to stare at when you are catching your breath.
After a brief flat overlooking the Laguna Túnel Superior,
the trail provides you with two path up to the top overlooking Glaciar Río Túnel Superior o de Quervain. We took the higher and more even uphills this time around.
It was a 24.7% incline over 2/3 of a mile for the higher route. No snow this time as we made our final push to Paso Del Viento.
The clouds had blanketed the sky over us by the time we reached Paso Del Viento.
But it views were still spectacular.
The wind was howling this time around, so we ducked behind the rock for lunch. Pretty soon, we were joined by several other hikers including our friends.
Crossing over the pass, we were once again greeted with the Southern Patagonia Icefield. I guess it was a little different feeling sharing this view with new friends. Not so much in the awe of the endless icefield, but less the feeling of an explorer at the edge of the world. I still couldn’t stop gawking at it every few minutes.
We couldn’t stay long at the pass with the blistering window blowing in our faces. So we started down the initial quarter of a mile of scree at a -34.5% grade followed by a better quarter mile at a -20.2% grade. The second time on the trail through this section was much easier from a navigation standpoint. Specifically, we didn’t bother too much with trying to follow the sometime inconsistent cairns. Rather we just dropped to the bottom of the moraine valley
and followed it south toward the gap. It also helps that you can see other hikers ahead of you.
After three quarter miles of flattish terrain, the trail became more evident as it descend down the drainage following a stream.
The descent down to Campamento Paso Del Viento was about a mile at a steady -11.8% decline.
We were the third group to arrive at camp behind our friends Olivia and Irene and another very fast hiker that passed us. Without a pit toilet, toilet paper and wet naps and even piles of poop were found behind rocks at the far side of the campsite. You could smell the “toilet” when the winds change directions. Please bury your poop in a cat hole and pack out your toilet paper per LEAVE NO TRACE (wikipedia) principles when you are in the backcountry.
After setting up camp, we had dinner with our friends in the shelter to get out of the wind. Afterwards, we went to bed relatively early around 9pm, a time when other hikers were still getting to camp. To block out noise from other hikers and the wind, we found our earbuds very useful.
As an additional note, the trail from Campamento Paso de Viento leads onto the moraine toward Glacier Viedma. However, the rangers said it should not be attempted without a guide. There is a real possibility of unseen fissures since it is on the moving glacier.
day 3: Paso del Viento Refuge to Campamento Bahía de Los Témpanos
- distance: 9.34 miles
- elevation change: 1883ft. ascent & 4051 ft. descent
- time: 6:53 hours
With the early morning light of Patagonia, we were up early for our standards and were on the trails around 7:15am. We were the first ones on the trail.
The trail climbs out of the Paso del Viento Refuge to continue on the side of the mountain over Glaciar Viedma.
For the first 6 miles the trail undulates along the side of the mountain until the climb to Paso Huemul. It was nice to actually see the glacier this time around and not just the fog.
The trail drops down to a stream just under 4 miles from camp. We found a huge rabbit froliking around.
Afterwards, the trail cuts away from the glacier through a marshy area to the left. During January, the blueberries and other wild fruits we found in this section are not yet ripe enough to eat unlike last time in March. A benefit of a later hike.
The next section is where the exposure and ledge comes in.
It’s not too bad, but one section that heads down into a creek bed on loose sand can feel a bit sketchy.
At about 6.3 miles into the day, the steep uphill starts with a short section to gain a higher ridge.
Once on that next flat, we started to feel the wind that Patagonia was known for. The wind on day 3 is generally a tail wind going up to Paso Huemul, this provides the toughest challenge of doing this circuit clockwise as it becomes a headwind going up to the pass and on the exposure portions. At least with the wind, we could still see everything unlike the rain. The couple we saw the first day who had been holed up Laguna Toro pushed against the wind counterclockwise to Paso Huemul before turning back
We literally were blown uphills for the final half mile up to Paso Huemul. At points, all I could do was try to steer where the wind was pushing me and it wasn’t a question of if I was moving or not. The 22.6% grade incline wasn’t so bad with the wind assist.
