Get to know the photo book "The Most Beautiful Trails of Patagonia"

Torres del Paine, El Chaltén, Bariloche, Ushuaia, Villarrica, Cerro Castillo, Dientes de Navarino and Parque Patagonia

Hiking to Froward Cape, Chile

     The southernmost point of the American continental mass, that is, the most southern place in America that can be reached without crossing a stretch of sea, is Cape Froward, in Chile. This name was given by the English privateer Thomas Cavendish in 1587 and is directly related to the climate of the region.

The trail to Cap Froward is the red line

     The base city for the trail is Punta Arenas, right in front of the Strait of Magellan, which has good tourist infrastructure, including an airport. Among the tours that the agencies offer there are kayak trips, boat trips to spot whales, penguins and sea wolves, and the most beautiful penguin colony is the one at Magdalena Island (see an article here). Despite receiving many tourists, Punta Arenas maintains the pace of a city that does not live only from tourism, which I like a lot because it allows to go to restaurants, cafes and bars that are not focused for tourists and offer food and drinks that are really part of day-to-day life.

When the weather gets better and the temperature rises, residents rush to the squares to enjoy the outdoors

The beach in the center of Punta Arenas is also a good place with the arrival of the sunny days

     The start of the hiking is 70 km (43 mi) from the city and there is no public transport, so if you are not driving, you need to hire a taxi or a tourist agency. If you have a car, you can park it at the end of the road because, as all the residents told me, it’s a safe place. That was my option and I had no problems, but of course I didn’t leave my bags in the car.

Sunrise on the way to the trailhead

     I did this hike in November 2019, during a long trip that resulted in the book The Most Beautiful Trekkings of Patagonia, currently being edited to be printed. The landscapes are very beautiful, with several beaches, islands and some lookouts, but there is no doubt that the most interesting is the life that is found on the coast and in the sea. For four days I saw many birds, dolphins, sea lions and even a small group of orcas. In addition, at low tide there are crabs, shrimp and anemones in the tide pools, which gives a totally different style of walking from the Patagonian Andes trails.

     I left Punta Arenas early in the morning and started walking at 07:00. The day was cloudy and the sea, incredibly calm, there was not a single wave! In a region with so much wind, this is rare, as Cavendish realized centuries ago. I soon realized that the hike, despite having few climbs, would not be so easy, as I would need to walk on surfaces that almost always slowed down the pace, either by soft sand, loose or slippery stones.

Although it looks firm, this gravel sinks with each step, making the effort to walk like a slight climbing

At low tide there is more space to walk but you need to be very careful to don’t slip on the algae

     From time to time it’s necessary to take trails that detour from cliffs or beaches that stay underwater with high tide. The signals of these trails was done in the most improvised way I’ve ever seen, with colored tapes, plastic bags and even old clothes such as socks, underwear and hats hanging from the branches.

     The only people I’ve seen on the first day were 3 Chileans who were going back to the city, as they didn’t find their way to San Isidro lighthouse. As far as I knew, the trail should be very easy up to the lighthouse, maybe with a short detour, so I couldn’t understand why they didn’t find the way. I asked if they wanted to follow me but didn’t want to, so I went ahead and, in half an hour, I arrived at the lighthouse, not understanding how they didn’t find such an easy path, as the small detour was very easy to find.

San Isidro lighthouse is frequently visited by those who want to do a one-day hike

Del Cañon bay

Tortuga island can be reached by land when the tide is very low

     There are several rivers that need to be crossed, but only two of them don’t have fallen trees that allow the passage walking on them. To cross these rivers it’s important to wait for the low tide, so plan the walking time so you don’t have to wait too long or, even worse, arrive with the rising tide, which will stuck you for many hours. I know you are thinking you can handle cold water, but despite of this, the flow of the river may be strong, depending on the melting snow and rain. There are many people who had problems when trying to cross at a high level, soaking the equipment or having their backpack dragged to the sea. I even tried to cross the San Nicolas river, which is the deepest, with medium tide, but I came back when I saw that there would be water up to my chest, so I waited for two hours until the lowest tide. To make it easier, try to cross the river at its widest point, because at the points where it’s narrower, it needs to be deeper to allow the water to flow without damming it. Usually, the mouth is the shallowest point, as the sea is constantly throwing back the sand that the river carries, creating a mini delta.

