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This hike is why people go to Tierra del Fuego.

Okay. Not this hike, specifically, but hikes like this. Hikes that involve varied landscapes, wild terrain, breathtaking vistas, and glacial lakes – all nestled within the Fuegian Andes. If you are heading to Ushuaia I highly recommend you make time for it. Located about 20 kilometers outside of the city, it really is a perfect day hike. We rocked out to some Argentine music on the radio of our rental car as we enjoyed views like this on the way to our starting point: lagunaesmereldadrive

Here is our advice for if you plan on hiking this trail (and if you don’t plan on hiking it feel free to skip ahead for the pictures):

Having had a busy couple of days thus far, we allowed ourselves a lazy morning and (what we considered) a late start, which meant we did not get to the trailhead until 10AM. The dirt lot that serves as a parking lot to the trail entrance was virtually empty upon our arrival. This is not a region that starts their days early. We shared the trail with few others on our way up but there were PLENTY of hikers on their way up by the time we were making our way back down. It was primarily Argentine’s that we encountered but we did see one other American and at least one Australian. Upon our return the parking lot was packed…and there were minibuses dropping people off as well. We were so glad we had avoided the crowds…so arrive early if you wish to do the same.

Hiking Gear: hiking poles and gaiters are certainly NOT necessary to do this hike. We saw many people hiking in just normal sneakers and street clothes (even one girl in white leggings). HOWEVER…I would not recommend this. The terrain is VERY muddy and when you get to the peat bogs, you could be fine one step and up to your knee in mud the next step (as evidenced by the woman in white leggings who had mud up to her knee and all over her butt. And she was not the only one we saw covered in mud.) At the very least, wear solid, water proof hiking boots, preferably the kind that are over your ankle. Some rough spots have planks thrown over them, but not all. Also, at least one of the ‘bridges’ was made of logs that ROLLED if you stepped on them wrong, so be careful.

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We felt super dorky hiking with the poles at first but quickly realized a) they saved us from falls in the mud on more than one occasion and b) allowing us to stabilize our balance so much more easily meant we tore through sections that took other people FOREVER because we didn’t have to gingerly pick our way through every step. We did not wear our gaiters on the way up but wished we had them on by the time we got to the peat bogs. If I were to do it again, I would just put them on to begin with, even if it seems like overkill in the start of the hike. We wore them on the way down and it was so nice not to have to worry about getting mud up over our hiking shoes or all up our pants on the occasions that we sank down into the mud. Plus it was just STRAIGHT. UP. FUN. to hike through crazy terrain in the middle of the most amazing wilderness and feel totally gratified that you came prepared for it. Meanwhile, on our hike down we saw plenty of people who looked stressed out and not particularly having fun in the face of the conditions they were navigating.

Estimated hiking time is two hours each way. It took us an hour and a half on the way up…including plenty of stops for photos and a pretty good stop for Andy to deal with a blister situation on his heel. It took about an hour and fifteen or twenty minutes on the way down..including a few more photo stops. We certainly weren’t racing but we weren’t poking along either.

The trail is well marked. It would be virtually impossible to get lost. There are little blue arrows on trees here and there to ensure you know the way and the occasional bigger trail marker such as this: lagunaesmereldatrailmarkerThis was just before our first major clearing where we were treated to this: lagunaesmereldafirstview

sarahpanolagunaesmereldaHaving hiked thus far through the woods, this fairly took our breath away as we came out into the clearing. And it was just the start.

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This section of the hike felt like something out of Lord of the Rings:lagunaesmereldaboggyIf you’ve never hiked in a peat bog, it is a strange and springy texture. It might hold your weight one step and give way to sinking down well up into your shin the next. The hiking poles came in handy to feel out how deep things were before taking a step. I tried to get a close up of it: lagunaesmereldapeat

This photo, taken from the peat bogs, shows the ridge (in the middle), where you climb up to reveal Laguna Esmerelda: lagunaesmereldaridge

Standing on the ridge allows you to look back over where you’ve just come:

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Hiking up with this hill to your left: lagunaesmereldawaterfall.jpg

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Laguna Esmerelda comes into view:

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And it’s a short stroll down to the shore from here. This is where we rested, had lunch and watched the weather change every five minutes: lagunaesmereldapano

Eventually we put our gaiters on to head back down. I have a habit of making fun of people who always put their hand on their hips and stand slightly sideways in photos. I whipped around in this pose as a joke and Andy was actually fast enough to catch it. Pretty sexy with those gaiters, eh?: lagunaesmereldasillysarah

This panorama managed to capture the whole scene as we stood atop a rock taking it all in for a few more minutes before heading down. I like to call this one, “Andy in the Andes”

lagunaesmereldapanoandy

We had a LOT of fun tromping through the mud! I was kind of like a little kid laughing and giggling my way through it. (Thanks for loaning me the gaiters Linda!) Here we are about to head into another muddy section:

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It was another perfect day in Tierra del Fuego.

 

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