We hid behind boulders to get out of the wind briefly halfway up. Should the day be clear, you can check out Mirador Del Cóndor by continuing right into the valley and on top of the hill.
The rest of the way to the pass is to the left, which we were push over by the strongest wind we we’d felt the entire trip.
On the other side of the pass, is what I would consider the most difficult section of the hike. The first half mile drops down to a marshy flat at about a -16.1% gradient.
We can see our destination for the night as the trail rounds the mountain for a flat stretch with some exposure. It seems so close, yet so far away.
Then the exposure and most dangerous part begins as the trail drops at about -41.4% grade over the next 0.8 miles. The steep downhill from Paso Huemul seemed to have greater degradation due to higher traffic, this will only become more dangerous going forward. At least it wasn’t wet this time around.
There is still the rope repel down a steeper part of the trail, though I’m guessing it is the same one around when we visited in 2017.
A bonus after all the hard work downhill was seeing the rare Huemul Deer (I think) that the circuit is named for. Also a bonus for early starts ahead of the pack.
We only saw one person pass us the entire day blazing through the trail and the aforementioned couple hiking counter clockwise. This most likely made the narrow exposure section up to Paso Huemul and steep downhill here much easier without having to watch out or pass other hikers.
Once the steepest downhills is over, there was another half a mile to Campamento Bahía de los Témpanos. Right before the now more evident turn off, there is a clear water stream that is your best water source for the camp.
There was plenty of camp spots at Campamento Bahía de los Témpanos, but similar to Paso del Viento Refuge without a pit toilet, toilet paper, wet naps, and piles of poop were found in every corner of the campsite. The wind coming in from the bay pushed the smell another way. Again, please bury your poop in a cat hole and pack out your toilet paper per LEAVE NO TRACE (wikipedia) principles when you are in the backcountry.
You don’t want these things to ruin an otherwise 5 star campsite.
This is another reason why I wouldn’t recommend getting water from the lake. Unless it is ice for whiskey, which I thank Nick and Christina. It was a nice night cap for the day.
day 4: Campamento Bahía de Los Témpanos to El Chaltén
I woke up early the next morning for sunrise and it well worth it. But that was also the last pictures I had from the hike. My SD card malfunctioned and ate up all the video for the hike and pictures from this point on from my main camera, womp womp. I would have used my phone more had I known this at the time. Guess I’ll have to come back again. 🙂
- distance: 15.9 miles
- elevation change: 2491 ft. ascent & 2198 ft. descent
- time: 7:40 hours
We hit the trail early once again for our standards around 7:40. A little over a mile into our hike we started to reach the supposit junction for Campamento Bahía de Hornos, where we stayed the previous hike. However, the original marked OSM marked trail to skip the peninsula is no longer existent. A little bit further along, there seemed to be several game trails splitting off toward the right direction so we followed one. However, that turned out to be off trail bushwhacking. I would recommend to follow the most worn trail around the peninsula, which we failed to do both times we went through here and regretted it.
With the lower water level compared to last time, it was easy to just walk along the beach until the 2.6 mile mark. We left the beach to start with the first climb of the day, a 2.5 mile uphill at about 6.1% incline. At the top of the hill, we had our last peek of the Glaciar Viedma. The next 2.5 mile was a gradual downhill. There are some decent streams here for filtering. We should have fill up here in anticipation of what’s to come, the water sources are poor after this point all the way to El Chaltén.
The gradient increased to -15.2% over the next half a mile to reach the second Tyrolean Traverse. We found that there is no longer a sign pointing to the ford point for the second crossing (see our previous report for the sign at the end of the downhills). A ford should not be attempted at the Tyrolean crossing point.
The outfitter now include the long recovery cord, however no one wants to leave their behind since they may feel the need to return it. No recovery cord here and the pulley at the other end. Irene ended up climbing across hanging by the steel carabiner to recover the pulley. Since we brought the cord from our previous hike, we left it but apparently it goes out pretty often.
