While many may cite the W Trek in Chile’s Torres del Paine, or the Laguna de Los Tres in Argentina’s El Chalten as the most beautiful routes in Patagonia, we think there is one lesser-known route that tops them all – the Huemul Circuit. On this route you won’t find the hordes of other trekkers that flock to Patagonia to take the W Trek or the Fitz Roy ascent at Laguna de Los Tres. Instead, you’ll find yourself immersed deep into nature, where you’ll come across glaciers, lakes, rivers, forests and an abundance of wildlife – but it’s likely you’ll be one of the only people there, as this is definitely the road less traveled in terms of treks in the area. So if you want to feel like one of the first people to discover the area like the Charles Darwins and Ferdinand Magellans of old, hit up the Huemul Circuit and you won’t be disappointed.
The circuit, located in Argentina’s Glaciers National Park, takes about four days/three nights to complete and is suitable for experienced hikers, as the route has some very demanding passes and ascents. The trail requires skillful climbing knowledge, as you will be rappelling and belaying in certain parts, so bringing the right equipment (and knowing how to use it!) is essential. The route begins in El Chalten and day one is relatively straightforward, with an easy hike towards the Toro Lagoon across an expansive open area where you will have panoramic views over Lake Viedma and see the amazing hanging glacier across the valley. This will also be the first time you will catch a glimpse of the imposing Mount Huemul before arriving at the Toro Lagoon. Camp here for the night and enjoy the sounds of the forest as you rest after your first day trekking.
The second day of the trek will bring you from the Toro Lagoon to the refuge at Paso del Viento. After a short hike to begin your day, you will encounter the first adventure en route – crossing the Tunel River. Prepare to get wet as you wade across the river, with the shock of the cold water enough to wake any sleepy hiker! Once beyond the river, you will begin an upward journey across a variety of terrain, from rocky slopes to tranquil pastures and past the Lower Tunel Glacier. Make sure to look back, as you will be treated to amazing views over the glacier and into the valley behind. Day two’s destination is Paso del Viento, a point at 1,550m above sea level, where you can see right over the Southern Patagonian Icefield, the third-largest freshwater reserve in the world and the source of the Viedma and Moreno glaciers. Stop here to refuel with lunch before beginning the descent to the Paso del Viento refuge, where you can camp for the night. You will have walked for about seven or eight hours on day two, so make sure to get a good night’s sleep to energize you for the next day.
On the third day, you will set off from Paso del Viento towards Paso Huemul and towards the day’s end point at Lago Viedma. The landscape changes dramatically on this day, so you will be captivated and awed by different views through the duration of your trek. As you climb towards Paso Huemul, the true nature of the Patagonian wilderness reveals itself in expansive views over the Viedma glacier and lake. The icy landscape stretches for miles, with the backdrop of snowcapped peaks drawn in the distance. From here you can appreciate the pure isolation of Argentine Patagonia, especially if you find yourself without the presence of other hikers on the trail. Camp at Lago Viedma for the night, and prepare yourself for the final leg of the journey the next day.
Day four will see you undertake the last section of the Huemul Circuit, where you will go from Lago Viedma to the Bahia Tunel. Be sure to have a good breakfast before setting off for the Bahia Tunel across winding paths, rivers and streams. This is a welcome change to the previous day’s efforts, as the path is less demanding than those that have come before, and once you reach your final destination at Bahia Tunel, you can congratulate yourself on having completed one of the most difficult, and surely the most beautiful, treks in Patagonia.