The Martial Mountain range – Montes Martial – is a small range of mountains behind the city of Ushuaia. The city itself is nestled in the foothills where the mountains meet the Beagle Canal. While not as jagged and tooth-like as others in the area, the mountain ramparts are still spectacular when seen from below. During winter much of the range is likely covered in snow, but as it is late summer there are only small dots of dirty white along the range, in all places except where I’m headed today.
This mass of snow is above the glacier and is where I’ll be walking with a companion from the hostel. Because Ushuaia isn’t a large city we decided to walk from the hostel to the base of the mountains. We work our way through the confusing mass of streets until we cross a bridge that crosses the Arroyo Buena Esperanza – ‘Arroyo’ being spanish for stream – which cuts through the centre of the city to the sea. On the far side begins the road leading up through the short wood covered foothills.
The road winds its way up the side of the foot hills with the occasional large hotel at the side. The initial trail doesn’t follow the winding road, but takes a more direct route with only the last hundred metres or so following the road to its end at a cafe and chair lift. Above us as we walk is the snow field although it’s sometimes covered in a lazy sweeping low cloud.
The Arroyo runs down the side of the mountain beside the wide rocky trail with the chair lift of the other side. The trail is not overly steep, but is rises constantly with the occasional wood covered ditch used as a water overflow during the summer melt.
The chairlift is almost 1,200 metres in length and ends in a tea house. We cross a small bridge below the tea house and stop for lunch on the side of the stream. A couple of hundred more metres above and the trail splits three ways – to the right it leads to the beginning of a ski slope, to the left the top of a jagged peak (we are forbidden to climb without specialised equipment) and straight on to the glacier. This is where I leave my companion and head on alone – she is due elsewhere and heads back down the trail.
The trail continues beside the stream as I climb between the mountains on either side. After another couple of hundred metres, the wide road-sized trail ends and a very thin trail climbs steeply up the mountain. It doesn’t go far before turning to the left and heading out of view.
I climb the trail and it is indeed steep. It’s not a stepped climb, but an intense scree slope worn by many feet. I have to rest a couple of times on my ascent until I reach a line of orange markers denoting where the trail heads to the left and over a ridge. With this hardest part of the climb down, I head over the ridge and a further hundred metres or so to the base of the glacier. The views from here of the canal, the city and the surrounding mountains are spectacular, and the cloudy day has even given way to blue skies for this moment.
The glacier itself is a patch of snow with water running under it, and there are signs forbidding passage beyond a certain point. There were a couple of groups up there and we all ignore the signs and climb a little further to the base of the snow. 50 metres up I sat on a set of rocky shelves, similar to those I climbed in Tasmania and rest after my two and a half hour climb.
Heading down was easier, as you would expect, with the only difficult part the thin, steep scree trail. After 90 minutes I arrived back at the hostel for a welcoming shower.
Next I head for my first overnight hike in Patagonia, Paso de la Oveja – Pass of the Sheep – which follows a long valley behind the back of Montes Martial.
The Lone Trail Wanderer
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