From the crossing, we hiked the last 2.2 miles to the Bahía Del Túnel docks. However, there was no one here on this day and the boat was not running. The high wind may have prevented and tours from leaving. This left us with an additional walk back to town. There are 2 ways you can take, the first being jumping the fence and following the dirt road out to route 23, where you can try a hitch or just road walk it back. This is the longer way.
We ended up not jumping the fence and following the a loose trail northward. The OSM gps showed a trail of sort that we attempted to follow when the actual trail became unclear. There is an initial three quarters of mile of uphills at 9.2% grade before undulating for another three quarter miles across some aird cow pastures.
This is when a fence now stood in the way of us following OSM marked trail. Rick from besthike.com was able to jump the fences here until reaching the road on his hike. We followed a trail of sorts uphills behind a few resort buildings curving back toward our initial entrance of the Huemul Circuit from the Ranger station. It was a clear day as we completed our hike with Fitz Roy standing tall in our field of view
The ranger station was at the end of our hike, where we returned our registration receipt.
Huemul Circuit impressions
ratings (range: 1-5; see link for explanation)
Huemul Circuit remains my favorite hike I’ve done in the world so far, so expect it on a top 5-10 list on this site coming if I ever catch up on trip reports. Despite the increased popularity of the hikes, it’s hard to take anything from such grand views seen here from the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, Glaciar Túnel, and Glaciar Viedma. I’m glad I came back to hike this again and I’ll probably make a point to do this hike everytime I’m back in the area or if I see another airfare deal.
The only thing I can complain about here for the increase in popularity of this hike is the lack of respect for nature and other hikers in the form of failure to observe LEAVE NO TRACE (wikipedia), especially at the campsites. Just because others haven’t observed leave no trace, it doesn’t give you permission follow their bad example. Please do you best to follow such principles and be vocal and proactive in informing those less experienced in the reasons and practices for leave no trace. Thanks! 🙂
The difficulty with our original hike was rain, this time we felt the wind that Patagonia was known for. As mentioned in the report, we were literally blown uphills at Paso Huemul and, at point, all I could do was try to steer where the wind was pushing me. It wasn’t a question of if I was moving or not. We met a couple that waited for 3 days at Laguna Toro because of the terrible winds and that was the smart thing to do. Those terrible winds made us delay our start date by a day as well. Many visitors are on a schedule and aim to seek out the awesome views on this hike, but you must respect the dangers of the Patagonia wilderness and be able to adjust to it.
The typical direction of the wind on day 3 is generally a tail wind going up to Paso Huemul, this provides the toughest challenge of doing this circuit clockwise as it becomes a headwind going up to the pass and on the exposure portions. The wind also shut down the boat tours from Bahía Del Túnel docks on our 4th day, so we had to walk back to town making our last day when from the easiest day to the longest day.
Additional difficulties include the marshes in day 1 and 4, which can be made significantly less pleasant with heavy rain like our first time around.
Endurance wise, the circuit were not too bad and each day’s distance was moderate. The most physically challenging parts were the steepest climb was up to Paso Del Viento, but going directly onto Glaciar Túnel Inferior rather than traversing the scree above it made for an easier walk this time around. Climbing back up onto the scree from the glacier is still demanding. Lastly, while the sandy steep decent after Paso Huemul is technical, as I’ll discuss next, you’ll feel it in your quads making it making it a tiring affair as well.
There isn’t too much in terms of technical hiking on this route even though there a section on the glacier. The Glaciar Túnel Inferior is pretty stable and we were told that because it isn’t moving, there really isn’t any hidden crevasses. Climbing off Glaciar Túnel Inferior can be a little technical, though it’s more tiring. However, the downhill on day three from Paso Huemul seemed to have greater degradation due to higher traffic, this will only become more dangerous and technical going forward.
