January 21, 2023
We woke up early and after a breakfast downstairs of cereal, cheese sandwiches and yogurt, Maria called us a taxi to take us to the Glacier Martial trailhead. The weather was unsettled (a daily occurrence in Patagonia) so we layered up, including rain jackets for the ascent.
It would be a five-mile hike with about 2,400 feet of elevation gain that ended at the base of the glacier. It was a steady uphill climb that began through low pine and birch trees alongside a rushing creek.
Soon we turned onto what was once a steep road leading to a long-closed ski area. Over the years, the warming climate had reduced the snow and there was no longer enough for skiing.
Soon, we were above the tree line and the hike got steeper, ever toward the shrinking glacier. We peeled off a couple of layers only to have to put them back on again when the clouds thickened. Most of the flora was unfamiliar and we noticed no wildlife aside from birds. We’d found the same thing years ago while hiking the Pyrenees mountains in France. Compared to the snakes, bears and mountain lions of the western US, in this part of Patagonia we felt quite pretty safe from being killed by wildlife.
We’d gotten an early start in hopes of avoiding crowds and initially we saw few other hikers. But eventually the trail became surprisingly crowded for being at such a remote place. Several times as we rested, we chatted with other hikers, many of whom were exploring the area for a day or two before taking an Antarctic cruise. So far, we’d met more Canadians than Americans, though the vast majority of hikers were Spanish or Portuguese speakers. Eventually, a cold light rain started and we donned our rain jackets, which also protected us from the rising wind.
The views at the top were spectacular, either looking at the glacier or looking behind us to the Beagle Channel with Ushuaia in the foreground.
We continued to enjoy tremendous views of the Beagle Channel as we wound our way back down the mountain on the return. The channel was a continuous reminder that we were hiking a glacier at the end of the world.
Back at the trailhead, we snagged a taxi who’d just dropped off another hiker and we headed back to the town. I helped communicate with the driver, glad to see that my Spanish studies were paying off, but I still had a way to go to catch up to Susan’s Spanish, which she somehow remembers from classes taken nearly 50 years before.
We wandered into a few restaurants looking for good cheap eats and finally settled on a pirate/prisoner themed place (like parts of Australia, Ushuaia was originally founded as a penal colony) that had very mediocre food. We’d been spoiled by the night before, but the view of the channel was amazing and we lingered until the rain stopped before heading back to our tiny room, but not before picking up a small delicious dulce de leche pie for desert. We fell asleep to a howling wind as the sun set late.