When I first saw Ushuaia, in the summer of 1979, not many foreign visitors were enjoying Patagonia adventure cruises there. Argentine and Chile had only recently avoided war over several small islands in the famous Beagle Channel and, in a seaside city with only about 11,000 inhabitants – it has more than five times that today – most of us were shoestring backpackers with improvised itineraries on the so-called “Gringo Trail.”
At that time it was difficult and expensive to reach most of Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, Argentina’s first coastal national park. It was only 12 kilometers west of town, but there was no regular transportation on the rugged gravel road and, when you got there, there wasn’t much there but a basic campground and a few short woodland trails. It wasn’t quite a paper park, but recreational options were few.
Fortunately, though, there was (and is) another option. The park is also mountainous and, only a short distance northwest of downtown, a shorter winding road climbed to a basic ski area beneath the Martial Glaciar. It’s a small glacier but, on the south-facing slope of its rugged namesake mountain range, the snow still accumulates in the wintertime shade, and I’ve been up the trail to its tongue several times since.
Nowadays, there are taxis and shuttles to the improved ski area, which has a chairlift that cuts your hiking time by nearly two hours. Otherwise trail is obvious but steep in spots, and loose soil and rocks can make the descent tricky. Still, just before boarding for a Punta Arenas excursion, or just after arrival from Chile, it makes an ideal half-day excursion, with matchless panoramas of the Beagle Channel and Isla Navarino – weather permitting, of course.