Monday, 11 March 2019

Where Wild Horses Fly with the Wind

Mitre coastline


Considered one of the most isolated and inhospitable places in Argentina, Peninsula Mitre at the extreme southeastern tip of Tierra del Fuego is surrounded by an air of mystery, tales of explorers, shipwrecks, a quest for gold and lone gauchos who roam the land, where fiery wild horses run with the wind, seemingly flying over the pampas. Where the wind mercilessly forces trees to grow almost horizontally, smashing south Atlantic waves against imposing cliffs and penguins outnumber humans. 


Attracting adventurers and dreamers for centuries, Peninsula Mitre got its nails into me and i couldn't stay away, even less so just go in for a few days. “Go in” - “Enter” - “Exit” are the words used to describe a trip to this incredible place, words that one would expect to hear when speaking about some sanctuary, a place where there's an entry fee for the privilege to see what the place offers. There is always a price but we never know what the cost may be…am I willing to accept the potential cost?


Duchess of Albany
Finding information about trekking Peninsula Mitre is limited to a small number of books and then the decades and centuries of history. The books are limited in the context that they just relate the experience of the trekkers as does the more well-known documentary “Gauchos del Mar” which follows the traverse of surfers around Peninsula Mitre in their search for wild waves. The minimum period would be around 30 days. In addition, there's no public “list” of people (and their contact details) who have done the full traverse and with whom one could speak about the requirements for a trek that would be at least 400km if not starting from Ushuaia. Online the information is equally limited to that on some fauna and flora and then references to the books and documentary. 


Gauchos along the coast

At this stage you're probably already wondering why I would want to go and spend at least a month in such an inhospitable place without having much prior knowledge about it. Well, to those who know me, this is exactly the attraction for me; a place where very few venture and is filled with potential challenges, not the least being that there are no trails. I was at least going to explore a little bit that's east of the Beagle Channel…after I’ve trekked that coast as well from Ushuaia. There was a hunger in me to get to know this whole area unlike I’ve had to date in other places. 


Trekking the 95km from Ushuaia to Moat at the end of the Beagle Channel increased this hunger to know more and see wilderness landscapes that few have had the privilege to lay eyes on. With food supplies for only another two days, i returned to Ushuaia to top up provisions so i could do at least another 15 days - about 7 days and the same out again. So on 13 January i headed back with Ruben, a guy who did the full traverse a year ago and this time was only going to Bahia Sloggett. 


Bahía Sloggett (Photo-Elio Ruben Torres)
(Photo: Elio Rúben Torres)

The backpack was minimum 35kg and meaning trekking was going to be a daily challenge whether there's good terrain or not. The weather kept us indoors at Rancho Ibarra and the long chats about Peninsula Mitre continued to the point that on the first night I was already considering the feasibility of a full traverse - alone! He emphasised i neede to speak to Sergio Anselmino first who was at that stage at the racho in Puerto Español, Bahía Aguirre (this was initially going to be my turnaround point for the 15 days exploring but in Bahia Sloggett i was already at 7 days from Moat!) Sergio is an expert on Peninsula Mitre having done the full traverse at least 4 times, including with the guys of “Gauchos del Mar”. 


It took another four and a half days to get to Puerto Español but I was now in Peninsula Mitre proper, having “entered” when crossing the Rio Lopez at Bahía Sloggett. I spent 5 days with Sergio listening to his accounts of the traverses he did and advice and recommendations on routes etc. This is a man that's passionate about nature and his photography and all expressed through his love of Peninsula Mitre. From here, starts the most difficult section of the traverse, a minimum of 6 days with good weather and luck in finding routes, to Buen Suceso where there's a small detachment of the Argentinian Navy. 


Puerto Español, Bahía Aguirre

“Difficult” turned out to be an understatement of epic proportions! I’ve been travelling alone for about 18 years now and not a stranger to being alone in challenging conditions (see the section about my West African expedition) but this not only challenged me physically in every sense but also mentally. Each pace was intense, not daring to let your thoughts wander, even less so daring not looking where you put your foot next. Due to weather pinning me down at various places, this section also took me 10 days during which i had both, separately, my mentally hardest day and the hardest day physically of the whole traverse. 


Cabo Leticia
With my mind and body now more accustomed to the difficulty of daily trekking without trails through every imaginable terrain, I headed off from Buen Suceso to the tip at Cabo San Diego and the northeast coast. This was considerably “easier” terrain, obviously relative to the section I had just completed. But Peninsula Mitre wasn't finished with me, she still had some big rivers and extreme weather to share with me. On 2 March 2019 I crossed the Rio Irigoyen, the northeastern “exit/entry” and walked out the gates of the Estancia Maria Luisa, considered the end of the traverse. The next day was still another 12km rain trekking, albeit on a dirt road and hitchhiking, I arrived in Ushuaia the night of 3 March. 


Sleeping on the first night was virtually impossible with my mind still reeling with memories of a 60-day 460km traverse. It hadn't yet sunk in what I’d achieved but over the next couple of days with congratulations coming in and people shaking my hand, it's sort of more real now. What now you ask? Heck, my eyes are already scanning the maps of Tierra del Fuego but keep flitting back to Peninsula Mitre, that wild land that literally absorbed me and is now in my bloodstream like an incurable virus, admittedly not a bad one. I will be going back, exploring more and different parts, letting Mitre push me even more whilst sitting in the evening around a traditional barbecue with gaucho listening to tales and stories of the a place they call “The Forgotten Land”. 





Note: I will be publishing more in-depth articles on different sections and my experiences in the following days and weeks. 

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