Crossing San Nicolas river at low tide

Knowing that the tide wouldn’t rise anymore, I pitched the tent very close to the water

Sunrise seen right in front of the tent

     The second day was like the first, almost all the time cloudy and, from time to time, with a drizzle or a few moments of sun. The difference was that today the sighting of fauna was much more intense, with several groups of dolphins, some sea wolves and even 4 orcas, which I recognized by the size of the dorsal fins, as they were far from the coast. Even at a distance, it was an exciting encounter, as I never imagined seeing orcas during a hiking.

I saw dozens of dolphins on the second and third days, too bad they were “shy” and didn’t jump for my camera, this is the maximum that they have been exposed

I saw fewer seals than dolphins, but they were less shy

     When I arrived at the campsite near Cape Froward, I decided to climb the hill to Cruz de los Mares carrying all my gear, so if there was a place to pitch the tent, I could camp on the summit and take night photos. For my happiness, there is not only a small area that fits one tent but there is also a pond.

The Cruz de los Mares is 24 meters high and was built on the top of a 400 meter high hill, offering an impressive view for Clarence and Dawson islands, across the Strait of Magellan. The cross was built for the first time in 1913 but, due to the severe climatic conditions, it had to be remade several times, the current one being all of hollow metal and was installed in 1987, with a tribute to the visit of Pope John Paul II to the Chile that same year.

To get a better sense of size, I’m on the right side of the cross, wearing a red jacket

     I woke up at dawn but it was raining and I didn’t even get out of my sleeping bag. As I couldn’t do nigh photos of Cruz de los Mares, I slept again quickly, which is not bad after two long hiking days.

     The third day started with bad weather again, but at least it wasn’t raining like during the night. I put everything in the backpack before the rain restarted and began walking down the hill, which in the steepest sections have metal stairs to easy the walk. The first stair required some attention because the steps are very small, while the second is like the stairs of a house and I stepped with no attention. What a mistake … I slipped as soon as I did the first step and started bouncing on the steps until I reached the ground, about 4 meters (13 ft) below. Still not getting what had happened, I got up, checked that the bones were all in place and, of course, cursed the damn ladder! Looking from below, I could see that the steps are not parallel to the ground, her base must have given way over time and the steps were tilted downwards, turning it in a slide if it’s wet and the hiker is distracted.

In some places there are ropes to help the hikers

     Arriving at the beach, there was a light wind and the sound of the waves prevented me from hearing the breathing of the marine mammals, which is what alerted me of their presence. Without this, that day I spotted only a few dolphins, in addition to the ever present birds and, at low tide, anemones and algae.

     Once more I walked faster than I pictured and arrived early to cross the Nodales River, which is shallower than San Nicolas. When the tide was almost low, I crossed it with water just above my knees. Well, at least on the knees of those who have 1.84 m (6 ft), if in doubt, send the tallest of your group to test.

While waiting for the lowest tide, I did photos the albatrosses that were resting by the sea

Every sudden movement I did, they fled, but returned in less than a minute

A beautiful evening on the third day

     I got dressed and quickly walked to the San Nicolas river to take advantage of the fact that the tide would still be low, even though it was already starting to rise when I arrived. Second crossing done, I camped right afterwards witha peace of mind because I knew that the next day I wouldn’t have to go into the cold water and not worry about tide times.

Sunset at the campground of the third day

     Just like the first day, the fourth and last had not much sightings of fauna, so I walked without breaks until the beginning of the trail that leads to Mount Tarn. As the weather was very bad and the views didn’t seem interesting like what I had at Cruz de los Mares, I decided to shorten the hiking in one day and go straight to the car.

     I think it is important to say that this hike is best done in 5 days, walking 80 km (50 mi) in 4 days is a little hard because the effort to walk on the beach or on loose and slippery stones is different from the effort made on dry land trails. If you are alone, take into account that if you have a problem, it’s very likely that you won’t find other people to help you. I only saw people between the beginning of the trail and San Isidro lighthouse, being isolated from the afternoon of the first day until the afternoon of the fourth day.

     Regarding the beauty of the trail, I believe it’s not among the best in Patagonia and I didn’t choose it to the book. However, if you go to Punta Arenas, it’s worth to stay 5 daysmore to do it because I know you will have a good experience, I just don’t think you should travel overseas only to do this hiking, in this case there are better options.

Get to know the photo book "The Most Beautiful Trails of Patagonia"

Torres del Paine, El Chaltén, Bariloche, Ushuaia, Villarrica, Cerro Castillo, Dientes de Navarino and Parque Patagonia