Navigation was the main technical hurdle on the trail, this is mostly specific to crossing and getting off the Glaciar Túnel Inferior and the area just after Paso del Viento. Erosion also has now wiped out some of the trails in the marshy and silty area around Bahía Cabo de Hornos on day 4 and other hard to find. Cairns and poles that mark the route are pretty prevalent throughout the circuit. The rangers told me that they walk the trail about every 2 weeks during the trekking season to ensure that it’s well marked during my first time around.
Should you have to hike back from Bahía Del Túnel docks on the shorter hiking trail rather than the longer road, it is hit and miss at sections. General idea of where to go is needed during these sections (see our gps track: alltrails or wikiloc).
With the higher number of hikers on the trail, navigation at these points may be easier especially if you can see other hikers ahead of you and you know they know the way. However, please be informed yourself and you can’t rely on everyone on the trail knowing where they are going.
- Our 2017 Fitz Roy & Huemul Circuit Trip report
- besthike.com info & 2019 trip report
- back-packer.org, Backpacker Steve – 2014 report
- Backpacker Steve – 2016 youtube video
- Be My Travel Muse – companion report to Backpacker Steve 2016 video
- Patrick’s New Zealand Weblog – 2016 trip report
- ratravelsblog Dec 2016 trip report
- Nathan & PK – 2018 trip report
- dumbthings.com – 2018 trip report
5 thoughts on “trip report: Patagonia – getting in & Huemul Circuit return, January 2019”
Nice trip report, John! I really enjoyed reading it. Even if you didn’t have the bad weather on your day 3 your first go around, seems like this is the type of hike that would have brought you back anyways. Such a mesmerizing experience. I myself have developed a bit of an obsession with it as well, and hope to return to it in the next year or two. Just not sure which month I’ll go. Maybe March or April to avoid high season. And I think we’ve discussed this before, but I wonder when the park rangers will build those long-awaited bridges. That will open the flood-gates to trekkers on this hike, which maybe they don’t want to do for now. I think the next step up would be doing a guided expedition on the actual ice fields themselves.
Thanks Rahoul! Yea, I’m sure I’ll go back again if I happen to be in the area. And that’s likely as I would probably jump on any deals going back to Patagonia. I would say March or April is nice. In addition to the lesser crowds the wild berries are more likely to be ripe on the trail during that time. I’m pretty sure the bridges are not needed for the flood gates to open on the hike. I’m pretty sure there were 50-100 people at each campsite when we were there this time around. There were shifts using the little hut to cook at Paso del Viento Refuge. And yea, incorporating the part of the hike in addition to walking on the patagonia ice field would be awesome.
Wow, didn’t think it would get to THAT level of crowded-ness in just a few years [from when we did it]! What a gem it must have been for those who did it before it really came on the scene (when backpackersteve first posted about it). I’m sure there are many more Humeul Circuits around Patagonia that needs discovering. Even looking on google earth in the same area, I see some potentially mesmerizing routes that skirt the Patagonian Ice field.
Hope to see ya around in VA at some point!
I’m sure there are. A lot of it is whether there are trails or if the local property owners are willing to open up their herding trails and what not. This aspect was the goal of the Tompkins with there new parks, Parque Patagonia and Parque Pumalin. There are so many possibilities on the Carreterra Austral that I discuss in the other sections of this series for awesome hikes.
Part of it with new possible trails is also creating them responsibility with infrastructure that helps with preservation and conservation. Its something that will be needed on the Huemul going forward. There are many hikers that aren’t attune to leave no trace practices and it can definitely harm the hike. Eventually, some type of limitation might be needed or fee for trail and campsite work.
Hopefully it won’t get to the traffic of Paine, before more structure is put in place to help with conservation. Though I’m pretty sure the limitations of the Paine reservation system has lead more traffic on the Huemul.
I’m sure the park rangers have seen the growing problem on the Huemul Circuit that you allude to. They’re supposed to do it every 2 weeks during the trekking season. I guess the issue is how much funding they have. I agree with you; as it gets more popular, they definitely need to make some infrastructure. Hopefully in the next year or two they’ll be able to make some changes.