Paso de la Oveja – Tierra Del Fuego – Argentine Patagonia

Paso de la Oveja – Sheep Pass – is a two day hike starting to the east of Ushuaia and cutting a circuit around the Martial mountains, running 25kms along Valle de Andorra to end at the west side of the city. This is my first overnight hike in Patagonia and the only one I’ll be doing this far south.

I was a little nervous about this hike as I brought my tent and sleeping bag from Australia. While they did the job on that continent, they’re not designed for the cold climate. Leading up to the hike, I investigated many of the adventure stores in Ushuaia’s Centro district looking for a means to add warmth to the sleeping bag without spending a thousand or more pesos buying a new one. I didn’t find anything so took the light fleece blanket from my bed in my hostel.

Day 1 – Turbera Valle Andorra to Laguna del Caminante

To get to the beginning of the hike, I took a taxi from my hostel around the side of the Martial Mountains to a locked gate. While my spanish isn’t very good, I figured I’d show the driver the map and point out my destination. For some reason he got the idea I was wanting to be dropped off at the end!? I corrected him and he eventually delivered me to my start point. Past a locked gate I headed out along a dirt road towards the mountains with another glacier in view.

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My directions said to walk 5 minutes to a set of shacks and take a faint 4WD track to the right. I did and it led me into a set of peat fields where horses grazed.

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But after a while I discovered that the peat fields were rather soggy. By discovered I mean going knee deep into a bog. YAY! By the sounds of the description of the hike I was following, I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. So, I headed towards the mountains, picking my way through boggy grass. This took me some time but I eventually made it into forest. But this still didn’t feel right, and was also rather boggy with more knee high mud. I kept going towards the mountains and eventually found a not very faint but still rather muddy 4WD track. I followed it for a couple of kilometres through the forest with the occasional view of a mountain top.

The 4WD track eventually petered out at a sign announcing my entry into Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego. The trail crossed an arroyo – stream – that came down from the back of the Martial Glacier.

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It then followed the arroyo for some time through the forest…

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At one point I came to an opening that led into a large red tinged field. This was off track, but as it gave good views of the mountains, I decided to head onto it. After only a step I discovered the field was in fact a growth of reddish green moss the size of a rugby field. It was spongy below my feet but supported my weight.

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I pushed on along the trail for another couple of kilometres through the forest, with the occasional show of towering rock above the trees.

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Late in the afternoon I arrived at a set of cascades in the river. Up until now Valle de Andorra had been flat, but according to my map the cascades marked the beginning of a 4km long climb. Nothing too high, just a constant climb. I crossed the arroyo several times on makeshift log bridges and wound my way up the side of the mountain. I broke the tree line and came to a T-junction and a sign.

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I headed right, towards the Laguna climbing along the top of a steep grassy bank with a fast flowing arroyo at the bottom. The trail was difficult and I made my way carefully to ensure I didn’t end up tumbling 50m to the stream. As I began along the track, I heard voices and a group of six other hikers appeared out of the forest behind. I hadn’t seen a single other person since starting, so they must have held just behind me all day. At a highpoint on the trail I got views back along the Valle de Andorra.

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A short distance on, I came around a jutting rocky outcrop to see the lake nestled below me…

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To get down to it, I had to descend along a muddy bank and a rocky stream bed, watching each of my steps until I arrived at the bottom beside a waterfall. I walked along the arroyo that led to the lake and around a section of trees to locate a perfect campsite on the edge of the lake. There was already one set of hikers and the group of six arrived shortly after. Over the course of the next hour 3 other pairs arrived, but there was plenty of room and only the tents of the large group were close together.

As the sun went down, I sat in my tent and looked out over the lake.

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Day 2 – Laguna del Caminante to Autodromo Ushuaia
The next morning, as I packed it rained a little, showering the lake surface with ripples. It didn’t last and I was soon off, back tracking along the path above the arroyo to the junction.

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The trail then climbed to the pass where the grass gave way to a slate like rocky area with plentiful cairns to show the way. A 250m climb later I reached the top of the pass that gives this hike it’s name and a tall cairn. I’m not sure why it’s called Sheep Pass as there aren’t any sheep here. Perhaps in times past…

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After taking a break in the pass I pushed on. The trail headed down into Cañadon del la Oveja – Sheep Canyon – where the trail hugged the side of the mountain range hundreds of metres above a grassy area. While the thin trail at times felt precarious, careful progress was all that was needed along the 3km trail before it zig-zagged down the mountain and into the forest.

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Before I was surrounded in trees once more, I looked back along the Cañadon.

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The forest was supposed to be easy, but a portion of it looked to have been thrown about by a storm some time ago. This forced me to spend some time climbing over smashed trunks and broken limbs, a long and arduous task. I eventually got through and came out onto private property where I got a final look at a rocky mountain before heading down the hill towards and old motor racing track – autodromo.

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Overall the hike was amazing with brilliant views and special places. I didn’t end up needing the blanket, but better to have it than not. With only 6 days until I leave for Antarctica, there are a handful of other short hikes I’d like to do if the weather holds up. I’ll see which ones I can fit in.

The Lone Trail Wanderer.

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