Once we had all the required equipment together we were eager to get started. The next morning was perfect for our hike – blue sky, sunshine and not too much wind. We registered at the park office, which is for free but mandatory, and started the “Huemul Circuit” – or as we named it “Circuit of the elements” – a four days hike totaling about 60 kilometers. Our backpacks were quite heavy with our camping equipment and all the food, but we didn’t mind, because we were fresh and looking for some adventures.
The first day was an easy one with trails gently going uphill through nice forests and swampy grassland. In the afternoon we reached the valley of the Tunel River and got a good view of the “Cerro Huemul”, which will be by our side for the next few days. To reach the campsite, we had to cross some smaller rivers on rocks, tree trunks or barefoot. We hardly met anyone during the day until we got to the campsite, located under some tall Lenga trees. About 15 tents were pitched by the end of the day, making it still a rather quiet place to stay.
The weather forecast had predicted strong winds during the night and some rain until about 10am the next morning. This proved to be pretty accurate. The winds had no effect on us, because we were sheltered by the Lenga trees and by cliffs on two sides of the little forest. However, when we checked the front of the tent at 6am, we found a large pool of water which had gathered there and was threatening to enter our backpacks and the inside of our tent. We acted quickly, moved our backpacks inside the tent and dug a trench to drain the water.
Sure enough the rain stopped at 10am and we had managed to keep everything dry. When we left the tent to pack up, I ran into Dan, the guy from Israel whom I had met in Bariloche. He had arrived late last night and was quite unlucky, because had pitched his tent in a spot, in which a small river had developed during the night. Now most of his stuff was wet, but he had to return to El Chalten anyways to meet up with Dor, the other guy from our trip in Bariloche.
We continued the trail past Laguna Tunel, where the terrain was only rocks without proper trail markings, making it quite difficult to follow at times. But eventually we found the first river crossing, where we needed our rented equipment: It was a single steel rope with a little trolley. Here we met Steve and Jenn, both Canadians, and two Germans. Together we formed “Team River Crossing” and helped each other with the passage.
The following part of the trail was a long and steep ascend to the “Paso del Viento”, the pass of the wind. On the way we had beautiful views of the Tunel River valley and the glaciers of “Cerro Grande”, but also had some troubles with unstable or non-existing trails to avoid walking on the glacier, which we were not equipped for. And although the wind was not as strong as in the morning, it was blowing quite strong and cold up on the pass. It was all worth it – the view of the Southern Patagonian Icefield couldn’t have been more rewarding!
The camp for the night was located at a little lagoon in a small valley just behind the pass. Here we were only eleven people. And the forecast was right again as it stayed dry and calm, but it got very cold. The night proved to be perfect for star gazing, which we did from within our tent, where we could stay in the warmth of our sleeping bags. There was no moon and no artificial lights, but also no camera with long exposure to capture the clear view of the milky-way.
From the lagoon the trail continued more or less at the same altitude with more views of the Icefield and the Viedma glacier, which extends from the Icefield. The highest point for that day was the “Paso Huemul”. The way down was the challenge of the day, as it was straight down and therefore very steep. To add some difficulty, the whole trail was covered with the thick branches of Nire shrubs and their roots, which sometimes crossed the path at knee-height. After we lost 700 m of altitude, we reached that day’s destination – a bay full of icebergs.
The last day began with a firework of colors as the sun rose over our quiet bay of icebergs. After we had packed up, we hiked to Tunel Bay, where the trail ended. This part of the hike was not very challenging, just long and mostly flat. However, we were still happy that the forecast was wrong for today, because it would have been very difficult with the predicted storm-like winds. Still, we felt like celebrating and did so with Steve and Jenn and a delicious steak dinner.