Payoff Plenty of treks are insanely gorgeous (see page 66), but few hikes offer such world-class scenery combined with the feeling of off-the-map exploration—yet can be done without quitting your job. What does ultimate remoteness look like? On the Dientes Circuit (below), it’s sharp-edged, weather-lashed, and totally deserted. It’s closer to Antarctica than to an American Embassy. For the first time in a quarter-century of backpacking, I felt like I’d experienced a place that very few people have—or will—see. —M. Lanza
Do it Trek Patagonia’s Dientes Circuit. Just stepping off the 20-seater plane in Puerto Williams, Chile, a town of 2,000 at the tip of South America, feels, well, like the end of the Earth. Then you walk from the dirt streets into the Dientes de Navarino (Teeth of Navarino), and enter a windswept wilderness where help is far, far away. The roughly 35-mile, five-day route loops through peaks that thrust incisors of rock more than 3,000 feet high just a few miles from the sea. After good trail at the outset, the world’s southernmost trek fades to cross-country hiking through alpine tundra and lake-studded valleys. On a clear day, from 2,838-foot Paso de los Dientes, you’ll see Cape Horn. The best campsites are next to the following lakes: Del Salto, Escondida, Martillo, and Rocallosa.
Key Skill: Stay Dry
When you’re far from anywhere, rangers won’t come to the rescue if you succumb to hypothermia. Follow these steps to keep comfortable—and safe.
» Pretrip, make sure your tent’s guylines are plenty long and attached securely. When pitching your tent, point the low end into the wind and stake it out immediately, so your shelter can’t blow away.
» Once the tent’s up, place gear against the windward wall to temper gusts. When breaking camp, first pull downwind stakes.
» You may need to wear a shell when you’re working hard in cold rain, or in fluctuating temps that make it difficult to avoid perspiring—and getting wet inside. Adjust layers under your shell and moderate your walking pace to stay warm without overheating—speed up when chilled, and slow down or pause intermittently if you start sweating.
» Cold wind is extremely draining. Drink and snack frequently—especially foods high in fat, like salami—to keep warm and energized.
» Put key gear—extra clothes, your sleeping bag—inside waterproof stuffsacks. Fit your pack’s rain cover tightly to prevent it from blowing away.
» If your shells or baselayer get damp from rain or sweat, wear them in camp to dry them out for the next day. Pull the damp baselayer on over a dry layer, so you don’t get cold; then don a layer of insulation under your damp rainshell.
Getting there Puerto Williams, on Isla Navarino, can only be reached by boat or plane. Aerovias DAP (aeroviasdap.cl) operates one flight six days per week from Punta Arenas, which has regular flights from Santiago on LAN (lan.com). GuidebookTrekking in the Patagonian Andes, by Clem Lindenmayer and Nick Tapp ($25; lonelyplanet.com) Maps Chilean Instituto Geografico Militar Puerto Williams (L, #190) and Lago Windhond (L, #203) ($25; igm.cl) Contact For local lodging and guide services (not necessary, but helpful in case of accidents), contact the Hotel Lakutaia in Puerto Williams: (56) (61) 621 721; lakutaia.cl
See Two More
Backpack in Arctic Canada’s Quttinirpaaq National Park on Ellesmere Island. It’s about 68 miles off-trail from Lake Hazen to Tanquary Fjord, where you’ll cross tundra and numerous icy streams in a land of glaciers, wildflowers, and musk oxen. (867) 975-4673; pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/nu/quttinirpaaq
You’ll stay in huts while tramping New Zealand’s North West Circuit on Stewart Island (home of the country’s southernmost park), but what lies in between are miles of steep, rugged, and often muddy trail. Few cairns aid navigation, and zero bridges help with river fords. Reward: solitude commensurate with the challenge of this 10-day, 77-mile trek. (64) 3 219 0009; doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation